Location: Brookline, MA
The Foodie: Strongly Recommends
Eating at Ribelle is not like a casual scarf-wrapped Vespa ride through Roma on a cool afternoon.
It is closer to taking part in a brow furling, hair-raising mezzanotte race between two badasses on Ducati Monsters (customized by a body shop in Beijing) darting through mid-town Manhattan.
All feigned enthusiasm for motorbikes aside, this sloppy metaphor is intended to illustrate a revelation that hit me like a hock of fine prosciutto di parma while eating at Ribelle:
DOES THE COUNTRY OF ORIGIN IN COOKING MATTER ANYMORE?
As I tucked into a dish called “Green Beans + grilled veal tongue, garlic confit, squid-ink crumbs” – I started to wonder: What style of cooking am I experiencing right now?
- The name of the restaurant is Italian
- The chef, Tim Maslow, was raised in Dub-town, Massachusetts
- His father ran a local neighborhood sandwich joint called Strip T’s
- He worked under the tutelage of the great David Chang, who runs a series of (mostly) NYC restaurants starting with the word “Momofuku” (which means “lucky peach,” or “ill-advised” in Japanese) that churn out mind-bending dishes that incorporate Asian influences, French technique, and lots of pork. Chang, it turns out, worked for Daniel Boulud, a Frenchman-turned-New-Yorker who is a culinary mastermind in his own right.
- Chef Maslow returned to Watertown and took-over Strip T’s, where he transformed the menu into a funky array of Contemporary American dishes, haute comfort food, and the latest shit that popped into his head.
- Then came Ribelle, his second venture, and the grilled veal tongue.
I repeat: what style of cooking am I eating? With such a varied resume and mix of influences behind the kitchen, I felt as if I was cannibalistically devouring a global citizen. Wrapped in crispy pork, of course.
Indeed, one craft in which globalization has entered successfully (and for the better I might add), is in the culinary arts. I think that it is amazing that I can order a dish with so many influences behind it these days – but the key is that you need a very talented chef to bring it all together effectively.
– Tim Maslow is one of those chefs –
The food at Ribelle is rich, inventive, intellectual, and refined without being a dick about it. The menu is structured from lightest fare to heaviest fare and is divided into four clear sections: Bread, Vegetables, Fish, and Meat. There will be words you don’t know and can’t pronounce, things you will need to ask about, and dishes you’ve never thought of before.
Delightful, delicate twists of light airy pastry lightly brushed with pork essence. Dipped in a deep and hearty marinara.
GREEN BEANS + GRILLED VEAL TONGUE, GARLIC CONFIT, SQUID-INK CRUMBS:
This was my favorite dish of the night. While Chef Maslow’s dishes all have a high-standard of quality, I find that at each of his restaurants there is simply one plate that just blows your freaking mind and makes you wonder whether this man is a genius.
Maslow and team prove to have deft hands with offal – tenderizing, searing, seasoning, and waving a magic chef’s knife over the most politically incorrect cut of an already politically incorrect animal to be eating. The veal tongue was perfectly prepared and positively vexing.
It was like pondering the vastness of the universe – something beyond my comprehension. But I liked it a lot.
RIGATONI + OCTOPUS, FENNEL, SMOKED TOMATO
My second favorite dish of the night. I think that any restaurant that can cook a good octopus dish is worthy of praise. Yes, the contrarians in the audience may question the thesis of the article at this point: “Uhh, sounds pretty Italian, Nick.” Yet the rigatoni was concocted from some crazy combination of good-for-you-grains, and there was a level of complexity from the smoked tomato sauce, fennel, and octopus that I have not tasted at any other so-called “Italian” restaurant in the area.
WAGYU TRI-TIP TARTARE + SUNCHOKE, EGG, SUNFLOWER & SEEDS
There were enough buzz words in the description of this menu item to make any food nerd perk up. Definitely wins the award for best plating of the evening. Tender marbled circles of Wagyu melted in my mouth as accompanied by the richness of egg and earthiness of dollops of sunchoke sauce and seeds.
OLIVE OIL ICE CREAM
This is the most refreshing dessert I’ve tasted in recent memory. Eating it is sort of like getting a massage, sitting in a sauna, and then being rubbed down in high quality EVOO (not that rancid stuff) while nibbling on chocolates.
The dessert is served with a burning tinder of cinnamon on the side. The olive oil ice cream is slightly sweet and soothing. The chocolate is divine. The touch of sea salt finishes it all off nicely.
Do you see what I mean at this point? Have I argued my case effectively? Not convinced? Try Ribelle for yourself and try to tell me if you can put a confident finger on this place as an Italian restaurant.
So, back to the question we started with: Does the Country of Origin in Cooking Matter Anymore?
It is an important piece of our cooking, but it is becoming less important in defining the restaurants that serve us. Our culinary identities are as ever-changing and dynamic as our personal identities – they are constantly being shaped by our environmental influences, our histories, and the next cool new way to use pork. Chefs of Boston – nay, the world – keep allowing your influences to expand and resist the urge to think of your establishments as fixed entities blindly following a menu etched like commandments in a slab of stone. Let your imaginations run wild and let your evolving interests and influences shine through in your food.
Just make sure you have the skills and know-how to do it right. Like Tim Maslow, one of Boston’s best chefs.