I often chat up local chefs about their favorite restaurants, usually over drinks at late-night watering holes. I haven't met Jose Duarte (chef/owner of the North End's excellent Taranta) this way, but I gleaned a tip from his recent interview in Boston magazine. I figured if Duarte likes Rino's Place, a 46-seat Eastie trattoria, it must be worthwhile. Chefs are good sources: Rino's is that rare full-service restaurant that's cheap enough for my column yet still serves terrific food. The familiar Italian-American it offers is admirably done, and when chef/owner and Abruzzo native Anthony DiCenso stretches out with his specials, the results can be astonishing.
An example of how DiCenso can amaze and beguile is his baby osso bucco ($14), a special of three gently braised veal-shank slices in a glossy pan-juice reduction with carrots, served over superb, perfectly done Milanese-style risotto with real saffron, accompanied by lightly batter-fried broccoli florets: just phenomenal. Italian bread is good (especially with shank marrow), the side salad overdressed. Another special, escarole and polpette soup ($5), is a brimming bowl of fine chicken-stock broth loaded with little pork-veal-beef meatballs and scrambled egg. Duarte's recommendation of calamari ($11/lunch; $17/dinner) features oodles of sliced, sautéed squid in a perfect, simple marinara and a lot of garlic, served over house-made linguine. ("Request it spicy" is another excellent Duarte suggestion.) Lunchtime panini are large subs on good Italian rolls, with options like the excellent prosciutto with mozzarella, basil, and EVOO ($8).
True to its Italian-American focus, Rino's offers fried chicken, veal, and eggplant cutlets in canonical preparations like francese, saltimbocca, and marsala. Typical is the pollo parmigiana ($10/lunch; $14/dinner), an enormous chicken-breast cutlet in a tasty, greaseless bread-crumb coating, marinara, and mozzarella, with a side of house-made linguine. The toothsome texture of fresh rigatoni also elevates the superb matriciana ($15), richly sauced with good pancetta, onions, tomatoes, and cream in a staggering pound-and-a-half portion. Desserts include a featherweight but huge square of slightly oversweet tiramisu ($7). The wine list is short, modest, and serviceable, exemplified by a 2005 Vestini Montepulciano d'Abruzzo ($6/glass; $24/bottle). Service in the loud, often-packed room is abrupt but friendly. Red-sauce Italian-American rarely wows me, especially in portions big enough for two normal meals, but when it's done with this much craft, and I can order those fantastic, more-authentic specials, I have to say, "Thanks, Jose!"
Rino's Place, located at 258 Saratoga Street, in East Boston, is open Monday, 4 pm-9 pm; Tuesday-Thursday, 11 am-9 pm; Friday, 11 am-10 pm; and Saturday, 4 pm-10 pm. Call 617.567.7412.