833 W. Randolph St. 312-432-0500
Rating: !!! out of 4 Off to a good start
The story: Chef Jared Van Camp knows how to please bar crowds at Old Town Social, but at Nellcote, the new sibling restaurant from the same owners, he’s looking to really flex his culinary muscles. The spacious restaurant just opened on Randolph Street’s white-hot restaurant row, catering to both foodies and the nightlife crowd with creative cocktails and a European-inspired menu. And as for the name, it’s a reference to Villa Nellcote, the French chateau where the Rolling Stones crashed for a summer, and the same glamorous, laissez-faire attitude rules here.
The scene: Like Old Town Social, Nellcote seems to want to be everything to everyone. The main dining room is full of high and low tables, some communal seating, a long (and generally packed) bar, and a few plush couches, plus luxe touches such as sparkling chandeliers and brocade fabrics. Even on weeknights, well-dressed scenesters clutching wine glasses are carousing like it’s Saturday of a long weekend.
The food: In the kitchen, Van Camp is running an in-restaurant grain mill (the first in the country as far as I’ve heard), so I wasn’t surprised that the servers made a point to mention that freshly milled flour is the star of a deliciously briny manila clam pizza ($11), as well as a satisfying taglioni ($10), long ribbons of pasta tossed with a bright, creamy champagne sauce and small, sweet oysters. White asparagus soup with scallops ($6) and glazed skate wing ($11) are both surprisingly refined lounge food, but with frazzled (and not especially knowledgeable) servers bringing plates at an erratic pace, it’s hard to savor it properly.
The drinks: While some cocktail menus can read like an indecipherable list of ingredients, Nellcote’s drinks are identified by booze, from gin to rye to tequila. Even if you’re not a dark spirits drinker, the Bulleit bourbon cocktail with housemade peach preserves and green chartreuse ($10) will make you a believer. Because Jason Wagner, sommelier of next-door neighbor RM Champagne Salon opening later this spring, also oversees the wine at Nellcote, the glass and bottle lists are lengthy, varied and conducive to splurging. Don’t expect many bargains on the Belgian-heavy beer list, either.
Bottom line: Nellcote nails the Rolling Stones’ vibe. It’s rowdy, sexy, fun, and hip, but occasionally tripped up by its members’ distractibility. If the servers can learn to play to the same volume that the kitchen is rocking, everything would be in better harmony.