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Fearless Critic restaurant review
Portland
Food
Feel
Price
8.2
8.5
$70
Italian, Modern, Pizza
Upmarket restaurant

Hours
Tue–Sat 11:30am–2:00pm
Tue–Sat 5:30pm–9:00pm

Features Date-friendly, good wines
Bar Beer, wine, liquor
Credit cards Visa, MC, AmEx
Reservations Accepted

www.nicksitaliancafe.com

McMinnville
521 NE 3rd St.
McMinnville, OR
(503) 434-4471
Nick’s Italian Café
After a reinvention, Nick’s is still one of our best wine country restaurants

Nick’s Italian Café is an institution, having watched the Willamette Valley wine scene explode, having been through ups and downs, having been splayed across the pages of the once-glorious Saveur like some sort of reverse-world pin-up wherein the older and more forgotten you were, the better.

But like any good icon, it has recently undergone an overhaul, and is now better than ever. For a long time, if you were touring wineries in the Willamette Valley the only decent place to eat in McMinnville was Nick’s. Now, of course, there’s Thistle. There’s still the dinerish counter, booths and tables of dark wood with white tablecloths, charmingly casual mix-and-match plates and silverware.

The main focus here, as you can see through the semi-open kitchen, is the wood-fired oven. Here, pizzas are cooked with quite thin crusts, but at slightly too low a temperature to achieve good blistering. Still, they’re quite good, with a terrific, balanced sauce and the right amount of cheese. We like sausage best, but alto try getting the basic flatbread (with no sauce or cheese) and adding anchovy and egg.

Salads are nice and fresh, made from local ingredients. Shallot-laced vinaigrette is very faithfully French; fresh Dungeness crab with pickled beets and goat cheese isn’t, and it’s lovely. It’s a lively and fun combination. Ravioli with sage butter is spot on, with spinach and a hint of citrus.

Items frequently change, which is also a relatively new development in Nick’s life. A duck involtino, ground and stuffed into a thin layer of its own tender meat, has been wonderfully autumnal with a celery root purée and earthy roasted shallots. Pan-seared sole has come with a lovely anchovy-caper butter and tender baby kale, although the fish was a bit overcooked. Notoriously difficult monkfish, on the other hand, has come beautifully moist and beefy.

Dessert is all grown up, too. We’ve had a spectacular black-pepper gelato topped with syrupy, vinegary saba. Likewise, the wine list has done nothing but improve over the years. Ask the servers for suggestions; they are knowledgeable and passionate. It’s rare, but always a great treat, to see a restaurant get better with age.

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