Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Bits & Morsels goes for Nino's

Table Side Caesar Salad at Nino's.

Nino Selimaj is a restaurateur who has a truffle hound's nose for the business. This past March he offered free dinners at his restaurant, Nino’s 208, to people who had lost money with Bernard Madoff. Given how hard restaurants themselves are being hit these days, it was a generous gesture.

Nino is razor sharp. He runs seven restaurants and makes it look very easy. He has a unique ability to make his customers feel genuinely special. There is a mural at Nino’s restaurants with Nino doing everything from greeting guests to waiting tables, illustrating his omnipresence and warm disposition.

Nino Selimaj of Nino's.
There are also many celebrities and personalities (Maria Bartiromo for one) pictured in the mural; it's fun to see how many familiar faces you can spot.

I dined at Nino’s restaurant (1354 First Avenue) a few weeks ago (many months had passed since my last visit) and it's just as impressive as I remember it to be. I started with the Caesar salad; it’s made at the table and nothing beats it. You can tell your waiter how much of each ingredient you want and even leave things out (plenty of garlic; hold the egg).

Caesar salad feels so much better when made table side. Actually, many of the dishes at Nino’s are prepared tableside, and when customers order dishes like Lobster fra diavolo and sizzling steak, the dining room is probably the best smelling one of its kind around. If you don't believe me, order the Banana's Foster.

Another nice touch: everyone gets a beautiful fruit plate for dessert, gratis! They also have a piano player four nights a week (Wednesday – Saturday) who plays all the classic standards. The music adds to the ambiance and its especially sweet to watch couples old and young dancing cheek to cheek between the tables.

Caesar salad.
Mushroom ravioli with mushrooms and leeks.
Fresh pasta with vegetables.
Steak sizzling on the table.
Banana's Foster.
Warm Apple tart with vanilla ice cream.
There is no dining experience in New York quite like Nino’s restaurant. Take it from Nino himself:

How did you get in the restaurant business?

Back home in Trieste my parents used to own a restaurant. When I came here I was 22 years old and I started washing dishes because I didn’t have any other opportunities.

After three weeks of washing dishes I worked as a salad guy, then a pasta guy, going all the way up to being a chef. I spent almost fourteen years in the kitchen. Then I decided I wanted to come into the dining room. I wanted to learn all the aspects before I opened my own restaurant. I worked as a busboy, waiter, manager, and bartender and then I decided to open my own restaurant in 1991.

How many restaurants do you have now?

Right now I have seven restaurants all in Manhattan.

How do you pick the locations of the restaurants?

My customers don’t need to be exactly at the best location. As long as I provide great food, great service and reasonable prices they will come. Our locations are good but not the best in town. This one is on the Upper East Side and it’s great for dinner. People come from all over to eat here.

How did you come up with the Madoff promotion?

I have been in this city for 31 years and I have been dealing with these customers. I have been hearing when I walk through the dining room about how many people got hurt. I hear all these bad situations and nobody is doing anything.

IF there was a tornado or something in one part of town, everybody would be helping them ... but these people no one is helping. I lived through that ... in 2000 I lost every penny that I had. Not with Madoff but I over $2,950,000. I had only chairs, tables and behind bills for the purveyors.

I know what these people go through. They can’t sleep because no matter how much money you had, if you lose it all you are broke. If you don’t live through that you don’t understand the pain.

How do you divide your time between all the restaurants?

I visit my restaurants daily in the morning and during lunch. At night I like to be here. During the day I go from restaurant to restaurant and I sit down with the chef and the manager to discuss the menu, what’s in season, and things like that. I am working around the clock 24/7.

Do you like what you do?

I love it. I enjoy every second.

1354 1st Avenue
Banana's Foster in the making.
Couples dancing at Nino's.
The mural at Nino's -- Nino rules.
Here is another reason not to eat Tuna. If we do not stop over fishing for Tuna, the Tuna population will be wiped out by 2012. Unfortunately, demand for tuna is only increasing. I sincerely hope this situation gets under control. [Daily Mail]

Here is a list of restaurants you could dine
at in New York in 1934. It’s amazing and sad to see that not many of the establishments still remain. And it's startling to see how much the cost of dining has gone up. Lost New York City is a fascinating blog that makes me yearn for old New York. [Lost New York]

Today, April 22, 2009 is Earth Day.
Go out and celebrate by drinking up these organic cocktails. Some of these restaurants will even donate to charities and plant trees when you order their cocktails. [Metromix New York]

Until we eat again,
Jordana Z.

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