Ritchie Gamboli gives dining advice to Ouida Greer and her sister, Glenda Linton, holding Elise, as Elise’s father, Dan Bureau, looks gazes into a restaurant on Salem Street in Boston.
We just returned from a week or so in New England, celebrating first our granddaughter’s third birthday and then my wife’s … ummm, third birthday plus a few.
One of the things I noticed while making our way through Boston was how terrible the drivers are there. I’ve never seen so many drivers waiting for someone else to take the initiative at a four-way stop.
Bostonians on the road, from what I can tell, are slow on the throttle and exhibit lots of patience. Except for that crazy Lexus driver who almost clipped us when changing lanes on Mass Pike. I want to stress that there is absolutely no proof that the driver was a transplant from Nashville.
And speaking of “from Nashville,” I think we met a true Southerner at heart on Salem Street in the North End Waterfront area of Boston.
Ritchie Gamboli — he had to have an Italian mafia-sounding name, didn’t he? — saved the day Saturday when we ran into a stone wall for our dining plans.
“You simply MUST go to Neptune Oyster House,” Tennessee friends said.
It fit in nicely for lunch Saturday. Enough time to thoroughly examine Boston Public Garden and arrive at nearby Neptune for a 12:30 lunch of oysters on the half shell. (Not me; I can’t stand oysters. It’s lobster all the way for me.)
But the hostess told us it would be a wait of some 2 hours. The place was packed, always a good sign of quality. And some folks were indeed waiting. We were uncertain.
We decided to stick with our schedule, eat somewhere else, and come back for dinner, maybe an early dinner so as to assure quick seating.
We came back at 5 and learned that the wait time had grown to four hours. Four hours!
That’s where Ritchie came in.
Ritchie, his Boston accent straight out of The Godfather, and a friend were sitting at a sidewalk table taking care of Boston’s finest ale and overheard our predicament. He jumped in like a wise uncle with connections. So well connected, in fact, that he first came across as rather bombastic.
The longer he talked, though, the more we believed him. What did we have to lose? It wasn’t like he was trying to sell us a percentage stake in the Celtics.
What he was trying to sell us on was another restaurant.
Neptune was nothing special, he said. Their reputation is the product of “all the Chinese money poured into it.” I didn’t understand the Chinese connection, and I didn’t ask.
But the real deal, according to Ritchie, was Rabia’s Seafood & Italian restaurant just two doors down.
After much cogitation, we took Ritchie’s advice and enjoyed perhaps our best meal of the week. The only regret was that, when we left, Ritchie and his friend were gone. We didn’t get to tell him he was right.
But then, he already knew that.
Post script: We had a ton of lobster rolls while in Boston, New Hampshire and Maine. You need to know that lobster rolls in New England are the equivalent of pulled pork barbecue in the South. You won’t find it at a lot of the nicer restaurants. But it’s a staple at the casual restaurants and fast-food outlets.
Three things about a lobster roll: the lobster, the dressing and the bun. And it’s all a matter of preference.
The lobster can be chunks only, or it can be chunks and shredded. The dressing can be butter based or mayonnaise based. And finally, the bun. It resembles a hotdog bun, only better, much better. And the bun is best when toasted or grilled to provide a perfect home for the lobster.
Our group of five adult tourists preferred shredded with chunks, mayonnaise-based on a grilled bun.
And the best we had, hands down, was at The Beach Plum, a fast-food restaurant in Portsmouth, NH.