I am frequently asked how I decide what restaurant to review. I use four methods: Some are recommended by both strangers and friends; I happen to drive by an interesting-looking place and either stop then or make note of it for future review; I read in The Gazette about new chefs or locations or menus; or I use the internet to find a restaurant in an area where I know I am going to be in the near future.
On more than one occasion, acquaintances recommended Nini’s. Despite its attractive black awning, it does not stand out on Mohawk Avenue in Scotia where it is located. I had driven by it many times and never noticed it. In fact, when I reviewed it a few days ago, we went by twice using a GPS and missed it.
We found a parking place on the street right in front of Nini’s and entered the front door by negotiating two small steps. Floor-to-ceiling glass windows covered the entire front of the restaurant, functioning like a bulletin board for restaurant hours, signs announcing that the restaurant delivered and the categories of food offered. The front room was deep red with brown painted wood accents. Three groups of two tables each offered seating for people waiting to pick up orders as well as those who might want to dine.
A small back room held seven booths, all of them empty in the middle of the afternoon. A door in the back leading outside revealed what appeared to be a small parking lot.
Meanwhile, in the front room, a counter with a register stood ready for orders and payment. Although the name of the venue is Nini’s Gourmet Paninis, other casual dishes are offered: seasonal soups ($4, although they ran out the day we were there), wraps and signature wraps ($8 and $9), sandwiches ($6.95), salads and signature salads ($6.50-$9), and of course, gourmet paninis ($9.95). A brief list of appetizers and sides are also on the menu, along with cupcakes and a few beverages including coffee.
It seemed reasonable to order paninis in a restaurant named Nini’s Gourmet Paninis. John (aka Super Senior) chose the Thanksgiving Panini, upgrading it with fries for another $3.50 for a total of $13.45.
Several varieties of cheese were offered with his panini and he chose the cheddar. Roasted turkey breast, cranberry chutney, house-made stuffing and cheese were grilled between slices of ciabatta (bread). The festive panini induced John to remark that it was like “eating Thanksgiving dinner on a panini.” We both admitted that the slightly seasoned fries (paninis usually come with a bag of the customer’s choice of chips) were among the best we’ve ever enjoyed.
When reviewing a venue, I tend to search for something a little out of the ordinary on the menu and found it in the Almost a Pizza Panini. It lived up to its name. Ciabatta was split, layered with thick-cut rounds of spicy pepperoni and filled with sun-dried tomato spread, Nini’s basil pesto, sautéed onions and peppers, fresh mozzarella and grilled. Cut in half diagonally, each piece was large enough to satisfy any appetite.
Because the filling was so rich, I was unable to finish even one half. John ate the remainder, agreeing that it was incredibly rich, and we brought the second half home.
His passion for fried onion rings lured him into ordering a basketful ($5). Neither of us was disappointed.
Like the fries, they were among the best we had eaten — hot, crisp outside, cooked inside and not the least bit greasy. Having worked in a commercial kitchen in another life, I know that one of the keys to excellent fried foods is the use of clean oil as well as quick frying with high temperatures. The gentlemen in Nini’s kitchen apparently also know that secret.
We were not greeted when we entered the front door. Wandering around aimlessly for a few minutes, we sat at a table in front but found it was greasy. I tried to remove the grease with a paper napkin but the result was unsatisfactory. I asked the gentleman behind the counter for a damp cloth to wipe off the table, and after rummaging around he delivered one. I thought he might apologize and even clean the table himself, but he simply handed me the cloth wordlessly.
Nevertheless, these few flaws were neutralized by the high quality of Nini’s food. Although the venue serves a limited menu, everything we tried was prepared to perfection. I’m guessing the rough edges will improve with time.
Nini’s Gourmet Paninis
WHERE: 127 Mohawk Ave., Scotia, NY 12302, (518) 346-6464, www.ninispaninis.com
WHEN: Monday-Saturday 11 a.m.-7 p.m., Sunday closed
HOW MUCH: $32.90 for two people with soft drinks but without tax and tip
MORE INFO: Two stairs up from street into restaurant, takeout, delivery via Grubhub, street parking, all major credit cards accepted.