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October 28, 2005 - by Richard Jay Scholem
Delightful, cosseted, Old World, serene, warm and woody are some of the words that surged through my head as I entered Nino’s Positano Ristorante Italiano, a romantic little nook near the United Nations.
A Mediterranean taverna in the Theater District...
Its French doors face Second Avenue, there’s a lobster thank and a welcoming bar upfront, murals of the sub tropical Amalfi Coast along a wall, muted golden light and sponge painted walls, bouquets, candles, dark wood highlights and rare china plates in wall cabinets and alcoves. On the restaurant’s white table cloths are artfully arranged sprigs of flowers in tiny vases. There’s discrete dinner music in the background, heavy pulled-back red drapes and banquettes along the walls.
The three-year-old Nino’s Positano specializes in Coastal Italian food and seamless service. Its staff is sensitive to the little things that separate ordinary eating places from fine dining destination restaurants. If a diner looks puzzled about which shaker is salt, a waiter instantly appears to help. When plates emerge from the kitchen they are all warm except for those bearing delicate fish that might well be cooked into dryness by additional unwanted heat.
Speaking of warmth, don’t pass up the crusty, toasty bread and extra virgin olive oil dotted with marinated Mediterranean olives that greet newcomers. Appetizers sampled at a recent dinner included a roasted beet, endive and goat cheese salad, two jumbo lump crab cakes in caper butter sauce and a half portion of wild mushroom ravioli with a spicy roasted red pepper sauce. All were exquisitely presented. The salad, with its slab of warm goat cheese, fresh greens and beet slices was crowned with a nest of slim, wispy beets. The no-filler crab cakes sported crunchy surfaces, but were slightly strong tasting while the generous half-serving of four or five large raviolis, swimming in that lively red pepper sauce, were a triumph.
If at entrée time the Dover sole special is available, order it. This delicate, delectable white fleshed fish is expertly boned tableside and presented with an appropriately restrained white wine-lemon sauce that doesn’t overwhelm the dish. More robust, but equally satisfying was another special, four tender, medium rare, grilled baby lamb chops in a tasty Barolo sauce with broccoli rabe and minted roast potatoes. Moist veal paired with fresh spinach and lukewarm mashed potatoes is also recommended.
A soothing, flavor-filled crème brulee (sans a crisp caramelized surface),
velvety pana cotta and flourless chocolate cake topped withy fudgy chocolate sorbet were all sweet send offs to an exceptional meal.
890 Second Ave. (btw. 47th & 48th Sts.), 212-355-5540. Visit their sister restaurants: Nino’s (1354 First Ave. (72-73 Sts.), 212-988-0002); Osso Buco (1662 Third Ave. (93 St.), 212-426-5422 & 88 University Pl. (11-12 Sts.), 212-645-4525).
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