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Robbie Felice discusses the success of wafu-Italian restaurant PastaRamen

The critically acclaimed chef says Italian and Japanese food go together naturally


Wafu-Italian is a cuisine that is starting to get more attention, thanks in no small part to Robbie Felice, the chef and partner of PastaRamen, which after a whirlwind tour of pop-ups across the country, put down roots a year ago in Montclair, N.J., in partnership with Montclair Hospitality Group.

The cuisine itself means “Japanese-style Italian,” and it has been available in Japan for decades as the locals put their own spin on Italian food, just as Americans were doing at the time developing the spaghetti-and-meatballs and other “red sauce Italian” dishes that are so-beloved in the Northeastern United States.

Felice discovered wafu-Italian during the pandemic, as he, like so many other chefs, adjusted to the constantly changing times and was trying to figure out what to do with his existing restaurants, Viaggio Ristorante in Wayne, N.J., and Osteria Crescendo in Westwood, N.J.

As restaurants started reopening after lockdown, Felice started doing high-end omakase pop-ups highlighting wafu-Italian, to great success. He took his show on the road, hosting dinners in Miami, Seattle, Los Angeles, and elsewhere, before opening his current location in partnership with his friend Luck Sarabhayavanija.

Felice grew up in his family’s Italian restaurants and also studied at The Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y., before working in fine-dining restaurants including Babbo in New York City and B&B Ristorante in Las Vegas, where he ended up running the salumi program for all of that group’s Vegas restaurants.

He went on to cook at fine-dining restaurants in Europe and then joined the team at The Modern in New York City before opening Viaggio with his father in 2016. That restaurant and Crescendo have long been highly regarded restaurants in New Jersey, making multiple lists of the best restaurants in the state, and PastaRamen has been similarly honored.

Felice recently discussed PastaRamen and his plan for new restaurants in the near future.

Contact Bret Thorn at [email protected] 

Correction: February 21, 2024
This story has been updated with information on Robbie Felice's partners.
TAGS: Chefs
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