Looking for fine dining in Lubbock, TX? I discovered amazing cuisine at The Nicolett. Chef Finn Walter served up a grand culinary experience.
I will be the first to admit that I hadn’t expected to find excellent fine dining in Lubbock, Texas. So, it was a big wow moment when I dined at The Nicolett. From the moment I entered the restaurant, I could tell it was going to be a special meal. After an evening of food, unique wines, and conversation, I not only recommend The Nicolett—it is worth the trip to Lubbock to experience it. The Nicolett is not only one of the best restaurants in Texas. Chef and owner Finn Walter served up one of my favorite meals of all time.
Chef Finn Walter and His Texas Heritage
Chef Finn Walter is an award-winning chef who has returned to his hometown to bring his culinary perspective to Lubbock. I enjoyed chatting with Chef Finn. He loves using ingredients that he can source locally—some items came from his own garden. He also works in a small, open kitchen, and it is evident that he cares about and respects his team.
Chef Finn went to college in Maine before starting his career in Austin. Since that time, 20 years ago, he has worked in San Francisco, Paris, Napa Valley, Santa Fe, and New Orleans. Unique to many chefs, he has held both savory and pastry roles throughout his career. From 2009-2011, he was the Assistant Pastry at The Restaurant at Meadowood and part of the team that helped that restaurant get its three Michelin stars. After some time back in Austin as an executive pastry chef, Finn went to Santa Fe to serve as the executive pastry chef for John Rivera Sedlar’s Eloisa in Santa Fe.
But Lubbock always called to Chef Finn, and he dreamed of opening a small, modern restaurant serving a new take on West Texas (High Plains) cuisine. In 2017, Chef Finn and his wife Arden did, in fact, return home to Lubbock. While earning his MBA from Texas Tech University, he stumbled on a unique property. The Walters knew it would be the perfect home for their West Texas restaurant.
Opening The Nicolett and Introducing Fine Dining in Lubbock
The Walters fell in love with the space that would house their beloved West Texas restaurant. The former owner was landscape architect Becky Shurbet and her husband. Chef Finn kept the touches inside the restaurant simple, paying homage to the West Texas culture but honoring the revitalization happening around the restaurant. He seeks to take fine dining in Lubbock to an entirely new level. And I believe he succeeds beautifully.
The Nicolett takes its name from The Nicolett Hotel, the region’s first hotel. The Nicolett Hotel opened in what was the Village of Lubbock in 1889. At the time, there was no city—only 37 buildings and 50 residents. That first hotel, known as “the largest hotel in West Texas” at the time, was known for its hospitality. The 18-room, two-story hotel had a popular restaurant serving up steaks and other popular High Plains staples. It seemed fitting for Chef Finn to name his new restaurant The Nicolett in honor of that first welcoming spot in Lubbock.
When the Walters bought the former warehouse/home, the adjoining greenhouse came with it. Shurbet had used the greenhouse to house her succulent collection, many of which are still on display in the greenhouse. Today, you can rent out the private dining greenhouse. It’s filled with plants, twinkling lights, stained glass, and a glass ceiling that lets you relax under the Texas stars. When you rent the greenhouse, you get to enjoy it for the entire evening.
Designing the Menu at The Nicolett
Chef Finn sticks close to his mission for the menu at The Nicolett: West Texas high plains cuisine created using his French training. Chef Finn learned to appreciate the hyper-seasonal focus of restaurants in Northern California and seeks to offer that same hyper-seasonal focus at The Nicolett.
About the Menu
The chef designed the menu to be a traditional 3-course meal, with bread service and dessert also part of the experience. When I first glanced at the menu before going to the restaurant, I vowed not to order three courses. However, when I arrived, I loved the sound of the items and the flow that the restaurant has with its courses, so I ended up ordering all three courses. I did not regret it. To fully experience the fine dining in Lubbock, you simply need to sit back and go with the flow.
The Wine Menu
While The Nicolett has an excellent wine list of some eclectic wines (I had a sparkling wine from Idaho), I suggest ordering one of the house wines. Chef Finn partnered with Kim McPherson of McPherson Cellars to offer some stellar house wines.
I sampled one of each and enjoyed them, choosing a House Red for my main course. There are three house wines available: The Nicolett House Red, Nicolett House White, and Nicolett House Rosé. The red is a medium-bodied, Rhône-style blend of Mourvedre, Carignan, Cinsault, and Syrah. The white is 100% Texas High Plains Roussane and is ideal for lighter dishes. It has notes of peaches, herbs, and a touch of oak. The rosé is a true French-style crisp, dry rosé. This is ideal to start your dinner.
An Evening of Fine Dining in Lubbock at The Nicolett
To get an idea of the types of food offered at The Nicolett, I want to talk about my experience and the dishes I enjoyed. Remember, however, that Chef Finn believes in hyper-seasonal cuisine, so the exact offerings and even the garnishes and sides may change depending on when you enjoy this fine dining in Lubbock.
Private Dining Greenhouse
My small group of fellow writers arrived at the restaurant early to give us time to experience the entire evening at The Nicolett. We were ushered to the private greenhouse, where we appreciated the fans on a warm summer evening. As the skies darkened, it was magical as the twinkling lights lit up around us, and we watched the Texas sky overhead. Our meal took about three hours, so we loved having this space to ourselves.
As with any great meal, I suggest you start dinner at The Nicolett with bread service. A favorite around the table was the Black Pepper Popovers with blue cheese butter. I enjoyed the popover, but I am not a blue cheese fan, which overpowered my palate. The blue cheese lovers at the table thoroughly enjoyed these. And I did eat the rest of my popover without the butter, and it was delicious.
I preferred the Fry Bread with fermented honey butter. These were delicious little bites of goodness, and I was disappointed I only had one. And that butter. Biting into that goodness was a moment to remember. I sighed and ate it with my eyes closed to capture every great taste sensation.
To Begin: The Appetizer Course
The night we were there, The Nicolett offered five different appetizers, and we ordered all of them. I ordered the Elk Tartare. I was sold when our waiter explained that the elk was from Colorado. There was a bit of juniper from the garden at The Nicolett, which gave this such a depth of flavor. Over the top of the elk was a peanut tuile—a wafer-thin little crispy layer sitting on top. I couldn’t imagine peanut with elk, but this worked incredibly well. This remains my favorite dish of the evening, and I ate the entire thing.
Other appetizers I sampled included the Foie Gras, the West Texas Crudites, and the Desert Salad. The West Texas Crudites were unexpected. When I saw “crudites,” I thought about the typical before-dinner vegetables you get at a buffet or an event. This was not that.
As with everything at The Nicolett, it uniquely showcased the best of Texas High Plains cuisine. It included an assortment of lightly cooked, pickled garden vegetables and pressed tomatoes, all served on a bed of wild rice.
The Grains Course
For the next course, we moved on to grains. I had discovered that Chef Finn and his staff make pasta fresh each day, so I knew I needed pasta for my grains course.
There were four choices on the grains menu that night: Pozole, Rancho Gordo Heirloom Beans, Agnolotti with Cauliflower and Sherry, or Raviolo. I had seen a tray of the agnolotti and decided that was what I wanted. They didn’t have enough to go around because we had all seen that beautiful agnolotti, but we were happy we all agreed to sample the offerings.
I was thrilled as the waiter placed my bowl of agnolotti before me. The Agnolotti was just the right texture. It is filled with cauliflower puree and sherry, served with parmesan cream, and flavored with epazote. Epazote is a fragrant and earthy-tasting herb popular in Oaxaca, Mexico. The plant often grows as a “week” throughout the Southwestern US. One of the best parts was the crispy quinoa sprinkled over the top. I shared a couple of my agnolotti in exchange for other bites of the other dishes, but I finished every bite of this dish.
Another popular grain course offering was the Pozole. Pozole is a traditional Mexican soup with hominy and meat. This was a unique take on pozole, fitting for fine dining in Lubbock. Chef Finn uses Rancho Gordo hominy, green chile, roast peppers, and a master chicken stock. It had just enough heat to entice the palate without being overwhelming.
Rancho Gordo is known for unique heirloom seeds, so it was fun seeing Chef Finn cook with these ingredients. Note that the Rancho Gordo Heirloom Beans also use this respected brand.
The other offering that was a big hit for the grains course was the Raviolo. This is a huge single ravioli filled with beef short rib, served over mushroom sugo.
The Main Course
Although we were all filling up after the delicious first two courses, we were eager for the main course. Again, this often changes, but there are a few staples on the menu, including the Piñon-smoked Quail Baked in Brioche, Culotte of Beef, Beef Cheek Brisket, Loup de Mer, and a fish dish.
The fish dishes, especially the Loup de Mer, were a big hit the night I dined at The Nicolette. Loup de Mer is a European Bass served with leek, Urfa Turkish chili, and pumpkin seed.
I chose the Culotte of Beef with salsify and greens. It was a beautifully prepared dish, and the greens served with it had items out of the chef’s garden. While the beef dish may change, I am sure you will find exceptional quality and incredible flavors.
A favorite at our table was the quail. This is the most unique dish of the evening. The quail is wrapped in a brioche crust and smoked over piñon. It comes out in a beautiful loaf.
After the quail smokes in the brioche, they remove it in the kitchen and plate it for you, served with local maitake, apricot, and buckwheat.
Dessert and After Dinner
It always amazes me how you can be so full at dinner and say you don’t want dessert, but everyone wants a bite when it shows up at the table. After dinner at The Nicolett was no exception.
We started with little cups of hot drinking chocolate. This was pure decadence. We had a little pot of chantilly creme on the table, so I added a touch to my chocolate. I was delighted, but Chef Finn wasn’t finished. Next, he sent out some special desserts. The most unique one was a chocolate dessert. It had a hard dark chocolate shell filled with a white soy and cocoa nib sabayon, served with honey fluff and crunch cocoa nibs. If you’ve never had honey fluff, it is precisely what it sounds like—a magnificent poof of honey that melts in your mouth.
The caramelized brioche (shown below) was heavenly. This is a little bit like a tres leches, but oh so much better.
After all of that, as with most fine dining restaurants, The Nicolett serves up little last bites. We enjoyed a financier, a piñon croquant, and a homemade chewy chocolate.
Fine Dining in Lubbock at The Nicolett
To experience fine dining in Lubbock, you must reserve your table at The Nicolett. This is one of the most memorable meals I’ve experienced. The restaurant is at 511 Broadway Street in downtown Lubbock. The hours change seasonally, but they are usually open for dinner from 5 to 9 pm Wednesday through Saturday. There is also a cocktail hour (no reservations are required) from 4 to 6 pm Wednesday through Friday. Be sure to check out Wander for more suggestions on what to do during your visit to Lubbock and other areas of Texas. We also have more great restaurant ideas from Around the World or Across the Street™.