Sunday, October 26, 2008

Naples Nektar Restaurant Closed. Gina's 7th Avenue Starts.



Gina’s 7th Ave, filled the spot of once-popular Nektar, which slowly lost its following, and closed. Thomas Scholten’s restaurant is a couple blocks walk from popular 5th Ave South. Nektar opened in 2005, with good looks, and Mediterranean food. It did well, until Mr. Scholten’s other partners, restauranteurs Armand Alikaj and Elton Alikaj, were arrested Sept , 2006 for allegedly skimming ~$80K in restaurant cash "off the top." This left Mr. Scholten, a Naples home builder and silent partner, with his hands full of Nektar, and a dwindling clientele. He and son Adam revamped Nektar into Gina’s, in 2008.

Gina’s web site specifically boasts about being “a family restaurant that advertises through word of mouth.” Not so. Anyways, we came to eat, in spite of receiving postcards from Gina's mailing blitz, addressed to “Current Resident.”

Gina's web site visitors might wonder just how often management is “offering organic produce along with other sustainable ingredients when at our disposal.” Is it offered 1%, or even 5% of the time, to attract trendy folks, with "organic" as the bait? A lawyerly “when at our disposal” disclaimer “weasels" Gina's out of any commitment to stocking costlier organic produce.

Nektar’s chef, and now Gina’s chef, Mark Pinto, continues serving tasteful Mediterranean food. He now offers “rustic Italian cuisine”, as well as old favorites. Most Italian spots serve similar comfort food classics. Adding some rustic food dishes can be a welcome plus, or just a marketing gimmick. Our excellent server, Oscar noted, “They serve some dishes just like my grandmother made, ” and piqued our curiosity.

While Nektar’s long dining room had a lighter, cheerful peach interior palette, Gina’s is now darker, not sinister, with the room’s long, darker red wall by the windows. Other walls are lighter. The lighting level is low. Black shutters are tightly shut, hiding all windows and any outside light -this is not for the claustrophobic! Nektar’s signature “air conditioned” 9-hole light wooden chairs proudly remain. The thin carpet is light tan, and booths are a darker tan. We wanted a Nektar-like quiet romantic dinner, and should have come to Gina's after 9 pm. Acoustics are bright, with a moderate to loud noise level-Unfortunately, we could clearly hear all words from the talkative quartet ~15 feet away. Intimate details, from other tables’ raised voices, are all too clearly heard, if you get my drift. Ugh. The noise level of the "current residents" is at the upper end of “tolerable”. If Gina's noise level is not for you, eat later, or bring earplugs- in décor matching dark red or tan.

A wide sheet of water resistant white paper tops each table’s cloth-one woman recognized it as “gynecologist’s exam table paper”. Cheap paper table coverings are a disappoinment, at a restaurant of this level. The paper may have been chosen for toddlers and kids’ crayon coloring; selected for children's food fights, or just picked as a dependable, tantrum-proof covering.

Fifth Ave. South's nicer spots just don’t use this paper. Do the right thing, guys. Return the remaining paper rolls to the gynecologist’s office. While the children may miss their paper and crayon scribbling, the women will thank you!

Manager Adam Scholten makes schmoozing table rounds during the evening-a good sign. The bar area is bright and clean, with a friendly bartender.

There’s tables by the parking lot, for your outdoor dining. Oscar, our server, had solid suggestions and a friendly, professional demeanor. We wanted to sample the specialty-the rustic dishes. The eggplant fritters ($9) are tasty and light, with four hot, small patties of sliced roasted eggplant and onion, topped with melted cheese, resting on a marinara sauce smear.

The meatballs ($6) were a side of two, formed from mildly seasoned beef, pork, and veal, with marinara sauce. Other sides include sautéed spinach, mushrooms, peas or roasted potatoes. There's also Fried Calamari (11), and Bruschetta (8).

The recommended Cavatelli Romano (17) is a big bowlful of 4-6” long narrow pale earthworm- shaped ricotta “dumplings”, with Parmigiano Reggiano cheese. Relax, we told you this is rustic, and they don’t wiggle much.
Oscar’s grandmother cooked this way-so it must be rustic. It’s mild tasting, with a light, creamy tomato sauce.

The Pork Chops Peperonata (24) offers two tender chops with Italian vinegar peppers, garlic and roasted potatoes. This is a man-sized portion, and a very tasty presentation, with tender pork. We preferred this, for its zingy peppers and bolder seasoning, over the Cavatelli. Chef Pinto’s rustic culinary talents, like Oscar’s grandma's, continue to please. Wine prices range from $19 to 150 per bottle, and $6-12 by glass. I enjoyed my glass of Italian Kris (9), a versatile pinot noir. We commend Gina's reasonable markup, and broad selection of Italian and other wines.

Entrée’s range from four simple $15 pasta dishes for the not-so-big spenders, to the $30 lamb chops, and $35 8 oz. filet mignon. There’s over 30 entrees, and daily specials. “Rustic” not for you? Have chicken ($19), or veal (23), served familiar Piccatta, Parmigiano, Francese, and Marsala styles. Try a whole roasted fish, with lemon and herbs, for $29.

Desserts are $6. FYI, Historians note that Tiramisu is not a rustic dessert in origin, it was born in Italy, just in the 1970’s. This tasty, light espresso, cocoa powder and mascarpone creation, is caffeinated enough to keep some up till 1 am. It wasn’t called a “pick me up” in Italian, for nothing! Chef Pinto’s is one of the lightest, and best tiramisu around! We recommend it, and prefer it over the traditional lemon torte. A cheese cake, and a sorbet are also offered. Our light meal was over $100 for two, with tip. Figure $150 for two, with drinks or a nice bottle of wine.

We wish Gina’s 7th Ave. all the best for success, in competing with lively Fifth Ave's established, upscale Italian restaurants.
Gina's mass mailing now brings in a different, louder crowd of "Current Residents" and eager tourists. While locals may miss Nektar's once quiet, intimate dining, service does remains attentive and professional.
There's good solid food to be had, at midrange prices for Naples.

849 7th Ave S # 101, Naples, FL 239- 435-1882


Anonymous said...

this place is a joke by all standards

Anonymous said...

Eating on Fifth Ave on a regular basis, this experience was a step above the rest! The family atmosphere was great. Food impecable and service like you deserve. Personally in this day and age I find that paper on a table is another cost-affective way to keeo a restaruant open for more than just one season. Id recommend this great place again and again.

Anonymous said...

I strongly disagree with the first commenter, and have some quarrel with our host's take on Gina's. I am a resident of downtown Chicago visiting Naples and went with my family to try Gina's tonight, despite the lukewarm review. Campiello was our previous benchmark for Naples, and, judging from our collective experience (4 votes total), we thought Gina's stood up well as a strong competitor to Campiello. Everyone walked out more than satisfied with their experience, and we all agreed we would go back to Gina's the next time we find ourselves in town.

We started with the eggplant fritters, the tomato, cucumber and onion salad, and the antipasti di giorno (an arugula salad with granny smith apples, shaved parm-reggiano and balsamic vinagrette) - all of which were very good. For entrees, we had the tortellini quattro formaggio, traditional spaghetti & meatballs, minestrone and tomato and fresh mozzarella salad (the vegetarian of the group - a light eater), and a special pasta, gorgonzola stuffed fiochette (purses) with a tomato-sausage sauce. I tasted everything and, save the spaghetti, which was rather pedestrian (the sauce was a little bland and the pasta so-so), everything was excellent. The tortellini was well done, al dente with a nice cream sauce and very fresh vegetables. The fiochette was the star, with the pasta done perfectly al dente and featuring a very subtle gorgonzola kick, which paired well with a sweet tomato sauce. In comparison to Chicago, the sausage was quite good (very good for Naples), making a nice complement to the other components of the dish.

We finished with capuccino and house-made Nutella gelato that, although not comparable to gelato from the motherland, was extremely flavorful and a satisfying capstone for a nice evening.

Overall, 4 out of 5 stars.

Anonymous said...

i agree with the first blogger, this place is a joke - a crooked place run by a crooked family; adam has no restaurant experience * recently was working folding clothes at banana republic & the old man was run out of illinois, couldn't make in the construction biz here, is trying to make a stab at the restaurant biz with no prior experience at all either - they are unbelievably inept - nearly illiterate, the menu & website are hillarious - someone else makes up the wine list - the scholtens are clueless about wine! and they are full of garbage - atrocious food, no matter who's grandma the recipes are modeled after - they have no business pretending they know what they are doing - paper on the tables! amateurs!

Anonymous said...

An excellent review of a restaurant I can't wait to try. We loved Nektar, so we'll be there next time we're in town.
I do think, however, that your complaint about "mass mailings" was over the top and unnecessarily harsh. This is a difficult time to launch a new restaurant, and if people don't come, they won't survive very long.
I wish them well.

Anonymous said...

We are visiting from Long Island, and have lived in Italy for several years. I've owned several restaurants.

We tried Gina'a then tried Two Brothers Baci. While Gina's is closer to where we stay, after trying both places, we found Two Brothers to be much better. Two Brothers (Brothers) has better tasting food, service was better, and prices lower. The price is not as important to us as food quality. Two Brothers wins out. Gina's servers try too hard to upsell more food and drinks. We like the bonus of having live entertainment every night at Brothers. We liked what Brothers had live on two nights. Gina's had no entertainment.

Fifth Avenue South area is no longer where people go. Your reviews are in line with the newspapers and most importantly with our impression.

We tried them all for Italian, and recommend Two Brothers (239-597-4800) first, then more expensive and a notch down Cafe Italia (239-596-5600), then Naples Tomato (239-598-9800) in that order for the best Italian food in Naples. We were not impressed by Verginas or Angeli's on 5th any more than with Gina's. We may be tourists in your area, but we know great food from good food.