Raf’s is a fantasy, in more than one sense. The dining room has an eternal sunset glow, and the ceiling is painted with the sort of billowy clouds that 16th-century fresco enthusiasts used to signify heaven. It’s a charming place, but it’s a bit of an illusion. The iron chandeliers, stiff white tablecloths, and other atmospheric touches help mask the fact that the food, while often delicious, isn’t all that interesting.
Whether or not you dive headfirst into the fantasy of this little Noho restaurant will depend on two things. How exciting do you find roast chicken? And how often do you look at Hamptons Zillow?
From the team behind the Musket Room, Raf’s looks like a tiny Italian villa owned by someone of distant royal lineage, and serves the kind of food that Ina Garten would try to feed you if you fell asleep on her front lawn. With its breads, pastas, and whole roasted fish, the menu isn’t trying to do anything experimental—and there’s nothing wrong with that. Raf’s is one of the most pleasant restaurants in NYC, and it’s at its best when it keeps things simple.
The food here is ostensibly French and Italian, but that’s just a roundabout way of saying “New American.” If you serve fluke crudo and little gem salad, there’s really nothing else we can call you. Raf’s does both of those things, and their versions are straightforward and flawless. They also have some interesting takes on escargot and leeks vinaigrette—although, counterintuitively, you should focus on the boring-sounding dishes. Try the juicy roast chicken that comes topped with a pile of fresh herbs. It fits the upscale-dinner-party mood perfectly.
Lined with crown molding and distressed mirrors, Raf’s is the ideal place to eat with a publicist, a socialite, or someone who watches a Nancy Meyers movie and thinks, “What a modest home.” It also works for a charming date night or a dinner with a friend who’s willing to spend around $75 per person. It might seem impractical to spend that much on a meal that isn’t especially novel, but Raf’s isn’t a practical place. You can always roast your own chicken at home, but it’ll taste a lot better under a mural of clouds and blue sky.
Carta Di Musica
The best starter here is something you could easily put together at home. Although, respectfully, your version wouldn’t turn out like this. Raf’s thick, crispy carta di musica are piled with bits of rosemary, grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, and ribbons of jambon de Bayonne. Nothing too complicated, and infinitely delicious.
If one more restaurant tries to feed us a little gem salad, we’re filing a complaint with the Better Business Bureau. But we’ll make an exception for Raf’s. Their interpretation is as simple as can be, with a tangy vinaigrette, some roasted shallots, and—crucially—a bit of fresh tarragon.
On the Seasonal American checklist, fluke crudo falls just below little gem salad (and right above duck breast and any twist on hummus). You can find this dish at every other downtown restaurant, and the version at Raf’s is one of our favorites. The trick? Good olive oil. And also basil.
Cast Iron Sfincione
This Sicillian-style pizza really should be one of the headliners at Raf’s. But it never lives up to its full potential. The caciocavallo has a rubbery texture, there’s too much salt, and the whole thing has a reheated-day-old-pizza quality to it. We would, of course, eat this again if you put it in front of us, but we’d feel a bit sad while doing so.
The escargots look stunning, and we appreciate how they arrive with adorable tongs that help you extract the meat. But we aren’t huge fans of the salsa verde, and it’s not entirely clear what the whipped lardo actually brings to this dish.
Raf’s could start a chicken franchise. It wouldn’t be a very practical business, and the price point would force it to open in Boca Raton and Beverly Hills—but still, we’d consider investing. The roasted bird here is that magnificent. Juicy, crispy, and littered with herbs, this is the best thing on the menu. (Musket Room also does a similarly great version.)
The pasta at Raf’s is never al dente. We don’t hold that against them too much, but we thought we’d let you know. You should also know that all of the pastas here are mildly disappointing when compared to countless other great examples around town. The hearty rabbit mafaldine is our top pick, but you can skip the spaghetti. It comes topped with a heavy dusting of oddly flavorless tuna bottarga.