Nico is located on an elegant stretch of Sacramento Street and feels surprisingly welcoming. Upon entering, one sees the whole interior of the restaurant revealing itself as far away as the kitchen, separated from the main room by a big glass window. I was greeted by two hostesses but later learned that one of them was the co-owner. They made me feel comfortable while I was waiting for my friend to come, and I had a chance to ask questions about the chef and his hard-working team behind the big glass window.
During our dinner, we had a surprise visit—the chef came to greet us and introduced himself. Nico is a young, attractive, and soft-spoken Parisian man who speaks fondly of his restaurant and food creations. He described his cuisine as Modern French, using California ingredients with French techniques to create sophisticated and light dishes. I must add that the food looks and tastes really healthy. I had never been to a French restaurant and eaten so wholesomely without ordering any meat. I went to the web site to find out the name of the dishes we had, but instead I read that the menu is reinvented each night and subject to change. Before you make a reservation, please visit their website to read about their most recent menu. The latest one looks fantastic. I am definitely ready to make another reservation! I had as an appetizer an asparagus dish with sesame dressing. I would like to know how Nico cooks asparagus because they were just perfect—firm and crunchy. My friend Kristen ordered the sardines and was happy with her choice. You can tell from my pictures that the dishes were just gorgeous. My main dish was meatless—a morel mushrooms dish with an egg and chikpeas. My friend ordered the pork. It came in a pretty brown plate, pink in color with similar colors veggies. We didn’t order desert, but we ordered a cheese plate and we loved the choices of cheese. The selection was generous in size. We found it pleasurable to watch the kitchen team prepare our dishes behind the big glass window. They seemed to work in a harmonious way, focused and organized. We loved the fact that we didn’t feel rushed by our server. She was gracious and prompt and was smiling the whole time. The restaurant is a nice size, but it is quiet and there is enough room between the tables so you don’t feel invaded by other people’s conversations.
Nico is a little gem in San Francisco. You will be delighted by the inventiveness of this young chef and the beautiful energy of the décor and the staff.
Nico | 3228 Sacramento Street, San Francisco| (415) 359-1000
Les Macarons – these delicious, mouthwatering French cookies – are sold everywhere these days. You can find them even at Whole Foods… as a version of macarons but not the real thing. Our palettes must be evolving towards refined treats, and the trends are definitely keeping up. So, I organized a Christmas Macaron Party to enjoy, savor, compare and indulge in the art of culinary fun. I went to San Francisco and bought macarons from Chantal Guillon, La Boulange, Miette and Le Marais Bakery. There are many more stores that sell macarons, but I couldn’t go to every one, so I had to choose. I have to admit I love macarons. I can easily finish a box of 6 in a total of 2 minutes. I would keep going if it weren’t for my higher self reminding me that I’d better control my emotions and my gluttony and think about my waist line. Well, I could always use a corset to give the illusion that I am slimmer than I am. But – I have to admit – I love myself more than I love macarons. Macarons are made with eggs, almond flour, sugar and (usually) food coloring. For the most part, they are gluten free, which makes them ultra popular. They are also beautiful, delicate, dreamy, and come in interesting flavors. This blog link has a good recipe for a green tea macaron.
The round melting meringue-based confection is reported to have been introduced to France by Catherine de Medici’s private Italian chefs when she married Henri II de France. But nowadays the macaron is known as a French creation. It was brought back to fame in the early 20th century by the Parisian pastry shop Ladurée.
At our party, we found that Miette makes great macarons with the right balance of texture, taste, and sweetness. Miette uses only organic ingredients and no food coloring. Their macarons have natural colors and a short shelf life (up to 3 days). We tasted the rose macaron, which smelled like rose water. The flavor was present and consistent in the shell and the taste. The chocolate mousse was crunchy but firm, with balanced sugar and texture. The orange macaron had a hint of orange, with a fine and subtle taste. La Boulange is a pioneer in making macarons famous in San Francisco. We liked the texture of their macarons and their strong aromas. The rum raisin macaron was firm, crunchy, and flavorful. You could easily smell the rum. The Nutella had the taste of hazelnuts (as it should), was thick, textured and not too sweet. The Pistachio is one of my favorites. It tasted like vanilla, frangipani, and it tasted sweeter than the others.
Chantal Guillon’s lovely store is located on Hayes Street and is entirely devoted to the art of macarons. Her macarons are beautifully presented and packaged. We tasted her green tea macaron, which was delicate and soft. It had a subtle taste, but it didn’t taste like green tea. The Persian rose had a very strong rose flavor, but the macaron itself didn’t have the aroma of a rose. We found both macarons to be very sweet, and a sweet aftertaste lingered on our palettes. The caramel was pretty and tasted good. The aftertaste was saltier, which we enjoyed.
When I went to Le Marais on Chestnut Street to buy some macarons, it was the end of the day and they only had three left. So I bought the chocolate caramel. The macaron had a very distinctive texture. It was crumbly, a little chewy, with a strong caramel flavor. The feeling was smooth and gooey. We enjoyed it very much and regretted that we couldn’t taste any other flavors. According to staff, they only make a few flavors at a time, including chocolate mint. The delicacy of the macarons invites you to savor them one by one. We enjoyed every bite we took and had a lot of fun comparing and admiring them. If you have tasted other macarons in The City or beyond, leave us a comment. We would like to know about your experience.
I love the name of this charming and unpretentious French bistro in the heart of the gourmet ghetto in Berkeley. It is located on Walnut Street, one block from Shattuck, in the crossroads of counter-culture (how can you escape it really in Berkeley?) and Alice Waters food aficionados. I met a friend there on a Sunday, and I enjoyed the French flair and the casual feel of the place. The servers spoke French, and the owners are French as well.
The food is simple and authentic. The breakfast menu looks impressive with all sorts of omelets. The dinner menu lists simple and hearty dishes like boeuf bourguignon (French beef stew served on top of mashed potatoes), filet mignon and an interesting choice of assiettes (plates of cheese, ham, sausages). I found the prices moderate – under $20 for a meat dish (plat principal) – not bad at all. I love that they offer 6 seafood dishes, from crabe sauce blanche (crab gratin with sautéed leeks in a creamy béchamel sauce) to Saint Jacques au caviar de choux fleur (seared scallops with garlic, coriander and tomato sauce served with cauliflower caviar). All seafood lovers would find these French recipes intriguing enough to try. Doesn’t it smell like La Bretagne to you?
La Fable is open all day from breakfast to dinner (closed tuesday) and even sells croissants, pains au chocolat, and macarons for desert. As you guessed from the picture, that is exactly what I had!
La Fable | 1508 Walnut Street, Berkeley | (510) 849-9995