|A large antipasto platter on Rubirosa's family-style dining menu|
The finale of the Sopranos put it best, with Phil Leotardo's henchman overhearing a guide on a passing tour bus say "New York’s Little Italy once spanned 40 square blocks, and has since been reduced to one row of shops and restaurant." Yet, the area now occupied by the developer-created moniker Nolita has seen a return of Italian restaurants, but from a younger generation of chefs. This trend is seen most vividly on Mulberry street which features the critically acclaimed Torrisi's Italian Specialties and its deservedly hyped sandwich-based offspring Parm.
Further down the block is Rubirosa, a pizzeria and Italian restaurant that serves traditional recipes in an updated setting. The chef, A.J. Pappalardo, a Staten Island immigrant, replicated his father's pizza technique from his restaurant, Joe & Pats, but incorporates newer sauces and toppings, like an excellent vodka sauce pizza. The rest of the menu includes traditional Italian recipes like fried calamari, mozzarella sticks, caprese salad, lasagne, and chicken or eggplant parm but with an updated take (they serve a brick-pressed chicken, for example). Rubirosa also keeps up with modern trends by having a large bar that takes up much of the front of the restaurant, and it offers an extensive liquor and cocktail list.
The result is a restaurant that blends new and old, and at prices that are still fairly casual for the area.
A recent group dinner allowed us to sample Rubirosa's "family-style group dining" option, which features an antipasto, appetizers, pastas, pizza for $35 per person, or an optional entree for another $10. Many restaurants require set menus for parties 8 or larger, and this menu has some of the best value. Note that these photos are from the family-style menu and the regular portions are smaller.
Other appetizer highlights were the calamari fritti and the meatballs. The calamari were covered with a light and crispy coating and served alongside a spicy tomato sauce. I've had many bad calamaris, with overly heavy breading or rubbery squid, but this version was neither. The spicy sauce was a good touch too.
A mixed green salad with shaved fennel, pecorino, and oregano-scented vinaigrette, however, was ordinary and should probably be skipped in favor of the Caprese.
|Ricotta and butternut squash ravioli with brown butter & sage|
Of the pasta dishes, the lasagne stood out as the best. Offered for two for $24, the dish is a decent deal and tastes like the recipe has been handed down for generations. It was not too heavy and the cheeses were melty, with a nice char on top. The noodles were probably homemade, which added another level of freshness. A ricotta and butternut squash ravioli with brown butter and sage was less well done; it was overly salty and the squash filling was too sweet -- our simple recipe usually comes out better.
|From left vodka sauce, broccoli rabe and sausage, classic|
|Filet of sole francese|
For those interested in perusing the secondi offerings, try the filet of sole prepared francese-style with perfectly cooked green beans. These were thick sole filets lightly breaded and then perfectly cooked. The sauce was excellent with the right amount of garlic, wine, and lemon; though, of course, it's a butter-bomb.
|Zeppoles covered in powdered sugar|
235 Mulberry St.
New York, NY 10012
Recommended Dishes: Antipasto ($21), Meatballs ($9), Calamari Fritti ($11), Lasagne Napoletana for Two ($24), Vodka sauce pizza ($16/$23), Filet of Sole ($24); Zeppole ($8).
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