When a food critic reviewing a four-star restaurant deems the cocktail program “the most memorable” part of the experience, the bar is doing something special. Such was the verdict of Eater’s Ryan Sutton upon visiting one of New York’s seminal Italian dining destinations, where Fabio Raffaelli built the bar program from scratch with a unique-at-the-time focus on international spirits. As it was Raffaelli’s first gig in the States, the accolade becomes even more impressive.
Hailing from a town about an hour outside of Milan, Raffaelli was entrenched in the rich culture of Italian food and drink from an early age. After stints at a number of Europe’s most well-regarded culinary destinations, working with the likes of Ferran Adrià, Gordon Ramsay and Salvatore Calabrese, in America, he continued on to work with New York’s Daniel Boulud, creating the lauded tableside cocktail service at the chef’s most well-known restaurant.
Raffaelli’s experiences in these temples to hospitality helped hone the focus on service that defines his approach to drink-making, an ethos ingrained in him from childhood. “I remember when I was a kid, my mom pouring MARTINI Bianco with a slice of lemon every time we had guests at our house,” Raffaelli says. That simple but elevated hospitality rings through all of Raffaelli’s projects, including his current role as North American brand ambassador for MARTINI & ROSSI. “The House of MARTINI has long been an icon for me,” he says, describing his admiration for both the brand’s legacy in Italian drinking culture, and the way it continues to drive innovation globally.
One feature of the brand that is especially dear to Raffaelli’s heart is its iconic presence in the Italian aperitivo scene. Harking back to watching his mother serve vermouth before dinner, aperitivo hour is a favorite cultural moment for Raffaelli, and he loves sharing his joy for this category of drinks with those stateside now.