The curtain's been raised on NICO Kitchen + Bar, the new, chic eatery that raises the bar on dinner-and-a-show in Newark.
Tucked inside the New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC), chef Ryan DePersio's third restaurant in Essex County is inviting with a cool, casual atmosphere and an "Italian without borders" menu of sophisticated dishes designed for sharing.
Signature bites from his other restaurants, like the grilled pork burger, pomegranate-chili wings with gorgonzola dipping sauce and quattro formaggio pizza, have (thankfully) made their way onto the Newark menu.
But unexpected dishes like squid-ink cavatelli with tender octopus and buttermilk-baked chicken breast with black truffle pesto are what set NICO Kitchen + Bar apart with its more contemporary American style.
Portions, while just right in size, are meant for sharing, though when it comes to items like the beet pinwheel salad with red wine syrup, mache salad and what DePersio calls goat cheese "snow" (frozen, crumbled goat cheese that's as light as air), you may not want to.
"When it comes down to it, it's about letting the ingredients shine on their own," he said about cooking with simple foods, like peppers, to add color or just a bit of heat to a dish.
The restaurant, which opened Feb. 21, also offers a time-savvy prix-fixe menu for patrons with a show to catch. The three-course menu was crafted to come out of the kitchen quickly and will be changed up every three or so months, DePersio said.
NICO Kitchen + Bar, owned and operated by DePersio and hospitality company Culinaire, doesn't disappoint when it comes to ambience. The 200-seat restaurant is split into three areas for an intimate feel: A bar and lounge area and a split dining room that can be converted for larger events.
The interior of the restaurant is sleek in an understated way with 32-foot ceilings and gray walls that pop with pictures of artists who have performed at NJPAC. In the warmer months, outdoor dining will be available.
DePersio, already a renowned culinary genius who has appeared on "The Today Show" and competed on Food Network's "Chopped," is also known for adding a familial flair at each of restaurants. His mother, Cynthia, is a pastry chef and brother, Anthony, is a partner at Fascino, and the name Bar Cara is an acronym for members of the entire DePersio family, including father Anthony.
NICO Kitchen + Bar was named after DePersio's son, Nicholas, though the 6-year-old seemed none too impressed about being the namesake of his father's latest venture.
"He just said, 'That's cool,'" said DePersio with a laugh.
NICO Kitchen + Bar
at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center
One Center St., Newark, NJ
Lunch Hours: Mon.-Fri.: 11 a.m.-3 p.m.; Bar Menu available 3-5 p.m.
Dinner Hours: Mon.-Thurs.: 5-10 p.m.; Fri.-Sat.: 5-11 p.m.
Free parking in entrance court available for diners with validation (not in conjunction with attending a performance)