Nino: Great food, but service needs work - review

While the food is very good, the service needs some work. The waitresses were inexperienced and didn’t know the menu or how to serve professionally.

 Nino (photo credit: Aviya Ashush)
(photo credit: Aviya Ashush)

You know you’ve lived somewhere for a long time when you start to refer to current locations with what used to be there. So when someone asked me where Nino is, I answered without thinking, “Where Roza used to be.”

Nino joins a growing number of restaurants with mehadrin kashrut, a sign that the haredi population is going out more to restaurants. As the tourists begin to come back, I expect the mehadrin restaurants to be even more popular.

Twenty years ago, Emek Refaim was south Jerusalem’s culinary hub. That changed once the First Station opened, with its large parking lot. Parking can still be tough on Emek Refaim Street, but if you haven’t been there in a while, it’s worth a visit.

The restaurant is large with two dining rooms – one closest to the kitchen with the name “Roza” in bright white lights, and a larger dining room a little further away. The decor is modern with gray slate tables and black leather chairs.

Chef David Golan says Nino is the “little sister” of Roza, and he described it as “a chef restaurant with Mediterranean food.” I enjoyed the menu at Roza, but the food at Nino is much better.

 Nino (credit: Aviya Ashush) Nino (credit: Aviya Ashush)

As we sat down, the couple behind us asked to speak to the chef.

“I’ve eaten asado all over Jerusalem, but it is never as tender and tasty as it is here,” Alan Levy told Golan, who beamed at the complement.

It turns out the Levys, who made aliyah from Queens six years ago, go out for dinner every Sunday night.

“It’s our date night,” Levy told me. “And we’ve been married for 48 years.”

He says they go only to mehadrin restaurants. Golan says the kashrut is “Mahpoud,” which is an extremely strict kashrut accepted by almost everyone, and the owners, including Golan, chose the hechsher deliberately.

“There are very few chef restaurants that are mehadrin,” he said. “And there is a growing public who wants mehadrin.”

He assured me that the interchange had not been planned for our benefit.

In terms of ordering, we put ourselves in Golan’s hands, which I always enjoy doing. A chef is often at his most creative in the appetizers, and my son and I enjoyed three appetizers.

The first was called “Nishnushei Bakar” (NIS 64), which I’ll translate as “Steak Bites.” It was a large dish of small pieces of steak, with caramelized onions, cherry tomatoes, peanuts and bean sprouts in a slightly sweet sauce – highly recommended.

We also tried the Roast beef (NIS 58), which was medium-rare slices of sirloin steak served on a salad of rocket leaves and a rémoulade dressing, which upgraded the dish.

The appetizer that was the least successful from my point of view was the Kurdish pastry stuffed with meat (NIS 52). The pastry was freshly baked in the tabun oven on-site, but there was too much pastry and not enough meat. It was served with salsa and a tehina that was interesting.

For main courses, Golan brought us pargiyot with herbs served on a bed of yellow rice, spiced with cranberries, almonds and shallots (NIS 89). The portion was quite large, and the pargiyot were grilled perfectly. The meat was juicy and the spices well-balanced.

We also tried a Turkish focaccia with ground beef and traditional seasonings (NIS 64), which was quite tasty.

On the third dish my son and I had a disagreement. It was homemade gnocchi with pieces of grilled liver and sweet potatoes in a sweet sauce (NIS 74). The components came together nicely, but I thought the liver was a little overdone. My son said it was perfect for him.

When Golan came over I showed him the liver and said I thought it was a bit overdone. He nodded and said, “I agree. But for the Mahpoud hechsher it has to be cooked like that.”

We were too full for dessert, but I’ve heard good things about the lemon meringue pie.

While the food is very good, the service needs some work. The waitresses were inexperienced and didn’t know the menu or how to serve professionally. A good waitstaff is crucial to a restaurant, especially a chef restaurant. If Golan can get this worked out, he’ll have a real hit on his hands.

After Passover they are planning to have a special Friday “Kabbalat Shabbat” menu with music.

Nino2 Rahel ImenuPhone: (02) 563-8000Hours: Sunday-Thursday, 12 noon – 11 p.m.Kashrut: Mahpoud

The writer was a guest of the restaurant.