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A modern taste of France

Nicolas Delaroque, chef and owner, with his wife Andrea, of Nico.

Nicolas Delaroque, chef and owner, with his wife Andrea, of Nico.

Story & Photograph by Susie Biehler

THE NEIGHBORHOOD has a classy and intimate new spot for dinner at 3228 Sacramento Street: Nico, a restaurant that reflects the renaissance currently happening in Paris, where high profile chefs are taking a step to the side and opening accessible bistros.

The restaurant is named for classically French trained chef Nicolas Delaroque, who fell in love with San Francisco while vacationing here several years ago. Originally from Rueil-Malmaison, a town on the outskirts of Paris, he developed his passion for cooking as a teenager. He credits his mother as a major influence and also honed his food skills at a family friend’s butcher shop in Paris. And his pedigree includes working with such Bay Area masters as Dominique Crenn at Luce and David Kinch of Manresa.

Delaroque and his wife Andrea spent 18 months traveling through Europe gathering ideas for the restaurant. She put her law practice on hold so the couple could launch their new venture together. She manages the business side and can also be seen at the restaurant nightly, expediting and greeting customers.

“My wife is the planner. I am the visual one,” says Nicolas. “I go to the walk-in daily and stare at the goods and decide what will be on the menu that night. I have to see it to create it.”

Every day, the 32-year-old charismatic chef creates a “market driven” menu. He travels twice a week to his favorite farmers market in San Rafael, where he made a number of connections with local growers while working at the French favorite Le Garage in Sausalito.

Accented with fresh herbs from a rooftop garden, the menu features bites, including goat cheese beignets and a petrale sole goujonette, priced at $9 and starters, such as parsnip soup with Dungeness crab, ranging from $11 to $14. Main courses, from $22 to $24, include daily fish offerings, such as grenadier with fennel, snap peas and crustacean jus, pork belly with lentils and leg of lamb with butternut squash and kohlrabi. A selection of cheese ($6 each) is followed by desserts ($8), which sometimes include a chocolate macaron with mousse and caramel.

Nico’s dining room seats 46, including six seats at the pewter bar, which is available for walk-ins to drink and dine. The simple room is crowned by a tin ceiling. Zero Ten Design, noted for its restaurant projects — including the second location of Fillmore’s own Bun Mee at 660 Market Street — designed the 3,000 square foot space.

In its early weeks, a diverse clientele of all ages has been drawn to the restaurant, which has a warm aura with mohair banquets, a hickory floor, reclaimed oak tables from Black’s Farmwood in Marin and simple but comfortable walnut chairs. Interior designer Cathy Hurst scored two 18th century gates from France to add a whimsical element anchoring the entrance and the back of the restaurant.

Another draw is Nico’s selection of libations, spearheaded by general manager Malcolm Brownson, a restaurant veteran from the Mina Group, Coi and Saison. The wine list includes 100 options — and a half or full glass option is offered for wines that are paired with the daily menu.

Special attention is given to bubbles, with the cork on a magnum of vintage Champagne popped every night.

“Nico, Andrea and I all love champagne, so offering it in a way that was both unique and celebratory was a priority,” says Brownson. “Champagne is different when it is served from a larger format bottle. The amount of bottle surface the wine is in contact with enhances its flavor. We wanted to highlight that — and what better way than to offer it from vintage years.”