Everything you need to know, is in the name. Ribollita is unselfconsciously rustic, simple, and satisfying. In short, everything we like in a neighborhood restaurant. This never was our neighborhood, though. Ribollita isn’t striving to be a destination, I don’t think. It serves its purpose well. As a place to meet your spouse or girlfriend at the end of a workday, where you can have a glass of wine and eat quite well for not a lot of money, it succeeds. A dozen years ago, there would have been red checkered tablecloths and a candle dripping wax down a bottle of chianti on every table. Now, there’s a brick wall and a few wine racks to cozy up the joint. Our waiter was as paternal as any Italian restaurant owner I’ve known; he was good-natured, affable, and quick to pour the dregs into our house wine glasses. It was easy to feel at home in this environment. I spilled wine, dribbled olive oil on the blotter paper, and enjoyed the warmth seeping into the dining room from the kitchen window. All the other patrons seemed equally at ease.
Malcolm: The atmosphere at Ribollita is exactly what I am looking for in a neighborhood restaurant, and we were treated just the way you want to be treated when you go out to eat. The overall tone of the restaurant staff is easygoing and friendly, while also completely attentive. It’s intimate, but you won’t feel like a slob if you’re wearing a hoodie. This convivial, conversational atmosphere belies the skill and technique present in the dishes. It’s the kind of place where, whether it’s your first visit or your 50th, you are treated like an old friend.
We started with the Polenta Crusted Calamari with Cherry Pepper Aioli ($8.25), which was soggy and sadly plated. I can’t resist deep fried rings and tentacles, and managed to eat most of the appetizer, despite the soddenness of its coating. Then, we waited. I had chosen the Roast Chicken Puttanesca ($13.95), mostly because I couldn’t make up my mind, and Malcolm had mentioned he might get it. The menu is perfectly reasonable in size and scope but contains so many of my favorite things I knew I would never be able to decide. These are items I grew up with: tortellini in broth, eggplant rollatini, veal osso bucco. Familiar dishes, ordered to share, getting passed around a table of squabbling aunts and hirsute uncles. The puttanesca was, as promised, a brothel of pulled chicken pieces, kalamata olive halves, briny capers, Rubenesque ribbons of papardelle, all swimming in a seductive red sauce.
Malcolm: I was pretty charmed by the Chicken Puttanesca; it’s got my new favorite combination of flavors, salty, acidic, and briney, and I love it. The sharpness of the sauce infuses the restaurant’s homemade pappardelle pasta, insanely wide noodles that slurp satisfyingly. Our forks spent as much time on each other’s plates, as on our own.
But it was Malcolm’s dinner that won the night, and my heart. You could tell me that all life evolved from the primordial soup of their North End Linguini ($18.50) with clams and mussels in white sauce, and I would not object. A deep plate teeming with mollusks, garlic, butter, juices, the essence of life – what is it exactly? I cannot say; it is ineffable. I couldn’t stop my fork from impinging to twirl more pasta and pluck a sweet clam from its shell. I deeply regretted eating all the bread earlier, as this is a dish meant for swabbing.
Malcolm: At Ribollita, you can elect to jam up your white sauce with as much shellfish as you like, for one price. Clam linguine? Fine. But you can also add mussels, scallops, and calamari, for the same $18.50. I decided at the last minute to add a few mussels, which was a good move. After the shellfish and half of the pasta is long gone, you end up with a huge bowl swimming in chopped garlic, butter, and oil. It was, as our server (the owner?) had promised: “Awesome.”
Mine was also delicious. But this was complete comfort. It’s honest. It’s straightforward. It was much too much to finish. We drove home with tipsy styrofoam containers balanced on our knees. Ribollita had left us sleepy and content. We will definitely be back, because I have to have the eponymous soup, and soon.