Tucked away in San Francisco’s Presidio Heights neighborhood lies a destination level restaurant that masquerades as a humble bistro. But having just earned its first Michelin star, Nico will not be able to hide out much longer. The cozy French eatery owned and operated by celebrated French chef Nicolas Delaroque and his wife Andrea is now on the haute dining map.
The locals in this tony neighborhood would likely prefer to keep their bistro classified, lest they lose their usual spots at the six-stool pewter bar with the large dark glass window that overlooks the scene at Sacramento and Lyon Streets. The regulars who wish to retain their Friday night tables might not appreciate the consistent praise heaped upon their chef (Delaroque was named one of five ‘rising star chefs’ by the Robb Report last year), or the restaurant’s ongoing recognition by the San Francisco Chronicle as one of the top 100 in the Bay Area.
But Nico’s inclusive appeal is undeniable. The experience begins the minute guests enter the warm, welcoming, and perfectly lit 45-seat dining room. Reclaimed dark wood tables and Arts and Crafts style chairs are comfortably spaced for privacy. The sincere and hospitable staff works collaboratively to seamlessly monitor the room, readily sharing responsibilities in a familial manner. The atmosphere is refined yet casual – a description that aptly describes the food.
Nico recently switched from an a la carte menu to a daily changing three ($55) or five ($65) course fix priced menu that allows Delaroque to focus his cuisine based on what he finds each morning at the local farmer’s markets. While a set menu format lends itself to a more formal atmosphere, Delaroque’s French-modern offerings combine the delicacy and technique of the fine dining tradition with food and a setting that are never stuffy.
On this particular visit, the five courses included: mackerel with cress and crème fraiche; a beef bouillon soup with turnip and oyster; rainbow trout with apple, sorrel, and celery root; duck served two ways – breast and thigh confit – with cabbage, squash and chestnut; and finally, dessert of roasted pear with vanilla ice cream, crushed almonds and coffee budino.
Every beautifully and delicately plated dish was sublime – in both taste and appearance – and a delicious discovery of layered and nuanced flavors not easily replicated in a home kitchen. This was a special meal, made even more exceptional with perfect wine pairings ($55) curated by the knowledgeable Maz Naba, director of operations. (For those who find a set menu intimidating, Nico is a safe place to set aside fears and take chances. For allergies and aversions, the kitchen is always prepared to substitute.)
The bar also offers small bites ($8) such as oysters, pate, or pork rillettes. And all guests are encouraged to kick off their evening with a glass of bubbly from the gorgeous magnum of NV Philipponnat Reserve Brut Rose ($25/flute) that Nico opens nightly – the perfect haute start to a perfect meal and evening, and the perfect way to toast a new Michelin star.
3228 Sacramento St., San Francisco, (415) 359-1000. Dinner Tuesday-Saturday.
Photography by Eric Wolfinger