Rino's At Last : Trad Red Sauce Italian, 7/19/11
After eating well in Boston for 40 yrs., I was recently chagrined to learn from UHockey about a well touted trad italian spot called Rino's in East Boston. Today we went with a group of friends at
4:30, midweek, so as to avoid the infamous lines. AC was working well on a steamy day; room was decently appointed, polyester tablecloths and napkins; 3 tables out of 13 were occupied and things were quiet.
We received a warm authentic welcome from the GM and our waitress, and we began to peruse the menu. The regular menu is long enough with all the standard pastas and veal and chicken dishes one would expect on a trad Italian menu, but the handwritten daily specials menu, composed and released at 5 pm,was even longer!
With the goal of covering many flavor profiles on the menu, we ordered:
Eggplant Parm served w/ Marinara sauce
Panko Crusted Eggplant Layered with Roasted Tomatoes, Cheese and Pesto Cream
Wild Mushroom Ravioli
Pasta al Forno with small meatballs and ricotta
Arancini with Fresh Plum Tomato Sauce
I've heard of a 'cheap w/huge portions' restnt in Gloucester called The Causeway, and I'm guessing Rino's appeals to the same crowd. Gigantic portions of good food, some things very good.(And when I say gigantic, I am saying that a HALF order of pasta- is easily a quart of product.)What they pride themselves in at Rino's - is pasta made-on-site and all entrees assembled and cooked a la minute(at the last minute). According to our veteran/family member waitress, there are no pre- rolled and filled ravs here; they are filled and boiled to order. Same with no hotel pans of Eggplant Parm; rather each Eggplant Parm dish is individually assembled and baked off at the last minute. This is allegedly true of every single menu item- which is what accounts for both the steaming hot platters set down before you, and some very long waits.
In 9 dishes, we only had one bad thing, and it was dreadful beyond the pale- the Lobster Fritters( a special.) Large pieces of tough-as-leather distinctly off-tasting lobster(frozen?chlorine treated?) deep fried in a simple flour batter and glazed with a cloyingly sweet balsamic syrup best reserved for ice cream. Given that in 40 years of eating lobster, I have never had any 'lobster' even close to this bad, I would never go near any of the other Rino lobster dishes. But the calamari that wafted past us looked terrific.
The four dishes listed above, under the fritters, were good but unremarkable, in large part due to the Rino marinara sauce which we found somewhat insipid, and the dull pesto cream and rav brown butter sauce. But the bright punch lacking in the marinara was found in full force in the chunky fresh plum tomato sauce served with their Arancini.These arborio rice balls were delicious and far superior to those served at Galleria Umberto Rosticceria, for the simple reason that they had just then been fried and that the rice itself was cooked and mixed with many more ingredients. Ironically, this latter attribute is the same that makes the Rino's arancini (known in Rome as supli- for the 'telephone wires' of cheese that emerge when the rice is eaten)not traditional Roman style (simply cooked white arborio rice, without flavoring, formed into a ball and filled with cubes of cheese or with a mixture of tomato, cheese,peas, ham, coated and deep fried)like those found at Umberto. Unfortunately, the 'parm' we requested that was served along with the Rino arancini - tasted like salty, lifeless, and cheap mozzarella.
The last four dishes listed above were the ones that we would happily return for. The gnocchi were lighter than any i've had in Boston except the transcendent ones sometimes found at Union Bar and Grill. Except for missing the significant element of quality Parm, the sauce was very good. The tomato based Matriciana sauce was unctuous with cream, and addictive; the Bolognese, while lacking in enough body, was what a good Bolognese should be.
The Pollo Saltimboca was near perfect. The fusilli and rigatoni pastas were toothsome and perfectly cooked (none of that ubiquitous undercooked quality found in even the 'best' of Boston dining rooms.) And, very importantly, each plate had just the right amount of sauce(a tricky thing when working with absorbent pasta.)
Service was very friendly, welcoming and efficient. No one rushed us, even as the waiting line was well established by 7 o'clock when we left. Rino's team wants their customers to have a good time. We did and will return, probably in the winter, when heaping steaming hot platters of comfort food are in order. In the meantime, I am still searching for a less expensive a la minute eggplant parm as good as that at Gran Gusto in Cambridge. Got any ideas?
90 Sherman St, Cambridge, MA 02140
258 Saratoga St, Boston, MA 02128
OK opinionatedchef, now I'm jealous - you didn't take me home any leftovers! Then again, I don't have any leftovers when I go - I usually have to order an extra plate to go so my hubby can have some "leftovers"! LOVE the (A) Matriciana sauce - I've seen it spelled with & without the A but either way, it's my (& my hubby's) favorite.
You got the crowd right, which is why the regular menu is so full of dull, gigantically-proportioned, arguably well-executed Italian-American fare. Specials are where it's at here, where the chef gets closer to his Abruzzese roots. I still think fondly of an osso bucco Milanese I had there a couple of years ago. Guy Fieri must die.
re: MC Slim JB
That's just silly, Fly, for a lot of reasons:
a) I was the first professional critic to review Rino's (in the Boston Phoenix) and gave it a rave.
b) Fieri's producers came to me for tips for that show, and Rino's was one of the places I recommended.
c) I gave Rino's a Devil's Dining Award in 2010 lauding their even-greater success (they were doing extremely well pre-DDD): http://mcslimjb.blogspot.com/2010/12/2010-devils-dining-awards.html
d) I've said the same thing (happy for them, not for me, as I don't have time for three-hour waits) more than once here.
e) I've also often said here that it's better for some place you love to be so successful that you can't get in than to keep it secret so you can walk in any time and then see it disappear for lack of business.
re: MC Slim JB
Well, slim, I've only eaten once at Rino's, but it seems we may have a DOO here (diff of opinion) . The 3 daily specials we had, including the completely horrendous lobster fritters, the wild mushroom ravs and the pesto cream eggplant(wow, UHockey, i was so surprised that we had such different takes on this dish)- were all mediocre for us. We had much better luck w/ the standards.
As this is a perfect opp to ask you this, I would really like to hear your take on this question: When you have a dining experience where most things are good or very good but you have one(or more) inexcusably awful dish, what goes through your mind? Does it affect your thoughts about the head chef? Cause you to trust them less?
I ask this vis a vis Rino's. For me, a non-professional critic, I mentally run through many possible scenarios for how that situation at Rino's could have come to be. But the possible scenarios, the workings of a restaurant kitchen, are as complex as a mainframe. Sometimes there is a simple reason/culprit; sometimes it is multi-party. At Rino's, the players are few and the ingredients are many(but not REALLY many.) For me, the lobster quality was so abhorrent that it caused me to decide to never order another lobster dish there. I'm thinking that Rino's decided that, given the overall price-point of the menu, they could not charge enough for a lobster dish containing quality lobster, so they stint. They combine it with (hopefully better quality) less expensive seafood and mask it in a seafood marinara dish. Or they mix it with ricotta and fill ravs with it, and mask those with marinara...... Maybe the other Rino's seafood is good quality but I know I don't trust it. Calamari is cheap so it is probably great there. Shrimp is so popular that I cannot imagine they could get away with a shrimp sautee using lousy shrimp. Scallops(part of a melange in marinara)?- I'm not so sure.
But I digress from my question to you as to how such a situation affects your thoughts/reviews of a chef.
And any other CH's comments about this Rino's question, plse chirp in. But we better keep this re: Rino's or other Boston restaurants, or the mods will move it to General.Thanks much.
Nadeau likes to say there are no great restaurants, only great dishes. This discussion perhaps supports that.
I've never had any of those dishes at Rino's, nor have I had anything I would describe as awful from either the standard or specials menus over the course of 8 or 10 visits at lunch and dinner. As I often do, I say that most of the Italian-American stuff strikes me as pedestrian at best, while recognizing that it is good of its type. How often is one wowed by chicken parm? I, not often, but I'm pretty upfront about my general boredom with restaurant Italian-American fare.
A truly awful dish generally tells me one of a few things: 1) bad one-time execution that is not reflective of the kitchen's usual standards, e.g., off-tasting seafood when their freshness and quality are generally impeccable; 2) a badly-conceived dish, which might be fairly characterized as a clash of my and the chef's sensibilities (though sometimes I might be bold enough to suggest that it's not likely to work for anybody); 3) a symptom of more systemic problems.
Repeat visits help you identify whether a problem is a 1 or a 3. A 2 is something you simply have to report with a "this didn't work for me", ideally with some supporting detail, but if there are a lot of 2s, you might be in 3 territory.