I first went to Spasso Italian Grill for dinner on the night of my bachelorette party. That was pretty much the only part of that evening that I can clearly remember. My bridesmaids and I did a pretty good job after the fact of piecing together the remainder of the night’s events and they which are both completely hilarious and utterly embarrassing. I’ll spare you all of details.
Since then, I’ve been back to Spasso several times, and it has become one of the places that I often suggest when people ask me for Italian restaurant recommendations. The restaurant is located on Front Street in Old City, away from the main restaurant rows on Chestnut and 2nd Streets, so if you just might miss it if you are wandering the neighborhood. The atmosphere is more casual and relaxed and the food is not as trendy as other restaurants in the area. But, it definitely fits the bill when you are in the market for traditional Italian food. Sometimes all you want is just a hearty dish of pasta without a lot of frills, right?
The menu features a large selection of both hot and cold antipasti selections, including meat and cheese plates, salads and seafood. The arugula salad ($8) is one of my favorites, because it is so simply prepared—just a heaping pile of the spicy greens, sweet tomatoes, strips of asiago cheese, and a light drizzle of oil and vinegar dressing. The fried calamari ($12) and the grilled polenta with porcini mushrooms ($8) are also solid dishes. I also particularly like the bruschetta that is provided with the bread basket. The bread itself is pretty disappointing for an Italian restaurant and probably would be better if it were served warm, but the concoction of sweet peppers, eggplant, zucchini and garlic takes it up a few notches.
Spasso’s pastas homemade and are among my favorite items on the menu. Everything I’ve tried has been incredibly light and cooked to a perfect al dente. My favorite dishes are the papardelle pasta, with an earthy porcini mushroom sauce ($17), spinach ravioli in a creamy four cheese sauce ($16.50), and the gnocchi ($17). The latter dish is always on the standard menu, accompanied by asparagus, but on my most recent visit this past weekend there was a special with fresh fava beans, served in a springy lemon, truffle and asiago cheese broth.
If you would rather not have a plate full of carbs (in which case, we can’t be friends), you will fine other protein-based entrees on the menu, including traditional favorites like chicken and veal parmigiana ($17 and $19, respectively), strip steak ($25) and salmon ($22). I can’t personally vouch for any of them, since I’m never able to pass up the pasta dishes, but they all look delicious. Just be sure to save room for dessert, like the rich and creamy chocolate mousse cake.
One of the things I like most about Spasso is that it is a great option for larger groups. When I have visited, it’s always been with groups of 5 or more people and the food and service have been consistently good. Portions are generous enough to share and prices are very modest for the neighborhood (appetizers range from $6 to $13; pasta dishes from $13 to $24; and, other entrees from $17 to $25). Other diners must have figured this out as well, because it’s usually full—and a bit noisy—at dinnertime. It is definitely the perfect spot for a family dinner, but maybe not so much for date night.
If you live outside of the city, Spasso has a location in Media, which also serves Sunday brunch.