Considering how difficult it is to get a reservation at Rubirosa and how much buzz the restaurant has had since opening, I had expected the Nolita pizzeria to be unattainably fashionable and perhaps even a little snotty. Thus, what a surprise it was to discover instead a warm, convivial and family-friendly neighborhood establishment that appears to be rabidly popular with trendy young things, neighborhood families, traveling foodies, singles, and couples alike.
A cheery blood orange and crimson facade with a retro painted sign announce Rubirosa’s presence. The pizzeria’s space on a Mulberry Street block shared by Balaboosta, Eight Mile Creek, and Torrisi Italian Specialties is narrow and quirky. The front area is primarily a bar, where diners without reservations nosh at high-top tables and tame groups of revelers enjoy reasonably-priced bottles of wine and artfully-concocted house cocktails. Towards the back of the front room and in the tiny back room, normal tables held for those parties with reservations wait. Rubirosa channels a homespun rusticity popular amongst casual eateries these days in New York – striped wallpaper covers the walls in one nook; tables are made from hefty hewn dark wood; pails of fresh Gerber daisies sit on the bar; mismatched framed black-and-white photographs of Italian neighborhoods hang neatly on the dark grey walls; hanging lanterns with soft scalloped edges shed a warm glow over patrons. Though not necessarily unique these days, the look is charming, comfortable, and a bit more upscale than your typical New York pizzeria.
Though Rubirosa bills itself as a classic pizzeria, it offers a full Italian menu with antipasti, pastas, pizza, and secondi. The bruschetta are a great way to start a meal – and a great value at $3 each. My favorite is the Meatball – a soft and savory traditional meatball atop a large piece of crusty fresh-baked Italian bread and coated in warm tomato sauce and melted Parmesan. Other options include the earthy and nutty Mushroom variety and the rich Caramelized Onion with pieces of braised duck. For a pizzeria, the salad options are quite sophisticated – beets with goat cheese, an iceberg wedge with bacon and vodka blue cheese dressing, a warm mozzarella caprese. Classic antipasti follows – delicately fried calamari, arancini stuffed with prosciutto and gooey fontina, roasted octopus with tomato and potato, and of course, an Italian-American homage to eggplant parmesan.
The pastas are all made in-house and range from a succulent lasagna with sausage AND meatballs for two to a decadent hand-rolled manicotti, ricotta ravioli and a refreshing whole wheat fettucini with asparagus and zucchini. The ‘black-and-white’ tagliatelle is an embarrassment of riches – a squid ink pasta accompanied by clams, mussels, scallops, and shrimp; it’s briny, silky, and perfect for seafood-lovers. Of course, despite this spectacular array of food, Rubirosa is best known for its wondrous ultra thin-crust pizzas. The crust is wafer-thin, crispy at the crust, and slightly chewy at the center. The toppings are layered on, but not too thickly. The vodka pizza, a house speciality, is light and airy, best with a sprinkle of crushed red pepper and a tossing of shredded Parmesan.
Rubirosa is a wonderful neighborhood establishment – a refreshingly laid-back restaurant in a neighborhood known for high prices, high fashion, and “high horses.” The service is efficient and friendly, the food accessible and reasonably-priced (for Manhattan), and the atmosphere congenial. Sure, the food isn’t haute gourmet or even perfectly-executed, but what does that matter when you can slurp it down with a $30 bottle of house wine (quite the bargain, if you ask me)?
Perfect For: post-shopping pigouts, lowkey date nights, weeknight quick dinners for Nolita locals, thin crust pizza fanatics, wining and dining, noshing at the bar