Nick Gialias’ Nektar restaurant at 8 W. Mechanic St. promises to be a clever twist on the wine bar theme, adding on beer and spirits specially paired with small plates, cheeses, charcuterie, and sandwiches. We got our hot little hands on a working draft copy of the Nektar menu “over the transom” this week, and the food array sounds nothing short of mouth-watering, with the wine, beer and spirit selections hitting the mark in every category.
While the restaurant’s renovation (it used to be Wildflowers) is months away, and knowing the amiable and business-savvy Gialias won’t be too off-put by some pre-opening buzz, we present a sneak preview of the menu that puts leading-edge cuisine back in New Hope’s backyard. With an emphasis on taste, rather than portion size, Nektar seems in step with today’s hottest culinary trends.
With nearly two dozen selections, not counting rose, port and sherry, prices range from around $6 for a 3 oz. glass to about $9 for 5 oz.
Looking at the reds, Les Ondines Cotes du Rhone, France ’11 (grenache) is described as “intensely red, with a blackberry, violet and tobacco bouquet, sweet fruit influences, and full-bodied.” The Bibbiano Casalone “Super Tuscan” ’12 (sangiovese) is ruby red, with a violet and berry bouquet, and a dry, clean taste. And Primarius Pinot Noir, Oregon ’11, is likewise ruby red in color, with hints of raspberry, cherry and spice, along with a persistent fruit finish, according to the menu.
Standouts among the whites include the Argyros Assyrtiko from Santorini, Greece, ’11 (assyrtiko), with a crystal clear yellow hue, citrus overtones, crisp freshness, medium body and high acidity. The Broadbent Vinho Verde, from Portugal ’12 (louriero) sounds interesting, with its straw color and green highlights, citrus and green apple layers, and hints of minerality and savory herbs, along with a spritzy, light and fresh taste. The Textbook Chardonnay from Napa Valley has a bright golden yellow tone, fresh melon and nectarine influences, and notes of honey and pithy.
A great representation of pale, fruity, dark, power, and light categories are on display, with more than two dozen choices, and prices ranging from $5 to $35 for the Allagash Curieux from Maine, with 11% alcohol and weighing in at a mighty 25 oz. That brew is a golden dusty color, bourbon barrel aged, with vanilla hints, tropical nuances, and a drying bite.
Lets talk tap: Standouts include the Victory Prima Pils, from our own Pennsylvania, and sporting a 5.3% content at 14 oz., and German malt subtleties with a dry finish. The Chimay Blanche Belgium Trappist is a classic, with its 8% alcohol punch in a 10 oz. size, featuring a hazed, golden straw hue, balanced hop taste, and hints of muscat and raisin, while staying dry.
And the Rogue Shakespeare Oatmeal Stout from Oregon sounds bold and satisfying, with its ebony tone, rich and creamy head, and mellow chocolate aftertaste.
On the Scotch side, all the names one would expect are represented, including not only Talisker, Glenmorangie, Oban, Balvenie, and Laphroaig, but also the more idiosyncratic Compass Box Asyla and dad’s stalwart Ballentine’s Finest. The bourbons are raucous, with the “four Bs” leading the pack — Basil Hayden’s, Blanton’s, Bakers, and perhaps the greatest bourbon of them all, the exquisite Booker’s, with its dried fruit and vanilla subtleties and raw power.
Oh yes, the food
If the deluxe wines and spirits above don’t grab you, the food will. In a word, it’s mind-bending (okay, maybe that’s two words).
Where does one begin? Small plates include Goose Liver Mousse ($10), Potato Tortilla with chive sour cream ($5), Ratatouille & Baked Egg ($8.50), Baked Rigatoni ($8), Bacon Wrapped Dates with roasted red pepper sauce ($6), Asian Tuna Tartare with ginger, cilantro, jalapeno, wasabi, and scallion ($12), and Marinated Mixed Olives ($4).
Charcuterie offerings were simply monumental, and included Smoked Duck, Jamon Serrano (“ham of the mountains” — a hog leg aged over eight months), Spanish Chorizo (Rioja, Spain; smoky, with hot paprika), and Felino Salami (fennel-spiced salami, with whole black pepper and a complex flavor).
The cheese selection in the proposed menu we saw was top-notch. Fresh Goat Cheese from Vermont led the list, along with a classic Greek Feta (sheep) described as “oak-aged, creamy, tangy and briny.” Also offered will be a “pleasantly mild” French Double Cream Brie (cow). Other interesting choices include Hudson Valley Camembert (sheep & cow) with its “thick texture, and mild well-salted flavor,” and Maple Leaf Red Wax Gouda (cow) from Wisconsin. And if you’re feeling blue, the Blue D’Auvergne A.O.C. (cow) from France is said to be “mellow and meaty, with balanced salt and spice.”
Sounds fantastic, but can the pairing of these varied and unique flavors really work from both a culinary and marketing standpoint?
We asked two prominent area chefs, who are neither in competition with Gialias nor know him personally, to tell us what they thought of the proposed menu.
Chef Ricardo Gonzalez of Doylestown said, “It’s fun to watch the direction, interest and sophistication food and beverage have taken. People seem more and more interested and engaged with the process of how whiskey is aged, beer brewed, and wine fermented.”
“The overall Nektar menu is put together into casual categories, however, it is obvious that great detail and research have gone into the selection of each item, with offerings made from the best around the world,” he added. “Most fascinating is the pairing of items in order to complement one another.”
“Better yet, the exceptional descriptions given each item allow the patrons to customize their meal, from a sampling to several courses, complementing each with the appropriate beverage of choice,” said Gonzalez. “It should prompt larger groups to order an array of items for sampling, sharing, discussing, and comparing. I haven’t seen a menu as fun and engaging in some time.”
Jonathan Moore Sharaf, a chef and area restaurant denizen who by day is a senior vice president-investment officer at Wells Fargo Advisors in Doylestown, was ecstatic: “WOW! I’m hungry. This looks fantastic; my kind of menu: eclectic and mouthwatering!”
“The bar menu also looks wonderful and dynamic — hard stuff/single malts, wine and beer. The owner clearly knows what he doing!” added Sharaf. “This restaurant will do well, because there’s nothing quite like it in the New Hope/Lambertville area.”