“I kind of owe Boston an apology,” says Tim Maslow, former chef-owner of Ribelle in Brookline, reflecting on a tumultuous 2016 (drug charges that were later dropped; the closure of Ribelle, accented by fiery social media posts). “Through all of the heartache and struggles, there were points when I thought Boston owed me an apology, but I more or less owe Boston an apology. It's sincere, and I want to make it right. The city supported me like crazy, and I just blew it off.”
These days, Maslow is a new father, he has a new gig as a chef-consultant at Mida in the South End, and he’s actively seeking a location for a new restaurant. (He also has a newfound love of pottery and has built a studio in his father’s basement, where he makes plates for places like Mida and Gristmill in Brooklyn, opened by his friend and former Ribelle pastry chef Jake Novick-Finder.)
It seems like a great weight has been lifted from post-Ribelle Maslow. He’s focused and fiercely protective of his colleagues, particularly Mida chef-owner Douglass Williams, and it’s clear to see that he has a much-improved work-life balance, something he was really starting to figure out in late 2016, when he previously discussed his food industry thoughts with Eater. ("I used to be willing to sacrifice mind, body, and soul, everything, for that customer’s smile, but now I’ll work as hard as I can but I will not let it ruin my whole life,” he said at the time.) At Mida, he rejoices in his ability to work a 20-hour week if he wants to — or an 80-hour week, or anything in between.
“I've started a family,” says Maslow. “I have a son — he's two-and-a-half months old — and it's given me a huge perspective on dedicating my life to restaurants. It doesn't need to be live or die. You can do great things and not sacrifice everything else.”
It’s also evident that Maslow is enjoying a renewed enthusiasm for cooking, getting the opportunity to express himself in ways he feels he couldn’t at Ribelle (or at Tiger Mama, where he worked between the Ribelle closure and starting to help out at Mida).
The Past: The End of Ribelle and the Peril of Four Stars
There’s perhaps no local chef who knows the food media’s hero/villain cycle quite as well as Maslow, who enjoyed a substantial amount of excellent press following his return from Momofuku Ssäm Bar in New York to work at and revamp his father’s Watertown diner, Strip-T’s. The 2013 opening of his own restaurant, Ribelle, was highly anticipated among food enthusiast circles and beyond, and then it earned a rare four-star review from The Boston Globe’s Devra First — a fateful turning point that brought about the immense pressure of heightened expectations.
“I asked her to take those stars back,” says Maslow. “I said, ‘Re-review us; I don't think we deserve this. I think we're not that good, and I don't want people to come in with such high expectations.’ How can you be a four-star neighborhood restaurant? You can't.” He imagines a perfect world without critics, but as long as there are critics, the sweet spot is “a great two-star review or a mediocre three-star,” he says, recalling the positive effect that a great two-star review from The New York Times had on Momofuku Ssäm Bar back in the day. “We were packed every night,” he says. But a four-star review? “No one can live up to that, unless you’re serving 20 people a night at Menton. How can I compete with that? How can anyone compete with that?”
Although the timing of the aforementioned drug incident — which was completely expunged, Maslow stresses — made it seem that that brought about the Ribelle closure, he was actually quietly trying to selling the restaurant for six months before that. “When people sniff a little bit of a closure, they're all over you, and your business dies out,” he says. “We needed to stay open until we sold the place.”
Most people don’t understand that restaurants like Ribelle — even if they rack up accolades and appear successful on the surface — don’t necessarily turn a profit, says Maslow. He thinks the arrest left people wondering why someone who apparently “had the world at his fingertips” would resort to “selling drugs.” But, he says: “One, I was not selling drugs, and two, I had no money.” Maslow only drew a paycheck for eight months of Ribelle’s three-year lifespan, and he lived with his dad for six years throughout his Strip-T’s and Ribelle days. The restaurant’s closure has left him in a difficult financial situation.
“The Boston food press, they either love you or hate you,” says Maslow, “and I went through that rollercoaster where I was everybody's darling, and then all of a sudden I was excommunicated, like I didn't exist. Tim's a bad person all of a sudden.”
But he wants Boston to know that he’s here, he’s sorry, and he’s going to open a new restaurant here, in the city that he loves. “I am 100% coming back to the city of Boston asking them to understand what I went through,” says Maslow. “I tried hard for them, and they bit me in the ass, and I still want to be here. I love this city. And I want to make it right. I want to open something that the city can love.”
While seeking the appropriate location and figuring out a concept to fit the space, though, Maslow also wants to protect his new friend, Williams, from the effects of what Maslow sees as a mixed review of Mida from the Globe.
The Present: Maslow at Mida
“If there's anyone who deserves for me to use what little juice I have left with the city of Boston, it's Douglass,” says Maslow, sidelining discussion of his own upcoming projects to rave about Williams’ talent, work ethic, and generosity. “Any favors I have to ask or any sort of opportunity I have to use the credibility I did earn and what little I have left, Douglass is going to be the guy I do it for, and we've only known each other for five months. I will support anything this guy does.” Maslow plans to stay in the kitchen with Williams, consulting at Mida, “until it’s successful.”
“Douglass has all this amazing stuff to offer, and he kind of got a bad rap in [the Globe review],” says Maslow. “He's quite honestly one of the most charismatic, friendly, loving, takes-care-of-his-staff, there-non-stop [chefs], sacrificing personal relationships and personal life to make this a great place. After that review, he's seen a little bit of trouble coming back from that, but he's still very much dedicated. All Douglass wants to do is serve people. This is what he does. All he cares about is being generous and serving people. It's all about love and hospitality. It's an amazing thing when our industry's become all about the next cool kid and making money. He doesn't care about any of that. Together we decided that we want to offer something from his heart, from my heart. We both tend to wear our hearts on our sleeves. ”
“If you look at Mida from the outside, it looks like a Roman trattoria,” says Maslow. “It's nice and bright and white and airy and fun. And somewhere along the line, the lights were dimmed, and there was too much rap, and it wasn't a fun place. Now we're rectifying that and offering a fun trattoria menu, all the right things that people want to eat.”
They’re debuting the new menu tonight:
Meanwhile, the recently launched late-night menu is no more — “no one goes into a regular restaurant for late-night unless you start to make it a scene, like State Park,” says Maslow — but the new dinner menu lends itself to dining at all hours, and Mida will be open until 11 p.m. every night, midnight-ish on Fridays and Saturdays if people are still coming in the door. Eventually, hours might expand into the daytime on weekends (with the same menu) to take more advantage of the restaurant’s patio, a rarity on Massachusetts Avenue.
Plus, Mida’s Monday night pasta special is continuing — $35/person for “all the pasta you can handle” between 5 p.m. and 11 p.m. It includes salad and bread. No sharing, no takeout, one pasta at a time, including options such as lumache with pesto and cavatelli alla marinara.
“At Ribelle, I always wanted to do all-you-can-eat pasta, just like Olive Garden, but better,” says Maslow. “Breadsticks, salad, the whole rigamarole, but when we were busy, we were too busy. You need a lot of pasta for all-you-can-eat. People can eat, and they show up for that. Williams was like, ‘We were going to do the same thing.’ I said, ‘Let’s do it,’ and he was doing it already the next day.”
The Future: A New Restaurant From Maslow
Maslow and a business partner are actively seeking locations for a new restaurant and tossing various ideas around, although ultimately the space will play a big role in dictating the type of restaurant they open. They will “definitely” not go outside the Boston/Cambridge/Somerville area, says Maslow, who considers Ribelle’s Brookline location to be “one of [his] biggest mistakes.” Boston hotel concierges wouldn’t send people to Ribelle, considering Brookline to be too far away, even though it’s just a few miles. Jamaica Plain is also out of the question, even though Maslow lives there now; it’s just too hard to get people who don’t live there to make the trip.
As for the vibe of his future restaurant, expect it to be fun and hospitable, a departure from the recent years of new restaurants that try too hard to be trendy for the sake of being trendy — “all that flashy stuff that people think restaurants need to be.”
Maslow wonders whether “people are losing sight of what’s important about the food industry — hospitality and making people feel happy. That smile when you're leaving, the elation...you want good food, but all the other things in addition to that are really important, and you don't get that at every restaurant you go to,” he says. “They're trying to impress you with quenelles and techniques and minimalist plates and negative space, and yeah, I did all the same stuff, and I made all the same mistakes. But I'll tell you: Cooking from the heart is way more satisfying.”
“I think I was fighting for all the accolades and awards before,” says Maslow, “and this time I just want a place everyone will enjoy. I don't know if the city or the food world will allow me to do that, but I definitely hope for that.”