By skipping appetizers, you get directly to that spaghetti and meatballs. Or in the key of seafood, rigatoni alla Sal ($24.95), with shrimp and scallops and peas and wild mushrooms in a light cream sauce.
Another Nadeau pick, brick chicken ($23.95), was supposed to bring half a chicken, but mine was two Statler breasts, with crispy skin and tender juicy meat. I suppose that works out to be the front half of the chicken, just not what I was expecting. There's no fancy all-natural claims to the quality of this chicken — I don't think these chickens played ultimate frisbee all day and then stuck to a strictly organic diet. But I don't do those things myself, and therefore don't mind. Why compete with your own dinner? All that matters is that it tastes good. The spring garnish was a couple of peeled asparagus, two large sections of roasted red bell pepper, and a cute sub-portion of mashed potatoes.
On the special lamb loin ($35.95), the chef gets three lamb chops to stand up like sailboats in a regatta. It comes with the same spring garnishes. Chicken primavera ($18.95) was stewed with artichokes (canned, salty ones), peas, and mushrooms.
From the bar, bosco sangria ($11) is a burgundy glass of Cabernet red wine overpowered by slightly sweet citron liqueur, with slices of apple, strawberry, and orange. It tastes like a Sangria cocktail, which is what it is. Cappuccino ($4) is well-made.
One of Nico's strengths is that they have four credible desserts. The profiteroles ($7.95) are almost incredible, marked down only for soggy pastry balls. These days, there are YouTube videos on how to make the pâté-à-choux balls, but no one else has figured out how to invert the usual pudding to have chocolate mousse on top and whipped cream underneath. Crème caramello ($7.95) always has fans; our night it was somewhat granular. Tiramisu ($7.95) was above average in flavor and texture.
Owner Nick Varano made his reputation on hospitality as much as, if not more than, food. (He's gambling that reputation with a deli off the greenway and some big investments in Dedham.) Servers are accurate and friendly, even when the owner isn't in the house. They tell you the prices of specials, not always done in the North End. On a second visit, when I sat at the bar, the young bartender tried to make conversation with me. "Do you live around here?" No, I just work around here. (I also work in a lot of other neighborhoods, and tonight I am working exactly here, the kind of fact that makes me suppress laughter when servers elsewhere ask me, "Are you still working on that?" Surely, I am one of very, very few customers who are actually "working on that.")
Though Nico is by no means my favorite restaurant in the North End, I am impressed that it's managed to break into dessert. Apparently it's far enough down Hanover Street, and thus far enough from Mike's Pastry shop, to get away with serving sweets. That's a very promising development.
Robert Nadeau can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.