Vancouver Food Porn: Nicli's Next Door

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NICLI’S NEXT DOOR vancouver

“Wait, so there’s no pizza here?”

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In my defense, there was very little information on Nicli’s Next Door at the time. I still can’t find their phone number and, admittedly, I only took a quick glance at the menu before I texted the link. I assumed it would be similar to Nicli’s Antica Pizzeria, one of the restaurants at the forefront of Vancouver’s pizza revolution. It wasn’t that long ago that pizza around here meant a choice between Pizza Hut and Domino’s. Now, on the other hand, we wonder if the mozzarella is buffalo and if there’s sufficient char on the bottom of that thin crust.

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Nicli’s Next Door isn’t a pizzeria. It’s a small plates eatery, an Italian take on Spanish tapas with a menu full of interesting options so you can order lots and share.

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The restaurant space itself is also interesting. There’s plenty going on without looking too busy. Sharp lines and white/stainless surfaces say modern and contemporary while the exposed brick and unfinished woods maintain that classic Gastown aesthetic. An open kitchen keeps the atmosphere lively but not so distractingly loud that you can’t comfortably have a conversation.

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Nicli’s Next Door has a short, uncomplicated wine list available by the glass or by the bottle. Each category (“lively”, “rustic”, “elegant”, etc) has a red and a white option. If you want to try more than one, you can get combinations of three in 2oz flights as well.

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There are also a number of beers and cocktails, like this Moretti that our server picked for me after I asked her to choose one for me.

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We started with a platter ($16) of buffalo mozzarella, 18-month parma prosciutto, fresh figs, fresh arugula, and house bread. Each component is amazing on its own but even better all mixed up. The mozzarella is just gorgeous…soft and light and goes great with the rich, salty prosciutto and crispy bread. The arugula gives things a nice peppery bite but the biggest surprise for me were the amazing figs, which are given a light brule for a thin, crunchy sweet layer on top. I could eat like this every day…fresh, simple, quality ingredients.

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So there actually is one “pizza” on the menu, this margherita “pizzette” ($8) with San Marzano tomato, fior di latte and fresh basil. The dough is actually fried rather than baked in an oven so it’s a bit thicker and crispier than you’d expect but the highlight is that sauce. The tomatoes are bright, sweet and vibrant…it’s simply amazing.

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I had no idea what an arancina was. I thought it was some kind of orange, given that my Italian is limited to the labels of San Pellegrino soda cans. Our server explained that they’re basically balls of risotto that are filled and deep fried.

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Sold. There’s no way that combination of words could result in anything but deliciousness. This is a quattro formaggi arancina ($6), served with some more of that delicious San Marzano tomato sauce. This is a dish that just checks all the boxes. Many different textures and flavors that all sort of balance each other out. The cheese and deep-friedness of the arancina is nicely off-set by the sweet, acidic tomatos. There’s plenty of crunch and crispiness to go along with all that oozing cheese goodness. I was SO CLOSE to ordering another one of these.

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The Salt Spring Island mussels ($12) with a tomato white wine broth were…not really what I expected. It’s more of a tomato white wine sauce, drizzled on top of the mussels rather than one-pot dish that we’re used to seeing. Maybe this is more of an Italian preparation and I’m not saying it wasn’t tasty but not my favorite of mussel dishes in Vancouver. My biggest problem with this is that since you don’t get a piping hot white wine broth and there are so many other things on the table to munch on, the mussels cool quite quickly. However, the mussels are very fresh and the flavors work well.

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This, on the other hand, is one of my favorite gnocchi dishes around. What we have here is a ricotta gnocchi ($10) tossed with smoked porchetta, chantrelles, chestunts, and parmesan. I believe there’s a bit of black truffle in the sauce, which is a delicious combination of sweet and earthiness. To really see how good this dish is, you gotta get a bit of everything into a bite. It’s wonderfully composed and balanced. I especially liked the little charred onion bits and the chantrelle mushrooms.

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Dessert? Well, we couldn’t say no when the chefs recommended the hazelnut semifreddo ($7) with berry and caramel gel, chocolate snow and coffee-toffee crumble. We had to look up what a semifreddo is and basically, it’s a sort of Italian ice cream. It’s much…denser than regular ice cream with a very different texture. Cool and creamy with an intense hazelnut flavor. It is a very, very rich dessert, though so, like everything on the menu, it’s best shared.

Nicli’s Next Door has exactly the sort of thing I look for in a restaurant. There’s x-factor here. The menu mixes Italian tradition with modern creative flair. The decor and ambiance is just right. And did I mention how good the staff is? They’re friendly, accomodating and attentive without being intrusive. Our server knew the menu top to bottom and could probably tell me anything about it if I asked. I watched the kitchen for awhile and those guys move like a precision instrument. It’s no wonder our food all arrived quickly. The menu is quite reasonably priced as well. It’s about the same as one of the many Vancouver chains but you get so much more. You look at the food and you think a chef created this plate rather than some guy that works here followed a recipe and stamped it out in time.

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised as this place is literally next door to its sister restaurant, the current king of Vancouver’s pizza mountain but I was. Even though I wasn’t the biggest fan of the mussels, they were still pretty good. More importantly, Nicli’s Next Door is a fantastic dining experience. Take some friends, share your food and have a good time.

Nicli’s Next Door

Address: 68 East Cordova Street, Vancouver

Phone Number: 604-669-6985 (for Nicli Antica Pizzeria)
Walk-in only, no reservations

Hours:
Wednesday – Saturday, 5:00 p.m. to late

Website: www.niclisnextdoor.com

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Ed Lau is a contributing writer and photographer for Vancity Buzz. You can check out his other adventures in food, travel and more at EdEats.com or Instagram at @edlauphoto.
@edlau

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