This past summer, Evan got us tickets for a Food Tour of New York for my birthday. We went on the Original Greenwich Village food tour, which basically consisted of tons and tons of Italian food. We tried pizza from Joe’s Pizza, which was made with bagel dough, San Marzano tomatoes (the BEST kind), and whole milk mozzarella (I learned that any type of mozzarella that isn’t made with whole milk often has a partial vegetable shortening substitute, which is why it gets super greasy). We also toured an olive oil shop (be careful of any balsamic vinegars that have red wine vinegar listed as their first ingredient…they’re not going to be as high quality), Murray’s Cheese Shop (don’t even get me started), tried the CRISPIEST arancini balls, and quinoa salad from Palma (didn’t run into Martha Stewart, who apparently frequents there, which was probably a good thing since I didn’t have a copy of my resume on me).
The highlight of the tour, however, was Ristorante Rafele where I had the BEST (and only) eggplant rollatini I’ve ever had. The few times I had eaten eggplant on its own, it tasted like rubber bands. I was a little hesitant to try Rafele’s version, but then again, anything covered in San Marzano tomatoes, mozzarella cheese, and Grana Padano can’t be THAT bad. First bite and I was SOLD. The eggplant tasted like an amazing pasta substitute and had none of that rubbery vegetable taste. Evan and I ended up getting dinner there later that night (because of course we would get a full course dinner immediately after a three hour food tour).
Since we were celebrating Valentine’s Day this weekend, we decided to go back to our old favorite, Rafele.
One of the most important aspects of a quality Italian restaurant is, in my opinion, the quality and quantity of the bread basket. Rafele is unique in that they serve you fresh bread and some sort of eggplant spread. Again with the eggplant! This spread had (I think) chunks of eggplant, olives, onions, tomato, basil, and olive oil. I avoided the olives because I assume I don’t like them (I’ve never actually tried them, which probably makes me a bad food blogger for writing something off without tasting it). The rest of the spread was SO good though. I was shocked since I normally just like my bread with more bread (and maybe some herbed olive oil) but I actually went back for seconds and thirds! You don’t even need a separate plate of olive oil because you can dip straight into the sauce that settles at the bottom of the eggplant spread, which is super flavorful!
We then ordered the A-List celebrity, the valedictorian, the MVP of the dinner- the pizza fritta. It is basically just fried dough with marinara, Grana Padano, and basil but it is SO MUCH BETTER than that description might lead you to believe!! The dough is fried so the olive oil taste is strong on the outside but is still super soft and chewy on the inside. I’m pretty sure the marinara is just San Marzano tomatoes, which provided the perfect amount of sweetness, juice, and smoothness. It was a super simple dish but the flavors all worked together to enhance the entire pizza. The appetizer comes with three pizzas and we DEVOURED them in about three minutes.
The last time I came here, I ordered the gnocchi which were SO light and pillowy. I thought about trying something different from the menu but since the taste of the gnocchi has stayed with me for the past six months, I had to have it again. The gnocchi were covered in a light tomato cream sauce with basil and olive oil. I really believe that if you have a fantastic carb, fresh basil, San Marzano tomatoes, olive oil, and mozzarella cheese- you can make an infinite number of DELICIOUS dishes. The gnocchi puffed in my mouth the second I bit into them. I am always content ordering a safe dish and this was not only safe but HEAVENLY. Evan ordered Paparadelle with pork and spinach, which was less appealing to me but his plate was clean by the end of the night.
Side note: Rafele strikes a fantastic (and rare) balance of providing quality food in a special atmosphere without it being stiff or intimidating. Since Evan and I were celebrating, we were dressed up but sat next to other couples and families wearing jeans and more casual tops and it didn’t seem as if anyone looked out of place. The service is also extremely attentive, even on a busy Friday night.
I wish this restaurant offered a delivery service from the West Village to Hartford. It’s so nice to have a go-to Italian restaurant in a city full of quality Italian food! We have confidently sent many of our friends here for dinner (and they’re still our friends after they have dined there). However, you absolutely cannot go without trying the pizza fritta. Go just for the pizza fritta…it is SO worth the trek down to the West Village (at least that’s what Evan, who is more of a New Yorker than I am, says).
Ristorante Rafele is located at 29 7th Ave S, New York, NY 10014. http://rafele.com/