East Boston, MA: The Ravioli Specials at Rino's Place
There's only one problem with Rino's Place: the wait.
The first time I went to Rino's Place, I happened to sit near the door and overheard the hostess delicately explaining to walk-in customers that the next available table would be ready in three to four hours. No, she wasn't kidding, she said, but if they wanted to wait, there's a great bar down the street called Kelley's Square Pub...*
You want to wait.
It's not that the menu at Rino's is so unusual; it's a red sauce joint. But it's a great red sauce joint, with from-scratch pastas, perfectly executed sautés, portions that make Nona's look skimpy, and service that's just as tender and grandmotherly—with just a wee bit of good-humored sass.
It's crowded. It's chatter-y. It can be hard to park. It's neighborhood-y. It's awesome.
Chef/owner Tony DiCenso's most beloved preparation might be the Lobster Ravioli. It's one of the 20-plus items on the handwritten specials menu, but if you go there more than once, you learn that the specials are really house specialties, and most of them are available regularly.
The pasta is housemade and filled with a combination of fresh boiled, shucked, and sautéed lobster meat; imported ricotta; Parmesan; parsley, and salt and pepper. The gravy is crushed plum tomatoes, heavy cream, a pat of butter, and fresh basil, spiked with a little brandy that rounds out the rich dairy with just a bit of boozy sweetness. And unlike most versions of the dish with stray bits of cat food-textured meat, there are chunks of lobster meat everywhere, inside and outside the pasta pouches.
By the way: This is only the half portion, easily large enough to be an entrée, and it's only $12.
The other special-menu ravioli is a mushroom trio: porcini, shiitake, and oyster mushrooms, folded together with ricotta inside wide square pasta patches. The pasta feels a bit more delicate here than the plumper, heartier lobster version; I think that's a nice adjustment to make, especially with the glossy sage-brown butter sauce. It's also a steal: $6 for the half portion.
*This fall, Rino's Place will open Before and After. It's just what it sounds like—a place to drink (and eat a little; they'll have a few appetizers and desserts) before and after dining in the restaurant. Even better, it's directly across the street. So far, the ETA is late October; check the website for updates.