Chef-driven Italian eatery offers a truly unique experience.
Step inside the new Raffaele Ristorante, and you can’t help but be impressed. The elegant setting, resplendent with its white coffered ceilings and stunning glass-walled wine room, plus the authentic wood-burning oven, vessels of homemade limoncello, and soft Italian music all confirm — you’ve arrived somewhere special. But the word “special” can hardly describe the total experience that is Raffaele. Chef/owner Raffaele Esposito strategically planned his eponymous ristorante to stand apart from the thousand-or-so other eateries about town. Suffice it so say, “mission accomplished.” Even the menu structure itself is unique, with standard pricing for each category (all Antipasti are $14, all Pastas $20, all Chicken $22, etc.).
You won’t find your generic, Americanized chicken marsalas, parmigianas, piccatas, or baked ziti here (go get those at your local pizza/pasta joint). What you will find however, are well-honed executions of authentic southern Italian cuisine, along with inspired touches and unique creations you’ve probably never seen (or even thought of) before. Chef Raffaele incorporates gustatory twists and turns at every step. So expect the unexpected — and don’t be surprised to see grapefruit with your salmon, raisins stuffed in your quail, shitakes with your scallops, cabbage with the pasta, or fresh pineapple with your prosciutto. Case in point, our night’s special appetizer, fresh Zucchini Blossoms. Sautéed to a delicate golden brown, the tasty morsels were a treat on their own — but then kicked into the Italian stratosphere, as a ‘surprise’ pool of creamy ricotta and fresh buffalo mozzarella gracefully oozed from the blossom. Bravo! The next special was even crazier – tempura-like puffs of fried Seaweed (how often do you see that?). As Chef Raffaele explained, in his thick-as-ragu Napoli accent, this “forgotten treasure” helped fortify the Roman Empire soldiers back in the day.
On the regular menu, Capensante con Shitaki shines brightly, teaming deftly grilled fresh scallops with shitakes, beautifully presented with caramelized grilled leeks and fresh tomatoes. Other starters include Fresh Octopus (sautéed or steamed), Chickpea & Shrimp Soup, and creative Salads like the Fennel & Arugula with oranges and olives.
Next came a lusty Paccheri con Frutta, unique “double rigatoni” pasta, teamed with figs, almonds, walnuts, and raisins in a plate-licking cognac reduction, topped with fresh-grated Parmesan. It’s a hearty, thoroughly satisfying dish that will delight vegetarians and carnivores alike. Ditto on the toothsome Risotto, loaded with earthy porcini mushrooms evoking fond images of a Tuscan forest, tempered with creamy ricotta and the subtle sharpness of Parmesan. Yeah, this chef knows what he’s doing…
Speaking of unexpected twists, Salmone Al Pompelmo is a glorious marriage of fresh caught wild salmon and pink grapefruit. (sounds weird, yeah – but it tastes great!). The bright acidity of the grapefruit and subtle fruity-sweetness of raisins make love with the rich salmon, providing a precise agrodolce (sweet-sour) yin-yang harmony, making any ol’ lemon or l’orange sauce suddenly seem boring. Other notable entrees include Pollo Con Carciofi (chicken breasts sautéed with artichoke, fennel and dry tomatoes), Grilled Veal Chop, Stuffed Meatballs, a bodacious Zuppa Di Pesce, and the Chef’s nightly specials. Meanwhile, the wood-burning oven imbues its high-temp smoky magic upon all of its temporary inhabitants, such as Duck Breast, Baby Lamb, Filet Mignon Medallions in an alluring green pea sauce, and the signature Roasted Stuffed Quail with pignoli, raisins and pancetta.
True to form, Chef Raffaele has assembled an impressive wine list, including some Special Reserve bottiglie (and the coolest stemware around). And he’s invited some prestigious guests to the party, like Signori Brunello, Chianti, Montelpuciano, Barolo, Amarone, and Toscana — including my old friend Antinori Tignanello ’07, flexing its Super Tuscan muscle with the assertive pride of its 600 year heritage. To help in the selection, our server exhibited remarkable wine knowledge – indicative of the top-notch, personalized service at Raffaele.
Homemade desserts also vary each night and are, of course, delectable. We savored an ethereal fresh Mango Semifreddo – light and refreshing as a semi-frozen cloud of mango. A complimentary glass of homemade Limoncello or Orangecello provides a fine finishing touch – a special ending to a very special experience. Bravo!
508 Via Del Palmas (Royal Palm Place), Boca Raton. Open for dinner Monday – Saturday. Private party facilities available. (561) 392-1110 www.RaffaeleRestaurant.com