Dining » Vol. 16

Review – Flying Rhino Café

278 Shrewsbury St., Worcester

Oh yeah, the summer months… that fleeting time of year when we escape our four walls and head outdoors.  Some of us take this to such an extreme that we find ourselves making a sweep of the back yard to pick up all the kicked-off socks and shirts before doing our weekly laundry.

Meals go outdoors too, from the relaxed coffee and bagel on Sunday morning to some of our favorite restaurants, such as the Flying Rhino Café.  The Rhino has a row of tables along their Shrewsbury Street sidewalk where people meet to enjoy lunch.   Then, last year, they sacrificed a couple parking places to build a deck complete with metal patio furniture, big yellow umbrellas and a tiki bar that lend it a festive party atmosphere.

On a warm May evening a friend and I managed to snag the last unoccupied table out on the Flying Rhino’s deck and sat down for dinner.  I started with a glass of Sam’s Summer Ale.  Whether you’re in New England or Key West it doesn’t seem to matter; order anything from Boston Beer Company for a reliably tasty glass of beer.  Summer brew is one of their lighter offerings and has a spicy lemon flavor.

Naomi, our server, explained changes to the menu and pointed out that this is the Flying Rhino’s tenth year of operation.  They’ve reprised menu items from each of those years and given them a tweak or two to commemorate the anniversary.  The result?  An offering of distinctive entrees that exceed what one normally expects from the café dining format.  Still, I was relieved to find some of my personal favorites, especially the Tarzan burger and Ivory Tusk chicken sandwich, were still available.

The Rhino’s breadboard hasn’t changed either.  Soon after serving our drinks, Naomi brought a length of sliced warm bread with a bowl of their zesty garlic red pepper infused dipping oil.   The evening was so breezy I could see its freshness blowing away so I dipped fast and furious.

Summer’s warmth seems to take the edge off appetites, so we skipped right over appetizers and headed for the special entrees.  A tip from a reliable source led me to try the Lobster Ravioli.  At most places this is a pricey meal that’s just “good enough” ~ seemingly shipped in from some universal source.  Not so at the Rhino… here, five large round raviolis made with tomato pasta were stuffed with pure minced lobster meat and a sheen of tarragon which lent a slightly sweet flavor that complemented the pool of lobster sherry crème over which they were served.

The kitchen took this dish a giant step forward by topping it with tender lobster claw meat, sea scallops and large juicy shrimp ~  lots of them… easily enough for sharing.  Whilst this dish was packed with seafood and fresh flavors, it was also memorable for what it avoided:  all those mushy bready fillings and intrusive sherry flavor.  Keep it on the menu!

My friend’s Everything Tuna, was served over forest-green wilted spinach nestled against a scoop of fragrant jasmine rice and slices of lemon.  Gorgeous color contrasts; but how was the flavor?  The thick piece of quick-seared sushi-grade yellowfin tuna was encrusted with the seed-salt combination made famous by the “everything bagel.”  Then they flipped the flavor switch to “on” with a dollop of wasabi cream sauce.  Both entrees were very flavorful and very generous in size.

But I was still amazed that the Flying Rhino has been on the “street” for a decade.  With undeniably hard work and personal commitment they’ve maintained the freshness and high energy that makes it the place to go for fun and innovative cuisine ~ and in doing so, have epitomized why Worcester loves its indies.

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