Sunday, February 8, 2009

Fast and friendly meatballs at Nina's

On Saturday night, AV and I were in search of a quiet, low-key, no-pretense dinner on the Upper East Side. We didn't have reservations anywhere, and neither of us was in the mood for anything hugely fancy, so AV steered us toward Nina's, a tiny Argentinian pizzeria near his place, where he'd eaten before to great success.

The place was narrow and homey, somewhat reminiscent of Hummus Kitchen, and as we entered we were seated immediately at a small two-top along the wall. The manager came by to recite the specials (which were also inscribed on chalkboards posted on the wall). Many of them sounded good, particularly a mushroom and fontina ravioli that piqued my interest. We made some quick decisions and placed our order with the fast-talking but exuberent and friendly waiter.

As we waited, a bread basket arrived bearing chunky wedges of white bread. The bread itself was nothing special-- pretty much the definition of standard, with a little twist due to the wedge shape. But it came with a ramekin of olive oil packed with tender eggplant and a sprinkling of red pepper flakes for flavor. This condiment was truly delicious, the sort of nibble most restaurants would charge for ("eggplant caponata, $5").
Hard roll, soft eggplant

AV's appetizer, an order of meatballs in sauce, came while we were working on the bread. AV had had this dish before-- it was part of the reason why he brought us back to Nina's. So while they weren't the best meatballs he's ever had (a title he explains rests securely with his father), they were some good meatballs. As for my own thoughts on the matter, see previous paragraph (bread basket).

Mmmmm, meatballs

Meatballs gone, it was time for the entrees. I had chosen a small portobello salad, which came on baby spinach and featured a few tiny grape tomato halves and a generous serving of parmesan shavings. The salad was very nicely sized for a small (which was only $6.95, vs. $9.95 for the large... I almost hesitate to imagine how big the large is), and the heavy hand with the parmesan was much appreciated. The mushrooms themselves, however, tasted a bit odd, with a pronounced alcoholic tang upon first bite. It must have been the marinade they used, whatever that may have been.

The mushroom looks like fish.

AV's entree was penne bolognese. I tried an unsauced piece of penne and it tasted like pasta (N.B.: Write that gem down, kids), but you could definitely smell the spices in the sauce. This dish also earned AV's approval and was fortunately spared any direct (and inevitably unfavorable) comparisons to Dad's cooking.

Steamy

After a quick bit of mid-dinner blackberrying, we had located our (my) dessert destination, Emack and Bolio's, a short postprandial walk away. So we declined any offer of dessert, paid the bill, and headed out into the night. Nina's isn't haute cuisine, but it gets a lot of things right: the service is fast and friendly, the food is solid, and the price is incredibly reasonable. It's also worth noting that neither of us tried the pizzas, which looked incredible, so I have a feeling we skirted Nina's true forte in our ordering decisions (the place does label itself an "Argentinian Pizzeria Restaurant," after all). Nonetheless, Nina's earns a yeoman's three Offset Spatulas as a great neighborhood place for fast carbs at an easy price.
1750 Second Avenue, between 91st and 92nd streets
212-426-4627

2 comments:

jessica said...

I am so glad this place still exists. I used to live on the UES when it opened, but have been in Brooklyn for almost 4 years now. I loved the eggplant spread as well as the pizza that came with those same eggplants (I think it was called tatas). The owner was wonderful and warm, and so was his lovely mother who often worked with him in the restaurant.

Janine said...

Jessica,

It definitely does still exist-- and it still has that mom-and-pop feel. It may be a bit far from Brooklyn, but you should definitely consider a revisit...

Thanks for reading!

Janine