March 10, 2013

Dine Out Maine: You can't see Italy from here, but you can certainly taste it

By SHONNA MILLIKEN HUMPHREY

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Ribollita eschews the stereotypes of Italian dining – no checkered table cloths or Chianti candle holders. Instead, it offers some of the most inspired Tuscany-influenced fare in Maine.

John Patriquin/Staff Photographer

DINING REVIEW

RIBOLLITA, 41 Middle St., Portland. 774-2972; RIBOLLITAMAINE.COM

****

HOURS: 5 p.m. Monday to Saturday

PRICE RANGE: $4.75 to $19.95, with most dinner entrees in the $15 to $18 range

BAR: Beer and wine; exclusively Italian wine list

CREDIT CARDS: All major

VEGETARIAN: Yes

GLUTEN-FREE: Yes

KIDS: No children's menu

RESERVATIONS: Yes

WHEELCHAIR ACCESSIBLE: Yes

BOTTOM LINE: Ribollita's long-standing reputation is well-deserved. Order handmade pasta (especially the gnocchi) in this rustic, romantic neighborhood trattoria, and have it served by friendly and food-loving staff. The signature ribollita soup is outstanding, and each of the exclusively Italian wines show thought in both selection and price point. For some of the best Tuscany-inspired dishes in the area, Ribollita is the place to go.

Ratings follow this scale and take into consideration food, atmosphere, service and value:

* Poor  **Fair  ***Good ****Excellent *****Extraordinary.

The Maine Sunday Telegram visits an establishment twice if the first dining experience was unsatisfactory. The reviewer dines anonymously.

For traditionalists, I suggest the Penne Arrabiata ($13.50). This entree can easily serve two or provide ample lunch for the next day, and the rich, spicy tomato sauce was clearly prepared with time and love.

Definitely add a side order of Sausage and Rapini Saute ($5.50) with its coins of robust sausage and soft, almond slivers of garlic peeking out from the tender green rapini.

For non-pasta lovers (or the gluten-free), Ribollita's Beef Short Rib Agrodolce ($17.95) is a terrific choice. Quick Italian lesson: Loosely translated, "agro" means sour and "dolce" means sweet. Served with a side of garlic mashed potatoes, these sweet and sour ribs were fork-tender and tasty. Definitely on the "must order again" list.

Save room for dessert. Ribollita's interpretation of flourless chocolate cake is exceptionally smooth and rich. Somewhere between a cheesecake and a truffle, Ribollita's also used a nut-based crust that knocked an often tired dessert into the gastronomical stratosphere.

While Middle Street in March is not a sun-filled Italian avenue, nor is the Ribollita experience more than it ever claims, it is abundant and rich in flavors from the birthplace of Italy's Renaissance masters -- making spring seem just around the corner.

Shonna Milliken Humphrey is a Maine freelance writer and author of the novel "Show Me Good Land."

 

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