Before eating at Nikkita, you must get a few things straight. Nikkita is NOT a Japanese restaurant, despite the Japanese-sounding name and blackboard-drawn sushi menu. Nikkita is NOT a Mexican restaurant, despite the Mexican party music and colorful murals in the background.ÊNikkita is NOT a diner, despite the vast menu, unfocused but well-intentioned waitstaff and black-and-white tiled floors.ÊIt’s not even a raw bar or a martini bar, as they’d have us believe in their advertisements.
Nikkita is all of these things, more or less — a delightful but sometimes frustrating hangout spot to eat inexpensive and joyfully incoherent food. Even its logo, a leaping star-like figure, would suggest that this restaurant revels in jumping over rules of eating, ignoring consistency in cuisine, decor and service protocol.
The menu is a confused assortment of small made-to-share dishes, but it does ensure that there is something for everyone. The Little Nibble Platter ($12) is a great way to start the meal and showcases the restaurant’s strength in seafood.ÊIt arrives on an iced pedestal and includes two jumbo shrimp, two New Zealand mussels, four clams and four oysters. The shrimp were exceptional — very meaty, un-rubbery and pleasing when considering the meager price.ÊThe oysters were also good — sweet and briny — although I wish more of the oysters’ liquor (its natural juices) had been retained. The mussels, on the other hand, had a rinsed-out taste that didn’t do justice to their substantial weight.
For those who don’t like raw seafood, there are other options.ÊThe roasted pepper and mozzarella salad ($7) has some solid flavors, especially with the addition of kalamata olives and capers. Satisfying, but not especially innovative, some cracked black pepper on top might have given it some more bite. The tuscan bean soup ($5) was also fairly well-executed, a spicy and spirited soup with kidney and cannelloni beans and bits of filet mignon. I ended up just drinking the soup and eating the meat because the beans tasted as if they were canned — the type you and I could eat any day in the dining halls.ÊUnfortunately, these beans find themselves in far too many dishes, such as an unimpressive peasant salad ($7) with tuna and red onions and a bland and amateurish bread dip.
The apple barbeque shrimp and scallop skewer ($9) is another example of simply incorrect food. The dish delivered, once again, fine shrimp.ÊBut there is a reason that you don’t put barbeque sauce on your seafood.ÊThe sauce had an odd coagulated texture to it, and did nothing to serve the shrimp or the scallops.ÊThe scallops were sufficiently decent — buttery, but a little stringy.
For more substantial dishes, Nikkita offers an excellent 6-oz. filet mignon ($12) and oven-roasted salmon tapenade ($9).ÊBoth are surprisingly large servings, considering the prices filet mignon and salmon usually go for.ÊThe filet mignon was satisfyingly tender. It could have been juicier, but Nikkita also offers three sauces — peppercorn, horseradish and onion and mushroom — in efforts to rectify this. The salmon tapinade was even more pleasing.ÊIt is cooked to its most superb state — a delicate and silky texture almost nearing the point of sashimi — and is covered with an unadulterated olive tapenade, wonderful for an olive lover like me. While both the filet mignon and salmon lacked especially robust flavors, they were prepared quite admirably. I would much rather have okay-grade meat prepared as well as Nikkita’s than grade-A meat prepared poorly.
Finally, Nikkita does not have a printed dessert menu, which is extremely surprising considering its overflowing dinner menu. Although I intitally found Nikkita’s menu blathering and obtuse, I found myself yearning for a similarly uncontrolled dessert menu.ÊThe restaurant does offer desserts, but they are woefully standard: cheesecake (New York style, berry, or fried), sorbet trio, vanilla ice cream and the restaurant requisites, molten brownie cake and creme brulee.ÊI wouldn’t waste money on these dishes — they are truly a boring and overpriced bunch ($6 each) compared to the charismatic dishes on the dinner menu.
As for the ambience at Nikkita, it is as confused as its menu.ÊThis certainly isn’t the worst thing, because the restaurant’s bar, complete with the odd couple of televised sports and dancing silhouette paintings, was packed with twenty- and thirty-somethings, perhaps pre-partying before they went to the nearby dance clubs. The restaurant is separated into multiple parts, each with its own crazed system of lighting.
Yet in all its eccentric charm, Nikkita does need to iron out some of its inconsistencies.Ê When I called to make reservations, I was told they only took reservations for tables seating more than five.ÊOkay. But when I arrived at the restaurant, the hostess asked if I had a reservation.ÊI told her no, I was informed that only parties over five could make reservations. She then told me that she thought they did, but maybe they changed policies — in the four days between my call and my dinner. Also, during dinner, my dining companion and I got our Nibble platter before we got our drinks, and our bread after we got our Nibble platter.ÊAnd we told our sparkly-eyed waitress we wanted the dishes brought out “course by course,” but courses kept on coming, even when we weren’t even half-done with the course before it!
In time, hopefully, these snags will fix themselves.ÊRight now, the restaurant as a whole seems a bit cumbersome, confused and overly earnest. It needs to put more confidence in its varied menu instead of advertising itself as a sushi, raw and martini bar. Sure, the restaurant serves sushi: salmon, tuna and shrimp ($3-$4).ÊIt also has a raw bar, but it only serves one type (Blue Point).ÊNon-oyster bars Union League CafZ
Nikkita needs to concentrate more on fresh ingredients, harmonized flavors and forming a culinary identity as bold as its prancing logo. As the restaurant hits its stride, hopefully it will figure out that it does not want to be the disillusioned kid who shouts accolades he does not really deserve.ÊInstead, Nikkita should know that it has great potential to be the kid who is quirky without trying too hard. As in, Nikkita: A little more Yale, a little less Harvard.
Jessica Tom is accepting applications for dining companions.