June 2nd was an emotional day for me. The rumors were true: Niche was closing and executive chef Nate Hereford was leaving for San Francisco. I felt like someone had broken up with me, as I longingly looked through my Flickr albums at photos of Dia’s Cheese Bread, “The Egg”, and all of the desserts Sarah Osborn was forced to make without sugar or chocolate. Once I wiped the tears away and kept reading, my sadness turned to joy as I read about Gerard Craft’s new concept, Sardella.
Sardella would be a “fun, seasonal, creative restaurant with a nod to Italy” with Brasserie’s Nick Blue moving over to take the reigns as executive chef. I love Nick Blue (I’m required to say this in articles about him or his mom will hunt me down)! While Niche is being remodeled to become Sardella, the kitchen crew has been working away at their new menu. Over the last month, they’ve held a series of pop-up’s at Porano and Half & Half. I got the chance to check out the first two nights.
It was no surprise to me, nor most of the other diners I talked to, that Craft and his team put out plate after plate of inventive and, most importantly, tasty food. They didn’t dumb down the food—they took Niche caliber techniques and flavors and made them more accessible. Hell, some of the dishes were callbacks to the old days of Niche. A housemade bread, toasted, then topped with chicken liver mousse, raspberry jam, peanuts, and celery leaf will make for an excellent starter or breakfast. I had to fight off Sardella’s GM, Chris Kelling, for the bowl of uni chittara with crab and preserved lemon. And, as expected, pastry chef Sarah Osborn went straight for the chocolate.
For me, two of biggest stand outs were the crudo and the oxtail. Cured hamachi was served with lime, Thai chilies, and oregano, tasting like something I’d imagine coming out of a collaborative dinner between Niche and Fork & Stix. Is it Thai? Is it Italian? I don’t know, but I ate a lot of it.
The oxtail was similarly complex—huge chunks of meat were braised in what I would call a milk stout & Mexican mole liquid. I’ve never managed to pack that much flavor into a braised meat dish. The meat hunk was served with freshly made piadinas (tortillas), mixed herbs, and mixed chilies. Make your own tacos! Those flour tortillas are top notch, too. Fingers crossed a breakfast burrito ends up on the menu!
Craft told me about some dishes that they’re working on for the restaurant menu and, man, I wish I could tell you about them, but there’ll be no spoilers here. I almost gave him a hug when he was done describing them. Stay tuned.
The last pop up I know about is today,July 25th! Sardella is teaming up with Seoul Taco for a food truck pop up at Wells Fargo. If you’re around, go get in line. Now!
Follow Sardella on Facebook here.