I ordered wine from the little house list. But I would have preferred the waitress to ask if I wanted to see the list. It’s a good list. The only wine I was curious about was not available by the glass. (A South African wine. I’ll try it next time.) No worries, I’ve been trying to get into Sangiovese instead of Pinot Noir or Merlot. They had Christina Antinori. Whoa! By the time I took my first sip of wine, the place had filled up quickly with very friendly folks who seemed so hungry and happy to be there. In fact the couple next to me, Bruce and his lovely wife, and I were comparing our entrees. Did I mention I sat near the door? But it was totally OK. No draft! The ambiance was warm and lively. Wanna bring kids? If they are wanderers, there’s just not too not enough room.
Now for the food….I can still taste it! My starter was a huge Grilled Freshwater Prawn -- that almost looked like a baby lobster -- placed in a spicy sweet tomato seafood soup, which was dancing with calamari, mussels, baby shrimp, and basil. Very healthy and what flavor! I could have stopped there but nooo! My elegantly presented entree was a Pan Roasted Pork Loin with slightly sweet sautéed Bermuda onions and a pancetta-apple cider reduction with spinach and mashed potatoes. The pork loin was lean, cooked well done, and the knife cut through it like “buttah!” Where is the Thai in the fusion on this menu? I had another bite and found the answer -- it’s Mediterranean style cuisine fused with amazing Thai spice. The use of Kaffir lime, s variety of curries, and the spicy sweet flavors explode in your mouth.
Did I feel too stuffed for dessert? Nope. The Caramel Custard was delicious. Sweet, but not too much, with a hint of smokiness from the caramel. The food was delightful. The service, very attentive yet not in the way. So, if you want to try a cozy, yet lively neighborhood restaurant with fabulous food, please go to Oakland’s Ninna.
Name: Marcus Osborne
Occupation: Radio DJ 98.1 KISS FM
Location: San Francisco
Favorite Restaurant: Nob Hill Cafe
Reviewed Ninna Restaurant: Saturday, November 25, 2006
I went to Ninna for lunch. Easy to do, because it’s right down the block from where I live! Ninna is a cool little place. And I do mean little! I think some closets are bigger than this place! But all in all, the atmosphere could definitely work as an intimate, cozy place for a date.
I went alone for lunch, as I said, but I wouldn’t go there alone for dinner. I’d feel like a complete loser! The service was extremely attentive, which was very cool! I sat near the front of the restaurant near the window and that was pretty cool. Piedmont Avenue is a very busy street with an eclectic array of citizens, so it’s always fun to sit and people watch when you can.
Since I was one of the first folks at restaurant, I didn’t have to wait long to be seated. And my food came fairly quickly. So my salad arrived. Okay, let me ask this: since when do salads come on a plate instead of a bowl? With a knife and fork? And not only that, but the salad looked more like three big slices of lettuce than a typical Caesar salad. So there I was cutting my salad with a knife and feeling mighty weird about it! I couldn’t help but think that this was NOT going to be good. The bread was nothing special, but well, it’s just bread, and you can’t really judge a meal based on the bread can ya?
So my Linguini Spicy Garlic Chicken and Basil arrived and it looked good. I’m not much into presentation, but the way the linguini sat surrounded by the greenery on the plate was pretty cute. Needless to say, I didn’t eat the greenery -- I went straight for the noodles and chicken! And it was great! As a matter of fact, I could go for another plate of that right now! The portion size was perfect, which means it was big! I’d rather a place give me too much food, so that I can take it home, rather than too little where I’m wishing I could go get a burger afterwards! The “spicy” part of the meal comes in three different “heats.” Mild, Medium, and Holy Moses That’s HOT! I chose the medium, and it was just right.
But the folks at Ninna got it right. For twenty-five bucks, you get a great, filling meal. And if you’re looking for a nice place to take a date, Ninna would definitely do the trick.
Name: Sylvia Chacon
Occupation: Radio DJ Star 101.3
Location: San Francisco
Favorite Restaurant: Cha Cha Cha
Reviewed Ninna Restaurant: Monday, November 27, 2006
This will not go down as a favorite restaurant of mine, however there were some nice things about the dining experience. It’s on Piedmont Ave in Oakland, a lovely area. I enjoyed seeing all the shops and restaurants. What a relief from the mall. After dining, we took a little walk, that was nice.
On to the dining experience. The restaurant is extremely small. I’ve been in small restaurants before and I didn’t seem to mind, but this time it got to me. It could have just been the person who was sitting next to me, I’m not sure. He was dining alone and reading a book. He looked like a real nice man, still wearing his tie. He probably just got off work and was trying to unwind and enjoy a nice glass of wine, a wonderful meal, and a good book. The tables were SO close that I was actually nervous that I might tip his glass of wine over with my elbow -- I’m not exaggerating! As we proceeded to dine, we found ourselves literally whispering. Not that we were discussing FBI classified information or anything, but because we didn’t want to disturb him.
As the evening went on, we pretty much stopped talking, period! Not just because of the nice man sitting next to us, but because of the two people dining across from us as well. We heard EVERYTHING they were saying. It was the guy’s fiftieth birthday, he was there with his wife, and it was his fiftieth birthday. Oh yeah, I already said that. SO DID HE! About a dozen times, he was actually quite cute, told EVERYONE who came in that it was his birthday -- strangers and all. We could tell he really enjoyed his wine, if you get my drift. I don’t recommend this restaurant for a first date. If you want to get to know her, so will everyone else! The tables are THAT close.
Let’s move on to the positive. The waitress was excellent! Great service throughout! When I walked in, I was greeted with a friendly, sincere smile. I told her I had a reservation, she was expecting me, and I was seated within five seconds. She was extremely attentive and pleasant. If I’m spending my hard earned money going out to eat, this is the kind of service I want. Like any other woman, I work, cook for the family, drive the kids around, and deal with homework. Part of the reason I go out is to take a break and have someone pamper me for a change. We all need that now and then. She pampered me!
Now for the food. My cauliflower soup was pretty darn good, but not quite warm enough. Not bad, don’t get me wrong, it just could have been a wee bit warmer. The fresh salmon, grilled with a parmesan pesto topping was WONDERFUL! Big high five to the chef! It was tender and simply mouth watering. I would have liked just a bit more of the topping on the salmon -- terrific flavor. The vegetables were very good, cooked to perfection, but I could hardly see them -- there weren’t enough, very small portion. Bottom line for me: a good restaurant, not great.
Occupation: Information Systems Analyst
Favorite Restaurant: Ninna Restaurant
Reviewed Ninna Restaurant: Wednesday, December 1, 2005
Ninna Restaurant is easy to overlook. Its dark awning is between the brilliant neon of the Baja Taqueria on its right and the Piedmont Hairport on its left. The door sits back from the sidewalk, so you can walk right past the entry without realizing it. But you wouldn’t want to do that. You’d want to go inside and be graciously greeted by Ninna herself, and seated at one of the small, white tablecloth covered tables.
It is a small place. A narrow strip of a restaurant, with a cloth covered bench along one wall, tables, then chairs facing the wall. Two small tables with chairs go along the opposite wall. Ninna serves as hostess and waitress. She will smile at you and hand you a menu. You will notice her brightly-colored tie against her crisp white shirt. Ninna’s husband, Ponnarong Nimearm-on, is the chef, and you will mostly know him through the skillfully seasoned dishes he prepares. You will settle back, and the sound of light, classical music will transport you away from the busy avenue outside the restaurant window. The décor is homey elegance.
If you are thirsty, try a Thai iced tea, flavored with a swirl of sweet condensed milk. If it is lunch, try one of the delicious curry and rice bowls or the penne pasta with bay shrimp, “Pad Thai-style." But if it is dinner, as it was when I last went, you should try the Baked Chicken Breast with young potatoes simmered in a tangy yellow curry sauce or the Fresh Salmon, grilled with a Parmesan and pesto topping.
For starters, we had the Spinach-Cheese Ravioli with red curry sauce. The red curry sauce had just the perfect amount of hot to brighten the flavor of the ricotta and spinach in the ravioli. We weren’t too proud to dip the crusty hot baguette in the remaining sauce on the plate. The soup of the day was carrot with ginger, a creamy purée where the sweetness of the ginger accented the sweetness of the carrot. Each mouthful finished with the vivid warmth of the ginger. The entrée, crispy skin on a boneless breast of chicken that is juicy and delicately seasoned, is served over thinly-sliced potatoes in a yellow curry sauce. Baby red plum tomatoes dot the plate with color. Swish a piece of chicken in the sauce, spear a piece of potato, and taste the marriage of flavors on your tongue. The salmon is served with a thin strip of pesto over the top of a crisply grilled filet. A swirl of peppered oil and balsamic vinegar circle the plate. The salmon melts like butter in your mouth, the brilliant taste of pesto dance across the taste buds.
Make sure to save room for dessert. Ninna’s has a must-eat bananas Foster. The outside of the banana slices are caramelized so that the flesh is soft and sweet, yet the inside stays firm. The caramel sauce and bananas are then plated around a mound of vanilla ice cream. The whole thing is topped by a drizzle of chocolate sauce. A sprig of fresh mint and a fanned strawberry complete the picture. If you ate too much but still have a little room, try the tiramisu. The cake inside is firm and not soggy, while the coffee-flavored cream and dusting of cocoa powder lets you satisfy the sweet tooth without feeling over full. Each dish is prepared so that you taste each ingredient and still experience a new flavor as you blend them.
Ninna keeps a watchful eye on patrons, coming by at just the perfect time. She is good at remembering a face and very gracious in welcoming you into a true neighborhood find. I always recommend Ninna’s to friends and family. I go there when I need a break after a hard week or when I want to do something special for myself.
Location: San Francisco
Favorite Restaurant: Chapeau!
Reviewed Ninna Restaurant: Wednesday, December 7, 2005
Ninna is a charming Mediterranean/Thai fusion restaurant located on a busy section of Piedmont Avenue in Oakland. It is the perfect place for a cozy dinner date. The space is narrow with high ceilings, is warmly decorated in dark oranges and browns with paintings of flowers along the walls, and can seat around twenty people. When I arrived at 7PM on a chilly Tuesday evening, there were only two other diners in the restaurant.
As advertised, the menu contains some standard Mediterranean bistro fare (oven-braised lamb shanks, roasted duck breast) with interesting Thai touches (the lamb shanks have a sauce containing kaffir lime leaves). Soup of the day ($4.95) on my visit was a tomato-seafood broth with mussels, calamari, and a grilled freshwater prawn. The slices of calamari were tender, and the seafood-infused tomato broth flavorful and complex. The large, grilled freshwater prawn added a smoky element to this superb dish.
My main course was pan-seared fillet of sole with shrimp in a lemon-butter sauce with capers ($19.95). The fish was perfectly cooked and moist, and the capers in the sauce added a nice zing. My dinner companion had seared sea scallops on a bed of roasted eggplant topped with a basil sauce ($17.95). This is the dish I wish I’d ordered. The large scallops were nicely caramelized on the outside and moist and slightly rare at the center. The basil sauce (spicy and slightly sweet) added the perfect Thai element. Although I liked my dish, the scallops were special.
The desserts we had were good but lacking the unique touches that marked the appetizers and main courses. We sampled the bananas Foster ($6.95) and caramel custard ($4.95). The bananas in the former were nicely flavored with rum and brown sugar, but were not quite hot enough the contrast with the vanilla ice cream. The caramel on the custard was dark, adding an appealing hint of bitterness to the sugar. The Pinot Grigio we ordered (Placido 2003 from Italy $28) was crisp and fruity and went well with our food. The wine list is decent and ranges from $24 to $90 a bottle with around six selections available by the glass.
The size of the restaurant and staff (there was one server with two people in the kitchen on my visit, including the chef!) creates a cozy, friendly dining experience. My only complaint was that, considering the quality of the food and the appealing presentations, everything was served on cold plates. Easily fixable, but a surprising oversight. I would gladly return here with my East Bay friends to enjoy the special food and warm atmosphere of this intimate restaurant.
Occupation: Director of Media
Favorite Restaurant: Red Sea Restaurant
Reviewed Ninna Restaurant: Saturday, December 3, 2005
Ninna restaurant on Piedmont Avenue in Oakland is the kind of tiny, windowed bistro that you imagine every rising star chef wants to own themselves. Ninna must have barely thirty seats and a tiny kitchen, out of which emerges some very delicious and expertly-prepared Asian/fusion food, a somewhat dated cuisine served with old-fashioned grace and simplicity.
Ninna is an Oakland bistro with a kitchen that knows what it's doing. Every dish we shared was just delicious, solid, and beautifully-presented. We compared two versions of romaine salad: a classic Caeser and a salad of romaine hearts with blue cheese. Neither was off-the-charts-remarkable, but the lettuce was very fresh and crisp, just the right amount of dressing, and a deft balance of flavors. The Caeser could have had more anchovy and a more forward Parmesan, and the blue cheese on the romaine hearts could have been more zingy for my taste, but overall, both salads were very carefully prepared. Perhaps demure is the right word at Ninna -- it fits the service and the style of the restaurant pretty equally.
Main courses included a perfectly-cooked piece of ahi tuna served with mashed potatoes, chargrilled asparagus spears, and a creamy green curry sauce. I savored every bite. Where I might normally have chosen an Alsatian white wine with curry, since it was cold outside (crazy me), I picked a glass of delicious, zesty, not-too-heavy Napa Zinfandel (I forget which one) that I really enjoyed with the blue cheese salad, and it continued oh-so-well with the tuna. Gotta be bold and break outmoded wine rules whenever possible -- red wine with fish rocks in the right pairing. The tuna was perfectly seared rare, and I was infinitely happy. My partner was equally thrilled with the grilled duck breast; tender, crisp skin rendered to perfection, served with the same mashed potatoes. We were cool with having the identical accompaniment -- they were light and really tasted like potatoes (it's amazing how many versions of mashed potatoes are all about the garlic, or a not great potato to start with).
The caramel custard that we shared for dessert had a lovely flan-like texture and had been prepared in the not-too-sweet school of desserts. I don’t like a cloyingly sweet finish to a meal, but the sauce had a slightly bitter aftertaste that made me wish they’d served a cookie on the plate. Anyway, in general, the service was transparent (just a little rushed at the end to make way for the next turn), the meal delicious, the room intimate. But something was just a little off for me at Ninna.
It could have been that every time the door opened and new guests came in, the whole room got cold. I think it's also hard to create real conviviality in a room that small. As I was feeling pretty anonymous near the end of the meal (the server was cordial, just not overly personable), I took a minute to tell her what a wonderful meal we’d had. She smiled from ear to ear in what seemed to be a truly genuine expression of shared pleasure. It was a nice moment, broken only by the overly loud voices of the new table sitting next to us, who were straining to articulate loudly to one in their party who seemed to need a hearing aid. They were so close to us, we could have touched them, or stuck a spoon into their delicious-looking carrot soup. If they had been sitting next to us the whole meal, we might not have been able to enjoy our own conversation but would have felt immersed in theirs. Those are the breaks in such a room.