Pizza and pasta are easy to come by in the restaurant world, but few are making waves like Ribalta in Greenwich Village. The popular Italian eatery that’s only a five-minute walk off the Union Square subway stop became buzzworthy after Grubstreet named their spaghetti Pomodoro one of NYC’s 10 best pasta dishes, and their Neapolitan-style pizza has earned praise in numerous other publications. Ribalta is also known for the Pizza Diet—don’t worry, I’ll explain later—and as a hangout for big-time soccer matches.
Should you care if you live in Westchester? Absolutely. After all, the owner is of our very own: Naples-born Rosario Procino has called Mamaroneck his home since 1999. After managing and owning multiple restaurants in the New York and Connecticut area, he opened Ribalta in 2013, and a second in Atlanta in ’14.
Ribalta—which translates to “limelight”—is a casual spot to sip on good wine, beer, or a damn fine (and strong) Negroni or other cocktails while scarfing down a pie. And when the Italian soccer team is playing, the projection screen comes down, Italian media stops by, and fans are glued to the game as well as their food.
The menu is executed by chef and co-partner and founder Pasquale Cozzolino, also from Naples. Ribalta keeps its choices simple, with a handful of small plates, salads, pizza, and pasta, and they try to use the finest ingredients from Naples when possible.
At the start of the dinner we got to sample crispy and tender fried calamari, followed by thinly sliced zucchini that was lightly fried and tossed with basil, lemon, and mint; a fresh dish that popped with flavor and got this non-zucchini fan excited. The smalls were capped off with big, well-seasoned meatballs that were a cross between an Italian grandma’s and those from a gourmet restaurant. I ate three of the five in the bowl.
After apps, Chef Cozzolino led a hands-on dough-making lesson. The dough, he explained, only has four ingredients: Le 5 Stagioni 00 flour, natural yeast from Italy, sea salt, and water. This leads to their pizza coming out light, easy to digest, and edible for those with a gluten intolerance.
Cozzolino claims that his Pizza Diet, or eating one Neapolitan pie per day with other dietary restrictions and exercise, has led to him losing around 100 pounds, since the dough is not heavy and is free of the eggs and dairy found in New York-style dough. Each Margherita pizza has a calorie count in the mid-500s, and with its fresh ingredients and airy crust, that’s a regiment most of us wouldn’t have a problem with.
Ribalta actually serves two types of pizza; one is a crispy rectangle version cooked at 600 degrees in a gas oven for five to six minutes, and the other is the round Neapolitan cooked in a wood-fired oven for about 90 seconds at 850 to 900 degrees. Both are works of art, and while I loved the rectangle pizza with porcini mushrooms, pancetta, mozzarella, and parsley, the nostalgia and freshness of the round Margherita and its slightly charred, chewy crust wins my heart every time. And it’s true that, while I ate at least five total slices, I really didn’t feel overly stuffed.
The final dish we tried was the reputed Spaghetti Pomodoro, and I can understand the accolades and hype. It’s made with dry pasta and Piennolo cherry tomatoes that are grown in volcanic soil from Mount Vesuvius. The result? A burst of freshness, acidity, and sweetness all at once. It’s simplistically epic.
Rarely do I recommend a restaurant as a whole as much Ribalta, but the pizza, a star of a pasta dish, and its lively atmosphere made me a believer after one visit. If you’re in the area, you should definitely go, but honestly, it’s worth the trip on its own.
48 E 12th St.
New York, NY
(212) 777-7781; www.ribaltapizzarestaurant.com