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“Ristorante Rafele”

  Occasion: Cuisine: Area: Cost: Rating:
  Night Out Italian West Village Moderate Great

Raffaele Ronca, the chef behind the newly opened Rafele on Seventh Avenue South, came to New York from Italy to become an actor. Despite his matinee looks and thespian ways, he, like the tribes would-be actors who came before him, wound up in the restaurant biz instead. In his case, it truly was the logical thing to do. If he couldn’t book a Verizon commercial, he might as well make a few bucks skinning a salmon or butchering a pig. After all, he was raised in a family of butchers and fishermen in Naples. Working in his uncle’s restaurant, he was making pasta by the time he was a teenager. So when the stage door slammed shut, the kitchen door naturally swung open.

Since arriving in New York at the age of 21, he has worked steadily around town, first garnering the attention of the foodie community as Chef du Cuisine at Bellavitae and then as Executive Chef at Palma on Cornelia Street. He’s now partnered with Romeo Palmisano, an old friend from Naples, to open a restaurant of his own.

To be honest, I’m not sure what kind of an actor Rafele is, but if he can read sides anywhere near as well as he can cook, those folks at CAA may want to take the Red Eye and head over to Seventh Avenue South and Morton Street tout de suite. There they will find his lovely restaurant, with its magnificent open kitchen, tiled in white and cerulean blue, anchored by a fiery pizza hearth, imported from Italy in one fell swoop, all 700 tons of it. (What’s that cost to FedEx?) A display of the Greenmarket proportion is set out on the kitchen’s center island: weathered wooden bowls spilling over with lemons, artichokes, tomatoes, purslane, fairytale eggplant, zucchini, and twisted strands of gnarly broad beans. You’ll wish you could bring a basket and shop. Terra cotta floors and tall sprays of sunflowers complete the still life setting. Farmhouse tables are set up around the glorious kitchen stage, not unlike a theater in the round. An oversized Venetian marble bar, topped with a generous spread of marinating olives and fresh breads, offers a soothing perch to take it all in over a pitcher of Lambrusco sangria (brilliant!) or a couple of Negronis. It’s a vacation just to have a seat.

But do eat. If he’s making them on the night you’re in, start with the little fried pizzas the size of doll’s saucers, painted with sweet tomato ... [more, click below]

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Other restaurants in West Village :
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