Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Rubirosa

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.
Calamari fritti

Meatballs
An antipasto platter to start the meal featured prosciutto di parma, sopressata, roasted peppers, olives, cherry tomatoes with pesto, and homemade mozzarella and was excellent. This was a serious mozzarella, homemade and lightly salted; it was harder that some others I've had but still creamy enough to hold its own with the prosciutto, which itself was great but perhaps not quite as good as Frankie Spuntino's. The marinated tomatoes were what I found myself wanting more of, they were surprisingly ripe for early season and topped with a fresh pesto that wasn't too oily.

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.

Lasagne Napoletana 
The meatballs were simply well prepared traditional Italian meatballs, likely made from a blend of beef, pork, and veal. They were moist with a tangy sauce and topped with plenty of Parmesan cheese; they rival but probably don't surpass the more complex offering at Parm up the street.

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
The pizzas are really the star at Rubirosa. The crust is paper thin and crispy; the best of the three pizzas I had was a surprisingly complex vodka sauce pie. Vodka sauce is an Italian-American creation and I've never seen it before on pizza. It was excellent. The classic pie was also very good.  A sausage and broccoli rabe pie was fine, but a little greasy; with such a thin crust, I feel a less heavily topping-ed pie is better.
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
Rubirosa only offers espresso-based coffee drinks -- and I respect that old-school outlook on coffee. For dessert, the mini zeppoles come drenched in powered sugar. These are similar to the beignets we sampled in New Orleans, but crispier, and come with a chocolate-hazelnut dipping sauce. Like the beignets, the zeppoles could do without so much powdered sugar, but were otherwise a great treat

Rubirosa
235 Mulberry St.
New York, NY 10012
(212) 965-0500
http://rubirosanyc.com/

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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