Italian food in San Pedro is a family tradition at Raffaello Ristorante – Daily Breeze
On a recent visit to Raffaello Ristorante on 7th street in San Pedro, there was a big birthday party in the front room. This is not surprising, given that Raffaello is the hub of events in the port city, with several dining rooms downstairs and numerous banquet halls below and above.
Add to that the elegant banquet space across the street at Michael’s Tuscany Room – an annex of Raffaello – and you have a regular destination for weddings, birthdays, retirements and maybe even the occasional bar mitzvah, with pasta replacing knishes. How multi-ethnic can you become?
Raffaello is a passionate project of the Cutri family, deeply rooted in the San Pedro restaurant world; father Gino Cutri worked at the legendary Papadakis Taverna. (And how wonderful it was to meet the legendary John Papadakis in Raffaello and reminisce about how his Greek restaurant served up the best moussaka ever in SoCal, with music, dancing, and plates to match.)
Indeed, over the years San Pedro’s food scene has been so totally dominated by Papadakis, and is still dominated by San Pedro’s vast fish market, that it’s easy to forget that, like many towns ports, San Pedro is basically an outpost of Italy, both serious and laid back, both dine in and take away. With Raffaello there is La Bocca Felice (in the space that used to be Papadakis), 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 continues.
But San Pedro’s beating Italian heart is easily Raffaello, and his opposite outpost Michael’s. It’s both upscale and reasonably priced cuisine, especially considering the portion sizes. No one leaves Raffaello hungry, any more than they left Papadakis hungry.
Interestingly, the menu, while decidedly old school, is not obsessively old school. Modernist dishes like carpaccio don’t appear, but there are new additions to the Italian pantheon like melty mozzarella burrata with sliced tomatoes and basil, and risotto alla pescatore – dishes none of us grew up in the Little Italys of our big cities. On the other hand, we’ve certainly grown up with spaghetti and meatballs – the fourth pasta dish on the Raffaello menu, among 25 impressive creations, as well as beloved classics like fettuccini Alfredo, ravioli di ricotta and pollo cacciatore.
But then, the ravioli mentioned above don’t just come with ricotta. It arrives stuffed with mushrooms in a creamy pink sauce and lobster in a delicious Alfredo sauce. Chicken is not only 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 in sherry and prepared with mushrooms, prawns and herbs, and , of course, just simply grilled.
There’s chicken with penne in a pesto sauce, and chicken with bow-tie farfalle with broccoli, in that nearly ubiquitous Alfredo sauce. I guess I should mention that there is a chicken Caesar salad, a grilled chicken salad, and an insalata alla Leo with chicken and nuts.
There’s also plenty of seafood – I’m always happy to see cioppino as an option – and veal too. If I’m feeling quite indulgent, and my diet is (rarely) under control, I’d take the osso buco, both for the long-cooked veal and for the marrow in the shank. I grew up in a family that fought over bone marrow. A well-fed hock would feed us all.
And yes, there’s a little burger section because… well, I don’t know why, honestly. I guess Cutris like to give diners a choice. And it certainly is. The Big Dad Blue Burger is loaded with blue cheese, bacon, onions and fried onion strips. The El Diablo Burger features pepper jack cheese, fried jalapeños and chipotle mayonnaise.
There’s also fish and chips because, well, it’s a fishing town, and that’s perfect. But there is no sushi. Raffaello has edges of eclecticism, but not culinary madness. We go here, mainly, for our roots. And we are so served that we continue to eat it all the next day.
Merrill Shindler is a freelance food critic based in Los Angeles. Email [email protected]
- Evaluation: 3 stars
- Address: 457 W. 7th St., San Pedro
- Information: 310-514-0900, www.raffaelloristorante.com
- Kitchen: Italian
- When: Lunch and dinner, daily
- Details: Full bar; large reservations
- Atmosphere: Large classic Italian restaurant, with many party and banquet rooms, upstairs and downstairs, and many parties in these rooms for just about any meal. This is one of the most popular special event restaurants in San Pedro – with food to match.
- Prices: About $35 per person
- Suggested dishes for dinner: 12 starters ($12.50 – $19.50), 7 salads ($7 – $22.50), 25 pastas ($16.50 – $22), 7 seafood dishes ($20.50 – $23.50), 8 chicken dishes ($19.95 – $21.95), 6 veal dishes ($23.50), 4 Chef’s specialties ($18.50 – $25.50), 2 Burger $16.50
- Credit card: CM, V
- What do the stars mean: 4 (World class! Worth the trip from anywhere!), 3 (Most excellent, if not outstanding. Worth the trip from anywhere in Southern California.), 2 (A great place to go for a meal. Worth the trip from anywhere in the neighborhood.) 1 (If you’re hungry and it’s nearby, but don’t get stuck in traffic.) 0 (Honestly not worth it write on it.)