Restaurant Review: Cambridge restaurant provides a taste of the North End closer to home

BY GEOFFREY MCGOVERN

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If you have the time, in between myriad interviews and frantic evenings trying to figure out what to do with the rest of your life, treat yourself to a great meal.

Ristorante Marino is located at 2465 Massachusetts Avenue. Leave Rialto for the firms who will try to dazzle you with extravagance at the cost of quality (a symptom of the firm’s own business plan). If you depart from Cambridge without at least one visit to Ristorante Marino, you’ll have passed up a wondrous opportunity for exceptional, healthy, and extremely reasonable dining.

Italian cuisine was not my favorite until my first visit to the Marino family’s haven. Too often a combination of mushy pasta, overcooked chicken parm, and sub-par Chianti, some Italian-American restaurants in the North End leave a sour taste in the mouth of this Italian-American. I may be alone in my criticism, but with all due respect to Mike’s Pastry, the fare in Boston’s “little Italy” can be light on authenticity and unnecessarily heavy on the waistline.

Save yourself a trip into the city; Cambridge’s Ristorante Marino is as close to authenticity as you’ll find outside of il bel paese.

Abruzzo, from whence the Marino family hails, is a region of southern Italy known for the good health of its people–long attributed to the quality of the food and wine it produces. Joyously, this tradition is alive and well at the ristorante; you can’t help but feel more full of life after a visit.

The dose of vitality comes from the seasonal organic ingredients that are expertly combined for the extensive menu. Delicacies themselves, the natural produce and meats are delivered daily from the historic (and completely GMO-free) Marino Lookout Farm, a destination brimming with picturesque vineyards, orchards, pergola, and produce.

From divine butternut squash ravioli ($18), to a spaghetti al frutti di mare brimming with the daily catch of calamari, mussels, littleneck clams, shrimp, and scallops (an unfathomable bargain at merely $19), the daily homemade pastas are heaven sent. For lighter fare, try the addictive brick oven pizzas ($8) with an imported Italian beer, after sampling from the complimentary antipasto bar.

But for the full experience of Abruzzo, the daily specials showcase the prowess of the kitchen. Thanks to the creative passion of Luisa Marino, the ever changing nightly offerings are not to be missed. If lucky enough to have the opportunity, seize upon the grilled farm raised lamb chops with red wine risotto. Pair with a bottle of the delightfully acidic L. Marino, Montepulciano D’Abruzzo ($22), an import made in accordance with waning moon phases, and you will have a meal not to be forgotten.

Take my advice: save room for the gelato, handmade by Tommaso Affaldano. Another Abruzzo native, Tommaso relocated to the U.S. at the Marinos’ insistence for the specific purpose of making the sweet (and nearly fat free) frozen dessert. My favorites are the ciocolata, straciatella, and amaretto. You may never let ordinary ice cream pass your lips again.

For more information, visit www.marinoristorante.com.

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