Nibblers Eatery & Wine Bar – Restaurant Review
I’ve found myself having a hard time getting back in to the swing of things, with the craziness of the last few weeks. I’ve spent some time in the kitchen, but we’ve also eaten out more than usual. I think I’ve also gotten in to a rut, although I’ve been cooking some things, I haven’t really done anything particularly new or inspiring recently. That is going to change here soon, because I have a few ideas that I think will be very fun to blog – but in the mean time, I thought I’d do a restaurant review that had been on my To-Do list for several months now, Nibblers Eatery and Wine Bar.
We first visited Nibblers sometime in December, I’m not exactly sure when – but it had been on my radar for a while. As one of the very, very few restaurants in our area that focuses on local and sustainable food, I was keenly interested in checking it out. There was, however, a small stumbling block that kept us from going sooner – and that was, they happen to have the fortune (or mis-fortune, I suppose) of being right next door to our favorite sushi place. So it kept getting put off, because if we went out, we would frequently end up next door at the Sushi place instead. However, when we found out that one of Miss Thing’s friends knew the chef and owner, we decided it was time to make it a priority.
Since that first experience, we’ve gone a few more times – and it has definitely become short-listed to our favorite restaurants. Where we live, there are precious few restaurants that put any kind of emphasis on where their ingredients come from, and refreshingly – Nibblers puts a great deal of emphasis on where they get their food – frequently calling it out on the menu. They focus on Seasonal and Sustainable ingredients, and I believe the majority of them are sourced locally. As someone who is pretty passionate about the food that I make at home, I think it’s awesome to find a restaurant that cares as deeply as I do. When I look at their menu and know that the cheese that I’m eating came from Cowgirl Creamery, that the lettuce came from Capay Valley, that the pork is Berkshire, and so on, it makes me feel good. I mean, I try not to get all preachy on my friends and loved ones, but I do feel very strongly that local and sustainable food is worth the extra effort and cost, atleast most of the time. Like a lot of restaurants that focus on seasonal ingredients, Nibblers Menu will change frequently – typically they will have a monthly regional theme, with some smaller weekly changes depending on produce availability and such. The nice thing about this set up is, every time you go (unless you’re going more frequently than once a week, naturally) there will always be something new for the adventurous to try. Also important to note is that the menu is Tapas (small-plates) style, meaning most of the portions are small-ish, designed to be shared, and you will probably need 2-3 plates per person.
The Nibblers location is small and intimate, charming – with wine crates stacked strategically to create separate spaces and to have wine bottles and other interesting food related objects places to be displayed. There are several strategically placed little nooks containing books, some of them well worn, and all with some sort of relation to food or cooking – in fact, if it wouldn’t have been rude, there were a few that I wanted to lean over a table for to check out the titles. Fortunately, my Momma taught me better than that, so I didn’t. lol The restaurant is family owned, so on busy nights, you will sometimes be greeted by a young teenage girl, helping out the family for a little spending money. Then they give you a little dish of what I think are shrimp flavored chips, that are fairly addictive – in fact, I may need to hunt down a source for them for a movie night snack one of these days.
After we placed our order, we were offered the Nibble of the day, typically a one bite Amuse-bouche. When we went yesterday, the Nibble of the day was a pita chip, topped with a soft cheese, a sprig of chickweed, drizzled with oil. I’ll admit, this was probably one of my favorite offerings of the evening. The flavors combined nicely to tingle the appetite and get me geared up for the remainder of the meal. It also put me in mind of spring, and how the season is beginning to turn. Every time I go to Nibblers, the Nibble of the Day puts me in mind to make up little one bite snacks for get togethers. The last couple of times we went, we looked over the Prix-Fixe, and didn’t find enough there to interest us – despite the fact that it is undoubtedly the best value on the menu. This time, however – there was enough listed that we found appealing, so we decided to give it a try.
In addition to the Prix-Fixe menu, we decided to get an order of the entirely-too-addictive Flash Fried Spinach, something we tried on our last trip and is considered to be one of the mainstays of Nibblers, and is definitely one of my personal favorites. The picture doesn’t really do it justice, because these spinach leaves are amazing. They are delicate, and crispy, and an almost melting quality when you eat them. I highly recommend trying them – if nothing else for the very cool textural experience. For the record, Mr. Man has specifically banned me from attempting to make these at home. Something about how we’d all die of spinach overdose if I were to successfully replicate them.
We also ordered the Moroccan Seafood B’stilla off the regular menu, mostly because I’m just a huge, huge fan of B’stilla, which is another dish that I’m technically not ever supposed to make at home. Typically B’stilla is made with poultry, eggs, almonds, cinnamon, and powdered sugar in Phyllo, for a sweet/savory crispy pie type thing, and prepared right, it’s to die for. The Seafood B’stilla was very good – although not what I would call a B’stilla really, since it lacked the complex sweet/savory combination, and was more like a seafood Pasty or Hand Pie. Aside from that minor complaint, it was delicious. The Spicy Harissa Emulsion that was served with it was a big hit with Mr. Man – I think he ended up eating all of it except for a couple of small tastes from me, since I’m a big wuss and couldn’t handle the heat… lol.
The first course of the Prix-Fixe was a Crispy Risotto Cake, with chanterelles, topped with a red pepper emulsion and mizuna. It reminded me a little bit of the deep fried macaroni that we used to get sometimes at a restaurant in the city, since it had a similar texture… crispy on the outside, but warm, cheesy, and soft on the inside, but from there the resemblance ended – because this was much more awesome. The risotto was so creamy and cheesy, with little chunks of chanterelle Mushrooms embedded in it, while the outside was deliciously crispy and golden brown. The Red Pepper emulsion was a perfect complement – and even the leaf of butter lettuce was completely devoured.
Next was the savory Chanterelle Flan Tart, made with a Seasonal offering by Cowgirl Creamery called Devil’s Gulch, farm eggs, and rapini. If I’m not mistaken, the Rapini got the same treatment as the flash fried spinach earlier, since the leaves were crispy, although I could be wrong, as the stems were not as crispy. The tart was very quiche like, and enjoyable. However, this dish wasn’t really my favorite dish. It was fairly oily, whether from the rapini or the tart I can’t really recall, but it was definitely a distraction. Aside from that small complaint, it was still very good.
For the “main course” we had a choice of Grilled Meyer Natural Hanger Steak with heirloom chicories and sherry creamed chanterelles, or the Maple Leaf Duck en Croute. Mr. Man and I both didn’t really have to think too hard about that choice though, since both of us are ginormous Hangar Steak fans. And what amazing Hangar Steak it was. Perfectly Medium Rare, with creamy sauce and big chunks of chanterelles, and tender enough to cut with a butter knife. Mr. Man said it was one of the bestest hangar steaks he’d ever had, and was definitely the highlight of the meal.
Dessert was a Passion Fruit Crème Brûlée, served with a shortbread-like cookie, and a couple of fresh raspberries (where did they find fresh raspberries this time of year??). I tend to like my caramel to be a little lighter, so I found the burnt sugar topping to be a little strong for me, but the passion fruit custard was simply amazing – so rich, and creamy. It’s got me itching to make some custard with the mangoes that I received in my FFTY box. I also loved the little shortbread cookie that came with it. It had teeny little chunks of dried fruit in it, with a soft, tender crumb, and was a perfect complement to the custard, and together was a great way to end a great meal.
One thing we forgot to order this time, that I want to specifically call out, because they ROCK, is the flatbreads. If you go, please make sure to order a flatbread. They are amazing.
In the end, I think this place is pretty awesome – and the fact that they are convenient to us makes it just that much better. They are spendy – but the trade off is you can really feel good about supporting a local business, local farms, and sustainable farming. And the food is very good. For those of you who enjoy wine, there is an extensive wine selection, and various wine flights – as well as micro brewery beers both bottled and on tap. I imagine that probably deserved more than a blurb in the summary, but since we aren’t wine people it’s really hard to write about their selection very well. I did try one of their wine flights last time we went, and found a couple of wines I didn’t hate, but I think I still need to work on developing my wine palate. Also, we have never had a problem getting seated – although I think the word might be getting out, because last night they were packed to the gills and we almost didn’t get a seat. Of course it was a spur of the moment decision to go so it was probably our own fault, if you are going out for a special occasion I’d recommend having a reservation, just in case.
As far as service goes, this restaurant isn’t for the quickly eat and then go person. A visit to Nibblers is the main event, not the opener. When you come, expect to spend some time lingering over your food, your wine, etc… The keyword here is ‘savor’. Go ahead and have a little chat with Trace, the Patisserie, Hostess, and All-Around-Wealth-Of-Information, if she’s not busy. If you’re lucky, Chef Daniel might poke his head out of the kitchen to say hello, and if you’re like me you’ll have to bite your tongue to prevent yourself from geeking out on the food because you don’t want to keep him from getting back to the kitchen to make your next course… Basically what I’m saying is – the service is awesome, but don’t expect to be in and out, or if you do want to get in and out, you need to communicate your expectations to your server, who can then guide and pace the meal accordingly. Expect to spend $30-40 on food per person if you order À la carte, roughly, and then whatever drinks you get on top of that.Nibblers Eatery & Wine Bar 1922 Oak Park Blvd Pleasant Hill, CA 94523 Website Here: Nibblers Eatery & Wine Bar
For Reservations call: 925-944-0402, or book online through Open Table.