I tried. I really did.
I feel a need to point out, dear reader, that I am not a complete and utter slob when it comes to food. One of my favorite lunches is bottomless soup, salad and breadsticks at the Olive Garden (they changed the recipe for pasta e fagiole, but that's another article), I'm a sucker for a good pizza and Dunkin Donuts makes the best breakfast sandwiches. Though I have eaten some beautiful stuff in my day, I have my comfortable and convenient basics that I return to again and again. I draw a line when things are either contrary to my good health or when I feel a need to stop going there because I think the cook would take more pride in receiving an unemployment check from the closed kitchen than one more from the dump he's currently working in (for more on that, check back for my special report "How to %^$ Eat"). I have been called many names, but never unmerciful.
Having explained to you that I am not a total witch, let's talk about Nino's Bistro. I have tried it twice because, frankly, I really felt like I was missing something after the first try. Look at the plaques and the press write ups upon entering. There's been some other positive press. I have overheard some happy diners who just "love the food". Direct quote from more than one person. They claim to offer homemade authentic Italian dishes made with fresh ingredients. Well...
I had to ask for the dinner specials twice- the first time from our less experienced waitress and the second from the more experienced waiter because the former's Italian pronunciation was so poor that I could not understand what she was saying. The bottle of wine we brought was reasonably professionally uncorked and presented. My only regret was not bringing two bottles. The homemade bread served with olive oil and shredded parmesan presented nicely, a small baguette with a crunchy golden crust.
Now, let's take a detour here and talk about how to make bread properly (this isn't my job, but I feel like I have a responsibility to society). Your basic ingredients- warm water and sugar to wake up the yeast, your flour, your salt. When the yeast is doing its thing eating up sugar goodness, the bi-product is gas (yeast farts!) and that's what makes bread rise. After the rising, punch down the dough to release the excess air, then kneed, forming into the desired shape. That makes for a very basic fresh bread that is soft and chewy on the inside and crusty on the outside. Guess what happens when you just let the dough rise and then slide it into the oven without punching it down to release the air? You get a crispy shell filled with a handful of feathers, a la Nino's.
Back to dinner. But first a request. Please don't tell me in your menu that the food is homemade and then serve marinara sauce, such as is served with the mussels, that was poured right out of the can. The sausage and mushroom appetizer was a worthy attempt. I think some kale and cannellini beans would have made this a pleasant dish, but as it was presented, it was flat and lackluster with its raw slices of garlic floating in broth. If you're hungry for manicotti, buy a package of frozen at BJ's and a jar of sauce. You'd be getting the same thing. The veal special sounded interesting- panko (the most Italian of ingredients) breaded and sautéed in olive oil, white wine, cheese and prosciutto. I am still wondering about the prosciutto and its unique flavor as served to me- spoiled or poor quality? I didn't eat enough of it to come to a final conclusion. We weren't able to tell much of a difference between the arrabiata sauce and the regular "homemade". Dessert? No thanks. Overall, dinner lasted about an hour and a half due to the poor kitchen and table service. I could have watched a dramatic heart pounding Rutger Hauer film during that time. I feel cheated.
So, after my first try, I figured I went on the wrong night or I must have ordered the wrong thing. How can my opinion differ so drastically from those of my fellow Camp Hillers who were singing its praises? What is wrong with me? My second attempt lead me to believe that I have indeed entered another dimension. The bread cannot even absorb my tears. But its still here. What does that say about me, the restaurant and the West Shore dining public?