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