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Raphael Bar Risto
Water Place Park, 1 Union Station
by Bob Mariani
"Gorgeous." "Sexy." "Cool." They’re all words that have been used again and again to describe one of Providence’s best-liked downtown restaurants: Raphael Bar Risto. With its beautiful blend of blond woods, classic modern art, and minimalist interior design, Raphael’s has been praised as much for its good looks as it has for its good, up-dated Neapolitan-style menu.
On a recent mid-week visit at around 6:30pm, the place was beginning to fill up. Some patrons shared al fresco cocktails out on the Union Station plaza, while others gathered inside at the handsomely hip Tunnel Bar.
I don’t believe Raphael’s menu here has changed drastically since it first opened in the old re-vamped train station space back in 1993. But chef/owner Ralph Conti is always adding interesting little touches. One of his newer (to me, at least) antipasti this night was Ditalini with strawberries and gorgonzola cheese ($8). Ditalini are tiny tube-shaped pasta. Cooked perfectly al dente, they were served in a mild brown sauce laced with creamy gorgonzola cheese with tiny flecks of strawberries throughout. The subtle hints of the sweet strawberries in the more robust sauce really worked quite well.
My friend had the evening’s special—a shrimp cocktail with four medium size shrimp accompanied by a red tomato dipping sauce. Nothing fancy or surprising here— just a good take on a classic appetizer.
We also shared another interesting appetizer, a Zucchini Flowers Zeppole ($11), a fluffy, deep-fried zeppole crust stuffed with luscious mouthfuls of delicate zucchini flowers in a mild white cheese sauce.
For my salad course, I had one of the side dishes; Sautéed Spinach drenched in olive oil and flecked with garlic and pignole nuts ($6). My entrée was the very delicate Filet of Sole, sautéed in olive oil and lemon and accompanied by some oyster mushrooms and a mixture of potatoes and leeks ($23). This is a nice, lighter main course that satisfies without filling you up too much.
Our other entrée was the Crispy Duck ($27), tender slices of duck breast, a leg and thigh cooked in a semi-sweet port wine and plum sauce. (Note: if you don’t like your meat rare, be sure to specify that because this dish comes to the table with a cold pink center unless ordered "medium.") The duck was accompanied by a nice summer-y side dish of quickly braised mixed vegetables.
Some of the other dishes at Raphael’s are: Red Snapper in a "putanesca" sauce ($27); a classic Veal Scaloppini Pizziaola ($28); Grilled Veal Chop with porcini mushroom sauce ($31); Veal Osso Bucco ($29); and Yellow Fin Tuna Steak with eggplant caponata.
Pastas include Manicotti with ricotta, spinach and porcini polpette ($18); Cavatelle with sausage, rabe, roasted peppers and salta ricotta ($18); Lobster Tortelli with white truffle cream and sautéed lobster meat($28); and Linguini with"fruitti di mare" ($28).
For dessert my friend ordered the Warm Chocolate Cake, a cupcake-size round of dark chocolate cake with a soft center accompanied by a few fresh blueberries and a scoop of vanilla ice cream. I had the Almond Gnocchi, an original house-made creation that’s a delicious semi-sweet crust infused with a creamy, nutty filling. It too came with a modest scoop of vanilla ice cream.
Raphael’s Bar Risto is indeed a feast for the senses with its stunning decor and its always-interesting menu. And the service could not be more efficient or friendly. They’re open Monday through Thursday from 5pm to 11pm, and on Friday and Saturday from 5pm until 2am. For information or reservations call 421-4646 or visit www.raphaelbarristo.com.
Bob Mariani is a Southeastern New England freelance author. Besides his "Your Table is Ready" and "Out to Lunch" restaurant reviews on findRI.com, he also writes jazz articles on allaboutjazz.com