Restaurant Reviews

Review: The Nickel Is a Fast Change-Up for Hotel Teatro

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To understand the Nickel, you have to see it on nights like this, when holders of tickets to the symphony/theater/ballet have jammed the dining room and thoroughly flummoxed the front of the house. If you come on quieter nights, when nearby stages are dark and the only people in the dining room are hotel guests on laptops and girls at the community counter blowing off steam, it's not as easy to kick the kitchen's tires and see what's under the hood. But when everyone's in a hurry for appetizers, entrees and the check, thank you very much, you get a sense of what this engine can do.

And aside from that overprotective gatekeeper, what I saw was an impressive zero to sixty.

When we finally sat at the bar, we'd been warned that the kitchen might be backed up. But the bartender needn't have bothered, because plates came out quickly, in defiance of any pre-theater rush. And as our courses rolled out, one after the other, nowhere did we see the miscooked proteins, erratic timing or sloppy plating that would have indicated a crew under fire. The pressure might have been too much for some chefs, juggling the I-need-it-now theater crowd as well as the demands of a hotel program serving five menus a day, from breakfast (served in the study, where Restaurant Kevin Taylor used to be) to late-night. But you get a sense that executive chef Christopher Thompson has been training for this his entire life.

When he was twenty, Thompson left Telluride to stretch his wings as a chef, landing in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Naples, Italy, where he solidified his passion for several elements central to the Nickel. Charcuterie is one of them, and it's a terrific way to start a meal here. In a few months, you'll be able to sample the bresaola, coppa and guanciale that Thompson has produced in-house. But until those are ready, you can choose local, domestic and imported meats and cheeses from a lengthy, sushi-style list, crafting whatever size plate you wish. If I had tickets to something, I'd order a glass of wine and make a quick meal of the stuff -- I'm partial to chorizo seco, La Quercia prosciutto and Humboldt Fog goat cheese -- rounded out with pickled vegetables and seasonal jam to cut the richness. Then I'd come back for dessert after the show, especially if the pumpkin panna cotta was still on the menu; its texture is more refined than that of Thanksgiving's pie.

Throughout his career, Thompson has looked for opportunities to cook with wood. Even though he can't put his certification as a Neapolitan pizzaiolo to use at the Nickel -- the kitchen doesn't have a wood-fired oven -- he does all he can with the oak- and cherry-fed grill. (Grilled flatbreads, an occasional lunch special, are in the works for dinner.) Smoke added depth to mushrooms, shishito peppers and the fine piece of wagyu resting over them, pricey and worth every penny for its tenderness. Octopus in an assertive salad of celery, green olives and potatoes got the same treatment, the chewy rings tasting of the campfire, not the sea. The grill also lent a woodsy note to toasted levain, slathered with warm, rosemary-scented goat cheese. The appetizer was honest and unpretentious, a reflection of the kind of cooking that comes after someone has proven what he set out to prove, then returns home, comfortable in his own skin. Keep reading for more on the Nickel.

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Gretchen Kurtz has worked as a writer for 25 years; during that time she's stomped grapes in Napa, eaten b'stilla in Fez, and baked with Buddy Valastro, aka the Cake Boss. Her work has appeared in publications including Boulevard (Paris), Diversion, the New York Times and Westword. Our restaurant critic since 2012, she loves helping you decide where to eat and drink tonight.
Contact: Gretchen Kurtz