Raphael Restaurant…You Had Me At Hello

The sign on the front of Raphael Restaurant, on Ventura Boulevard in Studio City, said lunch from 11:30 until 2. When we opened the front door to the restaurant at 1:55 looking to be fed, we expected owner Arnon Raphael to send us packing. Instead, we were greeted with a very warm and welcoming hello, and told we could absolutely get a table.

I was looking forward to coming here as I had read that Adam Horton, formerly of The Saddle Peak Lodge, one of my favorite restaurants, was the executive chef. When you enter the restaurant you are immediately charmed by its sleek and sophisticated decor. Owner Raphael told us that his wife had designed the interior that boasts warm woods, stone, and stunning lighting fixtures that add to the overall dining experience. One side is the elegant but casual dining area, and the other side is a rather spacious and comfortable bar area.

My friend Kim and I were seated at a lovely booth right in front of the window. We were greeted by our server Joslyn, a Cameron Diaz look-alike, who was extremely friendly and professional. For me, the servers seem to set the tone of the experience, so, I could see we were off to a good start. Raphael has an extensive wine selection, serving 50 wines by the class. Kim chose a Santa Barbara, Pinot Noir, and I went with the Italian, Pinot Grigio.

Raphael describes their menu as “world cuisine”. I like that. I like to be able to enjoy tastes from all around the globe at one table. Their lunch menu is limited; 4 salads, 4 sandwiches and 5 larger plates as well as several side dishes. This is never a problem for me. I don’t need a huge selection to chose from, I just expect that the few dishes a restaurant does offer should be done absolutely perfect.

The sandwich we chose was the Scottish salmon with capers, red onion, dill Havarti and a luscious ramp aioli on a soft, sesame seed bun.

Scottish salmon with capers, red onion, dill Havarti, and ramp aioli

When the dish arrived it appeared a little “bare”. ┬áNothing, no garnish, no accoutrements, visually I thought it needed a little “something”. Well that being said, it didn’t really need anything. The salmon patty was so full of flavor and cooked perfectly. The combination of the elements on this sandwich didn’t require anything to spruce it up. It was perfect just the way it was. We did however, order the fries which were crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside. They were a great compliment to the salmon. When I return, I will absolutely get this dish again.

Som Tam Thai - green papaya, tiger shrimp, lime, peanuts, chile & cilantro

For the salad we chose the Som Tam Thai, a visually stunning dish of green papaya, tiger shrimp, lime, peanuts, chile and cilantro. I don’t handle the heat well, and this dish was a tad too spicy for me. Next time I would ask them to turn down the heat a bit. ┬áThe shrimp were big and meaty, not over-cooked which happens so often with shrimp in salads. The flavors were authentic, as if we were having this dish in a Thai street market.

They offered 3 choices for the dessert, none of which appealed to Kim or myself. Joslyn said that the pastry chef would like to make us a dessert that wasn’t on the menu. Wow, that never happened to me before, they are eager to please at Raphael.

Trifle of fresh strawberries & lemon with strawberry mini meringue kisses

We were presented with a trifle of fresh strawberries and lemon garnished with strawberry meringue kisses. It was tart and light and luscious, the perfect ending to our meal.

Raphael is the caliber of dining that you tend to find “on the other side of the hill”. It’s smart and well done, and offers you the whole package in terms of ambiance, service and cuisine. I’m so glad they’re in my neck of the woods.

Kim in front of Raphael

Raphael 11616 Ventura Boulevard, Studio City 91604 ( In between Colfax & Tujunga)

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