Thursday, April 2, 1998
If you ask someone why they chose the restaurant business, it's almost guaranteed that you will never hear it's for the easy hours. Or for buckets of money. With a large measure of luck and a whole lot of work, sweat, and perseverance, those things might come. But mostly people say they love the business because of the inherent satisfaction that comes from feeding people.
"You can just tell sometimes," Nico Mavris explains. "You know that by the way they order the food, the questions they ask, how they look at the menu, that they are here to experience the food. Certain dishes, the way they''re prepared and the way the ingredients go together--they become an experience. Like a date with someone you really like! That''s how it should be."
Mavris'' appreciation of good food began at an early age. "When I was growing up, the kitchen was always the warmest place in the house on chilly mornings in Northern California," Nico recalls, "and my mom is a great cook, always cooking all the time. We''re Greek, and would spend summers in Greece, so I grew up eating that kind of wonderful food. But I actually started working in restaurants when I was 11, all the way through school."
Nico opened his restaurant in May of last year, giving it his name. As it happens, reality diverted from the original plan, which was to practice law for several years and then think about opening a restaurant.
What really happened was that he ended up doing everything all at once. "I finished school at the Monterey College of Law in June, passed the bar exam in November, and took over my first restaurant, La Dolce Vita, right after that in ''94. So now, with two restaurants and all the focus that requires, I''m pretty much out of law, and doing what I really love."
Opening a second place meant an opportunity to do another type of menu. Working with his chef and friend of several years, Tomas Guerra, they came up with a menu that celebrates Nico''s Mediterranean background, the best of California and a burger for the undeniable red-white-and-blue requirements of families with kids in tow.
Asked what his own favorite dish is on the menu, "I can''t decide," Nico replies. "I''m so in love with everything on it--there''s simple, beautiful homemade pastas. We make the gnocchi in gorgonzola and sage cream sauce, and the three-cheese tortellini, and the crab ravioli served with fresh scallops. We make the angel hair pasta, served in a simple sauce that we make here every day--marinara made with fresh tomatoes. We buy our fresh fettucine and linguine, like this one, the whole wheat pasta with the fresh clams and roasted garlic, an incredible dish, how it all works together."
Besides fresh pasta, there''s a range of appealing choices from an identical menu for both lunch and dinner: Pan-seared seabass and asparagus, veal scaloppini with lemon and rosemary, vegetables du jour stuffed with brown rice and herbs, a selection of sandwiches and four pizzas to choose from are just a few options, with plenty more for every appetite.
"I''ll never forget what someone told me, an old man visiting here from Italy. The way that he ordered, I knew he understood the food. He asked me, ''So, do you spend all your time here, more than you do at home?'' I said ''Yes.'' He said, ''Then make it your art.''"
"And that''s the way I feel about it," reflects Nico. "Like when I asked a lady the other day if she was enjoying her pasta, the way she replied. She said, ''Yes, I love it! I could dance to it!''" Catherine Coburn