Nico’s: A Memorable Feast

I had the pleasure of having dinner at Nico’s 1508 in Berkeley a few months ago. With competing priorities, I hadn’t gotten a chance to write about that experience until now. However, I think it speaks volumes about a meal when many of the dishes I had a while back are still memorable. 

We started with a couple of appetizers including the Steamed Mediterranean Mussels that were cooked in a lovely red curry kaffir lime broth. The Asian flavors struck a perfect balance to the shellfish. It was a generous portion of mussels and we ate every mussel and soaked up every drop of broth. I remember it well because it was one of the best prepared mussels I have ever had.
My friend and I decided to order a combination surf and turf and some sides. When the food came out it was like eating family style, except it was just two of us. 

Our sides included the roasted root vegetables, the pork belly chipotle mac and cheese, and the maple glazed butternut squash. I would say the root vegetables were the least memorable. The mac and cheese was a bit overkill, in that the pasta was overdone and it was just way too heavy for my taste. Hands down the butternut squash was the star. We were like children in a candy store eating all the glazed goodness.
The fish was a roasted Hawaiian Walu which was complemented with braised fennel and potatoes, a Meyer lemon and thyme butter sauce and a balsamic reduction. I wonder if I should praise the chef or the saucier on this one.
Nico’s offers three cuts of steak – the filet mignon, a New York steak, or a bone-in rib eye. We selected the filet mignon cooked in a bourbon demi glaze. It was cooked a perfect medium rare providing a tender and buttery texture.  
With full tummies, we shared one dessert. After all, who could turn down warm bourbon pecan bread pudding with a dark chocolate sauce and a Grand Marnier cream. It was the perfect match to the end a fantastic meal. 
With the holiday season here, Nico’s is a great place to share a nice meal with friends or family. I also hear they offer an excellent brunch.  They are even open on Christmas and New Year’s Day!

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If I were a Vegetarian…Encuentro

I started my food blog about five and a half years ago and my very first post was a recipe for farro salad. It was influenced by a dish I had at the vegan/vegetarian restaurant, Encuentro in Jack London Square. A lot has changed since then, including the restaurant moving to a new location less than a mile away from the old location. I was super excited to try Encuentro again because of their social media presence, particularly Instagram followers posting and raving about dishes there.

I met a friend on a weekday evening after work. It was after 5pm, so we started with some hard cider. I had apple and my friend had pear. It was light and refreshing for this warm summer night.  
There were a lot of dishes that were recommended to me, but unfortunately with only two of us we were somewhat limited. We started with a vegan appetizer of marinated mushroom and smoked pecan pate which came with crostini, cornichon, house made fig chutney, and mustard. This dish was spectacular. The flavor of the vegan pate was wonderful and very satisfying to my palette. 
 The macadamia ricotta with heirloom tomato, summer herbs, grilled corn, and balsamic was highly recommended to me. The ricotta is a vegan option, so I chose to replace it with burrata cheese so I could get a little fat. The dish amazed me with its beautiful color. My mind is actually blown because I am now realizing the balsamic on top was freeze dried. I don’t recall a crunch from the balsamic, but I also don’t remember dressing spilling on my hand while eating this. How interesting! This appetizer is served on a toasted baguette and was fresh and delicious. I felt like I was eating pizza bread.  
 We were getting quite full already so we shared one entree. I was curious to try the Korean BBQ tempeh. It came with sautéed bok choy, sesame roasted white turnips, kimchee, and rice. Tempeh is a soy product that is used as a meat substitute. This dish reinforced to me that I don’t like meat substitutes. I really enjoyed the flavors of the dish and all the vegetables that came with it. Instead of tempeh, I would have preferred the use of tofu. Another idea I would present to Encuentro would be a vegetarian bibimbap.  

 We couldn’t leave Encuentro without trying a vegan dessert. Our waiter told us that people in the surrounding Bay Area come to Encuentro specifically for their desserts. We were both intrigued by the chocolate zucchini brownie with vanilla and chocolate coconut ice cream, caramel and chocolate sauce, coconut whipped cream, and candied walnuts. The brownie was delicious, but it was everything else on top that I could not get enough of. This was a light version of a brownie sundae that was rich in flavor.  
 I left Encuentro very pleased. The kitchen does a great job using vegetables to create unique and innovative dishes that make you feel happy and satisfied. One of the best vegetarian meals I have had, I highly recommend Encuentro.