After 30 years of providing haute cuisine for the North Shore, Carlos, Debbie and Carlos Nieto’s fine food palace closed at the end of 2011. Certainly, in this economic climate, a restaurant that had a la carte prices for entrees in the high $30 range becomes harder to sustain, no matter what the quality of service and gustatory experience. After a redecoration and concept change, Nieto’s uses the same space and some of the same chefs and servers.
Located at 429 Temple in Highland Park just adjacent to Highwood, there is very limited parking on the street, and the free valet now costs $5.00. The fine white napery is replaced by dark tablecloths and brown butcher paper. The tables are close together, the booths a tight fit for 4 people, and the elegance of the room with dome servers for the entrees are no more.
The menu tries to be at a much more friendly price point, but there are problems. Two of the appetizers are $11.95, a price point notably higher than the rest, and they were just shrimp, not an unusual item. In fact, the menu lists them as jumbo shrimp, and they were certainly not 10-15 shrimp, but probably 21-25. For the “jumbo” shrimp cocktail, the service was very similar to that of Di Pescara’s, in a galvanized bucket lying on its side filled with ice. The difference is Di Pescara’s shrimp were definitely larger, and with a more interesting cocktail sauce. There was not enough horseradish in the “ketchup”, and no hint of hot sauce, nor was any offered. A bowl (not much larger than a cup) of the soup of the day was a pleasant mushroom soup, but with cremini as the most exotic mushroom. Oysters on the half shell were offered at $2.00 per oyster, but as they were Pacific coast product, I said pass ( I have never been a fan of the small and relatively less flavorful Pacific varieties). Fitting with the “bistro” concept, a prime hamburger was offered at $10.95, but all add ons (everything with the exception of red onion, lettuce and tomato) were extra. There is a definite dis-connect with the entrees and their pricing. Salads are not included with the entrees. Ok, if the whitefish is exceptional, it might be worth $19.95, but it wasn’t. $23.95 for a piece of salmon? Or $25.95 for a piece of sirloin steak with a gorganzola butter sauce. I had the $33.95 “Grilled Australian Beef Tenderloin,”, an 8 ounce piece of somewhat tough beef sitting on a tablespoon streak of whipped potatoes, with uninspired roasted vegetables.
Desserts were very ordinary. You can do a lot better for $6.95 than a chocolate chip cookie with one scoop of Homer’s vanilla ice cream and a drizzle of chocolate!
I think that Carlos and Debbie Nieto need to rethink, and continue the adjustment of pricing to a more appropriate level. The people that experienced the glory days of Carlos will be disappointed with the ordinary offerings, and new people will judge Nieto’s against all of the other bistros nearby. No one expects Carlos type of food and service, but just because you are now a bistro, remember, there is a lot of competition that is doing the job better for less money, with more inspiration in the appetizers, entrees and desserts for a lot less money. Use the expertise that you have, and create something better.