Nellcôte and RM: A preview, with menu items
Jared Van Camp
"Everyone assumes we're a bunch of meatheads."
This is what Chris Dexter told me yesterday as he and Jared Van Camp showed me around the almost-finished (kind-of-almost-finished?) spaces that will shortly open as Nellcôte (833 W Randolph St) and RM. I did not disagree with Mr. Dexter, not because I think he's a meathead (it was the first time I'd met the guy), but because, as I wrote about in this article last year, Element Collective (Dexter, Van Camp and Chris Freeman, the guys behind Nellcôte, RM and Old Town Social) is well-known to struggle with its identity. The food product at OTS competes with the best restaurants in the city; the crowd competes with McGee's. Not that this is not the worst struggle to have—Old Town Social regularly has lines out the door on the weekends.
Still, with RM, the Champagne lounge that is physically connected to Nellcôte—but that Dexter, et al, have made every effort to distinguish as its own venue, with a separate entrance and address (116 N Green St)—this is Element Collective's attempt to escape the meathead stigma. As we stood in the space (which is still under heavy construction; it will open after Nellcôte does), the Element guys, as well as RM's sommelier Jason Wagner, told me that they would not allow RM to get as crowded as OTS (or, for that matter, Nellcôte). "When we reach capacity, that's it," Dexter told me. Everybody at RM will have a seat. Carts filled with cheese and petits fours (respectively) will be pushed around the space. The centerpiece of the room will be a decanting station. Champagne by the glass will be poured from Magnums. In the summer, RM will have a patio that Dexter thinks is unlike anything else in the city. It's a courtyard surrounded by other buildings, an enclosed space that feels very private and secret and hidden away (though it will share some space with the forthcoming GEB Bistro). "[RM] will be the wankiest place we've ever done," Dexter says.
"Wanky" is Dexter's term for "fancy." But in the next breath the guys told me that RM would be making Champagne, etc, accessible. There will be no doormen, no lists, nothing like that.
I told the guys that "wanky" and "accessible" don't really go hand-in-hand. I demanded to know: "What's the cheapest wine by the glass going to be?"
"Nine dollars," Wagner said.
I backed down.
Speaking of wanky, when you walk into Nellcôte, the first thing you'll see is a wall with roughly 400 tiny vases, all of them filled with lavender. From there, you'll walk into a room where at least a dozen crystal chandeliers dangle from the ceiling. "It will blow your face off," Dexter says. (Upon seeing the room, which is not finished yet, my face remained intact—but I was impressed.)
However, there's a difference between this room and RM, and that's the expected crowd. Element Collective fully expects Nellcôte to operate as Old Town Social does—that is, it expects to have crowds, rowdy crowds, that morph the place from a restaurant into something more like a bar, or a club, or, you know, Villa Nellcôte circa 1971. When the patio is open in the summer, Nellcôte will seat around 400 people; when you factor in the standing crowd, you're looking at a group of probably 600+.
So it will probably be a scene, a place that people who get up for early Sunday morning runs will probably not frequent. Unless they are drawn in by Van Camp's food. Which is very possible. Because, just like he does at OTS, Van Camp is taking "housemade" to an extreme. He's milling his own flour for the pizzas (something nobody—seriously nobody—is doing), and making his own bacon, and he's putting these ingredients to use in French (and sometimes merely Frenchish) dishes that are designed to bring in a customer who is not a meathead at all. Unless, of course, you don't mean meathead but charcuteriehead. In that case, Nellcôte might be right up their alley.
Check out a very preliminary, not-at-all finalized menu for Nellcôte, after the jump:
Fresh Bread & House-Cultured Butter
Herb-Stuffed Squid, Bomba Rice, Piquillo Peppers, Ink Sauce
Grilled Diver Scallops, Uni, Dill, Pickled Leeks, Vichyssoise Sauce
Baby Artichokes, White Asparagus, Romaine Hearts, Celery, ‘Caesar’ Dressing
Shaved Pumpkin, Pickled Persimmon, Mint, Gouda, Pomegranate Molasses
Halibut ‘Brandade’, Soft Scrambled Eggs, Piperade, Sturgeon Caviar
Foie Gras ‘Torchon’, Housemade Brioche, Maraschino Jelly
Grilled Spot Prawns, Saffron, Endive, Chard Stems, Romesco Sauce
Robuchon Potatoes, Shallots, Mache, Buttermilk Dressing, Black Truffles
Escargot, Tomatoes, Fine Herbes Butter, Red Floriani Corn Polenta
Roasted Rabbit Loin, Orechiette, Rabbit Sausage, Olives, Fennel, Orange
Veal Sweetbreads, Broccoli-Hazelnut Puree, Apples, Pickled Mustard Seeds
Spaghetti, Champagne, Oysters, Crème Fraiche, Chives
Whole Wheat Bucatini, ‘Mojama’, Tomatoes, Sesame Seeds
Mezzi Rigatoni, Cauliflower, Anchovy, Parmesan, Breadcrumbs
Ricotta Gnocchi, Braised Lamb Neck, Green Olives, Cocoa, Chilis
Radiatore, Duck Legs, Hen of the Woods Mushrooms, Red Wine, Duck Cracklings
Frog Leg Raviolini ‘en brodo’, Parsley, Pine Nuts, Black Garlic
Grilled Sardines, Whole Wheat Trofie, Lemon Breadcrumbs, Shaved Iberico Ham
Crispy Skatewing, Braised Radishes, Brown Butter, Espelette, Lime
Olive Oil-Poached Salmon, Roasted Baby Beets, Sorrel, Horseradish, Lemon Puree
Roasted Gunthrop Farms Chicken, Toasted Farro, Chanterelles, Green Garlic Veloute
Wood-Grilled Venison, Red Wine Poached Duck Egg, Bacon, Porcinis, Au Poivre Sauce
Dry Aged Beef Ribeye, White Asparagus, Sweet & Sour Onions, Bordelaise Sauce
Tomato Sauce, Garlic, Oregano, Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Tomato Sauce, Buffalo Mozzarella, Basil, Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Fontina, Sunnyside Up Egg, Black Truffles
Clams, Green Onions, Chilis, Crème Fraiche
Mortadella, Pistachios, Shaved Red Onions, Ricotta
Castelvetrano Olives, Parmigianno, Mozzarella, Chilli Flakes
Tomato Sauce, Anchovies, Nicoise Olives
Fennel Sausage, Tomato Sauce, Mozzarella
Hen of the Woods Mushrooms, Leeks, Parmigianno, Sage