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When you hear the word ‘luxury’, you probably immediately think expensive. Associate that with dining and you assume the food is in a higher price point. What if I told you that there is a restaurant that defies that assumption? The latest newcomer to join the hot Randolph Street corridor, Nellcôte, does just that. I had my first dining experience here to celebrate my birthday in April, which I ranked as one of my most memorable birthdays.
Nellcôte is located in an iconic space that once housed renowned eatery Marché, from National hospitality collective ELEMENT that brought you their sister restaurant Old Town Social. With Nellcôte, they strive to “offer a defiant return to glamour as a sexy, high-energy nightspot”. While the interior offers the elements of luxury (white Italian marble, art nouveau wrought iron gates, extravagant woodwork, cartouche crown molding, crystal chandeliers, and Parisian herringbone wood floors), you will not expect the extravagant prices and high-pretense that goes along with it. Instead, expect a take on classic luxury, contrasting the opulent design with Chef Jared’s delicious food at affordable prices. Oh, in case you were wondering where the name Nellcôte comes from, think Rolling Stones. The name is inspired by Villa Nellcôte, where the Stones stayed during the summer of 1971 to record “Exile on Main Street”, capturing the party atmosphere of their guests.
The Man Behind the Food
I was first introduced to Chef Jared Van Camp’s food in 2007, when he was working under Chef Rick Tramonto at the now-closed Osteria di Tramonto in Wheeling, Illinois. I could tell he was passionate about cooking back then and it was clear that he was meant to go far. You could hear the passion in his voice when he talks about the dishes he created, describing where the ingredients were sourced and what inspired them. He truly is fanatical about every detail, adamantly supporting local farmers and making everything in-house. With Nellcôte, he takes that to another level by offering dishes influenced by France, Italy, and Spain with the ingredients and products sourced from the Midwest. While the dishes are executed beautifully at the highest level, they are at an approachable price point (all dishes are $15 and under).
To take his obsession of house-made one step further, he purchased a custom stone mill, fresh pasta extruder, and wood burning oven from Italy. With the custom stone mill, he is able to mill superfine double zero flour with local heritage wheat sourced from regional farmers, making Nellcôte the only restaurant in the U.S. to mill their own flour in-house daily. This translates into Neapolitan-style pies crisped to perfection and over a dozen fresh-from-scratch-daily pastas.
You will also expect this same precision when it comes to the mixology program, which was a year in the making at Old Town Social. The kitchen includes a line in the station dedicated to the art of the cocktail, with a bar stocked with house-made spirits, bitters, cordials, syrups, preserves and other mixers. The signature cocktail list will change daily based on what is available. As with the food, the cocktails are also at a reasonable price point (nothing over $10).
A Tantalizing Experience of the Culinary Senses
Before Nellcôte was ready to open, I already decided that I would be celebrating my birthday with them. Sure, I had
many other great choices, but I knew I would not be disappointed. Along with my husband and a good friend, we sampled an array of dishes on the menu - pizzas, pastas, savory, and dessert. The night started with wonderful wine recommendations by their highly talented wine director Jason Wagner, as well as a couple of the handcrafted cocktails from the kitchen. The unanimous vote for favorite pizza was probably the sunnyside up organic egg pizza, with Fontina and Perigord black truffles!
I still think about that memorable night, not only because of the delicious food, but the dining experience itself. You really were able to sit back and enjoy the evening in a beautiful space with great servers, without the stuffiness you would expect. It left you wanting to come back to create more delicious memories.
Interior shot: Potluck Creative
Food shots: Jamco Creative