The Brunch Dish: Eat Where the Wild Things Are at Nico Osteria
For an Italian seafood restaurant, Nico Osteria sure does a consummate job with land-dwelling fodder at the newly implemented weekend brunch. Sure there's plenty of Italian seafood to be had at brunch, from baccala to clam-strewn taglioni, but the hidden gems are the meatier options. And in this case, the zanier the better.
Save for the prevalence of eggs throughout the menu, much of the brunch dishes at Nico Osteria could easily pass for dinner fare, which makes the menu such a bargain-friendly foray into the nautical world of One Off Hospitality. Granted, a bargain at Nico Osteria would still be considered expensive at most brunch restaurants, but anyway. Beef tongue in brodo ($16) is a nice example of a refined, elegant dish that handily raises the bar on brunch, easily putting it on par with dinner cookery. The dish is complex, heady, and layered with complimentary textures and vigorous flavors. Combining beef tongue and squid in one dish, a daring surf & turf showcasing two notoriously rubbery proteins, is impressive, especially when both elements are rendered meltingly tender. The tongue, in particular, sports a jerky-like flavor, minus the jerky-like assault on your teeth. The meat melds into the herbal broth along with hen of the woods mushrooms and a practically obligatory poached egg. It's sort of like ramen, but with slivers of beef tongue and squid in lieu of noodles and I'm cool with it.
I can't say I've ever seen tripe on a brunch menu. So naturally my eyes lit up like a (weird, offal-obsessed) kid on Christmas morning when I spotted Nico's tripe alla Romana ($14). Again, the restaurant proves itself a risk-taker and a game-changer even in the a.m., when oft-hungover diners typically want nothing more than a Bloody Mary and grease. Although tripe is sometimes unfairly stigmatized as gristly and off-putting, which admittedly it can be when cooked improperly, in the right hands it deserves respect alongside the finest steaks and slabs of bacon. Especially when it's immersed in tomato-rich broth with chickpeas and threads of tender kale. This thing is a textural dream, from the soft kale to the toothsome chickpeas and the delicate tripe, which absorbs accompanying flavors like tofu—if tofu was derived from bovine stomach. The stew is adjoined by crispy olive-laden focaccia. So basically any toast I eat henceforth that is not crispy olive-laden focaccia is an epic disappointment by comparison.
After all that brunchy exoticism, nothing calms things down quite like a piece of chestnut coffee cake ($4.25). Considering the caliber of the pastry program at Nico Osteria, you'd be foolishly remiss to skip the sweets. It's hard to narrow it down, but it's rare to find a stellar slice of coffee cake these days, in a world where breakfast pastries are dominated by doughnuts and haute pop tarts. So do that. Aside from the fact that this is an sterling slice of coffee cake, with a fine crumb and a sugary, buttery streusel, it's riddled with sweet, succulent chestnuts. This is the quintessential coffee compatriot.
At a play-it-safe meal period, Nico Osteria takes risks that pay off, proving that brunch can and should be a time for creativity and imagination. Just don't forget the eggs.