In summer, it's the toughest Saturday-night reservation in town. Nick & Toni's has overflowed with extra-virgin olive oil and boldface notables since 1988. Jagger, Streisand, McCartney, Clinton, Realmuto.
That's Joseph Realmuto.
He's the executive chef, whose performance lifts the H'wood-B'way-D.C. canteen. Realmuto's take on Italian, Mediterranean and New American cuisine stays fresh in-season and off. Nick & Toni's emphasized local ingredients before the term "locavore" reached the dictionary.
This is an unfussy, unpretentious restaurant, especially appealing after the Memorial Day-to-Labor Day frenzy and all the head-turning that goes with it. The spotlight is a bit more diffuse. The decor in the three, haute-homey dining rooms includes children's drawings. The wood-burning oven contributes to the effect, too.
But you can start with a lustrous East End fluke crudo, accented with lambrusco vinegar and red sea salt. Or with a salad made with the last of the local heirloom tomatoes, house-made mozzarella and basil, finished with drops of saba.
Fritto misto, a crisp combo of rock shrimp, calamari and baby artichokes, arrives with lemon aioli. Zucchini chips: addictive snacks.
Realmuto prepares superior pasta. One of the mainstays is penne alla vecchia bettola, in a stirring, spicy oven-roasted tomato sauce. It's rivaled by the Gorgonzola-local leek ravioli, sent out glistening from tomato-sorrel butter. Airy ricotta gnocchi should be ordered in any version. Or consider rigatoni tossed with local chard, guanciale and lemon ricotta.
From the oven comes whole, roasted branzino, a fine treatment of an all-purpose fish that's becoming the tilapia of its time. Nutty, diver scallops get a lift from caramelized fennel, radicchio, black olives and grapefruit salad.
Mint salsa verde boosts the juicy, grilled lamb tenderloin. Crushed Yukon Gold potatoes, roasted garlic, house-cured pancetta and rosemary jus do the same for the full-flavored, free-range chicken. The colorful, savory vegetable-and-goat cheese terrine could seduce your local butcher.
The imperially slim will be tempted by pastry chef Jessica Craig's blueberry and apple crostatas, lemon-thyme panna cotta, salted chocolate-caramel tart and biscotti.
And actor-activist Gere might like the fair-trade decaf or the organic house-made limoncello to toast chef Realmuto, one star to another.