Small, shared plates are the darlings of the city’s newest restaurants, and Nico on Sacramento Street is no exception. Whether you call this charming spot that seats 44 a bistro or a brasserie, chef Nicholas Delaroque — who was raised in Paris and has worked at hot spots Luce, Le Garage and Manresa — and his wife, Andrea, have concocted a French-inspired yet thoroughly Californian menu that changes daily, showcasing seasonal ingredients served up in dainty portions. But ye of hearty appetite don’t despair. Nico also has four main courses that offer up more in the way of substance, as well as a cheese course and four desserts. Each dish at Nico is crafted like a special gift that combines flavor, color and texture to pique the senses and delight the diner.
Bites ($8) head up the menu and often include oysters prepared in different ways, and croquettes, yummy puffs filled with things like celery root and cheese or petrale sole. Starters ($11–$13) usually feature a soup, such as carrot with crème fraiche and licorice; or salsify (a root vegetable) with brown butter and coffee. Other unusual and colorful pairings include asparagus with wood sorrel, hazelnut and whey; beets with pomegranate, purple basil and sheep’s milk ricotta; and lamb tongue with artichoke, potato and mustard.
As far as mains ($22–$25) go, there is always a fish, like black cod with broccolini, green garlic and crab; and often duck and pork, for example, pork with cabbage, turnip, and hedgehog mushrooms. For nonmeat eaters, there is always a vegetarian item such as potato with egg yolks, truffles, cauliflower, and almond. (Note that these are not vegan items.)
There are also always three French cheese selections ($6 each; $15 all three), and desserts ($8) that often incorporate fruit such as pear or Clementine, and even avocado with lime and chocolate.
In addition to the chameleon menu, there is a thoughtful wine list and nightly wine and food pairings as well as wines by the glass orchestrated by both Delaroque and wine director Malcolm Brownson, who has impeccable taste and a friendly, approachable demeanor. Nico also offers a few house cocktails, domestic and imported beer, and aperitifs. And each night Brownson opens a magnum of vintage Champagne and offers it by the glass ($12.50 for three ounces and $25 for six).
Whether you’re in the mood for a full-fledged romantic dinner, a glass of bubbly and a bite before a movie, or something in between, be prepared to enjoy it all at Nico.
Note: Nico has a private dining room, the Maple Room, which features a large, plank table crafted from solid maple. It sits beneath a skylight and accommodates 7–14 people.
Nico: 3228 Sacramento Street (at Baker), 415-359-1000, nicosf.com; Tuesday through Saturday 5:30–9:30 p.m.