By Chris Klint
Channel 2 News
7:49 PM AKST, March 9, 2012
Editor's note: Nino's Italian Eatery has closed since the writing of this review.
Nino’s Italian Eatery
831 E. 36th Ave.
11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday, 1 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday, 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday, closed Monday
$5-$25 per plate
Midtown is a competitive place for Italian restaurants, anchored by Romano’s and Sorrento’s along Fireweed Lane, with other stops like Orso Downtown and Fiori D’Italia in Spenard minutes away. With so many big names in the area, however, some smaller stops tend to get overlooked.
Nino’s Italian Eatery was fairly quiet on the sunny Thursday when I visited, its nearly empty parking lot and blinds shuttered against the light conspiring to make me wonder if the place had closed before I pulled in and tried the front door. It’s a lot easier to visit now than when it first opened a few years ago, although from a driving perspective you’ve got to either pass the place westbound on 36th Avenue or head north on Old Seward past 36th, then cut east across the Yamato Ya parking lot.
The building Nino’s occupies has been through several culinary incarnations, including a Thai place and a Dairy Queen in the 1980s. It’s a small A-framed shop with maybe a dozen tables inside, intimate and filled with the smells of Italian cooking as they waft from the kitchen. A glass case at the front contains finished Italian bread and pizza rolls for to-go purchases, if you can’t afford the time for a sit-down meal.
Nino’s menu isn’t very complex, focusing on a surprisingly simple array of soups, salads, pastas, pizzas and sandwiches, most of which are served (and priced) at dinner portions. I’d actually eaten both spaghetti and pizza at home during the week, so I was looking for a good sampler option that wasn’t a traditional Italian course; I found it in the Antipasto Salad ($15), which I ordered with an appetizer basket of garlic knots ($3). As I waited about 15 minutes for my food, two women at a nearby table asked about ordering a half order of salad and were told it was quite possible -- an option that isn’t listed in the menu, but really should be.
I was hungrier than I thought when I sat down, and the salad certainly didn’t go to waste. It’s the third in a series of incrementally larger salads, including everything in a Garden Salad (lettuce, tomato, cucumber, red onions and olives) as well as the upgrades of a House Salad (fresh mozzarella, roasted peppers, artichoke hearts and marinated mushrooms), to which it adds rolls of salami, provolone cheese and cappicola ham, all under a salty yet tangy vinaigrette. I ordered it without the artichoke hearts and didn’t miss them one bit since the strong flavor hits from the peppers and the mushrooms anchored the entire dish, which brought to mind a far more assertive version of a chef salad. It also brought back memories, since it’s increasingly hard to find an actual antipasto in town; Romano’s discontinued its appetizer some time ago, and the last one I’ve had was at Orso perhaps a year ago.
The garlic knots sat in a nearby basket awaiting my attention for a few moments, but it was undivided once they had it. The half-dozen knots consisted of freshly baked dough infused with bits of garlic and brushed with olive oil, which were served with a dish of surprisingly light and tasty marinara they didn’t really need. I’d have probably eaten them all if I hadn’t focused my efforts on the salad first, although the price makes them a scandalously good deal for an appetizer; it briefly crossed my mind that for the $15 cost of the salad, a shameless diner could instead order some 30 garlic knots and wallow in happiness.
The phrase that best sums up my visit to Nino’s is “simple and strong,” since the ingredient lists and dishes I encountered were deliberately not complex yet extremely well-prepared and delicious. It’s a great place to take a date or someone special, and the large portions lend themselves to the kind of family-style dining more often found in Chinese cuisine. The food may be a little expensive for a lunch run, but each of the four newsroom colleagues I gave a garlic knot to simply loved them.
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