This Sh*t's Delicious

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Review of Niko’s Italian Bistro

Niko’s is one of those places that you have heard of before, know it is good, but somehow never quite found the time to make it over. We were taking a stroll in Kensington when we happened to walk by Niko’s, so even though I didn’t have my camera, I couldn’t pass up the chance to check out this Kensington institution. Upon walking in, we were immediately greeted by the very friendly Niko himself, and even though we didn’t have any reservations, were seated almost immediately. Looks like we had just got in time, as 30 min. later, the place was packed…on a Sunday night.

photo 2 (4)The first thing that strikes you about this bistro is that it is an awesome date place. It’s casual and classy, but not fine dining. It is upscale, but not snooty. Floor to wall windows facing Kensington Rd, high ceilings, an elongated rectangular hallway, and mood lighting give it an air of sophistication. True to the description, there were several couples there, not to mention a high school double date, which my partner thought was cute. I was just a bit amazed that high school kids these days could afford places like Niko’s. Definitely not a place for three dudes to go to “hang out.”

Typically, I have found that any Italian restaurant worth its salt bakes its own bread. However, considering Niko’s did not offer that appetizer, we ordered their bruschetta ($8) and caprese salad ($8) to set a baseline comparison. I also ordered the prosecco ($7), a type of Italian dry white wine that is consumed an as aperitif.  Niko was pretty knowledgeable about the menu, which I suppose is a no-brainer considering he is the owner. Still, it is heartening to see the owner at the front of the house, mingling with the patrons, ensuring first hand that they are having a good time.

The prosecco was a nice balance of dry-but-too-dry and sweet-but-not-too-sweet. Although, I prefer sweeter wines (screw you, snobs), I didn’t mind this version of the drink. It was a nice mellow drink that also served well as a palate cleanser between the different dishes. The appetizers were another story. I found them to be generally underwhelming and lacking in freshness. IMHO, the only thing that differentiates a good from an ok bruschetta or caprese salad is the quality and freshness of their ingredients, especially the tomatoes. In this case, it simply wasn’t there. My favourite part of the bruschetta was the crostini, which I sadly disappointed to find out, isn’t actually made in-house.

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However, I refused to let that deter me as my partner had been here on several occasions, and couldn’t stop raving about there main course. As I am a vegetarian, there weren’t very many options that could be ordered wholesale without seriously compromising the chef’s original vision. N. was a huge fan of the gnocchi caprese ($16), so we both got a plate to share.

photo 4 (2) It turned out to be the best food-related decision I have ever made. I don’t have the range in my food-related vocabulary to illustrate just how fantastic this dish was.  From the potato dumplings that melted in my mouth, to the creamy and savoury tomato sauce, every bite was pure delight. When N. couldn’t finish hers, I was more than happy to finish it off for her. From now on, this will be the gnocchi that all other gnocchi will be compared against. Hands down, no questions about it. Well done, sir, well done indeed.

N. wanted to order some desert, and after the gnocchi-related food-gasm, I couldn’t really say no. Plus, the desserts sounded really, really good, so I was happy to oblige. I ordered the Grande Marnier Banana ($7) and N. ordered Crème Caramel ($7). It was odd to see no mention of any tiramisu on the menu though…

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The Grande Marnier was another winner. It was sublime and a very good finish to the meal. The banana slices were perfectly ripe and were caramelized just enough to bring out their flavour. You couldn’t really tell there was any alcohol in the dessert, which for me, is always a plus. My only complaint would be that the vanilla ice cream was already melted by the time it came out, which probably means that it was sitting on the counter for a while, waiting for the crème caramel to be finished. The crème caramel was delectable, although frankly, it did not come close to even touching the Grande Marnier.

Summary

Niko’s is a great place for a date or for a family dinner. The casual but sophisticated ambiance, great food, and excellent service make it a worthwhile visit. Don’t miss out on it!

Ranking

Ambiance 5/6
Service 5/6
Plating 4.5/6
Taste 4.5/6
Authenticity 5/6
Value 4/6
Overall 28/36 = 78%

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