For the average Yale student a four-course meal has come to mean slim pickings from the salad bar, a generic meat dish with soggy vegetables, a peanut-butter sandwich and purple ice-cream squeezed onto a tray. Fortunately, there is an alternative for disillusioned taste buds whose owners have a few bucks to spare: the innovative and tasty cuisine at Nini’s Bistro.
The cozy French-Italian bistro, which is located at 40 Orange St., offers reasonably-priced two, three, and four-course prix-fixe meals Wednesday through Friday and four-course meals on Saturday. And for the most part, they are delicious.
This trait is all the more impressive, considering the variety and creativity in the menu. One could easily start a meal with calamari linguine with chorizo sauce and end with a warm baked apple. (Well, at least for another two weeks, at which Chef Stuart London redesigns the entire biweekly selection.)
Nini’s Bistro mostly attracts couples with their romantic atmosphere. The candles, roses, cloth-covered chairs and the subtly cherub-adorned wall seating create an intimate dining experience. But guests shouldn’t take the ambiance too seriously. Eating with a few friends is just as fulfilling.
With a quick look at the menu and a bite of warm, crusty bread, I knew that four courses at $33.95 were the way to go. But for those who choose to go for the two or three courses, at $23.95 and $28.95, respectively, they can choose items from any of the course groups: appetizers, soup and salad, main courses and deserts.
It didn’t take very long for the friendly server to bring out the first course. The imaginative calamari linguine featured squid steaks cut into linguine shape, rather than regular linguine with calamari. The squid was not at all chewy and the chorizo sauce complemented the “noodles” very well, though it could have been just a tad spicier. At the same time, the goat cheese vegetable crepes epitomized balance — the crispy crepe surrounded the soft blend of roasted vegetables and the noticeable, but not overpowering goat cheese.
Moving on to the second course, the two salads were neither shocking nor boring, and they were definitely a nice change from the limited dining hall selection. A raspberry dill vinaigrette gave the simple and refreshing house salad a bit more sophistication, and the comice pear, fennel, and arugula salad ($2.00 additional charge) in white balsamic vinaigrette was a welcome twist on the typical fruit and lettuce salad. As the more seasonal option, the yam and crab bisque offered a welcome abundance of crab. The soup itself was not overwhelmed with sweetness, but it could’ve used more autumnal spices such as cloves, nutmeg or cinnamon.
By the time the third course came around, I was almost ready to start loosening my belt, but the smell of the approaching food brought back my appetite. The gemelli carbonara was not the typical white mass served at many local Italian restaurants. Rather, it featured just the right amount of sauce and smoky pancetta and bacon. The grilled cullotte steak with cumin aioli was delightfully rare, as requested, and was quite tender under the tangy sauce. The accompanying mashed potatoes were particularly well-seasoned.
Unfortunately, the baked Nile perch with a pecan, horseradish and Dijon crust was a tad disappointing. The fish itself was fresh and tasty, but the crust was a bit too thick, lacking enough pizzazz to make up entirely for its quantity. The accompanying rice pilaf was refreshing, but sadly lackluster compared to the flavorful roasted vegetables also on the plate.
After an extremely satisfying meal, I was ready to conquer desert: warm apple dumpling with caramel syrup and vanilla gelato. I was most pleased to discover that the dumpling, sprinkled with cinnamon, was the perfect autumn conclusion to a meal. The sweet warm apple was greatly complemented in texture and flavor by both the crispy dumpling shell and the smooth gelato.
Having left the restaurant with a delightfully full stomach, it’s safe to say that Nini’s Bistro is a great retreat for any couple or student ready for an authentic multi-course meal at a very reasonable price. Besides, the bistro’s B.Y.O.B policy (with a $2.00 corkage fee per bottle) is always a nice way to save money when dining out.