WEST VILLAGE — Village resident Raffaele Ronca has manned the kitchen of restaurants in the neighborhood for nearly 20 years and on Friday he welcomed diners into his own.
Ronca, a 40-year-old Naples native, who previously cooked at Bellavitae on Minetta Lane and Palma on Cornelia Street, said the menu showcases food from central to southern Italy, from Tuscany to Sicily, with some of his own touches.
"I start with Italian recipes, play off whatever is most fresh and add my own flair," he said.
He took the porchetta at Rafele, whose name uses a simplified spelling of Ronca's first name, as one example. To make the roasted meat dish he combines pork loin and belly and tops it with a fried egg.
"It's flaky and sweet, and with the meats combined, it's phenomenal," he said.
Diners in the 70-seat restaurant with an open kitchen can order a margarita pizza with buffalo mozzarella, roasted tomatoes and basil ($12), arancini four-cheese risotto dumplings ($11) and prosciutto aged for 24-months ($16).
The drinks menu features a primarily Italian wine list.
Entrees include tagliolini al funghi, a homemade pasta with mushrooms and truffle pate ($16), and pancia di maiale, Neapolitan-style braised pork belly with cannellini beans ($25).
Some dishes are cooked in Rafele's Acunto brand brick pizza oven, which the restaurant imported from Naples.
Dessert options include chocolate mousse, tiramisu, panna cotta and ricotta cheesecake. An imported Brasilia espresso machine turns out authentic Italian coffee drinks.
Ronca said he wants diners to feel the benefit of his efforts.
"I hope all the energy I put into the food will make this home for people, to give a little of the love that I have," he said.