I’ve taken some heat over the past few weeks for not staying true to my mandate of including food along with discussion of politics. Well, here’s a piece in the tradition of my Boston Magazine story on power breakfasting.
For some time, I’ve had plans with Frank Conte, the publisher and editor of eastboston.com as well as the director of communications and information services at the Beacon Hill Institute, to have lunch in Rino’s. Frank prides himself on being an “independent” thinker and possesses a deep knowledge of Boston politics and Italian American culture. I discovered Rino’s in East Boston several years ago and consider it as being in the elite of Italian restaurants in the Greater Boston area. It is one of the few places I have eaten where I cannot get the food out of my mind. Last year, for example, I had an amazing veal dish topped by a smooth spinach sauce, an item I have never seen anywhere else on a menu, the pleasant memory of which remains fixed in my brain.
Frank and I ate there today, and I’m glad we did. Soon after we sat down, a collection of East Boston’s biggest names came in to eat. John Nucci, a former at-large city councillor and clerk of the Suffolk County Criminal Court and current vice president of Suffolk University, came in and said hello. Soon he was joined by City Councillor Sal LaMattina, the first person to ever mention Rino’s to me, and Joshua Resnek, big foot newspaperman of the East Boston Times Free Press.
Later on former City Councillor Paul Scapicchio and Senator Anthony Petruccelli came in. Often this group of politically connected cognoscenti comes to break bread, exchange stories and trade political wisdom. They’ve certainly chosen the right place.
I tried Frank’s lobster ravioli in cream sauce. It was rich and fresh. I started off with the “Mellezano Ripieno,” the rolled eggplant with smoked mozzarella and plum tomato sauce and finished with medallions of veal sauteed with wild mushrooms and sundried tomatoes in a brandy cream sauce. What makes Rino’s special? Wild mushrooms so fresh you’d think the owner went out and picked them that morning, veal so tender it melts in your mouth, a sauce so scrumptious every last drop begs to be soaked up in Rino’s Italian bread. And I’ve never been to one of the chef’s special feasts upon his return from hunting.
As someone who had his first veal cutlet less than a mile away in Jeveli’s in 1975, I consider myself to be knowledgeable about local Italian food. (BONUS GITELL.COM content. Here’s what I wrote about Jeveli’s for a school project back in 1985: “The first course was minestrone soup, then Italian bread, salad, spaghetti, and the piece de resistance — veal cutlet. What a feast!”)
I don’t go to Jeveli’s as much any more, though it has its place. But to me some of the best Italian restaurants in the area are in the periphery of the city, not downtown. Rino’s is probably atop my list, followed closely by Delfino’s in Roslindale Square, a place that has never disappointed me. (When I’m at Delfino’s I’m as apt to try the veal chop as I am the homemade pasta.) I also like Artichoke’s in Malden, a limo driver recently told me he’s taken carfuls of financial execs from downtown to hit this spot.
Don’t get me wrong, if you’ve got unlimited money, there’s nothing wrong with, for example, Via Matta and I’ve never been to Marco in the North End, which Corby Kummer, the dean of food writers loves. But, to me, you can’t beat the combination of fantastic quality, reasonable prices and tremendous portions that places like Rino’s provides. But I’m also, of course, the person who wrote at the age of 16 “I can ingest huge amounts of food and love it…I think I’m a classic gourmand and have a future in food review.”