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Food

The new Nic’s in Beverly Grove has chicharron and pot pie — all plant-based

LOS ANGELES, CALIF. -- WEDNESDAY, JUNE 12, 2019: Dining area inside Nic’s, a new vegan restaurant on
The bar and dining area inside Nic’s, a new plant-based restaurant in Beverly Grove.
(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)

Nic Adler is on a mission to change the way you think about plant-based food. And he’s doing it with Nic’s, the new restaurant he’s opening Friday with restaurateur Stephane Bombet and chef Steven Fretz.

While the restaurant — housed in the former Ponte space on Beverly Boulevard — has a full plant-based menu, Adler is hoping you won’t really realize it.

“If someone wants to call us plant-based, awesome,” Adler said Wednesday, seated at a table in the newly renovated dining room. “If they want to call us vegan, awesome. We call ourselves a restaurant.”

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LOS ANGELES, CALIF. -- WEDNESDAY, JUNE 12, 2019: The outdoor dining area at Nic’s, a new vegan resta
The outdoor dining area at Nic’s, a new restaurant on Beverly Boulevard.
(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)

Adler, who used to manage bands and ran the Roxy club in West Hollywood for 15 years, is behind all the food and beverage at Coachella. He also co-founded the Monty’s Good Burger plant-based restaurants in Koreatown and Riverside, and the Eat Drink Vegan festival at the Rose Bowl.

He’s been plant-based for more than 20 years, but when it came time to find a chef for Nic’s, he asked friend Steven Fretz, who co-founded the Top Round roast beef sandwich chain and who was the former chef at the now-closed Church Key.

“The option wasn’t to get a plant-based chef or a non-plant-based chef,” Adler said. “It was who do I believe can make the best food?”

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And that’s the idea behind the menu, which does not feature any premade plant-based products, such as the Impossible, Gardein or Beyond Meat burgers.

“We’re kind of no faux products restaurant,” Fretz said. “For the most part, if it’s served in this restaurant, it’s made in the kitchen. But at a normal restaurant, you don’t make the cheese.”

At Nic’s, Fretz and executive chef Ryan Ososky designed a menu that’s meant to evoke memories of childhood and of memorable meals in Los Angeles.

The Chinois salad is a nod to the Chinese chicken salad at Wolfgang Puck’s restaurant. The pot pies are inspired by the ones Adler’s mom used to feed him when he was growing up in L.A. in the ’90s. And the crispy rice with avocado may remind you of the famous Katsuya dish with spicy tuna.

LOS ANGELES, CALIF. -- WEDNESDAY, JUNE 12, 2019: Chicarron, made with puffed Yuba, smoked gouda foam
Chicarron made with puffed yuba, smoked Gouda foam and miso, served at Nic’s.
(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)

The menu also reads like any other non-plant-based restaurant, with dishes that include vegan versions of smoked Gouda, Parmesan and ricotta; they’re either nut-based or coconut oil-based.

Some of the more inventive dishes include the chicharron, made with fried yuba (tofu skin) that puffs up and bubbles like pork skin. It’s served dusted with a barbecue spice rub alongside a pool of smoked Gouda foam and miso. Or there’s the corn agnolotti (a riff on the Spago favorite), made with grilled corn, espelette and chive blossoms.

Beverage director Jason Eisner, who is responsible for the cocktails at Gracias Madre, is making the drinks. They’re on the playful side, with dry ice smoke billowing out of one, as well as a slush version of a negroni.

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LOS ANGELES, CALIF. -- WEDNESDAY, JUNE 12, 2019: A cocktail named ‘the one that says “bad motherf*ck
A cocktail made with house-smoked Oaxaca black corn whiskey at Nic’s in Beverly Grove.
(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)

As for the name of the restaurant, like with the decor and the menu, Adler was hoping it wouldn’t scream “vegan.”

“I really didn’t want to name the restaurant after myself,” Adler said. “But I didn’t want to name the restaurant Garden. Nic’s feels familiar, like you might have been there before.”

The restaurant, too, will feel familiar to diners who have been in the space before. The tree-lined outdoor area in the back still looks much as it did when the space was the storied Pane E Vino, although Adler added plants that cascade from the ceiling and line the walls through the restaurant, under the new skylights and into the expansive patio.

The restaurant will start with dinner service but plans to start serving lunch on June 24 and brunch on June 29.

At lunch, Fretz and Ososky will turn the focaccia on the menu into Detroit-style pizza. And for brunch, they’ll have waffles, Benedict and scallion biscuits with mushroom gravy.

“Because of Crossroads and because of Gracias Madre, the way that people feel about plant-based food has shifted,” Adler said. “This is just the beginning.”

8265 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles.

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