There’s no place quite like Nellcôte. Every time I walk under the Hermes-orange awning and step foot onto the Italian blue mosaic tile floor outside I can’t help but feel excited. The interior is nothing short of breathtaking. With many ornate art nouveau details, a ceiling full of crystal chandeliers included, the design of the space is truly extraordinary.
While physically I know I’m located in the Randolph Street Corridor, mentally I feel like I have been transported somewhere else. And with good reason — the restaurant was inspired by Villa Nellcôte, an opulent 16-room mansion in the town of Villefranche-sur-Mer in the Côte d’Azur region of Southern France, where the Rolling Stones recorded their “Exile on Main Street” album.
Villa Nellcôte was home to Rolling Stones guitarist, Keith Richards, his controversial German-Italian model girlfriend, Anita Pallenberg, and their son Marlon. The house became a lavish party space for many while the band recorded in the basement studio. Rock n’ roll opulence at its finest.
So what better way to start out my meal than with Champagne & Reefer? Something tells me the Stones would approve. This punchy cocktail is made with fresh cucumber and lime, Martin Miller Gin, St. Germain, Chareau, and prosecco. I noticed the freshness immediately and enjoyed the slightly sour finish, which wasn’t too overpowering.
As I sipped on my cocktail, my very cool and very knowledgeable server Jody explained that Nellcôte had just started transitioning into their fall menu. Rather than change the whole menu at once, they like to ease their way in by adding a new dish every one to two weeks. The first course served was the Fresh Bread, and I don’t mean rolls in a basket.
Made in house by their baker, it was presented on a simple board with butter and three bread options: whole-wheat sesame, pain au lait (milk bread) and everything epi. While each type of bread was delicious in its own way, the pain au lait was nothing short of elegant. Buttery and slightly sweet with hints of salt, it was the perfect way to start the meal.
Next, my server brought out the Ahi Tuna Tartare. The dish was aromatic and beautifully balanced with light notes of acid. But perhaps the most tantalizing part of the dish was the surprise taste of watermelon. It added the perfect crunch and the burst of sweet paired superbly with the tuna and cilantro. Flavor and texture met in divine harmony and made this a truly clever construction.
With a farm-to-table approach, Nellcôte sources their ingredients from local farmers throughout the Chicagoland area. This became abundantly clear when I had my first bite of the Beet Salad. Made with fresh and marinated beets, this dish was a true celebration of the ingredient. Accompanied by arugula, bay blue cheese, honey apple espelette and chicken chicharones, I can say with confidence that this is the best beet salad I’ve ever had the pleasure of eating. When there, if you only order one thing, this should be it — it’s the essence of farm fresh.
Before I dove into what I was sure would be the heavier part of the meal, I ordered a second drink upon my server’s recommendation – the Summer Romance. I can’t thank her enough for this suggestion. With Mint-infused Brugal Dry Rum, Yellow Chartreuse, lavender syrup, orange bitter and fresh lime, it was bright and refreshing. If I closed my eyes while I sipped, I could imagine that I was sitting on a warm porch somewhere in the Deep South.
The intoxicating smell of the Pork T-Bone quickly snapped me out of my southern daydream. I am not a heavy meat eater, but this sparked excitement. The bourbon bacon jus absolutely made this dish and everything on the plate screamed autumn. The red cabbage and grilled apples added a sweet smokiness and a welcomed textural contrast to the meat.
To finish the meal, I had a chocolate parfait with shortbread cookies. Made with toffee, fresh nuts and mousse, this was an ideal ending. The dish was not too heavy and the cookies had a lemony tang, which cut through the sweetness of the chocolate.
Opulent, yet affordable, Nellcôte is a true gem and I cannot wait to go back for seconds and thirds.
833 West Randolph Street, Chicago, IL 60607
Featured Image Photo by Potluck Creative