LEGAL BYOB IN EAST BOSTON!!!
I've now been to 300 Saratoga Cafe (East Boston MA, across the street from Rino's) twice, and sufficed to say, I enjoyed both meals.
Especially the meatballs, which are excellent (your Italian grandmother wold be happy to serve them)!
As far as the rest of the menu (some of these were specials), I've tried the steak, rack of lamb, house-made pastas with tomato sauce, 4-meat ragu or vodka sauce (fettuccini, gnocchi, lobster-crab ravioli) and panna cotta, and was happy with all of them. The steak was properly cooked to temp, and while not steakhouse-quality, it was still a pleasurable accompaniment for some great red wines. Overall, good, tasty, well-made "red sauce" neighborhood Italian cuisine, like you would hope to find. If you like the cooking at Rino's across the street, you'll like Saratoga.
The service was friendly and attentive (we were served by the hilarious sous chef who grew up in the area the first time, and by newly hired Michelle on our second visit). The owners were in the house and the husband Robin was very personable and fun. It is a small, comfortable space, but can be a tad noisy if crowded, but still pleasant. There is a muted TV over the small bar (obviously not serving alcohol).
Yeah, Rino's across the street is famous thanks to "wonder-awful TV chef/bloated punk-pop hedgehog person Guy Fieri," (to quote the Globe), but I actually think the food at Saratoga is just as good (especially those meatballs, which leave Rino's in the dust). And you don't have to wait in line forever to get a table at prime time.
AND IT'S LEGAL BYOB, in fact, the only one in Boston (see below for details)!!! So it deserves 5-stars just for that in my book!
House wine glasses are serviceable (better than Rino's), but if you really care, bring your own stems like I do. They also prefer to open your wine, keep it at the bar, and pour it for you, but I convinced them to let us do that ourselves, which we like to do. Sit along the window, where the ledge make a nice place to put your wine bottles, leaving more space for big plates of food.
As you will see from some earlier Yelp reviews, Saratoga originally also offered a selection of Latin dishes (the chef is Latino). But there wasn't much demand for them in an Italian restaurant, so although they are still listed on the laminated menu, they are no longer available.
Note: Their website seems to have been taken over from another restaurant, and wasn't accurate for a long time, but seems to be improving. For example, there's a link to OpenTable, but you have to call for reservations, although one of the two phone numbers is incorrect.
I will definitely be back again to enjoy some good Italian cooking and BYOB wine.
I'll try to post some photos, but the Chowhound photo bug has been causing me problems recently so check out my Yelp review for a bunch of photos.
[WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT BYOB IN MA:
If you know me, then you know that I appreciate a great wine list. And the very best wine list of all is the one that I have at home! So if a restaurant will let me BYOB my own wine for dinner, then they immediately shoot to the top in my book.
The only problem is that BYOB is ILLEGAL in ***most*** of Massachusetts. Grrrr, yes, we are still living in the 19th Century in MA! But wait, why did I say "most?" Well here is where, in typical MA fashion, it gets a bit complicated:
1) Massachusetts law states that BYOB is illegal in any restaurant that has a liquor license.
2) If a restaurant doesn't have a liquor license, then the legality of BYOB depends on the laws of the city or town in which the restaurant operates.
3) But only some towns permit BYOB for restaurants without liquor licenses. To the best of my knowledge, these include: Brookline, Lowell, Needham, Watertown (requires a BYOB license), Wellesley, Winthrop, and Worcester. Arlington and Belmont may also be in this category, but I'm still researching that. If you know of any others, please let me know!
4) However, thanks to a newly passed law in Boston, BYOB is legal for restaurants without liquor licenses in some but not all Boston neighborhoods, namely: Allston-Brighton, Charlestown, Dorchester, East Boston, Hyde Park, Jamaica Plain, Mattapan, Mission Hill, Roslindale, Roxbury and West Roxbury. Such restaurants must be sit-down with waiter service and 30 or fewer seats, and they must have a BYOB license (which only two restaurants have successfully received, Seven Star Bistro in Rosindale, which has since closed, and 300 Saratoga in East Boston).
5) By the way, many restaurants will let you BYOB under the table if you ask them (with or without a corkage fee). However, it is definitely poor form to post about this online since we don't want to get them in trouble for doing us a favor (which occasionally happens, although rarely in my experience, but one restaurant owner has told me he has been getting calls from someone (the city?) asking if "he does BYOB", so they may be cracking down with the new law in place).
IIRC (not sure if this is MA or just Boston), you are also limited to one 750 mL bottle per person and the restaurant must seal partially finished bottles in a plastic bag to which they have stapled the receipt if you want to take leftovers home.]