Puzzle people are a unique breed. Certain clues appear so often we can fill them in using a pen. For example: Four-letter word for one of Columbus’ ships or vocalist Simone. The answer: Nina.
While shopping in the Italian Market a few months ago, I happened upon Nina’s Trattoria. I decided to review the restaurant on a warm, breezy evening.
Since Nina’s is a BYOB, Sandy, Edward and I brought a bottle of New Zealand sauvignon blanc and Santa Julia organic Malbec. We settled in and discussed the menu. Oliver, who hails from Milan, answered our questions, opened our wine and brought us warm focaccia topped with a tad of olive oil and sea salt. Very good, indeed.
The menu, which is based on the ingredients purchased in the Italian Market, changes daily, Our dinner began splendidly.
Carciofi ($9) was a star of the evening. I received two lovely, midsize baby spring artichokes. Their stems were peeled for easy enjoyment, bathed in a sauce of olive oil, with sautéed roasted peppers, onions, spinach and garlic. Oh, be still my heart. I could have made a meal out of this hot antipasto that rated a 10.
Next up were polpette ($7), a warm plate of meatballs prepared with dry, aged ground beef and served in tomato sauce. Since no pork was used here, I thought the meatballs, which were nicely seasoned, would be dry, but they were not.
Risotto is one of the trickiest dishes to prepare in a restaurant. Our appetizer portion of wild mushroom risotto ($8.50) wins the award. The mix of porchini, oyster and shiitake mushrooms added the right touch of headiness to this starter. The truffle oil sent it over the top. We marveled at how finely made this risotto turned out to be. The rice was al dente yet creamy and ran on the plate.
We asked Oliver how the smoked bacon and bleu cheese salad ($12) was prepared. Our server advised the lettuces had crunch and were not limp, but alas, he did not understand when we asked him about mesclun. The salad was a huge disappointment. Ordinary mesclun was overdressed, the greens were quite limp — so much that we could not taste the bacon, Gorgonzola dolce, one of my top cheeses from Lombardy, walnuts and onion aioli. I took one bite. Our server removed it from the bill.
The dinner went south from hence on, save for the hanger steak ($19), which was pretty good. The menu states it is accompanied by grilled vegetables. Oliver said they were asparagus and broccoli along with potatoes au gratin. The meat was marinated, tender and arrived rare. Broccoli rabe and cubes of roasted potatoes, certainly not au gratin, came with the platter. We agreed the entrée was nicely done.
Sandy has never tasted gnocchi. Nina’s version ($15 as an entrée) prepared with ricotta cheese contained dreadful, hard as small rocks of granite swimming in too much gravy that overpowered them.
One of my favorite pasta dishes is spaghetti Amatriciana ($15 as an entrée). It is made with chopped tomatoes, onions, a sprinkling of hot pepper flakes and a hint of garlic and bacon. One bite told me the dish was a failure. Although the pasta was cooked al dente, there was too much slightly sweet gravy, made with canned tomatoes, which just ruined the delicacy of this famous dish. It was so peppery hot, I could not enjoy it. I asked the waiter if it could be made with chopped tomato as the recipe dictates. Alas, the replacement was not much better and the cost was removed from the bill.
Nina’s Trattoria has the potential to be a three-toque restaurant. Our starters and the service were first rate, but I do not know why some glorious tomatoes in Nina's window did not end up in the cooking pot.
Two tips of the toque to Nina’s Trattoria. SPR
910 S. Ninth St.
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