When Ristorante Nicola opened in 2010, the Observer wasn't smitten. Hanna Raskin's review described over-salting in some dishes as deer-puckering. Luigi Iannuario was the chef responsible for those plates, and he's since moved to Las Vegas to pursue "other opportunities." Last week news that Justin Melnick has stepped in to take the helm hit the wires.
Melnick hails from New England and spent six months cooking at the Butcher Shop in Boston under Barbara Lynch. Lynch's cookbook Stir sums up the cooking you'd experience if you paid her restaurant a visit -- rich, meat-heavy Italian cooking. (Her Bolognese gets its grit and earth from chicken livers.) Melnick spent the last six years working in Tomasso, an Italian restaurant in rural Massachusetts, where he served the last five years as executive chef.
If anyone can sympathize with a norther expat who's getting used to Dallas it's me, but Melnick wasn't much fun to interview about foods he misses most from home since moving to Texas. Between creating his new menu at Nicola and getting his wife and new baby settled in Plano, he's had little free time to explore. The things he misses the most right now are his family from home and sports.
He's also been trying to make good on the promise in his restaurant's news release about utilizing fresh, local, organic products, and supporting smaller farms that raise animals sustainably in a natural, hormone and antibiotic free environment. So far he admits it's hard, but Melnick has been reaching out to local farmers and says he's committed to using those ingredients where he can.
If you can't make it to Nicola you might be able to catch him at Rangers Ballpark when the Red Sox are in town in July. Melnick already has his tickets.
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