New Year's at Nick & Sam's Goes Smooth as Velvet

Remember those New Year's Eve nights/early mornings when your parents came back from a party or dinner wearing top hats and tiaras glittering with the New Year's digits? I do. I remember my parents would pay the babysitter and then cracked the door to my room to see if I'd waited up -- of course I had -- to get my first kiss of the New Year. I could still smell my mom's Opium perfume as she let the balloons she'd lifted from the restaurant float up to my bedroom ceiling.

Well I had one of my own nights like that to ring in 2011. My date and I had dinner with a group of friends at Nick & Sam's on Maple Avenue. Balloons tied with shiny ribbons covered every inch of ceiling in the restaurant's bar and caviar bar. We couldn't walk in any direction without waving a curtain of ribbons out of the way. The decorations made the night fun and even seem a bit mysterious. The noise level was ratcheted up to loud on New Year's Eve and it was hard to order a drink from the bar because of the crowd. My dated eventually had to give up his spot in line at the bar because our table opened up.

But once we got to our table in the main dining room our server Rina took our drink orders right away. I ordered the Cotton Crush, a cotton candy martini. Rina brought me a glass with a puff of blue cotton candy in it. Then she poured that night's martini flavor, green apple, over the sugary cloud. If you're a sweet drink drinker like me, you'll like the Cotton Crush. Our server also brought silver plates of unlimited and complimentary caviar to our table to tide us over before we ordered our meals. Sour cream, eggs, onions, chives and flawlessly crispy triangles of white bread surrounded the sliver-plated caviar. With our drinks and caviar we all settled in to read the menu and listen to the pianist tickling the ivories from his prime location right in front of the open kitchen.

Nick & Sam's had a special New Year's Eve menu, but no one at our table ordered from it. We all stuck to the traditional menu. My date and I both chose 10-ounce filet mignons medium rare and shared a mozzarella salad with Beefsteak tomatoes and basil. I loved this salad because of the pesto sauce that came with it. The pesto wasn't gingerly drizzled across the tomatoes; rather the chef gave a hearty dose of it so we could have some on each bite.

Before our steaks came out, corporate chef Samir Dhurandhar came to our table. He chatted with us for a bit and told us he'd send out some of his special recipe steak sauce with our order. The steaks at Nick & Sam's come out on a plate with nothing else. No fanfare. The steak itself is the fanfare. I knew this the minute I ate my first bite. I enjoyed trying Samir's steak sauce, which possessed the tamarind chutney flavor of his native India. Our table also tried another steak sauce, Hollandaise with foie gras. It was delicious. I was content to just eat my steak and dip each bite in the Hollandaise until I started sampling the sides. Alfredo creamed spinach, asparagus and creamed corn accompanied our entrees. The creamed corn didn't look like anything special, but then I tasted it. It was perfectly sweet and buttery. Nick & Sam's should call it candied cream corn.

Despite the dessert feel of the creamed corn most of us had saved room for dessert. I'd eyed slices of Nick & Sam's seven-layer red velvet cake on the counter in the kitchen all night long. Our table wanted to order dessert but the tower of seven layers seemed a bit excessive. Rina suggested the half portion of the red velvet cake instead. We ordered it--it was still massive. Rina could still cut the piece into eight slices for us and gave a generous side of raspberries, blueberries and blackberries on each of our plates. Plus, the cake came with a side of vanilla gelato. I can't say we finished the dessert. We left a lot on the table when we moved towards the bar to count down to 2011, but we gave it our best shot, considering how full our fantastic dinner had left us.

Starting around 11:30 p.m. hostesses worked their way through the dining room and the bar areas handing out shiny New Year's Eve hats and sparkly tiaras. In addition to the festive headgear, hostesses passed out colorful leis while the bartenders poured each guest a glass of complimentary Champagne. Leading up to the countdown, Frank Sinatra songs streamed through the bar's stereo and brought dancing couples to their feet.

With our New Year's Eve complete -- good company, superb service, drinks, dinner, dessert and dancing, my date collected my coat from the coat check and called for a cab. Before we exited the festive ambiance of Nick & Sam's, I tied a balloon to a button on my date's jacket and grabbed some more balloons to take home, just like my mom had years ago -- some memories die hard.

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Monica Berry