Our Rating  

Ribollita
41 Middle Street
774-2972

 
Four 1/4 plates  
 
Ribolita Reviewed: Fall, 1999

Just as many of us look forward to fresh Maine lobsters and clam bakes in the summer time or homemade beef stew in the Fall, residents of Tuscany crave the traditional dish, Ribollita as the end of the olive and grape harvest season grows near and the weather grows colder by the day. Ribollita, translating as "re-boiled", is simply day-old minestrone and bread soup. After the fresh ingredients, crusty Italian bread, tomato broth, vegetables, and white beans have had time for the flavors to blend, the reheated minestrone takes on a whole new quality, becomes thicker as the bread soaks up the broth and transforms into a warm hearty meal for the tired hungry harvester just in from the vineyards.

We had the fortunate opportunity to taste this delectable Italian dish at its tribute restaurant here in Portland. Ribollita is a small intimate dining establishment located on the border of the East End and the Old Port. I had seen it before, keeping in the back of my mind that we should try it sometime, but never finding the right opportunity until last weekend when some friends visited from Boston. We had discussed in advance that we would go to a nice, quiet restaurant, order a bottle of wine, and eat some good food. After calling several other restaurants around town to inquire about their vegetarian menu selections, I was sold on Ribollita when the hostess enthusiastically read at least six uniquely appealing items from the menu that were catered to non-meat-eating patrons. Gratefully, I had no problem making a reservation only several hours ahead of time for four people on a Friday night, very surprising after seeing the restaurant's small seating capacity and its popularity.

Inside, Ribolitta's décor is very simple, white walls adorned with full wine racks and portraits depicting the Italian countryside here and there. There was a large party of ten finishing up their meal when we arrived leaving space in the remaining two rooms of the restaurant for only 4 or 5 other tables of 2-4 diners. Italian accordion music played softly putting everyone in that red wine and pasta mood.

We perused the European wine list and chose a bottle of red that sounded intriguing. Our waitress took the beverage order, a bottle of Argusto Dolcetta D'Acqui ($20), and spoke with an unmistakably condescending tone, which we determined may have been due to our casual appearance. As I looked around, the other diners were fairly dressed up, not quite suit and tie, but not blue jeans either and the average age appeared to be forty-something. In any case, despite the seemingly uncalled for attitude of our server, the wonderful food and wine made for an exemplary and memorable dining experience.

The single page menu described a variety of Antipasti, Insalata and Zuppa, Handmade Pasta dishes, Traditional Favorites such as Fettuccine Alfredo ($11.95) and Penne Arrabiata ($9.95), in other words pasta with tomato sauce, and Secondi or larger entrees ranging from ribeye to tuna steak. There was a myriad of vegetarian selections, as promised. We had a bit of trouble deciding whether or not to order two courses but everything looked so good that we had no choice! After placing our order, a basket of thickly sliced Italian bread was served with a saucer of extra virgin olive oil for dipping, offered with or without freshly ground black pepper. I did not try the bread for fear of getting too full as I had ordered both a salad and an entrée but my friends seemed to enjoy it.

It did not take long for our appetizers to arrive from the kitchen. Although they were all similarly priced and listed together in the same section on the menu, each of our appetizers was very different in portion size. I was very tempted by the Caramelized Onion Tart with black olives and goat cheese ($6.75) but I chose the Caprese Salad ($5.50), slices of fresh mozzarella and tomato served on a bed of lettuce topped with three varieties of fresh olives, pine nuts, and a sweet balsamic vinaigrette, a dressing which normally I do not prefer but was perfectly delicious on this salad. The portion was exactly what I wanted, small with ideally proportionate amounts of each ingredient to satisfy the taste buds. One of my friends ordered the Antipasto plate ($7.25), a medley of white bean paste, roasted garlic, black and green olives, and slices of prosciutto and fresh mozzarella. Another in our party tried the Hearts of Romaine Salad ($5.25), a large chunk of romaine lettuce topped with gorgonzola cheese, walnuts, apples and bacon, the latter two not listed on the menu, with an Italian style dressing. Of course we couldn't get away without trying the Ribollita ($3.95). The hearty delicious soup arrived in a large bowl with a very filling portion that could have easily served as an entire meal!

Our appetizer plates had barely been cleared when our piping hot dinners arrived straight from the kitchen into which we could see the chef cooking up a storm throughout our meal. All of the entrées were of notable size but despite having eaten appetizers, we all were able to finish every delectable morsel. I tried the Pan Seared Gnocchi ($10.50) with fresh pea pods and crispy prosciutto all cooked together in a little bit of olive oil and topped with fresh parmesan cheese. The salty prosciutto complemented the miniature potato dumplings wonderfully and the pea pods added an extra crunch serving as a delightful vegetable counterpart to the meat and potatoes. I am very much looking forward to having this dish again some day! My friends were equally satisfied with their entrees as well. Along with my entrée, between all of my friends, we were able to sample the Roast Chicken Putanesca ($11.95), the Roasted Squash and Sheep's Cheese Ravioli ($12.25) and the Calamari appetizer ($6.95) as a main course. My friend did comment that her Calamari, which was described as being fried in polenta on the menu, was a bit indistinguishable as to how it was cooked and the squid pieces themselves were a tad too large to be enjoyed. Our vegetarian diner was delightfully pleased with the handmade ravioli, filled with just the right amount of each ingredient so that neither the squash nor the cheese was too overpowering and then drizzled in sage butter and topped with fresh parmesan.

parking
reservations
wheelchair accessible
vegetarian selections
vegan selections  
beer
wine
liquor  
most credit cards accepted

Because our food was so irresistible we all were too stuffed to order dessert and didn't get an opportunity to look at or hear about the Dolci selections but I am sure they would have been just as delicious as the rest of our meal. Our final bill came to $92.93 plus tip, not bad for four people, the wonderful gourmet quality and filling portions, and considering that we did order a bottle of wine and our friend also had a Geary's Pale Ale ($3.25) to complement his meal. I think the price was well worth the dinner. After getting the chance to taste the savory ribollita soup that in Tuscany, has become one of those seasonal meals that you look forward to all year round, I see why a restaurant would choose such a traditional time-honored name to represent their fine quality of food.

Ribollita is open Monday through Saturday from 5pm until closing. Reservations are recommended.  back to the top

 

      Tracy B. Wheeler is a classical flutist and freelance writer who lives in Portland.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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