Friday, August 15, 2014

Trattoria Nicola's Food Review

The Ultimate Buffet

There are deals, and then there are dealsTrattoria Nicola's offers the latter, Monday - Friday between 11:30 AM and 2:00 PM, by way of its Pranzo (lunch) buffet. Let's start with the particulars; although I encourage you to add those times to your calendar right now (I'd hate for you to forget.) $11.95 earns you your choice of pasta or soup from the main kitchen, free sodas and full access to Nicola's aforementioned appetizer buffet. This includes all sorts of goodies (it changes every day) such as caprese salad, meatballs, numerous breads, cheeses and olives, tons of fresh fruit, several kinds of cold-cuts and at least three full-sized desserts (and that literally only touches the surface.) There is no better deal in town; and odds are (if you live/work close-by) you may never eat anywhere else again.

I stopped by around 11:15 AM, and was told (in most friendly terms) that they normally open at 11:30, and would I mind waiting a few minutes until the buffet was ready. No problem (although their website says 11 AM - 2 PM.) Frankie, the bartender went above and beyond to make me feel welcome, and set me up with a Diet Coke and a menu. Five minutes later, all systems were GO.

Appetizer Buffet - Plate 1

Lucky for me, no menu was required. I chose the pasta entrée (gemelli with tomato sauce, vegetables and parmesan shavings) and quickly made my way to the buffet. You know what's great? Being first at a buffet table. It looked absolutely gorgeous, stacked with every kind of food imaginable. For my first round, I chose six delectable meatballs (cocktail-sized) some cherry tomatoes and fresh mozzarella balls, a cube of cheese, two different Italian meats, pickled carrots, a slice of fruit bread and some cucumber & tomato salad. Every single item on the plate was delicious and quickly devoured. What's best? The bread was to die for, followed closely by the cold cuts and pickled carrots (and other veggies.)

Service was close to perfect. In addition to Frankie, I won the attention of two servers and a floor manager. Sodas were refilled before I had a chance to get half-way to empty; and plates were cleared even faster. Bravo! In between trips to the buffet, a kitchen chef delivered my entrée. It was a small (but appropriate) portion, and looked divine. Twin tubes of pasta were gently marinated in a rich, orange-colored tomato sauce, mixed with corn, parsley and peas, then topped with delicate strands of parmesan cheese. Each bite was better than the next. Magnifico.

Appetizer Buffet - Plate 2

Don't ask how (as if you didn't know) but I still had room for a second, perhaps even more ambitious trip to the buffet. This turn consisted of still warm, wonderful Italian bread, flavorful pork, a spinach & sundried tomato frittata, more Italian meat, more meatballs, a pickled pepper and juicy wedge of watermelon. Believe it or not, I left more than half the buffet untouched (you should see how many different kinds of olives they had.) As for taste, once again... near-perfection. Everything was great, with the possible exception of almost cold (but well-seasoned) pork. How much do you want to bet they'd heat it up for me, if I asked?


30 minutes in, and I'd already cleared two buffet plates and a pasta dish. Call it a day, right? Perhaps you don't know me after all. I went back for dessert (three choices) and settled on a wedge of cheesecake with blueberries and raspberry glaze; and a giant slice of Heavenly carrot cake (with frosting so good, I almost licked my plate clean.) Did I mention the whole meal cost me just $11.95 + tax/tip?

It's hard to convey just how impressed I truly was. Italian food (especially good quality Italian food) is custom built for a buffet; but it takes a really special place to serve it in such abundance, and for so little. I've read that some locals come here almost every weekday; and I only wish I lived closer, so I could join them. As is, I plan on coming back as often as possible (I already called my brother immediately after, to tell him we're coming here for our monthly lunch with Dad.) That's one visit... and one more punch on my "Buy 7 Buffets, Get 1 Free" card (can you imagine?)

Nicola's is an extension of the Embassy Suites hotel; and Lord knows, the restaurant has its fair share of upscale competition in the neighborhood. That said, you won't find better value anywhere nearby (or far away for that matter.) If the service stays half as good, and Nicola's continues to cycle the buffet items with any kind of regularity, I'll try to tell everyone I know to come here soon (and often.) Part of me wants to pinch myself, to make sure I'm not dreaming. $11.95! Am I on Candid Camera, or what? Feels (and tastes) more like Heaven, if you ask me.