Branzino has been a fixture in the Rittenhouse Square area for several years. I pass by frequently, but hadn’t actually visited prior to last weekend, when I went there for a Sunday dinner with my mom, aunt and Chester. It’s a BYOB, specializing in classic Italian dishes, including homemade pastas, veal and other meat dishes and seafood. Not surprisingly, the signature dish is Branzino, or Mediterranean sea bass.
We enjoyed bread, still hot from the oven, with flavorful olive oil for dipping, while we looked over the menu. Unable to narrow down appetizer choices, we ended up splitting a few dishes. We all agreed that the tender, lightly grilled tubes of calamari dressed in light mixture of tomato/balsamic vinegar was our favorite, but the mussels, in a spicy tomato broth and the ravioli, with a mixture of ground chicken and veal did not disappoint either (pasta dishes can be served as entrees or as appetizers for $12).
The meat, poultry and seafood options on the menu, all included interesting ingredient combinations. My mom and aunt both ordered veal, which had been pounded into thin filets, but not so much that it became tough and difficult to chew. My mom’s dish was topped with prosciutto, eggplant, prosciutto and fontina cheese, while my aunt’s had artichokes and mushrooms. Chester opted for one of the day’s specials, Linguine di Mare, which overflowed with plump scallops and shrimp and more of those delicious mussels.
I opted for the branzino, figuring that someone had to try the restaurant’s namesake dish. As is the standard way of serving it, the waitress brought it over whole, with the head and skin still on, and then filleted it to remove all of the tiny bones. I had never actually eaten branzino before, and am now a big fan. It’s a bit lighter and a bit milder than standard sea bass. This accompanying sauce was very flavorful, with a great balance of acidity from lemon juice and salt from capers.
Although we were more than satisfied with our meal, we couldn’t pass up dessert. The dense chocolate mousse, set atop of thin disk of sponge cake, was the perfect way to end the meal.
The restaurant looks tiny from the outside, but it actually stretches to the very back of the building and includes an outdoor garden space and a small room off of the main area which would be perfect for a private event. Unlike many BYOBs, Branzino takes credit cards.
I’m sorry that it took me so long to get around to trying Branzino, and would definitely love to make a return trip sooner rather than later.