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Nick's Italian Kitchen

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Nick’s Italian Kitchen is one of the new offerings from the Funky Monkey guys, now known as FMI Restaurant Group. Having started with a single restaurant, the Funky Monkey on Mills Avenue, in 2008, owners Eddie Nickell and Nicholas Olivieri have grown their menagerie of restaurants to include a second Funky Monkey at Pointe Orlando, Bananas Diner on Mills Avenue (with another to open in a few months at Pointe Orlando), as well as the Vault wine and retail shop, also on Mills. Now they’ve opened Prickly Pear and Nick’s, both at the Sanctuary condominium complex on South Eola Drive in downtown Orlando.

Nick’s occupies the space that was first a small patisserie, which never seemed to have much in the way of pastries, and then Sanctuary Diner before that too closed. Maybe it’s because the space was so humble before that I was surprised to see that it had taken on a more upscale air. Not hoity-toity upscale, but nice enough be be considered a little better than casual. The room is small, but tables and chairs are situated in such a way as to make it feel more spacious; it’s even possible to have a quiet conversation without everyone at the next table hear it.

The menu strives for authenticity in its use of Italian-language headings, but there are few items that you wouldn’t see on most Italian menus about town. But the food, under the direction of chef Juan Mercado, who is also overseeing the kitchen at Prickly Pear next door, is very good.

I very much enjoyed the fritto misto appetizer of squid, shrimp, zucchini spears and carrots, all wearing thin, crisp breading jackets. A garlic aioli was included for dipping. I was also impressed with the beef carpaccio, an appetizer I’ve all but stopped ordering because it rarely rises above the mundane. But the quality of the paper-thin slices of beef and the inclusion of a stack of deliciously bitter arugula, plenty of shaved parmesan and a light drizzle of truffle oil made this version exceptional.

On my first visit I had the lasagna bolognese, a generous serving of layered noodles with a richly flavored meat sauce and gooey mozzarella. Very nice.

On another visit I enjoyed the osso buco Milanese, a big, meaty shank of braised veal topping saffron tinged risotto. A wonderful array of flavors.

The eggplant rolatini would have been better with a more vibrant tomato sauce. The eggplant was sufficiently tender-firm, and the ricotta cheese filling was delightfully creamy, but the red sauce had no distinction.

I liked the ricotta cheesecake, a coarser texture than the more familar cream cheese versions, and the fresh fruit that topped it was a perfect accompaniment. Panna cotta, the traditional cooked cream dessert, managed to be both light and rich at the same time.

Service was accommodating and proper without being stuffy.

Nick’s is certainly a departure from the usual FMI restaurants, but it’s well within the comfort zone of what this restaurant group is capable of doing.

Nick’s Italian Kitchen is at 100 S. Eola Ave., Orlando. It’s open for lunch Monday through Friday and dinner daily. Here is a link to Nick’s website. The phone number is 407-781-0724. A note on parking: spaces on the street are scarce. A valet service is generally available out front. The cost is $5, but, trust me, it’s worth it.

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Thursday, 24th July 2014

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