Pittore

There are a lot of wonderful Italian restaurants in Philly area…here are A&B Picks…(our favorites: La Famiglia and Vetri).

> Alba

7 W. King St. (Warren Ave.)/Malvern, PA; Tel#: 610-644-4009 | http://www.restaurantalba.com

Chef Sean Weinberg and his wife Kelly run this always-inventive spot in the western Main Line, and it draws many diners from City Center. The menu stresses handmade, locally grown, artisanal ingredients and features a wood-fired grill, imbuing everything from octopus to lamb with a hefty dose of smoke and flavor. Sicilian-style, wood-roasted lamb with almonds, prunes and soft polenta will have you yearning for Nonna’s kitchen. We also recommend the changing treatment of veal from Birchrun Hills Farm, such as the lasagna of veal ragù with béchamel.

> Avalon

312 S. High Street, West Chester, PA; Tel#:  610-436-4100 |http://www.avalonrestaurant.net

In a destination dining town such as West Chester with dozens of good restaurants, Avalon distinguishes itself with chef/owner John Brandt-Lee’s attention to detail, commitment to fresh and local ingredients sourced from nearby farms such as Blue Moon Acres and Shellbark Hollow, and his creative take on rustic Italian fare. Try a flight of artisanal cheese paired with house-made charcuterie served from the display in the dining room. You can’t miss with any of the seasonal vegetable dishes, but a beet salad with honey-poached pear is a standout. The spicy crab linguine is fragrant with roasted garlic and San Marzano tomatoes. Appealing desserts are made in-house, such as dark chocolate and Valpolicella wine ganache. The 60-seat bi-level dining room glows with back-lit blue accents and boasts an open kitchen flanked by a butcher block chef’s table where the chef’s menu is served family-style for as many as six guests. BYO and cash only.

> Giumarello’s

329 Haddon Ave. (Carlton Ave.], Westmont, NJ; Tel#: 856-858-9400 |www.giumarellos.com

At home in friendly Haddon Township, with sponged ochre walls and a decidedly upscale air, Giumarello’s is a family-owned restaurant specializing in northern Italian cuisine with an emphasis on seafood. Diners come for the homemade pastas, pungent garlic bread and mussels, and special dishes like jumbo shrimp in a Dijon mustard sauce and veal chop stuffed with lobster. The spiffy GBar Lounge serves the full dinner menu, along with raw bar items and appetizers like baby-back ribs. Happy hour is a bargain in the lounge, where treats like oysters and shrimp are just $2. Gian Giumarello is the bar’s chief creator of inventive martinis and other specialty cocktails.

> Il Pittore

2025 Sansom Street, Philadelphia, PA; Tel#:  215-391-4900 |http://ilpittore.com

It’s no coincidence that Il Pittore in Italian means “the painter.” And it’s more than just about the fact that “Painter” is the chef’s last name. Chef/owner Chris Painter is indeed artistic, and also skilled at conjuring the flavors of the Italian table, from Sicily to Piedmont, Emilia Romagna to Tuscany. Although this is a partnership with Starr Restaurants, for whom Painter has worked for close to a decade, there is nothing scene-y about this restaurant, with its quiet acoustics, warm burnished woods and glowing yellow lights. Downstairs, cozy up at a ten-seat counter or at a communal table for eight, or head upstairs to the main dining room where skylights, large bay windows and comfortable banquettes set the stage for a memorable meal. Choose one of the handcrafted cocktails (we like The Sansom Sour with egg white) or a bottle of wine from the Italian-centric boutique list. Artisanal salumi, a smoky cod with saffron baccala and poached calamari, and a woodsy bruschetta with mushroom ragù are all good ideas. House-made pastas include the corzetti with braised goat spiked with mint and chili oil. Chef Painter is adept at making flavors meld in new and exciting ways, as he does with the tender braise of veal cheeks and blood orange marmalade. But his dishes are never overly fussy, as the pan-roasted monkfish over lentils in a grain mustard vinaigrette can attest. For dessert, target the apple crostada with granola streusel and hazelnut gelato.

> La Famiglia

8 S. Front St. (Market St.) Philadelphia, PA; Tel#: 215-922-2803 | http://www.lafamiglia.com

The Sena family establishment continues to set the bar high on the Old City culinary scene. The restaurant is suavely chic, in the Florentine mode, mellowed by exposed brick walls and beamed ceilings. Candles gleam, fresh flowers grace the tables, but service can seem unconcerned for non-regulars. Make a selection from the comprehensive list of Italian wines to enhance the restrained cuisine of northern Italy. Agnolotti with a measured glaze of tomato; penne with just a light toss of onions, prosciutto and Romano cheese; plump mussels; and crispy calamari in diablo sauce go well with a glass of Fiano di Avellino—the strongly flavored Italian white wine. Veal is first-rate, whether done with a dusting of cheese, or fresh tomatoes and basil, or as a double-thick chop with mushrooms. For a lighter option, try the sushi grade grilled tuna served with fresh peppers, scallions and mint. Desserts from the cart often resemble Rome’s monument to Vittorio Emanuele in their embellishment; for something simple try the light pastry filled with sweet cream.

> L’Angolo Ristorante Italiano

1415 W. Porter St. (S. Rosewood St.) Philadelphia, PA; Tel #215-389-4252 | http://www.salentorestaurant.com/langolorest.html

This is one of those charming South Philly BYOBs that you always hope you’ll find, but seldom do. Husband and wife team Kathryn and David Faenza have fashioned an intimate, warm spot in an old neighborhood house where they serve the food of Apulia, with an emphasis on fresh vegetables and pristine fish and meat. Grilled calamari is tender, and David puts his own spin on pastas, adding mint to one dough, stuffing another with mushrooms, and napping still another with pancetta and fresh tomatoes. Orecchiette with shredded duck and shaved Parmesan is especially tasty. Pounded paillard of veal is grilled and drizzled with fragrant olive oil and paired with creamy polenta or pecorino-enriched mashed potatoes. Kathryn presides over the daily changing desserts. The good feeling you get here is enhanced by homemade Limoncello that David offers at meal’s end.

> Le Castagne

1920 Chestnut St. (19th St.) Philadelphia, PA; Tel#: 215-751-9913| http://www.lecastagne.com

Lots of white gauze, marble and stainless steel embellish the third of the Sena family restaurants (La Famiglia, Panorama), which looks as if it would fit nicely in Milan. Here, the refined Italian cuisine is given a more northern touch with a carpaccio of beef and gnocchi in truffled cream. Try the seared pork tenderloin with spiced pear or the herb-stuffed quail with wild mushrooms, two dishes you don’t see on every other Italian menu in town. The veal chop is huge, and best enjoyed with risotto and a porcini mushroom sauce—which, strangely enough given the $39 price tag, costs an extra $3. The atmosphere is subdued chic. The place is very busy at lunch, but in the evening, with a veal paillard and a bottle of Barbaresco from the restaurant’s extensive cellar, you can’t go wrong.

> Positano Coast

212 Walnut St., 2nd Fl. Philadelphia, PA; Tel#: 215-238-0499 |http://www.positanocoast.net

Restaurateur Aldo Lamberti, a native of Naples, wanted a real Italian experience when he redesigned Positano Coast (formerly Lamberti’s Cucina). Floor-to-ceiling photomurals adorn most walls in the dining room, offering dizzying views of Positano’s vertical coastline. Lamberti’s son Pippo, the restaurant’s chef de cuisine, delivers the fresh Italian fare, the staff is friendly and children are welcomed. The menu is heavy on pasta, as well as Italian preparations of chicken, veal and seafood. Try the penne with garlic and broccoli in olive oil, or the jumbo lump crab meat tossed with plum tomatoes, garlic and basil. Happy hour in the über cool lounge offers great deals on cocktails and small plates. There’s even an organic cocktail list. A breezy outdoor terrace with views of historic Old City is open in warm weather. Try anything from the crudo menu (think Italian sushi).

> Ralph’s Italian Restaurant

760 S. 9th St. (Fitzwater St.) Philadelphia, PA; Tel #:215-627-6011 |http://www.ralphsrestaurant.com

Not many places rate a historical marker, but Ralph’s does as the oldest family-owned restaurant in the country; in fact, it is more than 100 years old. There are, naturally, photographs all over the walls of celebrities who’ve come to dine, and Ralph’s was even mentioned in Frank Sinatra’s biography. The restaurant is as warm and evocative as its earthy, authentic cuisine. Customers clamor for the mussels or calamari marinara, homemade ravioli, sautéed chicken livers with mushrooms and onions over spaghetti, or the special veal capricciosa. The wine list is surprisingly varied and the goodwill of the staff is as abundant as the food.

> Tre Scalini

1915 E. Passyunk Ave. (Mifflin St.) Philadelphia, PA; Tel#: 215-551-3870 | http://trescaliniphiladelphia.com/

With the mother/daughter team of Franca DiRenzo and Francesca Kauffman at the stove, expect Abruzzi-inspired Italian prepared with love. Portions are ample for sharing—try the crispy grilled polenta with broccoli rabe, or if you’re lucky, the special of eggplant Napolitano dusted with Parmesan cheese. Huge, fat mussels are kissed by a tomato broth, and Talluto’s spaghetti alla chitarra benefits from a harmonious bolognese. You get lots of mushrooms with the juicy veal chop, while tiny quail are touched with just a hint of fresh rosemary and sage. Bring a warming bottle of Italian red, and dig in. Leave room for the tiramisu, sorbets and ice creams.

> Vetri

1312 Spruce St. (13th St.) Philadelphia, PA; Tel#: 215-732-3478 |http://www.vetriristorante.com

Chef Marc Vetri needs no more than this intimate 35-seater on Spruce Street to impress guests. From the cozy décor—walls awash in flaxen gold, assorted wooden chairs and knick-knacks on the wall—comes a family dining room feel. Tables are pushed close together so you get not only a whiff but also a bird’s eye view of your neighbor’s meal. Vetri’s food is earthy, eloquent and ambitious. His influences span from his Sicilian grandmother to kitchens all over Italy (where he studied for years) to chefs such as Mario Batali. Dishes have included chestnut fettuccine with wild boar ragù, and goat roasted on a spit. To experience Vetri’s well-rounded Rolodex of cooking, the degustazione menu offered on Friday and Saturday is a must. It starts with a hand-painted menu that cannot begin to describe the sensual pleasures of a seasonal asparagus flan with quail egg yolk, Parmesan and truffle cream sauce or a golden sweet onion crêpe with truffled Parmesan fondue and gratinée. The crêpe unleashes lusty onion flavor, and an untraditional presentation captures layers of salty and sweet. The dessert menu is varied but you might find such delights as chocolate soufflé or blood orange panna cotta with Campari foam. Jeff Benjamin has been with Vetri since the beginning (1998). He smoothly transitions in his role(s) as Vetri’s partner and the caretaker of the 5,000-bottle cellar that specializes in regional Italian wines.