What used to be a Radio Shack in the New Paltz Plaza has undergone a spectacular transformation into the town’s hottest new culinary destination, a Latin fusion restaurant called Rubirosa that opened with not much fanfare on October 12. The food is nothing short of amazing.
Co-owners Ingrid Carvajal, Albin Infante and chef Pedro Luis Sosa all hail from the Dominican Republic, and the atmosphere of this new eatery is designed to evoke a glamorous bygone era when Latin jazz dominated radio airwaves and nightclubs and Latin lovers smoldered on the silver screen. Dominican music lingers lightly in the air, and the décor exudes midcentury tropical chic, with light wood floors and wainscoting topped by fern-patterned wallpaper. Once past the new tile-fronted L-shaped bar, the visitor encounters a wall covered with vintage photos and news headlines referencing the establishment’s namesake: the “greatest playboy of the 20th century,” Porfirio Rubirosa.
The son-in-law of Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo, Rubirosa ostensibly served as a diplomat but mostly played polo, drove racing cars, romanced famous beauties by the thousands and lived off their fortunes. “Rubi” hobnobbed with movie stars, presidents and robber barons and was married five times, including to two of the richest women in the world: Doris Duke and Barbara Hutton. Rumors abounded regarding his possible involvement in political assassinations and his prowess in the boudoir; some say that his reputation partially inspired the character of James Bond. Waiters at Maxim’s restaurant in Paris, where he lived for many years when he wasn’t jetsetting all over the glove, dubbed their gigantic pepper mills “Rubirosas” after his legendary…erm, endowment.
“In politics he was less than stellar, but we are not here to remember the mediocre, the ugly and the miserable; we are here to celebrate life and, like him, maybe get lucky,” says a quote from a biography of Rubirosa that’s posted on the restaurant wall. And indeed, one need not embrace this larger-than-life character’s dubious values to enjoy the vibe of a posh, glittery lifestyle that once captured the imaginations of millions who could never experience it in real life.
“The guy was very interesting,” observes Ingrid Carvajal, whose own life story has involved considerably more struggling to survive. A “city girl” from Santo Domingo, she studied hospitality management in her homeland before emigrating in her late 20s to the Bronx, where she worked as a waitress and bartender. “I didn’t speak English when I came here, so I had to start from the bottom,” she says. “I decided to go back to school at night. I was a single mother of three kids. It was really difficult, but I made it.”
Carvajal earned her second degree, in health services management, from Mercy College, moved her family to Wallkill and eventually found work for a medical transportation company. But the switch to telemedicine during the pandemic hit that business hard, and it wasn’t what she really wanted to do with her life anyway. “Having a restaurant was my dream since I was in school” in the Dominican Republic, she says. “My passion was this.”
One of the many places she had tended bar over the years was Rocco’s in the New Paltz Plaza, and she stayed in touch with the owner. That’s how she found out that he had decided to scale back his expansion into the former Radio Shack space. “As a joke, I said, ‘Oh my God, Rocco, give it to me! You want to be my partner?’” she recalls.
As it turned out, Rocco was juggling too many businesses and backed out of the arrangement; but Carvajal was determined, and recruited Infante and Sosa to get Rubirosa up and running. It was a challenging process, especially since the space hadn’t been designed to work as a freestanding restaurant previously. “I had to build a whole kitchen, but God was on my side,” she says.
That kitchen is now producing elegant and delicious dishes with an international flair at prices that won’t make locals flinch. Sandwiches, burgers, tacos, salads, rice bowls and appetizers big enough to serve as a full meal are priced in the $10 to $20 range, except for Chef Sosa’s “signature dish,” grilled octopus, at $22. Even the fanciest entrées – Caribbean seafood pasta and twin petit filet mignon – top out at $28. Build-your-own salads and burgers are appealing lunch options.
“People love our menu,” says Carvajal. We taste-tested two of her personal favorite dishes: tuna poke nachos and 24-hour-marinated skirt steak with yucca fries and grape tomato salad. Everything was exquisite, from the enticing aromas that heralded each dish’s arrival to the artistic presentation to the tastes and textures. Bright, surprising tropical flavor notes, especially the citrusy marinade permeating the grilled steak and the housemade wasabi aioli drizzled across the tuna cubes, convinced us that this is a place that will reward multiple visits. Other dishes that Carvajal especially recommended included the filet mignon, crab empanadas, Asian rice and crispy skin salmon. We can’t wait to try them all – next time accompanied by one of the specialty cocktails, most of which are named after Rubi’s wives and celebrity girlfriends.
Located at 5 New Paltz Plaza, Rubirosa opens at 11:30 a.m. seven days a week and serves dinner until 9:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday and 9 p.m. on Sunday. For reservations, call (845) 633-8797. For more information, visit https://rubirosacucinabar.com or www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100085393073651.