The 2009 Top 10 Restaurants
By Donna Covrett
In cooking, simplicity is the most difficult element to master, and there is no culture that exemplifies that better than the Italians. That being said, perhaps you’ll understand why I consider Nicola’s chef Cristian Pietoso to be a maestro of understatement. This isn’t to suggest that his years training in Florence or London are extraneous—I don’t think you can turn out potato gnocchi that manages to be both ethereal and substantial on pure instinct alone—or that his inherent talent is less than enormous. Pietoso has an appreciation for simple, pronounced flavor over culinary gymnastics; a refined palate over sleight-of-hand. Fish is prepared so the buttery, saline essence of the sea prevails: red snapper with fruity olive oil and a ribbon of artichoke sauce, halibut with white bean puree and grilled onion petals, delicate monkfish with sautéed Tuscan kale. Meats are administered to with the care attended a lover: medallions of organic veal tenderloin offset by a ragout of mushrooms, or locally raised pork loin wrapped in pancetta and served with Brussels sprouts. Speaking of love and happiness, Pietoso’s veal stock glaze with Parmesan is a favorite no matter what it accompanies—this past winter, a garlic confit and goat cheese–stuffed handmade tortelli pasta—a luxurious, silky perfection that feels somehow both salacious and guilt-free. There are few chefs who master the savory and the sweet as well as Pietoso, and in his desserts simplicity yields to complicated-method-meets-complex-flavor. From crunchy tubes of handmade cannoli to the velvety bittersweet of warm chocolate fondant, dessert is everything it should be: a just-sweet-enough sweet expression of the cuisine and ambiance that characterize love, Italian style.
1420 Sycamore St., Over-the-Rhine, (513) 721-6200 / Rank Last Year: 4