Sunday, November 20, 2011

Dinner | Il Pittore

During a brief visit to Philadelphia a couple weekends ago, Marcus, Dan, and I hit up another Stephen Starr restaurant (another to cross off the "Starr Restaurant Tour" list!), Il Pittore, which, at that point in time, had been only open a mere ten days!

Located on the edge of Rittenhouse Square, Il Pittore, an Italian self-moniker dedicated to its executive chef, Chris Painter, and of course, its focus on Italian cuisine. Notice the restaurant's hanging banner/sign evokes the texture of a European fresco, aptly fitting Il Pittore's painterly theme.

Same with the decal of a "P" on the restaurant's entrance door.

Mr. Starr wanted to capture the "romantic spirit" of Italy and bring it to Il Pittore here in Philadelphia. "Its quaint ambiance, created by rich woods, hand-painted murals, black-and-white images of Italian culture, and a rooftop garden," aims to recreate the "cozy feeling of a villa in the Italian countryside." As you see here, the first floor has a dining counter for ten guests and a communal table for eight -- both bringing people "together in a vibrant social setting" to share wine over a meal of pasta.

The second floor houses the main dining room which allows guests to have "a more traditional a la carte" dining experience.

Another view of the upstairs dining room.

We really admired the industrial/vintage-looking incandescent lightbulbs with the glowing filament visible through its clear glass.

Probably my most favorite detail behind Mr. Starr's interior at Il Pittore -- wine list made from canvas board with harsh brushstrokes of black paint.

Same style goes for the one-page dinner menus.

Chef Painter draws his influences from Emilia Romagna, Piedmont, Tuscany, and Sicily. The chef's "culinary artistry" paired with the "fresh flavors of Italian ingredients" hopes to convery a "truly modern menu" at Il Pittore. Before he ended up at Il Pittore, Chef Painter had worked in Portland in 1998 as well as staged at The French Laundry and Lespinasse. A year later, he joined STARR Restaurants to become the executive chef at the now-closed Tangerine, which focused on the diversity of Mediterranean flavors. Then in 2003, he served as executive chef of Angelina, another now-closed Starr creation followed by a consulting stint with the PJW Restaurant Group, which lead to an executive chef position at Izakaya in Atlantic City. Chef Painter returned to STARR Restaurants in 2008 as culinary director, where he served in an advisory capacity in collaborating with the chefs at each of Mr. Starr's restaurants to assure that each restaurant upheld top-quality standards. Now with Il Pittore open, Chef Painter has another challenge on his hands.

Bread basket filled withe breadsticks, foccacia, and ciabatta.

To start, I had the polpo brasato -- braised octopus with pickled sweet peppers, potatoes, and arugula. The octopus was braised well with a nicely charred exterior. It had some great flavors overall with the octopus's texture a little bit chewy but still soft. The pickled sweet peppers were slightly briny, adding a nice salty and vinegary taste to the dish. Pretty good, I'd say, if you enjoy octopus.

Marcus and Dan each both had the salsiccia d'agnello -- spiced lamb sausage with lentils, sundried tomato, and fennel. Though this was fewer in pieces, the spices and flavors pervaded throughout the dish -- bold and hearty from the autumnal game of lamb and other ingredients. Dan and Marcus raved about how great this was, so I snagged a small bite from Marcus, and they were right. Great starter dish for the fall season!

Pasta was calling my name for the main course, as I decided to go with the ravioli di ricotta e verza -- swiss chard and ricotta-filled ravioli with chanterelle mushrooms and truffle butter. I absolutely loved this dish --the truffle butter carried throughout the packets of ricotta-filled pasta, fragrantly complementing the ricotta and chanterelles. The sauce was lovely as well, perfectly drizzled to add a little moisture to the pasta dish. Only complaint here is that I asked for the main course portion, as the menu version is strictly appetizer-sized, and I still felt like the portion was very small. I could've eaten double what was served! Nevertheless, the ravioli was awesome!

Marcus had the agnolotti d'anatra -- duck-filled pasta pillows with juniper cured duck prosciutto. The agnolotti was hearty dish to have during the fall season, as it was very sweet, salty, and savory inside the softly made pasta pillows. Marcus gobbled this all up with the same complaint I had -- portion definitely could have been larger for the main-course size.

Dan had the cacio e pepe -- spaghetti with pecorino romano and black pepper. Don't let the simplicity of this pasta dish deceive you -- it was the simplicity here that really brought out the fresh flavor of the handmade pasta, only to be enhanced by the pecorino romano and black pepper.

I love how the menus (dessert, above) have the subtle paint theme throughout its layout.

I decided to go with a nice glass of moscato d'asti as my "dessert" -- something that always is reminiscent of biting into a freshly ripened stone fruit. I thought that would be a nice way to end our meal.

For dessert, Marcus couldn't resist ordering the chocolate bomboloni with nutella filling and vanilla dipping sauce. I stole a bite of these, and it was very much like ebelskivers, i.e., sphere-shaped, Danish pancakes. The nutella center was nice and creamy with the bamboloni exterior slightly burnt, as warmed against the vanilla dipping sauce.

Dan had the mocha cheesecake with a chocolate graham crust and espresso sorbet. This was very interesting as well -- almost like a mochaccino paired with chocolate biscotti, only in cheesecake/crust/sorbet form! If you're a coffee-lover, this dessert should be very appealing to you! What I also like about the presentation here is that the chocolate sauce on the bottom appears like a harsh brushstroke, reiterating the restaurant's ode to "The Painter" -- very awesome!

Even its check holder/postcard is stylish and painterly!

Findings: I would say that Marcus, Dan, and I had an overall lovely experience at Il Pittore. We were very content with flavors and presentation the antipasti as well as the primi/pasta dishes we selected. The restaurant's detailed interior design was very impressive -- nothing short of what Stephen Starr has demonstrated with his current repertoire of establishments all throughout Philadelphia. The painterly theme was executed very well, from the frescos to the canvas board menus with harsh brushstrokes. The two things, however, that we were not crazy about were the small "main course-sized" pasta portions as well as the service. While portioning is up to the kitchen's discretion, I felt that the service could have used a little work. In my experience, all the waitstaff that I've encountered on my many food adventures have usually been quite informed on the restaurant's many menu offerings, and if they were unsure, they would typically admit that, apologetically, say they would find out from the kitchen for me. Perhaps it's just part of the kinks of the first opening weeks, but I felt a little unwelcome to ask questions about Il Pittore's menu when I had asked about a few of the menu items. The response we received from our primary server was confused, impatient, and slightly dismissive. Maybe it was just nerves of working at a new restaurant, but if a server doesn't know the answer to a patron's question, he or she say that they're unsure, that they will direct the question to the kitchen or to someone who may know, and that they will get back to you on it. I'm going ot attribute this confusion to the recent opening of Il Pittore -- I would definitely go back to reassess more accurately at a later date.

Nevertheless, minus the initial mishap I had here when we were contemplating our dinner orders, the service we received was very good and attentive. The quality of the food was great, and the company even better.

Price point: $13-14 for each antipasti, $13-16 for each primi/pasta, $8 for each dolce.

--November 5, 2011

Il Pittore2025 Sansom Street
Philadelphia, PA 19106

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