Nico Extols Summer’s Bounty with Tomato-Jammed Dinners


By Kristine Sherred

So often identified with the end of summer, Labor Day falls less than three weeks before the Autumnal Equinox — this year on September 22. What’s more painful to bear than the arrival of shorter days may be the departure of summer’s beloved harvest, and the tomato is one that takes many long, hot months to bear its fruit.

For the second year in a row, Chef Erling Wu-Bower and the culinary team at Nico Osteria present a menu jam-packed with the seedy, seasonal fruit, available next week from Monday through Thursday.

A selection of two heirloom tomato salads top the menu: one features the Brandywine (a beefsteak pink variety) with zucchini and sheep’s milk cheese, while the other stars the Evergreen (large, rich and sweet) with crab and a savory zabaglione, usually served as a dessert custard or milky sweet beverage, whipped with corn and prosecco.

There is bruschetta of the Green Zebra kind — striped, tart, and tangy; octopus grilled with golden cherry tomatoes and topped with an onion-laden tomato soubise; an ‘nduja made of swordfish, rather than pork, with the snackable Sweet 100 cherry tomato; and, of course, there are meatballs.

And that’s just the antipasti.

The menu includes six pasta options, like the simple but rich Spaghetti Amatriciana, plus five entrées, from a Wild King (Chinook) salmon with that tangy Green Zebra again to a flat iron steak with a super summery tomato and nectarine panzanella.

Many of the main dishes are available on the restaurant’s regular summer menu, but for Tomato Fest, as they are deeming the week, Chef Wu-Bower added different cultivars of tomato — most from Leaning Shed Farms across the state border in Berrien Springs, MI — that complement the existing recipes.

Even the pastry chef, Leigh Omilinsky, deciphers the tomato through the lens of a financier paired with tomato jam, olive oil gelato, and candied versions of the featured fruit.

Omilinsky notes the sweet versus savory element of tomatoes and the occasional pitfalls associated with their unmistakable flavor. “I did have some failures; I made tomato jam that tasted like ketchup,” she admits. The desired result required more sweetness, so she opted for a simple syrup approach. “They still taste like tomatoes, but it helped me push the dish into the sweet side.”

Tomato Fest begins on Labor Day and runs through Thursday, September 8. Reservations are available through OpenTable or by calling the restaurant.

Nico Osteria
1015 N. Rush St.; (312) 994-7100
Dinner: 5 p.m. – 10 p.m.




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