This isn’t a review of a restaurant. It’s more of a public service announcement for all the restaurants out there that serve monte cristos. My dad always used to tell me, “If something is worth doing, it’s worth doing right.” Actually, I think I got that from a movie. My dad was too busy yelling “Do you think I just fell off the back of a turnip truck?” at me. I still don’t know what that means, but now, thanks to the generous contributions of readers like you, I know what a turnip is. So regardless of where I got that first quote, here’s my point: If you can’t make a dish right, take it off your menu.
Nico’s Cafe – Kanan and Lindero Cyn in Oak Park (next to Starbucks)
First of all, let’s lay down some ground rules on what makes for a good monte cristo.
- It’s fried and crispy on the outside.
- It doesn’t fall apart while you’re eating it.
- The jam is spreadable.
I could make more rules, but these three are the basics. For those of you who need a refresher on what the monte cristo is, see our posts on Jack’s Deli and The Blue Bayou. That will give you a good idea of what the sandwich is all about and if I’ve done a good job, you’ll probably want to eat one after reading.
My friend Melissa and I found out that Nico’s had a monte cristo on the menu and got all excited about going to try it. Unfortunately, it was not a real monte cristo that we were served. Yes, all the ingredients were there. But this impostor gave all other monte cristos a bad name.
I’ve eaten at Nico’s a number of times and the food has always been pretty decent. The service is attentive, but occasionalyy it takes a while to get the check. That’s a huge pet peeve of mine, especially when I’m on a tight schedule during lunch hour. The prices are a little higher than I think they should be, but it’s in a nice neighborhood so I can understand the markup. I’ve had their burger and a few other things which I would stop just short of recommending. As far as the monte cristo though, don’t order it. Not ever.
My first big problem with the sandwich was that it was not fried. It was like two pieces of french toast were used instead of bread. One of the exciting things about eating a monte cristo is not being able to see the inside until you take your first bite. There was no element of surprise with this sandwich and without the crispy outside, the french toast got soggy way too quickly.
That leads me to the next issue. The damned thing fell apart on me. The bread was overly eggy and it was only tasty in the very beginning. There was plenty of turkey, ham and swiss, but those are not the main reason why you get a monte cristo. Also, the turkey ended up a little dry because it wasn’t insulated. When you get a good monte cristo, you’ll notice that the outside is the only dry part. The juices from the meat stay inside and give you the contrasting texture that makes it such a wonderful dish.
Finally, the jam that they served with the sandwich was ice cold and hard. I realize that some of you may find this critique to be overly anal-retentive. To those people, I say “shut it.” It’s important. The sweetness of the jam is supposed to mix with the savory meat and the crispy outer shell. I couldn’t get this jam out of the little plastic container that they served it in. When I did manage to get a little on my knife, I couldn’t spread it on my sandwich because it was already falling apart. The jam that was served with my monte cristo at Blue Bayou was almost syrupy. It ran off my knife and wormed its way into every crevasse it could find. That’s the way it should be.
Overall, I don’t want to slam this place too hard. A monte cristo is a special dish that should only be done by professionals. Still, I was so disappointed with this sandwich that I don’t know whether or not I will ever return to Nico’s. Maybe someday, but it’s gonna take some time. In fact, until they either start making real monte cristos or remove them from the menu altogether, I can’t justify making a return trip.