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Play Date

Dinner and a show at Nicky's at the Vineyard

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Sometimes you just need a break. The fake cheerfulness of the chain restaurant waitstaffs is driving you to the brink of homicidal insanity, and you're tired of having your waiter write his name in crayon on your tablecloth. The thought of being seen on the scene makes you tired and faintly nauseous.

You, my friend, need a change. You need a trip to Nicky's at the Vineyard.

Nicky's is really convenient to nowhere, and that is one of the features that makes it so attractive. You have to travel to the end, the very south end, of Janitell Road, where the quaint French farmhouse sits waiting like a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Ah.

On the warm summer evenings that we have left, you can take advantage of the wide, white-railinged front porch, perfect for intimate dinners as the sun sets over the Peak.

Stepping through the front door is almost like stepping into someone's home. The walls and ceilings are cool and white, with dark, exposed beams above. There's an old brick fireplace taking up most of one wall, sure to be a draw if autumn ever brings us cooler weather, and a built-in wooden bookshelf is filled with sparkling glasswear.

Each table is set with a mauve cloth, and the exceptionally comfortable chairs echo the mauve with an additional trace of teal. It's the kind of place where you'll want to sit and linger over your meal.

Dinners at Nicky's are an occasion to be savored, so don't expect to rush in and out. The service is prompt, attentive and courteous, but the pace of the meal is relaxed and indulgent. And, if you choose, you can have a show with your dinner.

What sort of show? Nicky's offers several dishes -- from salads to desserts -- that are prepared (and flambed) at your tableside. I highly recommend the spinach salad with warm bacon dressing, which is flamed with a touch of Pernod.

I also sampled the Caesar salad that you can get with a fondue meal, and it is simple and impeccably balanced with crisp Romaine, croutons and just a light sprinkle of cheese.

The entrees at Nicky's range from $16 for an oven-baked chicken breast to $30 for lamb. Oh, what lamb it is. The special on the night we visited offered small, juicy lamb chops, served with a Provencal sauce and studded with whole cloves of roasted garlic, tomatoes and herbs. The chops were served with a mound of creamy, delicious garlic mashed potatoes and fresh sauted vegetables.

The pepper steak came with the same sides, but it was a production worthy of a stage. An enormous, beautifully marbled steak is cooked to order at your table, sauced with a combination of chutney, shallots and white wine Worcestershire, and flambed just before serving.

You can also order Shrimp Scampi prepared tableside. Of course, I'd have to get past my penchant for fondue to order the shrimp.

The Fondue, at $30 per person, is available for a minimum of two people. You begin with a salad, then advance to the cheese fondue. There are three types, including a mild French Kiss which I thought was savory and delicious, with the ingredients in complete balance. The fondue was served with fresh broccoli, carrots and cauliflower for dipping, along with some crusty, chewy, fabulous black olive bread.

The next course of fondue brings a small grill to your table, and you get bits of chicken, tender morsels of steak, salmon, shrimp, smoked turkey and sticks of Gouda cheese to be grilled, along with wedges of crisp onion, bell pepper and tomato.

The server is very careful to let you know how to tell when each bit will be cooked through (the chicken will be white, the salmon will be light pink). You also get a mound of those fabulous mashed potatoes, three distinctive dipping sauces (a tomato-based, a creamy dill and a teriyaki-type), and a crisp finger of dill pickle as a palate refresher at the end of the meal -- which you'll need, because the dessert fondue is next.

Being the difficult people that we are, my companion and I asked if we could have the liqueurs from the white chocolate fondue (Grand Marnier and peach liqueur) prepared in the dark chocolate fondue, since the dark chocolate comes with Tia Maria and Kahlua, flavors I do not like. The waitress thought we were crazy but she was happy to oblige, and the results were delicious.

We had fresh strawberries and grapes, angel food cake, marshmallows, plain pound cake, lemon pound cake, dried apricots and more to dip into the fondue, and we just about scraped the pot clean. Oh, and our companions seemed delighted with their Cherries Jubilee (more flames at the tableside), but who wants cherries and ice cream when you have a pot of rich melted chocolate and a fondue fork?

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