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Feast: Rino’s Place

January 14, 2011

Rino’s Place in East Boston is the kind of Italian restaurant that serves baskets of fresh, in-house bread with pre-packaged supermarket butter.

(The above comment is not meant to be a slight. Rather, it is how I knew the meal I was about to eat would be worth writing about.)

Now, I knew the experience would be worth documenting the minute my lunch partner and I arrived, put our name in for a table, and were told by the waitress to wait outside. True, the restaurant is small and it would have been awkward to stand right next to someone’s table, but it’s pretty frigid outside these days.

Eh, Rino’s doesn’t really care.

While outside, we got to soak up the local East Boston culture: smiling neighbors, whistling mailmen, pink vinyl-sided condos, and, best of all, the Rino’s Regulars. One woman, peroxide blonde ponytail peering out of her fur-trimmed metallic-gold jacket, was affronted by our placement in the outdoor waiting room. “That waitress is an asshole!” she croaked in a pack-a-day voice.

Later, accompanied by more colorful dialogue, it came out that our fur-hooded friend was in trouble with Rino’s- she had been getting impatient waiting for her own table, and kept harassing the waitress. Fur-Hood did have a point though, Rino’s was in no hurry to turn over – we waited to be seated a good fifteen minutes after 3 tables had been cleared. But I’m not really complaining, it gave us time to chat with more locals from the area, such as the 60 year old mobster who offered us his parking spot. This, after he caught us ogling his 20 year old minidress in stilettos, but before he gave us some lunch recommendations. He likes the lobster tails (of course he does), but the lobster ravioli were also on his list to try.

We were finally seated, directly under the signed poster of Guy Fieri, (who will be featuring Rino’s on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives), across from a woman in a full body brace, and near a man with a skull- topped silver-plated cane. We did not exactly blend in with the regular crowd (I’d left my accordian and acid washed jeans at home). But, we were more than willing to order like everyone else. Each table was heaped with multiple bowls of anything and everything. It was an Italian Thanksgiving at every sitting, at 1:30pm on a Tuesday in January.

Rino’s list of specials – at least as long as the formal menu- is handwritten on a plain piece of paper. Once you get used to the cursive scrawl, this list makes the actual menu an afterthought. There is no visible wine list, but being an Italian with roots in Revere I knew enough to just ask for a glass of Chianti, which the waitress brought, happily.

We started with fried calamari and a half order of burrata wrapped in prosciutto. Both could have been a meal in themselves, and both were dirt cheap. For quality and portion, the whole menu was way under market. I desperately hope Rino’s doesn’t adjust their pricing after Guy Fieri makes them famous.

The calamari was salty and greasy- but good greasy – and sprinkled with banana peppers. No fancy aioli here, just a slice of lemon and some fresh herbs on top. The batter was crunchy and the calamari was the correct texture- chewy but not over or under-done.

The burrata (a form of mozzarella with a creamy center) was also excellent. I find burrata more flavorful than regular mozz, which can often be bland and boring. Wrapped in prosciutto and sitting on top of a tomato, this was a perfectly embellished Caprese salad.

And then, there was the lobster ravioli. (Hey, I don’t argue when someone who is very clearly well-connected in East Boston’s, uh, food scene gives me a recommendation.) Massive in quantity, perfectly cooked, riddled with lobster meat (mostly tail, my favorite), the best part of the ravioli was the filling. Too often ravioli filling is boring, bland, and watery. This was creamy, tangy, and well-seasoned. The lobster pieces were substantial enough that one could really taste them, but small enough that they weren’t unwieldy to eat. And the sauce, by the way, was lovely. Creamy but not overly so, and it didn’t have the fishy taste that some lobster sauces can take on.

My partner’s veal marsala was also excellent. I don’t typically order marsala because I find the sauce too sweet for my taste, but this was slightly honeyed without being cloying. The veal was tender and only lightly coated, and the pasta was cooked to the perfect degree of chewy al dente.

We were too stuffed to order dessert, but I really wish we had, just to round everything out. We did make it to coffee, and I have to mention that once we were seated after our long initial wait, the service was very pleasant. We were absolutely not rushed.  I like to think they accepted us as one of their own once I ordered wine with lunch – the waitress even tried to entice me with a second glass. And even though the place still seems to be a neighborhood secret, filled with 90% locals/regulars, we didn’t feel like we were being stared at or given sub-par food. The whole outing reminded me of a leisurely lunch in Florence, drinking wine and eating until it was time for a nap. It could only have been better if we were looking out onto Piazza Della Signoria.

I loved everything about my meal at Rino’s Place (especially the company) and I absolutely can not wait to go back. I doubt I’ll ever earn “regular” status, but it would be enough if, eventually, the waitress only makes us wait ten minutes when there are empty tables, instead of fifteen.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Stevan Demase permalink
    January 16, 2011 2:37 pm

    So why arn’t you writing for the Boston papers??? And by the way the nice gentlemen was probably related to your mother!!!

  2. bestthingslicedbread permalink*
    January 16, 2011 3:24 pm

    hey if you can get me into the boston papers, i’d be more than happy to write for them! that mobster is definitely related to mom somehow…

  3. Pat permalink
    January 17, 2011 4:18 pm

    Therefore, it would be in everyone’s best interest to be nice to me :)

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