What the Critics are Saying...

ZagatChef-owner and gracious host, Nick Difu turns out creative New American dishes in a warm, cozy setting manned by a personable staff at this Los Gatos neighborhood go-to; while it gets extremely noisy, fans happily put up with it because neighborhood restaurants don’t get better than this. P.S. reservations are a must.

FOOD 26 | DECOR 20 | SERVICE 24 | COST $49
Ratings are out of 30

Michelin_ratingThough it originally opened as the sibling to Chef Difu’s Nick’s on Main, Nick’s Next Door is now his sole restaurant—even more confusing given that it’s actually across the street from his original spot. One fact is evident, though: the crowd here has ritzy tastes, often flocking in from the high-end cigar shop next door and Bentley dealership down the street. Upscale American bistro cuisine is the focus with dishes like seared pepper-crusted ahi tuna, a veal rib chop with creamy Tuscan white beans, and meatloaf with potatoes and wild mushroom gravy. Whether you dine in the cozy yet elegant dining room with its black-and-gray motif or on the beautiful patio at the foot of a towering redwood, you’ll receive a warm welcome, often from Nick himself.

MetroActiveLocal Boy Makes Good Food

Nick’s captures essence of Los Gatos style and appetite.

YES, Los Gatos is a ritzy Silicon Valley enclave that has Rolls Royce and Lamborghini dealerships across the street from each other and a median housing price greater than the GDP of some developing countries. But for all its trappings of wealth and exclusivity, L.G. is a friendly small town at heart where people greet each other on the street and are more comfortable in jeans and sweatshirts than suits and ties.

The city’s spirit of upscale leisure extends to its taste in food and drink, too. While Los Gatos has its share of fancy, special occasion restaurants, it’s the casual but refined places that seem to attract the most loyal followings. Veteran Los Gatos chef Nick Difu knows the city’s appetites as well as anyone, and he has hit the mark with Nick’s on Main, a relaxed but elegant bistro that’s full of neighborly charm and is a showcase for his full-bore style of cooking.

Eight-week-old Nick’s is a cozy space that borders on cramped when it’s busy—and that’s often. Step inside and you’re virtually standing on top of the unlucky table near the door. There’s no buffer zone or host station. But that elbow-to-elbow crowd is also part of the restaurant’s appeal. This is a local’s place where everybody seems to know each other and everyone knows Difu, who frequently steps away from the stove to walk around the bustling dining room to chat with customers. The exposed brick wall, beautiful glass facade and collection of black and white family photos add to the convivial atmosphere and call to mind a classic New York bistro.

Professionally speaking, Difu gets around. He has chefed at the now defunct Café Marcella, the Wine Cellar and 180 Restaurant and Lounge. As a result, the city has come to know him as one of its own. While he’s cooked around town for years, this is the first place that is all his, and it’s well suited to his generous style of cooking because of its intimacy and small scale. While it’s not cheap—entrees range from $22 to $34—Nick’s is a place for a casual midweek meal where neighbors end up sitting next to each other, but it’s still nice enough for special occasion weekend dining, too.

As for the food, Nick’s is a continuation of the hedonistic comfort food Difu displayed at 180. Some of the dishes, like the mussels, baby back ribs and meatloaf, bear striking resemblances to those at 180. At its best, Difu’s cooking is decadent and deeply satisfying, the kind of belt-loosening food where you chuck concerns about calories and cholesterol out the window and just revel in a meal of well-executed excess. The food hurtles over the top with sybaritic abandon.

Take the “Not Your Traditional Caesar Salad” ($7). The salad combines butter lettuce, spinach and radicchio and tosses them in a creamy, garlic-spiked vinaigrette with blue cheese, bacon, capers, olives and, last but not least, anchovies. It’s an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink salad that’s salty, rich, creamy, crunchy and delicious. Or there’s Nani’s meatloaf ($22), a calorific ode to Difu’s grandmother. The pan-roasted, caramelized hunk of meaty goodness is draped with twin ribbons of velvety mushroom gravy and creamy veal demi-glace. Light but rich whipped potatoes and sautéed broccolini round it all out.

Some of Nick’s starters, like the duck confit-risotto tower ($13), could double as entrees. The multilayered dish tops a molded mound of creamy lemon risotto with duck confit and a nest of shaved Brussels sprouts. It’s a filling, rootsy dish that is best shared. Steamed mussels are standard fare, but Nick’s version, Prince Edward Island mussels in a spicy, Thai-inspired broth and cilantro butter ($11), creates a truly delicious appetizer that had me looking for a straw so I could slurp up all that rich, buttery, aromatic, spicy broth.

Other standouts include the pan-roasted halibut with bacon, sautéed asparagus and caramelized onions embellished in a luxurious Dungeness crab beurre blanc ($25) and the tender-roasted lamb rib eye with whipped potatoes, ratatouille and a muscular balsamic demi-glace ($34).

Not all dishes hit the mark, and desserts ($6) are a mixed bag. The individually baked bread pudding, pleasingly crisp and crusty outside and moist and chewy inside, is a wonder, but the overly gelatinous panna cotta and goopy apple tart left me flat.

The California-centric wine list features many Santa Cruz Mountain wines full of big, fruity flavors like the 2006 Testarossa “Palazzio” Pinot Noir and La Rusticana d’Orsa 2004 cab-merlot blend that stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Difu’s cooking. Many are available by the glass.

Service is generally friendly and professional. At the end of the meal, the check arrives tucked into a worn culinary reference book. Inside, the pages are scrawled with the words of well-wishers, satisfied diners and one guy hassling Difu about his golf game. It reads like a yearbook signed by old friends. Difu is playing to a friendly hometown crowd that’s fond of him and his food. At Nick’s, he’s returning the affection with his hearty and generous cooking.

MetroActiveChef Spotlight

Raised in a family that was an important part of the Santa Clara Valley’s agricultural heritage, Nick Difu has brought authenticity and local roots to the new American bistro that bears his name. Nick’s on Main opened in March and quickly established itself as a popular small chef’s restaurant at 35 Main St., in Los Gatos, across from the town’s legendary Ferrari dealership. In last year’s Best of Silicon Valley balloting, Metro readers chose Nick’s on Main as “Best New Restaurant,” and Difu came in second to world-renowned David Kinch of Manresa as “Best Chef.”

As the saying goes, though, it takes a long time to become an overnight success. Difu spent more than a decade in the back kitchens of Los Gatos restaurants Café Marcella, the Wine Cellar and 180 Restaurant. Today, it’s his name on the door, and Nick is there to greet patrons each night.

Yelp5-Star Review Posted 9/8/14
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YAAAAAS, I finally got wined and dined here… and it was totally worth the years of waiting and sometimes frustrating, unsuccessful hint dropping. It felt like I had prepared for this moment my whole life and I was all ready to order before our waitress even sat us. Went with the very photogenic and equally delicious Ribeye for my main entree with a side of the crab risotto. Both were wonderful and came in generous portions. Juicy ribeye with subtle sauce, but not enough pink despite me asking for medium rare. Not a big deal though and I still really enjoyed it. Creamy risotto that wasn’t too heavy and therefore made a great side. I loved the cauliflower (though didn’t notice the pesto) and thin fries that came with the steak, but unfortunately wasn’t a huge fan of the pork belly. I’m normally a pork belly fiend but found this to be a little bit dry. The bone marrow was pretty interesting! Really salty and reminded me of mustard (but sooooo much better! I don’t even like mustard…). Babe wasn’t a fan, but hey, meant less sharing I had to do! He had the Kobe burger which he devoured. I was too full to take even a bite but judging from the expression of pure bliss on his sweet face, it must’ve been amazing.

For appetizers, we had the wild mushroom risotto croquettes and salmon poke. The crab in the poke was incredibly fresh and the salmon melted in my mouth! I liked the very crispy smoked bacon bits too; it was a nice touch. The croquettes looked pretty unassuming but ended up being the highlight of the entire meal. Super moist and savory. We actually had a really hard time narrowing it down to just two appetizers because they all sounded so good. Duck confit, we still have our eyes on you for next time!

I’m not one to rub things in people’s faces, but I TOLD BAE SO. I knew this place would be awesome. Shame on him for taking so long to take me here ;p Now that we both know what we’ve been missing out on, I can’t wait to become regulars to try the entire menu and satiate my croquette cravings…

We also had the privilege of chatting with owner and namesake Nick at the bar. I fell even more in love with the restaurant after seeing how down-to-earth and humble he is.

You are all cordially invited to double date or third wheel with us next time! ;p

Julie N.
San Jose

Had a great time at Nick’s this past weekend. My gf took me here to celebrate my bday and we had an excellent time from beginning to end. We had reservations at 6:30P on a very busy Saturday and we were seated immediately when we got there. We saw Nick standing by the front door, greeting every customer who came in. Thought that was really cool!We ordered a couple appetizers to start, Salmon Poke and Duck Confit. Duck was amazing, tender fall of the bone duck leg which was big enough to be an entree. The salmon poke was probably the least favorite thing I ate from Nick’s, but who orders Japanese at an American resturant? That was my fault, but with the free bread, I was making poke bruchetta’s which were honestly pretty darn good.Entrees were fantastic. I had the rib eye, which was served with pesto cauliflower/pork belly, pomme frites and bone marrow. I remember cutting into the charred edges only to find a perfect rare underneath. If you’re a steak fan, this is a must try! My gf ordered the lamp lollipops which was also delicious. It was served with green beans and quinoa and she loved her meal as much as I did. I saw alot of people ordering the Sea Bass, and I would go back just to try that dish out.Nick even stopped by as we were paying to make sure we enjoyed our food. Great service, excellent food and great location! Can’t wait to come back.

Whitney Y.
Santa Clara