kot diirogatis john cale kahan merges saldanha linn

Sound Opinions and John Cale Eat to the Beat at Nico

kot diirogatis john cale kahan merges saldanha linn

Sound Opinions hosts Greg Kot and Jim DiRogatis along with producers Robin Linn and Jason Saldanha joined Chefs Paul Kahan and Matthias Merges along with Candid Wines to host John Cale of Velvet Underground fame at Nico Osteria.

Both Paul and Matthias are “huge music dorks”, and Nico Osteria takes it’s name from the German singer Nico, whose understated voice and elegance featured on The Velvet Underground’s first album Paul cites as the “vibe” they seek to create at the restaurant.

German Singer Nico,

Each course at the dinner was paired with a song from the first two Velvet Underground albums, introduced and explained by the chefs.  With each dish, Paul or Matthias explained to the assembled guest and John Cale himself how they interpret the music and lyrics; no small feat.

I’d encourage you to put yourself in their shoes: Think about making and serving a dish, or perhaps writing a song or drawing a picture for Kahan and Merges, and then explain to each how it reflects your experiences at Blackbird, Yusho, Avec, or A10…

What follows is the menu as well as a few recollections from the evening.  Many thanks to the team at fadeout foto for taking and sharing all of the pictures featured here.


“Skin Tasting” – Matthias Merges

Trouble with the Classicists – Velvet Underground (Songs for Drella)

The Trouble with the Classicists Matthias Merges

“The trouble with a classicist, he looks at a tree, that’s all he sees, he paints a tree.”

Chef Merges introduced the dish by noting that most of the time chefs will remove the skins or use it to add a flavor to something else.  Matthias sees the skin and sees something sles  “it’s so fucking delicious on it’s own”.


Paired with Tenuta Santomé Prosecco Extra Dry, the house Prosecco at Nico Osteria.


Matthias Merges presents his dish to John Cale

Matthias Merges (rt) introduces his first dish while Paul Kahan (left) follows along.


Antipasti – Paul Kahan –  Seasonal Crudo

I’ll Be Your Mirror  – Velvet Underground

Preparing for Sounds Opiions at Nico Osteria

Dinner for 75? It’s easy if you’re this good.

Paul explained his continued desire to strip away technique and ego in cooking to arrive at the essence of an exemplary ingredient.  In this case, a selection of three fish from Tsukiji and Nico seeing right through you.

Paired with Tenuta Santomé Prosecco Extra Dry, the house Prosecco at Nico Osteria.

Crudo at Nico Osteria for John Cale

Primi I – Paul Kahan –

Swordfish Pancetta,

goat’s milk feta, watermelon, habañero, mint

There She Goes Again  – The Velvet Underground & Nico

Swordfish pancetta at Eat to the Beat

Ex-girlfriends, female orgasms and, well, you’ll have to talk to Paul for the full history and explanation of this one.  Have to love the man’s willingness to open up in a room.

Paired with Jasci’s Trebbiano d’Abruzzo, this is a hard dish to pair with an assertive wine as it is already complete – the sweetness of the melon balances the heat from the pepper while the nasturtium cuts and lifts the fattiness of the fish.   I liked the Trebbiano here in a supporting role as a fresh, simple counterpart.

A fun surprise for Connor and me was to see Jared Van Camp of Element Collective, and the Executive Chef at Nellcôte where Sound Opinions hosted “The Beatles vs The Stones” Eat to the Beat a few years ago.

 Jared Van Camp and Paul Kahan at Nico Osteria

Jared Van Camp and Paul Kahan at Sound Opinion’s Eat to the Beat. Jared attended as music lover.

John Cale signs Jared Van Camps record

Jared Van Camp scores an autograph from John Cale.


Flashback to the pre-opening party at Nellcote.  Seriously, you really should get on Sound Opinions’ mailing list and sign up for these events before they sell out.

Sound Opinions Eat to the Beat

Stephanie Izard, Jim DiRogatis, Greg Kot, and a dramatically beardless Jared Van Camp at Eat to the Beat at Nellcôte, 2012.


Primi II – Matthias Merges –

Veal Head

smoked oysters, yogurt, kale

All Tomorrow’s Parties  – The Velvet Underground & Nico

Connor O'Rourke Yvonne Koll at Nico Osteria

Connor O’Rourke, Candid Wines. Yvonne Koll, The Locals.  Check out the bottom of this page for a video from The Locals.


Veal Head at Nico with Sound Opinions and John Cale

Paul Kahan plates Matthais Merges’ Veal Head


Veal Head from Matthias Merges at Nico Osteria with John Cale

Veal Head from Matthias Merges at Nico Osteria


Paired with Jasci’s Trebbiano d’Abruzzo, where the wine played a slightly more forward role as it cut through the fat of the terrine and brightened the dish.  Matthias had an interesting and relevant connection to the song, but I’m sorry to say I can’t remember what it was.


Jasci, Santome, Peybohomme



Pasta – Paul Kahan  –

Saffron Corzetti

squid, corn, fresh cayenne, pepper, mint

Starlight  – The Velvet Underground – Songs for Drella


Saffron Corzetti pasta Nico Osteria

Corzetti is a hand stamped pasta that Paul explained is anything but fancy.  Families often have a stamp of their own used to make “house pasta” and the team at Nico Osteria likes to preserve the tradition of this rather banal form as a reminder of their focus on simple, traditional flavors.


The album “Songs for Drella” is a tribute to Andy Warhol, whose banana is famously on the cover of The Velvet Underground & Nico.  Paul described at length his understanding of the song as an attempt to describe Warhol’s view of fame and Cale and Lou Reed saw him struggling with it.  Paul might well have used “Work” from the same album as a celebrity chef celebrated for being behind the stove and not the camera.

Paired with Chateau Peybonhomme Les Tour’s Rosé.  This is the only pairing where we moved outisde of Italy, and I was happy for the chance.  Nico Osteria is of course focused on Italy, but this dinner drew inspiration from a lot of places.  As part of a six course dinner, a relatively dense pasta course is a perfect spot to insert a Rosé.  Acid cuts fat, it’s as simple as that.

Pasta at Nico Osteria for John Cale

Saffron Corzetti, squid, corn, fresh cayenne, pepper, mint


Merges plates Kahan's pasta course at Nico

 Secondi – Matthias Merges  –

Lamb Loin

burned leek, whey, rosemary

Venus in Furs- The Velvet Underground & Nico

Plating lamb at nico osteria with Matthias Merges

Paired with Tenuta Santomé‘s 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon.  Being from Treviso, it is a Cab that has some tannin, but not too much power.  It’s a perfect wine for long, large meals like this one when you might not want a heavy wine at the end.  It’s also a great wine for lamb as it has a lot in common with Bordeaux from the Graves that grows on a similar bed of gravel.

Served up family style.


Lamb at Nico with Paul Kahan and Matthias Merges

Dolci – Amanda Rockman of Nico  –


mascarpone marsala cream, guanduja crunch, lady finger streusel

Sunday Morning – The Velvet Underground & Nico

Tiramisu for John Cale

Tiramisu and Santome Prosecco is a perfect pair for historic reasons.  The restaurant that first made Tiramisu, Le Beccherie, was based in Treviso, Santome’s home town until closing recently.

Pastry Chef Amanda Rockman of Nico with Sound Opinons

Pastry Chef Amanda Rockman of Nico with Greg Kot of Sound Opinons






Nico Osteria hosts Sound Opinions with John Cale

My speech went like this “please drink more wine before you open your checkbook, then right a bigger check than reasonable to WBEZ and Sound Opinions.”


Paul Kahan and Matthias Merges at Nico

Paul Kahan and Matthias Merges at Nico







Bonus Track:

The Locals meet the Velvet Underground

Yvonne Koll, John Cale, Christy Nune

The Locals “Everything Must Go”

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