Ribelle in Brookline has figured out what other Boston restaurants have not; deliver the quintessential dining experience embodying a Bostonian “sense of place”. Phraseology often finding its way into wine conversations, “sense of place” gives tasters insights and connections to region, weather, vineyard, culture, and overall terroir that begat their beverage. For restaurants, farm-to-table and ocean-to-plate ingredients from close range lay down a few of the important building blocks for creating “sense of place”.
Shifting back to wine, access to specific vineyards or rows of vines often belongs to just one producer who monopolizes the conveyance of a wine’s unique terroir, or “sense of place”. With restaurants today, so many chefs are sourcing the best local products from the same sources, challenging farm-to-table restaurants to differentiate themselves by ingredients alone. Ribelle has solved this conundrum and stepped into the limelight as Boston’s most exciting and important restaurant to hit the scene in years.
Ribelle: “Sense of Place” Formula
Space and Design
Boston is an understated town that values comfort and restraint. So do its people. New York knows little restraint. Parisians can be boastful, in a sense. Tokyo is definitely not comfortable. Boston is easier on the body and brain than all those towns, and Bean-towners feel at home in easy going settings embedding quality sans showiness. Ribelle’s non intimidating, almost casual space of communal tree carved tables, open kitchen, and welcoming bar form a nest that Bostonians can rest easy in. Barbara Lynch’s Menton, Boston’s other significant top kitchen, delivers a setting that exceeds Boston comfort and its formality transports diners to New York or Paris. Menton reminds me of an Epcot Center pavilion replicating a distant culture that all feels fine for a while, but inauthentic when you step back outside into the theme park. Ribelle is Boston; Menton has a Boston address.
Chef Tim Maslow and his crew that hails from all the places you would have wanted them to cook at previously, are presenting a changing menu that delivers advanced imaginations and construction. On a recent evening we were served smoky oysters, fennel, orange, pistachio, and buttermilk. Textures, thoughtful ingredient prep, symbiotic flavors, and complete palate impressions delighted (as opposed to challenges) our senses and intellect.
Same with the mafalde pasta, ribiola due latte, shiitake oil, pangrattata, and parsley.
The best dish I have ever experienced in a Boston restaurant over the twenty two years I have been living here is easily Ribelle’s sweetbreads, coppa, sage brown butter (the white crumbles are products of molecular gastronomic prep that taste like sage brown butter), and celery root. The dish is so hauntingly perfect, marrying texture and flavors in the most perfect ways, that it all feels completely natural and unassuming.
Easy urban living is a significant piece of the glue that keeps Bostonians settled. Busy crosstown traffic, overly tight spaces, and spread out city geographies are mostly missing here. Downtown remains a financial, not living, hub. Neighborhoods like Somerville, Cambridge, South End, South Boston, Beacon Hill, and more provide access to the full city scene from homey community nests offering their own special “sense of place”. Bedding down in Brookline is another big check mark for Ribelle. The neighborhood’s charming, in-the-know, and internationally sophisticated awareness is in full evidence all around Brookline’s Washington Square; Ribelle’s home base. What a pleasure not to have to contend with center city, tall building anonymity and to be able to eat some of the best food in the northeast tucked inside one of Boston’s favorite neighborhood nests.
Bostonians don’t like to throw their money around in public. Call it frugal or outright cheap, but showiness has no place 180 miles north of Greenwich, Connecticut. Here at Ribelle, alla carta small plates range from $8-$16 and larger entrees from $18-$28. A five course pasta tasting menu will run you $59 and a full eight course dive into all that Ribelle has to give is only $89. Compare that to Menton, the only other Boston restaurant that the Boston Globe has ever given four stars, and you are eating for half the price. Trip down to NY, the land of $150 corkage fees for bottles you bring from your own cellar, and you begin to understand that Ribelle abides by the understatement and frugality that Bostonians revel in.
There are a bunch of really sharp winos in Boston. Even less commited wine lovers seem to have advanced appreciations for diversity, learning, and pairing. The Ribelle list combines value, depth, variety, hard to find, intellectual, flexibly paired, bubbly, white, red, pink, and sweet wines that Beverage Director Theresa Paopao has given a serious amount of thought to. With the onslaught of flavors on the tasting menu, we ordered three bottles of different flavor profiles to be opened all at once so we could pair them with individual courses as we saw fit.
On the hard to find intellectual front, we could not pass up ordering the *** $54 (restaurant list price) NV I Clivi RBL Ribolla Gialla spumante. Served on the chilly side, the wine is crisp and tight. As it warmed its honey tones defined so many great pairing opportunities across the meal. Sparkling Ribolla Gialla was a new one on me, and turned out to be well worth the exploration:
The best wine we tried was a ½ bottle of **** $41 (restaurant list price) 2010 Copain Les Voisons Anderson Valley Pinot Noir. Earthy rich Pinot fruit without any excessive weight nor extraction paired with herb driven courses. It is a divine wine that would make me happy drinking Pinot Noir from California forever.
The *** $71 (restaurant list price) 2010 Chateau Yvonne from the Loire Valley, and more specifically Saumur-Champigny, gave us a young Cabernet Franc that even in its obvious tight youthful stage offered gaminess and bright fruit with racy acidity that paired well with our finishing meat course.
When I stepped from restaurant to street after dinner, nothing felt strange or Disney-like at all. I was still firmly in Boston, strolling the charming streets of Brookline, thinking about the intellectually comfortable and restrained artistry that Ribelle just produced. I had lived inside a “sense of place” all night long, mainly because Ribelle is seamless in its connection with Boston fine dining.