Diamond in the Rough

Nina’s eclectic fare and bistro feel bring sophistication to the downtown section of Middletown

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roast duckLong Island duck, roasted and served with a blackberry-raspberry cognac demi-glace

A pecan and pear mesclun salad was a slight letdown after we’d been spoiled by such a terrific start. A mound of fresh greens came flanked by a scattering of caramelized pecans on one side and some slices of slightly under-ripe pear on the other. The mustard and fig vinegar dressing (which was more mustardy than fig-vinegary) was drizzled across the top leaves, and it was hard to distribute evenly without lobbing most of the salad off the plate. But it was the one false step of the evening.

Roast duckling makes a regular appearance on the menu; that night’s rendition had a blackberry and raspberry sauce. Again, the presentation was lovely: a half duck, crisped and cloaked in sauce, came with four plump little blackberries lined up alongside to remind you where the piquancy sprang from. Four slender stalks of asparagus crisscrossed the duck, and a golden potato croquette in the shape of a pear sat on the plate looking charming, even if it wasn’t all that exciting to eat. The duck was cooked perfectly, though, and the leftovers that I took home tasted just as delectable at lunch the next day.

Nina’s version of steak frites demonstrates how a simple dish done just right delivers great satisfaction. The steak is a whopping 16-ounce Black Angus New York strip of the best quality. It came sizzling from the grill with a satisfying char and a perfectly pink interior, as ordered. The beef is so flavorful you almost don’t want to bother with the large medallion of “beurre maître d’hôtel” atop it. Eat it anyway. The “everyday” beurre is a chive compound butter, but if the steak frites is offered as a special — as this was — you get a delicious Gorgonzola bonus that adds a tangy-creamy note.

A generous pile of golden frites and three slices of roasted plum tomato filled out the plate. The tomatoes tasted good but were too quickly gone to make a real impression — another case of vegetables used more as garnish than a true side. Larger portions of vegetables may be ordered separately, if you know ahead that you may want them. It’s worth asking.

cheesecakeBailey’s Irish Cream cheesecake

Most desserts are made in-house and include a flourless chocolate cake, a chocolate soufflé, crème brûlée, and daily specials as well as a fruit plate if you’re feeling full but still want a sweet finale. We shared a very rich Bailey’s Irish Cream cheesecake that had a dense, toothy texture and came garnished with strawberry slices.

Prices may be a little steep for this “not yet prosperous” part of Orange County, yet we felt we got good value, given the high quality of the ingredients, and the flair with which dishes are prepared. The lively, urban feel of the place is worth a few bucks, too, whether you hang at the bar, huddle romantically, or spread out with the gang at one of the bigger tables. There’s even a lovely little courtyard in back, where you can escape in warm weather.

Brendle (a talented chef who used to be in banking, of all things) and his wife, Corina, were among the pioneers helping to bring life back to the old part of town. Lucky for us, they were successful.

Lunch and dinner served daily (on Sundays the kitchen closes at 8 p.m.)
Appetizers range from $9-$12.50 (the fondue for two is $15); entrées from $16-$32
27 W. Main St., Middletown
845-344-6800 or



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