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Nellcote Is Almost Ready to Blow You Away

By Anthony Todd in Food on Jan 26, 2012 4:10PM

After 18 months of negotiation, renovation and concept testing (and a $3.5 million buildout) Nellcote, the new restaurant from Old Town Social's Jared Van Camp is almost ready to open. The space, which has a vibe best described as imperial French inlay meets boho chic, used to house Marche, the former Jerry Kleiner temple to red and brass. You wouldn't recognize it now. Van Camp's new restaurant will be serving truffles at cost, milling their own flour and making pizza from a year-old starter. Excited yet?

The space is still under construction, and abuts the still-in-progress RM Lounge, a smaller space at the rear of the building. It's huge and dramatic; a "face-melter" as partner Chris Dexter called it. It's meant to evoke the grandeur of the real Villa Nellcote, a 19th century mansion on the Cote d'Azur. It's also meant to invoke some of the funkyness - the mansion was rented by Keith Richards and then-girlfriend Anita Pallenberg, who Dexter calls the "muse" for the restaurant, in 1971.

When guests enter Nellcote, they'll be faced with 440 individual glass vases, arranged on the wall facing the entryway, all filled with fresh French lavender. Once they get inside, they'll be confronted with a truly insane number of long tapered candles and hanging crystal chandeliers, the light from which will play along the mostly-white walls. The bar dominates the room — a twist on fine dining that Van Camp and Dexter kept coming back to. They talked about "thumbing their noses at fine dining" and giggled just a little about how the chairs and tables in the bar, not the dining room, would be covered in white linen.

In a nod in the direction of the Aviary, cocktails won't be made by bartenders; they'll be made back in the kitchen by chefs. We're a tiny bit skeptical about this part; but Van Camp and Dexter pointed out that reliability, not visible flair, is the most important thing in a good cocktail and that distracted bartenders sometimes mix incorrectly. We're more excited for the Mediterranean-centric wine list assembled by sommelier Jason Wagner.

The food menu is pretty vague at the moment, dominated by "highly composed" plates of wood-grilled meats and vegetables, and pizzas. Van Camp pointed out that even the most fancy spots on the southern French coast serve pizza, much to his surprise, and so the combination of fine dining and wood-fired pizza, while perhaps incongruous, is authentic. At least they're doing pizza right; they started their yeast and dough "starter" over a year ago with Mick Klug Farms grapes, and each batch of pizza dough will contain a bit of the original starter. The flour is sure to make any food geek green with envy. Van Camp bought a flour mill for the basement of Nellcote to mill his own flour for pasta and pizza. When we asked him if he knew how to mill flour, he laughed and admitted that he hadn't actually tried it yet, but that he'd bought a series of textbooks from Kansas State University to learn. You can bet that flour, probably sold at Dose Market, will become a foodie status symbol in no time.

Other menu flourishes make us a bit lightheaded. First, Van Camp is planning to sell truffles at cost. If a diner wants truffles with their dinner, "a server with a gram scale and white linen gloves will come to their table and shave them." The cost, apparently, isn't as high as you might think, if the restaurant isn't taking a profit. Nellcote will also serve a variation on a "bachelor's tea," a combination of rum, fruit and sugar. They've been aging rum and fruit in a bourbon barrel for months, and the concoction will be served as a dessert.

That section of West Randolph is about to get very, very busy. Nellcote is on the same side of the street as Girl and the Goat but further west, away from the hubub. At least for now - the back alley of Nellcote will eventually be home to 4 restaurants. g.e.b., Graham Elliot's new restaurant, and an unnamed Brendan Sodikoff project will share the "plaza" with Nellcote and RM.

Look for a soft opening in late February and an official grand opening in early March.

Nellcote is located at 833 W. Randolph Street.