Nico restaurant has closed for good. In its place is the newly open Maison Nico, a pristine épicerie from the same chef and owner Nicolas Delaroque. Less common in the States than boulangeries and pâtisseries, an épicerie is the French version of a highly specialized local market. You won’t find a baguette, a croque monsieur or even croissants there. The glass cases display the mainstays, pâté en croûte and brioche feuilletée, like a monarch’s jewels locked inside the palace. In the background, staff members patrol the interiors or busy themselves with baking tasks while you make up your mind.
Each platter presents a picture of perfection. Identical pear slices fan out concentrically upon the face of a tart. An accompanying quenelle of cream spreads out like a peony that’s about to bloom. Rows of financiers align themselves against a severe 90 degree angle, dimpled with nuts and berries. One post on Maison Nico’s Instagram account shows the many layers of a brioche feuilletée baking as it turns from golden yellow to golden brown. The items aren’t forbidding. But something about Delaroque’s precision suggests, however subtly, that your slumped posture has room for improvement.
I dropped by early in the morning, ready for pastry and not yet ready to dig into a pâté en croûte. When I spoke with the chef about coming up with this particular menu, Delaroque said that he enjoys making pâtés as much as he does sweets. “I wanted to share them both and I thought it would be a good add to the community because nobody else is doing this.” He also grew up eating pâté en croûte. “It’s something that we always had around in the fridge,” Delaroque recalled. “My mom used to go to the épicerie to get provisions for the week.” For him, it’s comfort food.
That feels especially poignant since 2020 was going to be a “gap year” for Delaroque and his family. For the past eight years, the chef has spent most of his energy running his restaurant. He had planned to spend the year recharging in France with his wife and daughter. When the pandemic altered those plans, he realized that Nico wouldn’t be financially viable selling only takeaway meals. Instead of returning home to France, Delaroque thought of a new way to bring the tastes of France to San Francisco.
Delaroque says that his original idea for the restaurant was more casual. But Nico turned out to be rather posh. “In San Francisco, rent is expensive,” he says. The prices at his restaurant increased in order to pay for the rent and the cost of the delicious but expensive list of ingredients. Without table service, Maison Nico is already a more informal space to pick up morning or afternoon snacks to go.
If you’ve never tried a brioche feuilletée, it tastes like an airier stack of palmiers. You can buy an entire loaf of the stuff, or they can just cut off a slice. Delaroque’s version is caramelized with almond paste, quite sticky and good for dunking in a mug of hot tea. Another dessert, the Parisian flan, looks like an American cheesecake. But the resemblance is only skin deep. It holds the consistency of a runny brie but the filling is actually made of a vanilla custard. “In the last couple of years, I was just making it for the restaurant staff sometimes,” the chef says. It was a way for him to work out the recipe before it landed on the menu.
Delaroque adapted two of his recipes as Thanksgiving specials this year. He made a turkey tourte, which looks like the prettiest pot pie you’ve ever seen, and a pumpkin flan. Both items are likely to have already sold out this week but more adventurous souls can still try a slice of pâté en croûte or a terrine, sans pastry crust. Delaroque has even revived the seldom seen aspic, decadently made with lobster or beef cheeks.
Wednesday to Sunday, 9 a.m. – 4 p.m.
710 Montgomery, San Francisco
Farmers’ Market Hours
Every Saturday, 8 a.m. – 2 p.m.
1 Ferry Building, San Francisco