Bravo to Raffaele’s Ristorante in Boca

I recently discovered that Italian-born Raffaele Esposito — the original chef at New York’s famed Il Mulino restaurant, chef at Rome’s posh Grand Hotel and chef-owner of Raffaele in New York, recently opened a restaurant in Boca Raton. With this impressive repertoire, I couldn’t wait to check it out.

We arrived at Raffaele Ristorante in Royal Palm Plaza early on a Friday night and chose to sit outside on the patio. The menu was uniquely structured so that all the course choices were priced the same: antipasti for $13; soups for $10; pasta for $18; risotto for $20; chicken for $20; grilled meat for $36; meat roasted in the wood-burning oven for $30; fish for $30; and desserts for $8. The restaurant also has a menu of pizzas, all priced at $15, including choices such as the infamous margherita, quattro formagio (four cheeses) and broccoli rape e salsicce (broccoli rape, sausage, garlic and cherry tomatoes).

While we were reviewing the menu, homemade Italian bread baked with small chunks of imported salami was delivered to the table. Needless to say, it didn’t last long. After placing our order, we were treated to a complimentary dish of traditional Roman rice balls with a not-so-traditional curry sauce. The rice balls were delicious, though I preferred them without the sauce.

Our first course consisted of fresh artichoke hearts, di Parma prosciutto, grilled peppers, parmesan cheese and basil, drizzled with just the right amount of olive oil. It was fresh and wonderful.

For our second course, our waiter, Jose, recommended two pasta dishes – rigatoni imbottiti (with veal and vegetable stuffing in a light pink sauce) and penne alla Siciliana (sautéed eggplant with garlic, oil, tomatoes, dry ricotta cheese and fresh basil). We requested two half-orders of the pasta, which they are happy to accommodate. Both pastas were outstanding. Cooked al dente, the penne was perfectly covered with a light, flavorful sauce and slices of dry ricotta cheese. The salty, crumbly ricotta, warmed by the pasta, added a little something special to each bite. The stuffed rigatonis were melt-in-your-mouth scrumptious.

At this point, it was impossible to continue to a third course, but there was still a little room for something sweet. Again, we asked Jose to recommend dessert, and to our delight, we were served a lovely plate of fresh, poached pears in a light, sweet syrup and vanilla ice cream. Perfecto!

Raffaele’s is the type of restaurant that could become habit-forming. On my list for next time will definitely be the pizza and the linguine alla verza. Frank Sinatra’s one-time favorite at Esposito’s New York restaurant, the linguini is made with cabbage, sausage and pancetta in a light tomato sauce with fresh basil. If Ole’ Blue Eyes liked it, it must be good!

The dining room was elegant yet open and airy, featuring neutral tones and subdued lighting. The porch dining area provided a more casual option, and the service was exceptional. The restaurant has a full bar and an extensive wine list with an array of choices from some of Italy’s finest wine regions. The wine prices ranged from $35 to $2,400 a bottle. We really enjoyed the Vermentino from Sardinia ($9 a glass), a light, fruity, crispy white wine representative of its Sardinian roots.

Raffaele Ristorante is located at 508 Via de Palmas. It is open for lunch Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., and for dinner week nights from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. and until 11 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. For more information, call 561-392-1110 or visit Raffaele’s website at www.raffaeleresturant.com.

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