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A quiet lunch in the in-between
RESTAURANTS • First Person
There is a liminal quality to the blocks framed by Lafayette and Bowery to the west and east, Houston and Bleecker to the south and north — Mulberry, Mott, Elizabeth — not Soho, not East Village, maybe technically Noho, but maybe not quite yet.
These blocks have always felt like their own worlds: shaded, quiet, a little bit secret. Raf’s, which opened this spring at 290 Elizabeth St., is of course nobody’s secret, but it is special and, at 11:45a on a September Wednesday, very much the tucked away haven of your New York City dreams.
The restaurant occupies the old Parisi Bakery space on the east side of the block (where for a short time in the aughts we used to get sort-of-secret sandwiches from Crosby Connection), next door to Tom & Jerry’s, the enduring neighborhood watering hole that nurtured a generation of NYC media and tech. Raf’s space is small and elegant, with marble framing the bar up front, and banquettes and a ceiling mural warming the dining room in back.
We were the first to sit for a 12p reservation on one of the restaurant’s first days of lunch service, which began post-Labor Day. To start: a simple, crisp endive salad and an excellent steak tartare with anchovies, mint, and a bloom of Parmigiano Reggiano. Next: decadent rigatoni alla Trapanese and an expertly fried pork collar, the latter accompanied by a bracing celery and cherry pepper julienne and a quenelle of neonata sauce so good we had to refrain from cleaning the plate with the edges of our forks.
By the time our bomboloncini arrived (also excellent), we could feel the build to what would undoubtedly be a raucous dinner service at one of the hottest reservations in town. But it was still quiet on Elizabeth St. between Houston and Bleecker, where Raf's for lunch is a very good idea. –Josh Albertson