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In the kitchen at Nicole's Ristorante. (Anthony Bianciella)
Posted: Saturday October 8, 2011, 10:42 PM
By Bob Probert - (201) Magazine

Matthew Tirri is a talented young chef bringing vision and passion to Nicole's Ristorante in Bogota.

Chef Tirri began developing his interest in food and food service when he was in high school, helping out at his family's business – The Market Basket in Franklin Lakes. After graduating from Indian Hills High School in 2001, Tirri started at the now-defunct Ruga in Oakland, staying for eight years and working his way up to executive chef.

In 2010, his soon-to-be wife (and his restaurant's namesake) told him the space formerly occupied by Buon Amici had become available. They seized the opportunity, opening Nicole's in November 2010.

Tirri's kitchen philosophy is pretty straightforward: "Keep it simple and concentrate on perfect execution, using only fresh, quality ingredients." The menu is decidedly Italian, but Tirri says he enjoys mixing in French and American influences, as well as those of other countries and cultures.

We started with rice balls, and they were delightful – crisp, but not too crunchy on the outside, firm yet creamy with bits of flavorful prosciutto on the inside. Those were followed by eggplant rollatini – nicely cooked slices of eggplant stuffed with creamy ricotta cheese in a light marinara sauce – and mussels with chorizo sausage, saffron tomato broth and roasted garlic croutons. Those mussels were among the best I've had.

Our entrees were consistently satisfying. Sole francese was delicate and not over-battered, tender without the mushiness that too often characterizes this fish. Horseradish-crusted salmon in a Dijon and white wine cream sauce, served with sauteed spinach, was excellent. For pasta, we tried rustic rigatoni with hot and sweet sausage, broccoli rabe and sundried tomatoes, which had fine component parts that, for my personal taste, were not brought together into a unified dish. Maybe a more substantial and binding sauce would have done the trick.

One of the evening's high points was the blackened pork chop special – a thick, center-cut chop, tender and expertly cooked, blackened with the chef's homemade Cajun/Creole seasoning. Tirri told us he does his butchering at least twice a week and had purchased and dressed an entire pork back that morning.

For dessert, we went with ricotta cheesecake and tiramisu and enjoyed both. The tiramisu especially was a fine take on the classic, not too sweet and with well-layered flavors.

There were a couple of service lapses – it was clear when our entrees arrived that our young and inexperienced server had failed to put in one of the orders – but it's easy to look past a hiccup like that. I really root for chefs like Matt Tirri, and we'll definitely be going back.

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