A SEASONED SOMMELIER’S ENCYCLOPEDIC KNOWLEDGE AND PERSONAL CHARISMA CREATES ELEVATED DINING EXPERIENCES AT THIS ITALIAN HOTSPOT IN MARLBORO BY GILDA ROGERS PHOTOS
BY ALEX BARRETO
Curiosity is the fuel that drives Daniel Tucker to live his bliss. A progenitor of the history and science of the cocktail, the spirit artist serves as the beverage director at Marlboro’s Il Nido, an Italian farm-to-table restaurant located in the Willow Point Shopping Center.
“It’s all about flavor profile,” said Tucker, a veteran sommelier who hails from Lawrenceville. His cleverly named scotch-based creation the Fig Lebowski is a prime example of the artistry Tucker creates to surprise and delight customers’ palates.
“You have a vanilla-forward pro le texture that’s not overpowering, with sweetness from the, and a tartness from fresh lemon juice that brightens up the drink,” he explained. “The allspice dram flavors of star anise and cinnamon add another layer.”
Since it opened in 2019, Il Nido has successfully blended ambiance and sophisticated dining with a dash of unexpected flavors, from the kitchen to the bar, that challenge the status quo. Management and staff alike have captured the essence of what diners are seeking when they make a dinner reservation an aura of delicious fascination.
Named one of New Jersey Magazine’s “30 Best Restaurants in New Jersey” last year, Il Nido (“the Nest” in Italian), exudes warmth and charm, further enhanced by its intimate setting, roaring replace, and authentic flavors of Italy. Tucker’s “classic cocktail menu with a twist” starts the show as loyal fans clamor for the Jersey Girl Burrata appetizer with squash and hazelnuts, along with fresh shell fish and seafood selections, dry-aged prime beef dishes, and homemade pastas. Tucker has just the imaginative cocktail, wine, or craft beer to go with everyone’s favorite order.
Tucker and his wife, Erika, have three young children, including twins. His original career path was accounting, which he spent two years studying at Lawrenceville’s Rider University.
“In high school I took business courses, marketing, accounting one, two, and advanced,” he said. “My teachers all said I was very good at it.” Once in college, however, Tucker began to doubt he was headed in the direction that best suited his passion. One of four siblings seeking to help his parents defray college costs, Tucker took a server job at a chain Italian restaurant and discovered he quite liked it. He started bartending nine months later and ended his time at Rider.
“I’ve always had a love of food, cuisines, and cultures,” he said, adding he took a “deep dive” into mixology, reading and studying numerous books on the topic. It wasn’t until he started following noted sommelier and lm celebrity DLynn Proctor on social media that Tucker recognized this could turn into a fruitful career. After a three-year apprenticeship, Tucker joined the staff at the renowned Elements restaurant in Princeton and benefited from meeting wine director and general manager Carl Rohrbach.
“Carl is one of the most educated people I know when it comes to wine, the grapes, the vintage, the soil, climate, and region,” said Tucker, who also worked at the Princeton Corkscrew Wine Shop while preparing for his sommelier exams.
Today, Tucker, a master of conversation on both sides of the bar, is actively building Il Nido’s beverage program for both wines and cocktails, always striving for inventive ways to gratify his customers. Tipplers can expect the classics, but with a Tucker twist.
“The whiskey cocktail was invented in 1862 and the ‘improved whiskey cocktail’ came in 1876,” the mixologist noted, adding the old fashioned was introduced in the early 1900s. Tucker’s version is a warming blend of rye whiskey, maraschino liquor, simple syrup, and bitters, creating a new flavorful experience.
184 Route 9 North, Marlboro / 732.851.6347 / ilnidonj.com