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Nathan Ricciardi serves up a new menu as The Nook's chef

By Lailani Upham

Nathan Ricciardi, The Nook’s new executive chef is skilled with knives. He prepares the fresh vegetable side for the dinner menu on Monday morning. (Lailani Upham photo) Nathan Ricciardi, The Nook’s new executive chef is skilled with knives. He prepares the fresh vegetable side for the dinner menu on Monday morning. (Lailani Upham photo)

POLSON — Diversity in food is one philosophy that makes Nathan Ricciardi a favorite chief of chefs in the valley.

Take chicken for example – according to Ricciardi, chicken can be dressed up in any culinary fashion.

His personal menu list at The Nook at the Best Western KwaTaqNuk Casino and Resort is garbed with a variety of seafood, steaks, chicken and pasta – all with an Italian savor.

As the new executive chef at The Nook Restaurant, Nathan Ricciardi says it’s great to be back after 16 years.

Sheila Matt, S and K Gaming Director, says one of the factors in fetching Ricciardi for The Nook was his name in the community and excellent reputation he and his family have had in the area for many years. She says her favorite is the enticing steak recipes.

Lunch menu item; Ricciardi’s secret homemade, beer-battered, chicken strips served with French fries and coleslaw in a basket. (Lailani Upham photo) Lunch menu item; Ricciardi’s secret homemade, beer-battered, chicken strips served with French fries and coleslaw in a basket. (Lailani Upham photo)

He is not only a local favorite chef, but also the former owner of Ricciardi’s on Main, an Italian cuisine restaurant.

He was named head chef at The Nook on April 21, only weeks after his establishment shut down.

Twenty-nine year old Ricciardi, a self-taught exquisite chef, says his first job at the age of 13 was at the KwaTaqNuk Resort as a dishwasher and bus boy.

“It’s fun to be back,” says Ricciardi.

Ricciardi says he likes to use knives and experiments with carvings and art designs. Not long ago he spontaneously carved out a fruit dish in the shape of a baby carriage for his wife’s baby shower. (Lailani Upham photo) Ricciardi says he likes to use knives and experiments with carvings and art designs. Not long ago he spontaneously carved out a fruit dish in the shape of a baby carriage for his wife’s baby shower. (Lailani Upham photo)

Ricciardi says watching and learning from his dad, Chris Ricciardi, is his main source of culinary arts education – and watching a lot of cooking shows added to his curriculum, but simply just trying what works.

“I like to try new things. I like to use knives.”

Another mentor of his is actually his current Nook sous chef, James Richard. Ricciardi says he has worked with Richard off and on for six years.

The first time he stepped foot in KwaTaqNuk’s eatery, Ricciardi was seven years old. His dad was the executive chef.

“Ever since then I wanted to be a chef,” he said.

He is the second youngest of five boys.

The Bruschetta chicken dish; a breaded chicken breast topped with cepponelli mozzarella, tomato basil and drizzled with a balsamic vinegar reduction. (Lailani Upham photo) The Bruschetta chicken dish; a breaded chicken breast topped with cepponelli mozzarella, tomato basil and drizzled with a balsamic vinegar reduction. (Lailani Upham photo)

“I’ve always been a part of the chef life – and had on-hands experience,” said Ricciardi.

His father owned the past Italian restaurant, Ricciardi’s on Highway 35 for several years; and at a young age Nathan took on his own establishment which lasted a few years; due to partnership difficulties, he was forced to close the doors.

The Italian chef has enhanced the lunch menu with a touch of handmade recipes and revamped the entire dinner menu with a new wine list from Oregon to Italy to add to the delectable experience.

Cora Linnell, The Nook server happily serves lunch guests the fish and chips platter. (Lailani Upham photo) Cora Linnell, The Nook server happily serves lunch guests the fish and chips platter. (Lailani Upham photo)

“We didn’t make it huge, but really nice,” says Ricciardi. His collection of wines are high end and can not be found in the area or any other establishment, he adds.

Everything he prepares is homemade, he says. “It’s a lot healthier and less expensive to make everything from scratch.”

He adds his ingredients do not include MSG either.

Much of the cuisine list is from Ricciardi’s old favorite recipes – however, not only his choices, but that of the local clientele from his Italian establishment has been attractively placed on The Nook’s carte du jour.

The Flat Iron and the Cajun Scallop fettuccine are to name a couple.

The 14-ounce bone in rib-eye steak with fresh vegetables and garlic mashed potatoes. (Lailani Upham photo) The 14-ounce bone in rib-eye steak with fresh vegetables and garlic mashed potatoes. (Lailani Upham photo)

His specialty is steaks and seafood, he says.

The menu items are not only decadent, but healthy as well.

“There are so many dietary needs out there that used not be and I try to cater to that,” he said.

Gluten-free pasta and dishes are a specialty as well.

In fact, all his ingredients are locally grown and made.

Indoors dining. Hotel guests are treated to a hot continental breakfast. (Lailani Upham photo) Indoors dining. Hotel guests are treated to a hot continental breakfast. (Lailani Upham photo)

The pasta he cooks comes from Country Foods in Polson, and gluten-free pasta from Great Northern Pasta in Whitefish.

He says he goes through 20 pounds of noodles a week.

There have been non-stop compliments on food since he arrived, says Ricciardi.

Dining guest Renee Dubay, says she especially enjoyed the chicken picatta millanaise dish seasoned and sautéed with mushrooms, onions, capers and tomato in a demi-glace. “It is high quality gourmet and tender. The sauce is very good,” she said Monday evening while dining on the deck.

Dinner guests enjoy an evening on the deck Monday at The Nook. (Lailani Upham photo) Dinner guests enjoy an evening on the deck Monday at The Nook. (Lailani Upham photo)

Another early week guest Bob Fouty said he was impressed with the Wild Alaskan Sweet Chili Salmon choice, a dish basted with a Thai sweet chili glaze. “It’s hard to get good salmon anywhere – and this is a treat,” he articulated.

Cooking is his passion – however, his other love is catering. “It’s a whole new thing and changes it up a bit,” he adds.

He was born to cook. He also does all the fancy cooking at home for his family with a touch of healthy eating guidance from his wife, he says. “She keeps me in check,” he adds.

Monday night guests agreed The Nook lives up to it’s four-star status.

“It definitely delivers,” Dubay said.

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