We stepped into the chic, new Nektar on West Mechanic Street in New Hope on the afternoon of the Pride Festival Parade. The place was so jammed that they were serving cold menu items only. We had a quick drink, and vowed to return under more normal circumstances.
The opportunity conveniently arrived the next weekend, when some neighbors asked us to join them downtown for dinner. We quickly suggested Nektar, and our party of five took the short walk to the newly-renovated, expanded and wonderful whiskey and wine bar near the corner of West Mechanic and South Main streets.
We were politely greeted and seated al fresco on the patio overlooking Aquetong Creek. Our server, Luigi, offered us the menu, a one-page affair with food selections on the front and libations on the back. Be forewarned: the drink selections are myriad.
While three of our party agreed to share a bottle of Marquis de la Tour sparkling wine ($28), my friend and I ordered the Belgian Lager Heverlee ($5), and enjoyed a second round with our meals. The la Tour was a fruity Chenin Blanc, and just lightly carbonated. Rave reviews here. The Heverlee, which I have seen only once before in the U.S., loses nothing to its mass market competitor Stella Artois, and has a finer finish.
Highlighted on the menu was a selection of charcuterie meats and cheeses to mix and match. While there were many varieties of both available, we would have liked to see them come from a more expansive geographic range. There were no Scandinavian cheese choices, for example, and the meats, besides a stateless duck breast, were confined to Spain and Italy. We tried the Spanish Chorizo with Vermont Cheddar and Swiss Gruyere. It was delicious — enough to share, and delightfully served with quince and crostini ($19).
Nektar’s food choices come in the form of an expansive tapas menu. It seems every place is doing tapas these days, but only a few are getting it right. Tapas are designed to encourage conversation, as a diner’s attention turns to the company and away from a large meal. While the plates we ordered were on the right side size-wise, some menu items, the New York Strip Steak among them, looked out of place on a tapas menu.
Another challenge at Nektar was presented by the descriptions of the tapas themselves, which at times seemed incomplete. Now, if a place has a great item that will surprise and delight, then by all means leave the diner guessing a bit with the menu description, and wow them with the dish. But one of our party ordered an Italian Grilled Cheese sandwich of Fontina, Provolone and Parmesan ($7), and Luigi advised her that it also contained the typically non-Italian bleu cheese, which she dislikes. Had he not mentioned that, her meal would have been ruined. Another menu item was the Truffle Hamburger ($8) listed with cheese, portobello mushroom and truffle paste. I did not consider ordering it because I thought it was a vegetarian dish, yet much to my chagrin, I saw the beefy burger served to the table next to ours.
For dinner, my friend ordered the Spanish Chorizo and Manchego Sheep’s Cheese Panino ($7.50), a scrumptious sandwich that was not overly spicy. My Baked Pasta ($9) was an outstanding tower of beef and pasta awash in a creamy bolognese bẻchamel.
Spinach pie ($7) evoked lesser reviews. The dish left my companion full, but the thick Sicilian pizza-like crust overwhelmed the magnificent filling combination of Swiss chard, spinach, kale and feta cheese. Again, the menu left her imagining a lighter crust such as phyllo because the heavier crust wasn’t described. Rounding out the meal was the Goat Cheese and Smoked Salmon Sandwich ($8.50) — delicious on wheat bread, with apple, fennel and pesto mayonnaise.
Next, we decided to delve into the whiskey selection. Woodford Reserve ($9) and Bulleit ($8) were an exquisite end to the meal, and a unique touch. Nektar features Tennessee Whiskey, Bourbon, Rye, Irish blends, Single Malt Scotches, Japanese Yamazaki and, of course, Johnnie Walker Black. Everything one might want, except for today’s trendy higher-end Canadian whiskeys.
All in all, Nektar is as advertised: “A wine, beer and whiskey bar offering a variety of small plates.” Actually being the thing you claim to be is half the battle for restaurateurs. The other half is improving over time and staying relevant. Nektar is a hotspot to meet, eat and enjoy the company of friends. Let’s hope it’s here for a good long while.
Five diners, $35 each, tip included.
(The reviewer is unaffiliated with, and receives no compensation from, any restaurant reviewed. His views are his own, and do not necessarily reflect those of the Free Press.)