Dial Tone Deaf

Rino's Ristorante isn't worth the trip

Convenience is the crack of modern culture. It's why the remote is the power metaphor of the tract castle and the mobile phone has displaced indoor plumbing as the critical necessity of existence. It's why cash flows through the air (billions, watch your head) instead of going postal. It's why there's voicemail.

At its northernmost nub, the Dallas North Tollway is the antithesis of convenience. The thoroughfare grinds down to a narrow flue when it gets a whiff of Highway 121, narrowing from three lanes of pay-as-you-go asphalt to one. It's slow and relentless. Middle fingers fly up with near-unanimous reflexiveness, as if they're as essential to contemporary human survival as the shorn pubis. This is where convenience dies, taking hairballs of red raw nerves with it to the grave.

This also is where Rino's Ristorante resides.

Rino's claims to be the "real deal." A fake one might taste better.
Peter Calvin
Rino's claims to be the "real deal." A fake one might taste better.

Details

Carpaccio $9.95
Calamari fritti $8.95
Smoked salmon $10.95
Capellini pomodoro $10.95
Veal scaloppini $19.95
Gnocchi $12.95
Mozzarella Caprese $8.95
Pizza $10.95
Prosciutto $9.95
Seared ahi tuna $17.95
Closed Location

Rino's is a crisp, modern-looking end-chink in a strip mall. And like that brutal road flue, it has been forced to embalm convenience. How else to explain its lack of voicemail?

Voicemail is a two-pronged gem if properly deployed. It is not only an informational convenience for customers, it is a cheap branding opportunity for a business. Why would any operator not engage it? Why would any restaurant allow its phone to ring endlessly?

Why would Rino's announce it was changing its hours--throttling Sunday service--with a paper sign on its front door instead of supplementing the change with a voicemail announcement, saving brave destination diners a shuttle through the chute?

Here, the price in gnashed teeth is hard to justify, especially when pizza-to-go is involved. These parchment-thin pies are stamped with sausage slices, mushroom caps and roasted pepper stripes, or tiny shrimp, zucchini slices and dabs of goat cheese, among other things. The pizza droops, slops, drips and spills, scuttling its feeble ballast before it can pass the lips. Cheese is applied with paucity. Tomato sauce is listless.

Yet lingering at Rino's does reveal a few conveniences, though they unfold slowly. Service is polite, attentive and informative, if a little slow--a peculiar dynamic when a dining room has barely enough people to create a din. Wine-by-the-glass pours are generous. Parking is ample. The restroom sinks have soap.

Rino's has pedigree. It was crafted by Rino Brigliadori, who created Modo Mio in North Dallas. It was "built with a singleness of purpose--providing you with the perfect dining experience." Rino's is also self-described as the "Real Deal," offering authentic Italian specialties "unequalled in the Metroplex."

How real is this deal? Carpaccio is chilled slices of raw beef stretched across the plate like frayed shammies. The surface is pebbled with capers; on the side of the plate rests a lemon halved by a serrated cut. Pinches of greens landscape the thin red sheets, quivering with lines of fat. Milky shingles of parmigiano-reggiano are tumbled between the green spaces. But the meat is not lacy and delicate; it's chewy with gristle strings that snag in dental work. It flaunts wisps of that gamy metallic fume that rises in stronger doses from sliced roast beef long-rested in a deli case.

Prosciutto is a rag trade impostor, too. Slumped over the plate, the meat looks like bed sheets hastily flung over a set of loveseats. Three sofa-like wedges of cantaloupe, their tapered ends nuzzling in the center of the plate, are draped with ragged pink sheets irrigated with creamy fat veins. This is a fussless plate, one tossed together then slapped on the table. It's rare to get prosciutto that isn't meticulously pinched or rolled or folded or curled and tucked in a way that telegraphs the respect the kitchen has for this fine cured pork fabric. A taste adds injury to this visual insult. The meat is silky, with that delicate thread of sweet tang that sifts and lifts this pork far above any other pig renderings. Cantaloupe was near perfect, too, sluicing the lips and chin with its floral flush with just the right amount of sweet and cleansing acid to dance with the prosciutto.

There's also calamari fritti, evidence that Rino's is little more than Italian by rote. Sure, tentacle bundles are hidden like prizes among the greasy heaps of wide meat rings, setting this dish apart from the typical squid fry. But it was coated with a chalky, blond sheath of inestimable indifference. The meat was tough and chewy and not at all greaseless. And the dipping sauce was denuded of all zest.

The boast of "Italian specialties unequalled in the Metroplex" tastes like so much hyperbole. With precious few examples, most of them dead like eccolo and Salve! and Mi Piaci before it started serving gray stinky carpaccio with a straight face, Italian in Dallas is roughly all equal--equally mediocre--a suggestion that has become a frustrating cliché. Rino's offers nothing fresh or provocative; nothing you haven't seen before (that isn't done better); nothing to keep you from nodding off. This is a sin for Italian, a cuisine so simple, deep and rich, it takes effort to make it boring.

But the effort is evident. Capellini pomodoro, angel hair pasta with tomatoes, marinara and basil, was undercooked and stiff. The marinara tasted burned, though the bright red of it dispelled the impression.

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