During a recent visit to Raffaello Ristorante on 7th Street in San Pedro, there was a sizable birthday party in the front room. Not surprising, considering that Raffaello is event central for the port city, with several dining rooms downstairs, and numerous banquet room below and above.
Add on the elegant banquet-only space across the street at Michael’s Tuscany Room — an annex of Raffaello — and you’ve got a regular destination for weddings, anniversaries, retirements and maybe even the occasional bar mitzvah, with pasta replacing knishes. How multiethnic can you get?
Raffaello is a passion project of the Cutri family, who have deep roots in the San Pedro restaurant world; father Gino Cutri worked at the fabled Papadakis Taverna. (And how wonderful it was to run into the legendary John Papadakis at Raffaello, and reminisce about how his Greek eatery served the best moussaka to ever grace SoCal, with music, dancing and plate-smashing to match.)
Indeed, over the years, the San Pedro dining scene was so totally dominated by Papadakis, and is still dominated by the sprawling San Pedro Fish Market, that’s it’s easy to forget that, like many port cities, San Pedro is at heart an outpost of Italy, both serious and casual, both eat-in and takeout. Along with Raffaello, there’s La Bocca Felice (in the space that used to be Papadakis), along with Big Nick’s Pizza, J. Trani’s Ristorante, La Siciliana, Buono’s Pizzeria, Sorrento’s Pizza House, Niko’s Pizzeria, Bonello’s NY Pizzeria, Chef’s Corner Pizzeria — the list goes on.
But the beating Italian heart of San Pedro is easily Raffaello, and its opposite-side-of-the-street outpost of Michael’s. This is cuisine that’s both upscale, and reasonably priced — especially when you consider the size of the portions. No one leaves Raffaello hungry, any more than they left Papadakis hungry.
Interestingly, the menu, though resolutely old school, isn’t obsessively old school. Modernist dishes like carpaccio don’t appear, yet there are newer additions to the Italian Pantheon like meltingly soft burrata mozzarella with sliced tomatoes and basil, and risotto alla pescatore — dishes none of us grew up with in the Little Italys of our big cities. On the other hand, we sure did grow up with spaghetti and meatballs — the fourth pasta dish listed on the Raffaello menu, among an impressive 25 creations, along with such beloved classics as fettuccini Alfredo, ravioli di ricotta, and pollo cacciatore.
But then, the above-mentioned ravioli doesn’t just come with ricotta. It arrives stuffed with mushrooms in a creamy pink sauce, and with lobster in an indulgent Alfredo sauce. The chicken isn’t just cacciatore. It’s also parmigiana, marsala and piccata, Raffaello (stuffed with ham and spinach in an Alfredo sauce), fasciana (with sausage and peppers), Zia Teresa sautéed with sherry and prepared with with mushrooms, shrimp and herbs, and, of course, just simply grilled.
There’s chicken with penne in a pesto sauce, and chicken with bowtie farfalle with broccoli, in that nearly ubiquitous Alfredo sauce. I guess I should mention there’s a chicken Caesar salad, a grilled chicken salad, and an insalata alla Leo with chicken and walnuts.
There’s plenty of seafood as well — I am always cheered to see cioppino as an option — and veal as well. If I’m feeling utterly indulgent, and my diet is (rarely) under control, I’d get the osso buco, as much for the long-cooked veal as for the marrow in the shank. I grew up in a family that would compete for the marrow in the bones. A well-nourished shank would feed all of us.
And yes, there is a small section of hamburgers because…well, I don’t know why, honestly speaking. I guess the Cutris like to give diners a choice. And that they certainly do. The Big Dad Blue Burger is packed with blue cheese, bacon, onions and fried onion strings. The El Diablo Burger has pepper jack cheese, fried jalapeños and chipotle mayo.
There are fish and chips too because, well, this is a fishing town, and that’s just right. But there’s no sushi. Raffaello has edges of eclecticism, but not culinary craziness. We go here, mostly, for our roots. And we’re served so much, we keep eating it the whole next day.
- Rating: 3 stars
- Address: 457 W. 7th St., San Pedro
- Information: 310-514-0900, www.raffaelloristorante.com
- Cuisine: Italian
- When: Lunch and dinner, every day
- Details: Full bar; reservations important
- Atmosphere: Sprawling classic Italian restaurant, with numerous party and banquet rooms, both upstairs and down, and many parties in those rooms for just about every meal. This is one of the most popular special event restaurants in San Pedro — with food to match.
- Prices: About $35 per person
- Suggested dinner dishes: 12 Appetizers ($12.50-$19.50), 7 Salads ($7-$22.50), 25 Pastas ($16.50-$22), 7 Seafood Entrees ($20.50-$23.50), 8 Chicken Entrees ($19.95-$21.95), 6 Veal Entrees ($23.50), 4 Chef’s Specialties ($18.50-$25.50), 2 Burgers $16.50
- Credit cards: MC, V
- What the stars mean: 4 (World class! Worth a trip from anywhere!), 3 (Most excellent, even exceptional. Worth a trip from anywhere in Southern California.), 2 (A good place to go for a meal. Worth a trip from anywhere in the neighborhood.) 1 (If you’re hungry, and it’s nearby, but don’t get stuck in traffic going.) 0 (Honestly, not worth writing about.)