Monday, June 18, 2012

Nina's Trattoria

This is what I was hoping for at Ralph's. Nothing fancy, just honestly prepared Italian dishes, served with some TLC. The marinara tasted like it was simmering on your grandmother's stove for hours. Light and fluffy gnocchi. Rich gorgonzola cream sauce smothering every piece of penne. Tender hanger steak. Flaky tilapia. Gelato that tastes like it just stepped off the boat from Naples.  

Using a $35 groupon, we got a 3 course tasting menu plus free dessert. Our server was super friendly and, like the gelato, right off the boat - Milan to be specific. He even started giving us vacation tips on how to get a cheap villa in Tuscany. It was a warm, breezy summer night and we were treated to an outdoor table, right on 9th street with all the people watching the Italian Market affords. 

We never saw a menu. A few questions about food allergies and Oliver started bringing out the dishes. First off was an appetizer of Carciofi - stemmed artichoke hearts served with a mix of sauteed roasted peppers, onions and plenty of garlic. A dish so simple with such evocative flavors. It tastes like Italy in the summer. 

Next up were meatballs. Not on top of spaghetti, but certainly covered with cheese. Meaty and rich, they could have come out of Carmela Corleone's kitchen. Made with dry aged ground beef and floating on a bed of that luscious marinara. Sprinkle some pecorino romano and fresh parsley on top. Delizioso. You will need bread for the sauce - don't let that go to waste.  

ricotta gnocchi
The ricotta gnocchi was probably my favorite of the night. Light and airy, while at the same time vivid and satisfying. Some more of that marinara, fresh shaved pecorino and some basil for sweetness. There's gnocchi on about half the menus in Philly, and for good reason - everyone loves it. When it's done wrong it's heavy and sits like a rock in your stomach. When it's right, it's near on otherworldly. This isn't the best version I've ever had (Marc Vetri still holds that crown), but certainly a very good contender that might taste better just from the benefit of being in South Philly. 

penne w/ gorgonzola 
Along with the gnocchi, they sent out a plate of penne in their gorgonzola dolce sauce, minus the walnuts that are on the menu version. Intensely rich, you taste all of the cheese and cream. This is not alfredo sauce. You will not be getting free salad and bread sticks, and you will not need it. This was only the second course and my belly was already happy. You might want to think about wearing your eatin' pants. 

Perfectly cooked tilapia was a bit of a surprise from the pasta-centric kitchen. A citrus risotto pattie was even more interesting. Kind of like arancini, but flattened out, it was crispy and delicious, with hints of citrus mixing in with the rice and breading.  

grilled hanger steak 
Last up was a marinated hanger steak, grilled nicely medium. A curiously good roasted cippoline aoili, veggies and some au gratin potatoes will put you to bed. This is a serious entree that can stand on it's own. 

gelato pistachio
The nutella chocolate budino was good but not particularly memorable. The creme fraiche was bright and airy, but overwhelmed by the rich chocolate and hazlenut. The gelato on the other hand, was a revelation. Our server told us they get it from a place across the street. It tasted like it came from Rome. This was better than anything Capogiro is putting out. 

Nina's is not pushing the culinary horizon. They are not doing modern twists on classic dishes. They are making the classic dishes. And making them very well. Buon appetito!

Food Baby Rating: Twins!

Nina's Trattoria
910 South 9th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19147

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