By Joshua Langston

Photos by Viranlly Liemena

Nicli Antica Pizzeria is not your average pizzaria, not by a long shot. They are the first VPN certified pizzaria in Vancouver. VPN [Associazione Vera Pizza Napoletana] which is a group that works as the denomination of control with the Italian government, that certifies that a certain pizzaria meets the high standards and requirements of neapolitan pizza making. Beyond their incredible award winning pizza, they have created a beautiful room that boasts table dining as well as a bar dining setting. Since opening in 2011, they have become a destination spot for quality italian food in Vancouver. While Nicli’s grew it’s acclaim at an expedited rate, opening their second resturant, Niclis Next Door, literally next door, was unexpected.

Nicli’s Next Door stands on it’s own two feet, and is not just an addition onto their previous space. The menus are completely different, and Niclis Next Door offers their own take on italian cuisine, that allows them to not get caught in the shadow of its predecessor. When we arrived we sat down at a very long table flanked by some of Vancouvers top food bloggers and critics. We were thanked for our attendance and got schooled in how to make fresh pasta and even given some recipes so we could attempt to make it at home. Here’s a fun tidbit, did you know that you don’t need to use a large water to pasta ratio when making pasta? That’s actually a urban myth as we soon found out, apparently the ratio to watch out for has more to do with salt and the type of pasta you are making, VS the amount of water you make it in. Mind Blown.

A large portion of the items we tried were not on the menu, and as we learned Niclis Next Door is a place to explore. The chefs like to constantly try new things and evolve the concept.

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Above: Bruschetta: Strachiatelle Cheese, Roasted Brussel Sprout Pesto + Bruschetta: Bacon and leek jam, Capicollo, Arugula

The quality of their iingredients plays as much of a crucial role in creating the dishes, as the ideas behind them. The brussel sprout pesto was a interesting take on a traditional pesto, while the bacon jam found an exceptional marriage between sweet, savoury and salty.

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Above: Meatballs with San Marzano Tomato

This was one of those dishes that I had to force myself to savour slowly. There was such a delicate break to the meatball, and the bread on the side was crucial for me to ensure I could swipe every last bit of the sauce.

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Above: Triple Cooked Fries, 18 month Parma Prosciuto, Arugula, Aged Parmesan Gravy

Easily my favourite item we tried from the whole tasting, partially because it brought all the nostalgia of loving french fries in my childhood mixed with my more refined tastes in my adulthood.

How it’s done the Nicli’s way:

“First up: sorting the potatoes. We choose those that sink in a nine-percent salt brine and float in a 12-percent brine, which indicates that the potato is neither too wet nor too dry. Next, we slice them thickly, soak them in water to remove the starch, then vacuum pack them in a salt, glucose, baking soda, and potato starch brine.

We cook the potatoes until they just begin to fall apart, then lay the fries in our combi-oven with the convection fan on at 100%. You know the fries are done when they have a dry, leathery coating of seasoned potato starch. Next, they make a stop in the fryer–just until a light crust forms. We use rice bran oil (see note below) in our fryers: Rice bran oil has a lighter taste and has purported health benefits.

The now twice-cooked potatoes go to the freezer until frozen. Then they go into vacuum seal bags until needed. When an order comes in, we cook the potatoes for the third time, until golden and crispy on the outside but mashed potato-ey in the middle.

Nicli’s Next Door’s potato fry is wrapped with fresh arugula and Parma prosciutto aged at least 18 months.We serve it accompanied by Parmesan gravy (made from our own stock thickened with three- to five-year-old Parmigiano-Reggiano. The stock, similar to consommé, is made by slowly simmering roasted veal neck bones and roasted duck, sourced from Two Rivers Meats, for at least 24 hours). Our Parmesan gravy has a depth of flavour and umami that is super-rich and decadent. If you’re anything like me, you’ll find it dangerously addictive.”

Dangerously addictive is quite the understatement when talking about these triple-cooked-strips-of-starchy-goodness, I have actually have dreamed about them since.

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Above: Savoy Cabbage Involtini – Venison, Porchetta, Buratta Rose Sauce

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Above: Potato Zeppole, Banana Custard, Chocolate Pie Crust, Chocolate Sauce

You know that feeling when you are on a first date and you’re waiting for your date to show up. That sums up the 45 seconds between when this plate dropped infront of me, and I anxiously waited to eat it while Viranlly got his shot. My knees were shaking and my eyes widened as these crispy yet soft zeppoles were dropped beside me. Like a true professional I dragged my zeppole across my plate in various directions, ensuring each sauce and element would be embedded in my first bite. The outer crust was really crispy but  the center was warm and smooth. The banana custard had the perfect body to it, that its flavours were able to stand out amongst the rich chocolate sauce.

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Unlike a lot of food events and tastings I attend, we got the chance to get into the kitchen and watch how they take all the elements and put them together. We split into two groups and we had the chance to watch Chef Josh Gale [ aka TheChefOutWest on instagram ] cook for us and show us some tricks on how to create the perfect plating. One of the biggest takeaways was “the rule of odds”, when adding elements to the plate, odd numbers are most appealing visually.

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After watching Chef Josh build the perfect plate, it was time for us to head into the back of the kitchen and watch them make fresh pasta. They showed us a couple methods they use, one of them using a commercial extruder that you can easily drop in your pasta and it gets pushed through a bronze plate into the shape you are looking for. The second method was by hand using a pasta roller and “laminating the dough” by putting it through, and then folding it and repeating multiple times.

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Niclis Next Door has found a way to use innovation, creativity and a love for great tasting food to create an experience we won’t soon forget. If you are looking for a great date spot or somewhere to take a group of friends to experience something truly differant, then you must check out it out.

Thank you Nicli’s next door for hosting us, you better make sure you have a lot of triple cooked fries around for next time we come in, because we want ALL the fries.

FOLLOW Joshua on Twitter: @JoshuaDLangston

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