If there are better hosts on the North Shore than Carlos and Debbie Nieto, I’ve yet to meet them.
They know how to make every one who walks in the door of their restaurants –whether it be The Happ Inn, Café Central, or the late, lamented Carlos’ Restaurant, where Nieto’s is now found – feel valued and special. That’s how you build a clientele.
So it wasn’t a surprise to be greeted by name when I walked in (an anonymous visit here would have been an impossibility), and everyone around us was basking in the glow reflected by the affable Nietos as they went around checking with each table.
They are anxious to please, and they are only happy if you are happy. Chances are, at Nieto’s, you will be. The menu, while not huge, offers something for every appetite, including many gluten-free options.
And the room has an instantly comfy, clubby feel that adds to the feeling of belonging engendered by the warm welcome. Gone is the romantic interior of Carlos, but there is still a feeling of intimacy. So choose a wine from the 20 offered by the glass, and settle in.
You can’t go wrong with the Roasted Butternut Squash Ravioli ($7.95) starter, four plump pillows of whisper-thin pasta wrapped around a savory-sweet filling, topped simply with brown butter-sage sauce, shavings of Parmesan and fresh pepper. Lighter than you think, and paired with a Classic Grilled Romaine Caesar Salad ($9.95), I could call it a day and get out for under $20.
But then I’d miss the Whole Grilled Artichoke ($8.95), redolent of the grill’s smoky char, quartered and served with a sprightly Remoulade. Messy but ultimately rewarding.
The Tuna Tartare ($14.95), an ample portion served atop arugula salad, and filled with chunks of ruby red ahi, chopped vegetables and an Asian-flavored dressing, was tasty buy could have used a squeeze of citrus or a dash more seasoning. It was a little bland, though impeccably fresh.
Burgers were flying by our table with alacrity, so we had to hop on the bandwagon. It’s a build-your-own Prime Burger ($10.95), a good half pound of high-quality beef with toppings ranging from cheeses ($1.25) to sautéed spinach, onions or mushrooms ($1 each) and crisp pancetta ($2). This is a seriously good burger. The fries were tasty, but I prefer the thinner “frites” myself.
Dinner Entrée options include home-style favorites like Debbie’s Roasted Half Chicken with Mashed Potatoes ($15.95), “Shake ‘n’ Bake” Pork Chop with Caramelized Apples ($22.95) and Braised Shortribs ($22.95) with roasted cauliflower and green peppercorn sauce.
The Pan-Seared Whitefish ($19.95) sort of explained the Nieto’s philosophy for me. High quality ingredients, cooked with the same care as Carlos’ kitchen, with a little simpler preparation, here served on a bed of julienned and caramelized carrots, onions and fennel, topped with a quick tapenade sauce.
Don’t miss Gram’s Old Fashioned Chocolate Pudding ($6.95) for dessert. None of that high-falutin’ mousse stuff here. This is serious chocolate, folks, dense and rich, almost more ganache than pudding. And you will fight over every last spoonful. I promise.