Niche is an apt name for a cozy little eatery tucked away in a Harris Teeter strip mall on Carolina Beach Road. A bit out of the way for residents of Wilmington proper, it’s occupies a selective market near south Wilmington—a niche, if you will.
The interior is more brightly lit than is currently the industry norm, and it makes the roomfeel inviting. Blue walls adorned with beach-themed art complete the image. Upon my arrival, I found locals gathering at the bar, conversing easily about dishes they’d certainly sampled.
My guest and I opened with a pleasant glass of grassy sauvignon blanc and a pint of Kinston’s own Mother Earth kolsch, Endless River, before moving to a table in the rear of the restaurant. After some casual negotiations over dining preferences, I ordered a quartet of appetizers for the two of us to share.
The crab cake might have been a little light on the seasoning, but the crispy sear on the outside and the very high meat-to-breading ratio made it a winner. The delightful crunch of seared edges juxtaposed the softer, lump crab meat. Feel free to skip the mustard sauce here—the aioli tasted too heavily of mayonnaise.
The Sweet Hot French Fries provided a fun combination of flavors. I feel obligated to say: The heat can sneak up on the palate a bit. But the fried potatoes take on a vinegary fire rather nicely. The light drizzle of melted cheese left me wanting a more. All in all I can’t fault this one; I’d certainly order it again.
Likewise, the Sriracha shrimp on skewers is my new favorite. The shrimp themselves maintained their integrity under a light battering, and the thin line of Sriracha was served in just the right proportion. The biting heat and hints of garlic accented each taste nicely. Admittedly, I may have eaten more than my fair share of them.
The chicken wings, too, benefited from light breading: an absolute necessity when adding sauces. The crispy texture gave the chicken an interesting mouthfeel, though I admit the crushed-red-pepper spice left me wanting a bit. Though they’re close to being excellent wings, something lacked. I’d order them again, as it was a very good appetizer.
I admit I walked into Niche already quite certain as to what my entrée order would be. The Spaghetti Montreal fascinated me, and the web boasted it as a favorite of Niche’s regulars. The dish comes with a creamy vodka sauce over pasta, with capers, onions, and smoked salmon. While I enjoyed it, reality did not live up to the fantasy. The sauce proved a bit too heavy on the cheese, giving it an unneeded thickness. As a result, it also had a drying quality. Yet, the smoked salmon and capers were excellent. The smoky, full-bodied flavor of the fish, classically paired with the vinegary capers, saved the dish.
My companion was wise to walk in blind to the menu. She selected a lovely chef’s special of the day: seared scallops over risotto with asparagus. The scallops themselves were delicately seasoned and seared perfectly. It was like a clinic in seafood preparation. The risotto’s creamy blend complemented the shellfish nicely. I sincerely hope this one makes it into Niche’s regular menu rotation.
I stumbled again over my preconceived notions of the menu. The Internet boasted of an Irish crème brûlée, which I thought would be too good to pass up. Unfortunately, the World Wide Web had not caught up to a change in the menu (though since rectified); I was left with a conventional vanilla crème brûlée. I can’t claim any disappointment, however, as I was served a textbook execution of the dessert. From the thin candy crust to the perfect firmness of the custard, this rendition of crème brûlée could be taught in culinary classes on how to get it right every time.
Niche is a little out of my way, as I live in north Wilmington. And isn’t Wilmington a strange town? In that anything that isn’t right down the block from your house seems to take a half hour drive? I will say that if I’m in the neighborhood or driving out toward Carolina Beach, Niche will see me again.
Niche Kitchen and Bar
5954 Carolina Beach Road
Tues.-Sun., 11 a.m. – 10 p.m.