Chef Tim Maslow is sort of a local chef rock star.
This Boston native grew up in the kitchen, helping his father out in the family restaurant. After studying at the French Culinary Institute, he trained with David Chang at various Momofuku establishments, eventually becoming chef de cuisine at Momofuku Ssam Bar. He moved back to Boston in 2011 and took over the culinary direction at that same family restaurant, a nondescript simple diner of sorts in Watertown called Strip-T's. He completely overhauled the menu, and before you knew it, people were taking special excursions to Watertown to sample his innovative cuisine.
A little over a year ago, rumors started floating around that Chef Maslow was thinking of opening up a second place.
For those that have been anxiously waiting, that day finally came in August 2013 when Maslow opened up Ribelle (pronounced rih-BELL-ay), a Mediterranean inspired restaurant with communal tables and menu items that are meant to be shared.
Hype grew for this restaurant when Boston Globe restaurant reviewer Devra First gave Ribelle a perfect four star review. For those who don't live in Boston, this is a ridiculously high score and very hard to get. The last restaurant in Boston to receive a perfect score was Menton, back in 2010. In fact, according to my brief search, only three Boston restaurants have ever received this perfect score: Menton, Rialto, and now Ribelle.
So why have I waited this long to try it?
It's hard for us to get to Ribelle. It's in Brookline where parking is iffy and traffic from Cambridge is bad during rush hour. Nevertheless, a warm Friday a couple weeks ago, we bit the bullet and fought crowded roads during rush hour to arrive at Ribelle for dinner at 6PM. Traffic was so bad that no one made it on time. Finally, around 6:30, we breathed a sigh of relief as the last members of our party finally found parking and joined us.
We settled into the end of the long communal table and excitedly began perusing the menu.
The menu is not super large and takes up just one side of a sheet of paper that is printed daily. The items get larger as you go down the sheet, though the server told us that the dishes were all meant to be shared.
We had a party of six, which meant we could order a pretty big chunk of the menu (love dining with large parties).
The Sprouts Salad is a healthy salad that includes a variety of sprouts (mung bean sprouts, pea sprouts, etc.), tossed with wheatberries, sea salt feta, and honey sumac butter. I enjoyed the crisp flavors and wished for more (a single serving size is hard to split among six people).
If any diner sitting around you orders the Sicilian Semolina Bread you'll instantly know it. I'm not sure how they grill the bread, but it smells absolutely heavenly when it comes out. It's smoky, charred, and super fragrant.
As soon as I smelled it I knew I wanted some. The bread is quite good and comes with an eggplant, olive, and pine nut caponata ($8) that is way too big for the amount of bread they give you. We ended up getting another order of bread in order to finish the caponata.
I ordered a Carpaccio, which I believe included some head cheese, but I can't for the life of me really remember. [I can't believe I forgot to take a photo of the menu] I do remember this was a dish that was highly recommended by the server and I did enjoy it quite a bit.
One of my favorite dishes was Ribelle's version of ramen - their homemade noodle soup with fiddleheads. The best parts were the superbly chewy handmade noodles and the deeply flavorful broth. The fiddleheads added a nice spring-like touch, but the star was really the meat and the broth. I would totally order one of these just for myself.
Another excellent dish was the Chittara Carbonara, which came with grilled ramps, pancetta, and pecorino. The pasta was perfectly al dente and the creamy rich sauce had a great balance of flavors. Our friends had originally ordered this for their 18-month old daughter, but the adults couldn't help but pick at it too.
The server highly recommended the Steamed Crayfish, which he said was really flavorful and popular. Our table of ambitious eaters decided to get two orders, which turned out to be way too much. It's hard to predict with these dishes, but this one was a really generous portion.
I loved the flavorful crayfish broth that was served with the crayfish and I kept dipping my bread into it. I'm not one of those people who adores picking apart crabs or lobsters, so I didn't exactly enjoy picking at an even smaller crustacean. Be forewarned - it's really messy. There's no way to appear elegant when eating this.
The others at the table didn't mind one bit and happily consumed several crayfish each, sucking out the brains, guts, and all different parts of the crayfish.
The Smoked Fish Gnocchi, which was served with spring favorites like fiddelheads and fava beans, had a nicely flavorful sauce that was just slightly tart. The gnocchi were pillowy soft and overall I enjoyed the dish, eating way more than I had planned because my spoon just kept gravitating towards the bowl. Bryan said there was some distinct flavor in the dish that he didn't like, but he was unable to pinpoint it.
One of the best looking entrees of the night was the Pappardelle + Bolognese, which was served with large amounts of kale and pork rinds ($25). The bolognese was hearty and delicious; and the pasta had great texture. I'm a huge fan of kale, so I love the idea of making bolognese healthier by adding one of my favorite vegetables.
Bryan ordered the Lamb, which was perfectly cooked (see how rare it is?), and came with all sorts of spring vegetables. Bryan said the seasoning and flavors of the dish were excellent, but the meat itself was a bit tougher and gamier than he preferred.
Similarly, the Dry Aged Steak ($28), which came with peas and radish, was an excellent preparation but the steak itself was less tender than what you might find at a high-end steak house. Now keep in mind this entire dish costs $28, which is a steal for dry aged steak compared to the $50-$60 you might pay at a steak house. Perhaps it's not quite fair to compare with a steak house. Nevertheless, it's useful to know what to expect.
Though we were all stuffed, we had to order a dessert to round out the meal. I immediately decided to get the most interesting item on the menu: Avocado Mousse with dulce de leche, tapioca, wild rice puffs, and hibiscus berry.
I am a huge tapioca fan and I love all things avocado, so it's no surprise that I really enjoyed this dish. The avocado mousse was definitely sweet, but mild and creamy. The tapioca had nice texture, and I really enjoyed the slight crunch from the wild rice puffs. Most of the other diners were so stuffed at this point, I think I singlehandedly ate most of this dessert.
All in all, Ribelle churns out innovative, interesting, ever-changing dishes that really reflects Tim Maslow's creative and multi-directional spirit. We had heard that this was an "Italian" restaurant, but it's really not. Many of the dishes are grounded in Italian roots (e.g., pastas), but there's really inspiration from all over, especially from Asia (not a surprise considering Tim's Momofuku roots).
My personally favorites were the pasta dishes, which I think are among the best in the city. The texture of all the pastas was excellent, and accompanying sauces were flavorful and satisfying. The meat dishes were superbly seasoned, but the tougher texture of the meat took away some of the enjoyment.
As we left the restaurant, we were a little puzzled at the four star Boston Globe rating. Yes, Ribelle is very good, but there are many other restaurants in Boston that we think also reach its level, if not (in some cases), surpass it. Nevertheless, it's hard to gauge a restaurant completely after one visit. I can confidently say that the food at Ribelle is very good; the ever-changing menu is fun, unique, and full of creativity; and the dishes are well executed by a very talented team.
We're lucky Tim Maslow didn't decide to stay in New York.
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