Easy excess at Rinaldo’s | The Coast Halifax

Easy excess at Rinaldo’s

Heavy, homey and bursting with energy, you won’t leave this Italian American joint unsatisfied.

click to enlarge Easy excess at Rinaldo’s
Hefty, stretchy mozza sticks the TMNT would kill for.

2186 Windsor Street
Tue-Thu 11:30am-10pm,
Fri 11:30am-1am,
Sat 10am-3pm and 5pm-1am,
Sun 10am-3pm and 5pm-10pm

As I walk down Cunard Street towards the bus stop, two little boxes sitting as heavily in my bag as the slowly digesting carbs sit in my stomach, I make a promise to myself: I will never go back to Rinaldo’s alone.

It is more than a promise, it is a prayer.

A whim brought me there. I had the night to myself, I was in the neighbourhood, I love treating myself to a meal alone: It felt like fate. But sitting alone at my table, halfway through my appetizer, I knew I blew it. I was full.

One appetizer, one main dish and one glass of wine didn’t seem like much on paper, but in practice—on plates—I knew I could never finish. And I don’t mean that in a "who is going to eat the last dumpling?" bullshit politeness type of never finishing. I wasn’t even going to come close. It was a sense of failure I haven't experienced since Track and Field Day in junior high.

I am a person who will always try to finish, I love to finish almost as much as I hate to drag boxes of leftovers around with me. But at Rinaldo’s—and listen, I know you love to eat just like I love to eat— you are just not going to finish your meal alone. Bring a friend. Don’t have a friend? Make one. Just make sure they like pasta.

Sitting in the dining room amid the cozy crowd of diners, everything and everyone is bathed in a warm glow of red. It’s like the restaurant itself is a plate full of pasta swimming in a neon red tomato sauce. It smells like toasted bread and herbed sauce. There is an easiness to everything on the menu: quaffable wine, crushable brews and nothing but super approachable food. Most of the tables are groups of three or four. There is only one other table of one, another woman reading a book while she picks at her pasta.

Mio Primativo ($8), a red wine as plump and undemanding as a fairy godmother, enchants with its smooth simplicity, turns out to be an easy match to any of restaurant’s dishes. I drink it as chatter fills the gaps between songs like “Rockin’ Robin” and “Do You Love Me”. I watch servers rush past with pans of pizza and baskets with heaping sandwiches, glasses of beer and Aperol spritzes. Eventually mine swings by with mozza sticks ($9).

Hefty and crisp, the mozza sticks are thickly breaded and topped with parmesan shavings and flecks of parsley. They are served with a sweet sour cream dipping sauce that is flecked with even more herbs. I slowly eat half of them, the cheese stretching out from each bite the way it does in ads for pizza chains and episodes of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. This is when I start to feel full.

Perhaps I overstated earlier when I said you can’t finish a meal at Rinaldo’s. I mean, sure, you can finish. Maybe you even will finish! If you do finish, I have nothing but respect for you and your distensibility. But I’ve also gotta say: if you do finish, you will definitely feel finished. You may very well fall asleep, curled up like a cat in the red glow of the curbside in the middle of dialling either a cab company or 911.

If you order, say, just the basket of fat, gooey mozza sticks, I actually have no doubt that you can finish. But that, friend, is just a plate of food. That’s not a meal. If you only order one plate of food at Rinaldo’s, you need to understand that you haven’t truly finished because you’ve only just begun. Congratulations on getting to Rivendell, basically, but you haven’t even glimpsed the Misty Mountains. I mean, come on. One fucking plate? You shall not pass, buddy.

A place like Rinaldo’s—a restaurant serving up classic Italian-American dishes that revel in heaviness and hominess, that made Lady love The Tramp and that gave Tony Micelli the chutzpah to think he might be The Boss (he wasn’t, we all know it was Mona)—is the kind of restaurant that should have the rims of bowls and edges of plates bumping up against each other and the checked paper in the bottom of the basket of mozzarella sticks flapping against the hot, golden crust of a meaty pizza. There should be spilled wine and crumpled napkins, red cheeks and peals of laughter. There should definitely be pasta.

The cavatelli ($17) is handmade, pressed into shape with a board to give it ridges. Some of it is clumped together in doughy lumps, but most are well formed, dense and chewy without being tough. It’s a smart house pasta, filling and satisfying. The tomato sauce is tinged with sweetness and just the faintest whisper of heat. Two fat meatballs and a scoop of ricotta sit under a sprinkling of parmesan cheese, a puff of herbed steam fills the air when I slice into one. Fontella Bass’s “Rescue Me” is playing. I am not even finished the first meatball when I ask my server to—you guessed it—rescue me.

As the night wears on and carafes and cups are emptied, the chatter in the small restaurant seems to climb and climb until it drowns out the soulful hits on the stereo. It’s a rare case of the din actually improving the ambience: Rinaldo’s just feels like a place of excess, where you eat a lot, drink a lot, talk a lot, laugh a lot.

Full, bursting at the seams even, I embrace the excess and with a furtive glance at the two take-out boxes on the table across from me go ahead and order a Boston Cream doughnut ($3.50) for dessert. The doughnut itself is savoury and dense, the custard inside sweet and thick. My fingers glisten with oil and chocolate as I break pieces off and slowly finish it. Yes, I finish it.

My cheeks are hot and flushed from the wine when I leave. The winter air is like a cold slap. I will never go back to Rinaldo’s alone, I pray. But I’ve never been very religious.