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Subway aftershock & handmade pasta: Dinner at Rafele

  • Restaurant  Rafele
  • Cuisine  Italian
  • Location  29 7th Avenue South (at Morton Street), Manhattan
  • Phone  212-242-1999
  • Directions  Hopstop
  • Atmosphere  open kitchen, indoor/outdoor dining, full bar, wood-burning oven, Tuscan hues
  • Attire  smart casual
  • Ideal for  small to medium-sized group dining, 1x1, date night, dine at the bar, private events
  • Price  moderate
  • Rafele on Urbanspoon

Although we were supposed to dine at a different Italian restaurant, I had a change of heart once I read my daily email from Urban Daddy.  It was something about the way the article described Rafele's meatballs:  "Pan-seared, smaller-than-a-golf-ball-sized meatballs. Meatballs made from beef and veal. Meatballs that are just a little crispy on the outside."  And, if you didn't already know, I'm a sucker for good 'balls.  Luckily, I was able cancel the original and, instead, score an 8pm reservation for the three of us at Rafele.

After an intense workout at Barry's Bootcamp on Saturday morning, I spent the rest of the day running errands, gardening, cleaning my apartment, and doing laundry.  Trust me, it was an unusually productive day.  Normally, I'm not this much of an energetic "go getter" on weekends.  Needless to say, by the time I arrived at Rafele for our 8pm reservation, I was famished.

Just as the pictures had revealed online, Rafele resembled something out of Tuscany.  Even though I've never been to Tuscany.  Think:  High ceilings, a wood-burning oven, terracotta-colored tile flooring, an open kitchen, a full and spacious bar, exposed shelving featuring bottles of wine-greenery-and wooden baskets, and a front patio with a decent amount of outdoor seating.

Photo credit: YelpWhen Megan and Hung arrived, the hostess led the three of us to a great outdoor table overlooking 7th Avenue South.  "Great outdoor table" quickly morphed in to "just OK outdoor table" once we felt the subway rumble beneath our feet.  Every 10-minutes.  Too lazy to move, we hoped that a cocktail would help ease the audible annoyance and, just maybe, aid in elevating the pitch of our voices (so we wouldn't be as interrupted by thunderous underground noise every 10-minutes).

While Hung opted for some sort of 'man drink' on-the-rocks, Meg and I each ordered a glass of the house sangria.  Chock-full of citrus fruit, I enjoyed Rafele's Lambrusco-based version much more than the traditionally flat-red-wine sangria.  The effervescence added a peppy burst of excitement to an otherwise tame cocktail.

With our beverages came a basket of focaccia and sliced country bread, plus a dish of eggplant caponata (for dipping purposes).  While the focaccia was moist and delicious, I found the country bread to be a bit stale.  Fortunately, the robust eggplant was such a tasty distraction, that it more than made up for the dried-out bread (...and the rumbling subway vibrations beneath our feet).

Between the list of nightly specials and the daily dinner menu, I was a bit overwhelmed by all of the intriguing entree options.  For the life of me, I could not decide between the special, 'Fettuccine pasta w/ Bolognese sauce and fennel pollen,' or the Pettole Ragu.  So, I did what I always do in this situation, and told our server to "surprise me." 

But, first, we ordered a round of appetizers to share amongst the table.

Polpettine  So these were the meatballs that Urban Daddy had so seductively described!  Formed in to 1x1" patties, the beef + veal 'balls were pan-seared before being floated atop a shallow pool of warm marinara sauce.  Though under-seasoned (I had to salt the crap out of my meatball), these morsels revealed perfectly cooked, moist meat that beautifully drank the tomato gravy.  I believe we ordered two more baskets of bread for sauce-sopping purposes.

Carciofi  Unfortunately, the photo that I snapped of these bad boys turned out horrendous, so I'm just going to have to improvise here.  A small, paper-lined plate was amply topped with crispy, fried artichoke-heart quarters that were liberally sprinkled with pecorino cheese and parsley.  While I'm a sucker for artichokes and most things fried, I found this particular dish to be greasy and flavorless. 

Entree:  Pettole Ragu  When a kitchen runner presented us with our entrees, I had to ask him what mine was.  After all, I did let our server choose for me.  He looked at me as if I had five heads, but proceeded with, "the Pettole Ragu, ma'am.  Isn't that what you ordered?"  I smiled and nodded. 

While it looked more like 'Fettuccine pasta w/ Bolognese sauce and fennel pollen,' I was assured that I was presented with the Pettole.  Ribbons of golden, yolk-colored pasta noodles were lightly enveloped by a chunky, tomato-based ragu that was dotted with generous nibs of moist lamb meat.  The sauce was so delicious, in fact, that I could have used an extra bowl of the stuff, as I felt like the kitchen skimped on the given amount.  

Aside from a few minor hiccups - minor, because most were quickly fixed with salt - I really enjoyed my experience at Rafele.  The space, including the outdoor patio and its subway aftershock, was positively lovely - the prices were reasonable - and the food/drink was solid. 

Do I consider Rafele a destination-worthy restaurant?  No.  But if you find yourself in the neighborhood, I would certainly recommend a visit.


Until we eat again,

The Lunch Belle

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