On a rainy New York evening, few places are more inviting than a cozy Italian restaurant. This was just what Nick & Toni’s Café, located minutes from the Lincoln Center in the upper west side, offered on a recent dreary day. The relaxing music and hand-painted Italian frescoes welcome guests as they enter the restaurant, a space that manages to feel intimate, yet spacious at the same time. This may be in part due to the large arched windows facing West 67th Street, which opens up the restaurant and also allows for entertaining people watching.
The Café’s bar greets guests upon entering, where they can enjoy one of the restaurant’s hundreds of reds, whites or rosés while waiting for a table. For those looking for a simpler guide to the restaurant’s wines, Nick & Toni’s offers a list of “Sommelier’s Selections,” from which we selected the Syrah “Tous Ensemble” Copain from Mendocino, which could be ordered by the glass or bottle (we ordered a bottle once seated at our table). The restaurant, opened in 1994, is an offshoot of the original Nick & Toni’s located in East Hampton New York, where the owners oversee several other established restaurants.
Keeping with the neighborly feel, Nick & Toni’s menu emphasizes the local sources of many of its ingredients, with a note at the bottom noting that the restaurant uses “organic, sustainable product & shop the NYC Greenmarkets in an effort to support our local farmers & fishermen.” The oven-roasted calamari I ordered put an interesting twist to the standard appetizer, including perfectly crisped circles of fingerling potatoes, along with toasted breadcrumbs and lemon aioli. Guests could also try the Satur Farms arugula salad, which included radishes and goat cheese crostini from nearby Coach Farms, and of course arugula, from the upstate Satur Farms.
The space is anchored by a large wood-burning stove, which also helps emphasize the fresh preparation of the food. While Nick & Toni’s is reputed for its specialty pizzas—including the Salsicia, with its sweet Italian sausage and aged provolone, as well as its classic Margherita—we decided to try some of their other specialty entrees.
My date ordered the special—juicy lamb over grilled asparagus—while I went with the seared diver scallops. The soft, buttery taste of the scallops was balanced by the crisp grilled trevisano side, drizzled with balsamic vinegar. But the highlight of the dish was the house-made guanciale (what our server described as “bacon at a party”), which offered a sweet, savory accent to the more mild scallops.
With a third of a bottle of wine left after finishing our entrees, we decided to order the American artisanal cheese plate. It included a range of domestic cheeses, but my favorite part was the honeycomb side from Andrew’s Honey NY. We finished up with a pair of light desserts: the hazelnut budino (Italian pudding), with espresso whipped cream, offered a delightful creamy texture, with additional “cocoa nibs” giving it just the slightest, satisfying crunch. Also delicious was the chocolate blood orange marmellata torta, which provided a tart flavor complimented by the slices of winter citrus fruit accompanying the dish.
As we finished our meal and headed out into the wet evening, the warmth of the wine and wonderful dining experience kept the cold at a distance.
Nick & Toni’s Cafe
100 W 67th St
(between Columbus Ave & Broadway)
New York, NY 10023