(pic #0596) Chef Raffaele Ronca flanked by Karin Kulsar and Ann Mara Cacase in the wine room.
(pic #0297) The Mara clan enjoying opening night.
(artichoke+pizza.jpg) Artichoke pizza, anyone?
(ravioli.jpg) The ravioli di spinaci was mouth-watering.
Rafele Is a Revelation
By Mitch Silver
If you’ve been waiting for a terrific new restaurant with delicious Neapolitan-inflected food to open on Purchase Street, your wait is over. Rafele Rye has flung open its salvaged wood doors at the intersection of Locust Avenue.
Chef and co-owner Raffaele Ronca’s latest eatery — joining the six-year-old West Village fixture named, simply, Rafele — is a rousing, boisterous place where friends and neighbors and all kinds of strangers can see and be seen. And converse…loudly.
A week ago, my wife Ellen and I sat down at 9:30 p.m., the earliest reservation we could get. We were seated hard by the glass-enclosed wine room, with vintages from all over The Boot climbing the walls. Halfway back on the other side of the room was the stand-alone oven and pizza bar. Farther back were tables for two and a private dining space.
But most of the action on this night was up front in the handsomely designed main dining and bar area, which doesn’t remind anyone of the old Woolworth’s that was housed here 40 years ago.
Chef Ronca and his partners — good friends Ann Mara Cacase and Karin Kulsar — did a splendid job renovating the space. The original brickwork has been exposed and warm reclaimed woods are a fixture, as they are in the original Rafele.
The star attraction, though, isn’t the room. It’s the food.
While perusing the menu, my wife and I each had a rosé (hers sparkling) that was a perfect accompaniment to the eggplant (and other veggies) <caponata>. And what an enticing menu it is. Next time I’m bringing a posse, so we can taste all those intriguing dishes we didn’t get to.
The ones we did get to were uncommonly good. My <rughetta> salad (arugula, fennel, pancetta, and shaved grana Padano) was lightly doused in aged balsamic vinegar. It was so good and so big that I took half of it home for the next day’s lunch. Ellen’s <cavolfiore>, or roasted cauliflower, was studded with black currants and caramelized onion pine nuts. And it had just enough olive oil to bring out the flavor without drowning it.
Pizzas? Sorry, you’ll have to taste them for yourself. They looked delicious as they made their way to other tables. Also passing us by was the zuppa di pesce, a fish stew served under a dramatic heated bubble of a crust. Instead, my had a spectacular ravioli di spinaci, filled with buffalo ricotta, red sauce, and basil. And, of course, spinach. I had the branzino, which was light and fresh.
For dessert, we shared the <panna cotta>, with the sweetness of the cream building with every mouthful. A <macchiato>, instead of my usual coffee, completed the most delicious meal I’ve had in Rye this year.
Afterwards, I asked Chef Raffaele why people who are going out for dinner in the neighborhood should choose Rafele Rye when there are at least a dozen other good choices in town. He smiled at me and said, “Because my food tastes better.”
The man has confidence and, lucky for those of us who dine in Rye, he can back it up. But there’s humility, too. He added, “Please thank the people of Rye for embracing me and my cooking. For five years Ann, Karin, and I looked for a place to open our restaurant here, and I’m humbled to finally be part of a town that’s so welcoming.”
26 Purchase Street
Hours: Monday through Saturday 5-11, Sunday 5-10