My boyfriend recently informed me that he had made a dinner reservation: “Someplace new… someplace I think you haven’t heard of.”
“That’s not possible,” I replied, and I meant it. For the past six weeks, in preparing to launch a new website, I’ve been following the restaurant press quite closely. If I hadn’t heard of it, I thought smugly to myself, then it probably wasn’t worth knowing about. I then proceeded to mock his choice. “Rino (the French pronounce this Reeeno)… will there be gambling after dinner?” He looked puzzled, knowing nothing of the Nevada town, and then decided to drop the subject. His redemption would come soon enough.
I ran off to Florence for the weekend and returned to find Rino the name on everyone’s lips. Those few short days brought a three-hearted review from Emmanuel Rubin (Figaroscope) and 4/5 dots fromA Nous Paris. Le Fooding called it “Italo-French genius.” Glowing praise from Alexander Lobrano included the words “simple, sincere, delicious, intense, this was one of the best meals I’ve eaten in a long time, and I can’t wait to go back for more.” There were emails waiting from friends, asking if I wanted to try this new restaurant that everyone seemed to be talking about. The boyfriend was (rightly) quite pleased with himself.
So let’s get to it: why is everyone talking? In part, because Rino is new (and there’s not much of that in Paris) and very cool. In walking from the Métro, we passed a record shop and the Bottleshop – a bar whose hipster contents on this balmy spring evening had spilled out all over the sidewalk. That vibe continued inside the restaurant, where the too-cool-for-decoration consisted of bare white walls and wooden tables.
A red dossier with the Rino logo (or was it Manpower?) was presented when we sat down. Inside, a folded-up wine list included a great selection of affordable bottles. Of the 13 reds, nine were priced at €28 or less. That was also true for eight of ten whites. One or two were even (gasp!) less than €20. The waiter seemed to know his stuff (we learned later that he created the wine list), and so we asked if we might drink by the glass according to his suggestion. We tried four different wines, and they were charged at either €4 or €6 per glass. Not a misfire among them.
And how about the food? It’s hard to write about this without mentioning La Gazzetta, the restaurant where Giovanni Passerini had previously worked as sous-chef. Passerini’s dinner menu looked remarkably similar to that of his mentor Petter Nilsson. Like at La Gazzetta, Rino was offering a standard no-choice menu for €38 (4 courses at Rino, 5 courses at La Gazzetta) and a full-blown feast for €50 (6 courses at Rino, 7 courses at La Gazzetta).
On the menu at Rino that night:
Barley risotto with anchovies, preserved lemon, and fish eggs
Sea scallops with carrots, capers, and watercress
Cod with swiss chard and pil pil (a Basque sauce)
Chicken leg with tapenade and turnips
Veal with oyster and beets
Financier with pear ice cream and poached pear
For the record, my last meal at La Gazzetta also began with fish eggs, continued with cod, and and included some veal with sea urchin and beets. The similarities are obvious, but not unpleasant.
I was delighted by both meals, and by the sense of confusion that this kind of cooking creates. There’s something really fun about looking at a menu and having no idea about the taste of the proposed dishes. Barley and fish egg? It turns out to be stunning. Veal and oyster? Not as inspired as the raw version at Passage 53, but still interesting and new (to me). The most straightforward dish was dessert – a poached pear with ice cream and cake. It was simple and delicious – a soft landing back on earth.
In a nutshell: this is the new place that people will be talking about. Inventive combinations, clean flavors, playful spirit. Prices are easy, especially if you go for the standard menu (€38) and an affordable wine at dinner. Lunch is priced at €18 and €22. I’ll definitely be going back.