A Welcome Reinvention: Nick & G’s
Posted on April 5, 2018
The key to running a successful eatery in Rancho Santa Fe is well known to restaurateurs. The village itself is off the beaten path, so converting Ranch residents into regulars is vital. A venue must serve up luxury with a side of familiarity. It might be best described as a civilized version of a Cheers-like neighborhood bar. Everybody knows your name, but bellowing hellos and salty repartee are replaced by knowing nods, remembrance of likes and dislikes, and cheerful banter. It sounds simple, but it’s been a difficult equation lately at the corner of La Granada and Paseo Delicias, until now.
Nick & G’s is the latest concept to grace the prime location, which for more than 20 years housed longtime favorite Delicias. In 2012, the restaurant’s design and menu received dramatic overhauls, with popular ex-L’Auberge toque Paul McCabe coming aboard. The backlash from regulars was immediate and impactful, leading Delicias to close. The Grand Restaurant Group then took over and developed another chef-driven concept, Ponsaty’s, named for its French master chef Patrick Ponsaty. The space was revamped again, this time with Old World French flair. The high-end, high-concept menu matched the motif and tasted great, but a year in, the restaurant group and Ponsaty parted ways, and the ownership re-opened the venue as Nick & G’s.
Described as a Mediterranean chophouse, the spot is under the helm of chef Brian Freerksen, formerly of La Jolla Beach & Tennis Club and Paradise Point. Freerksen’s menu features Italian mainstays with fun, flavorful, and in many cases hearty twists. A simple wedge salad is laced with unexpected smoky sweetness from honeyed bacon. Bresaola sausage and spicy Amatriciana sauce bring carnivorous appeal to the baked manicotti. And a filling meal can be made of sautéed asparagus Milanese bolstered by an abundance of mixed greens and topped with a fried egg (plus optional add-ons, including shrimp, salmon, and beef tenderloin).
Simple flatbreads including pepperoni, sausage, and wild mushroom make for nice shared fare that double as an ample single-serve main course. Pastas range from classical — shrimp scampi, pappardelle Bolognese, fettuccine Alfredo — to chef’s creations, highlighted by ravioli stuffed with saline Pata Cabra goat cheese dressed in tomato brown butter. Entrees are also wide-ranging. Chicken Parmesan and grilled steaks share space with a sizeable Berkshire pork chop over creamy mascarpone polenta with earthily sweet braised figs. Desserts — vanilla crème brûlée, caramel carrot cake, and butterscotch bread pudding — are approachable and delicious.
Nick & G’s’ concept is simpler than its predecessors and may stand a better chance at becoming a weekly indulgence for locals. It works for family dinners, supping with out-of-town guests, or enjoying wine or cocktails on the patio or in the bar, which regularly features live music. One key will be the wait staff and the attention they bestow on return customers, an x-factor that is more important in Rancho Santa Fe than perhaps anywhere else in San Diego County. 858.771.1871, nickandgs.com Brandon Hernández
Photography by Vincent Knakal