Reason number 5,283 that I love living in Philly: at least five new restaurants are opening up every week. We currently have an ever-growing list posted on our refrigerator (and I have a Pinterest board) of new spots that we want to try. As soon as we cross of one, we add another one or two on.
With all of the chatter surrounding the new additions, it’s easy to overlook the places in the city that have been serving up solid food for years, but now don’t get nearly as much buzz as they should.
Porcini, an Italian BYOB on a narrow block of Sansom Street in Rittenhouse Square neighborhood which opened in 1996 (before BYOBs were really a big thing in the city) is a great example of this. I had been there once before, several years ago, and my mom, Chester and I had a chance to try it out again tonight.
The restaurant is very tiny. We arrived at about 5:30 when it had just opened for the day, so we didn’t have a problem getting a table, but reservations are probably a good idea. Regardless, you will be sharing close personal space with your fellow diners and as the restaurant fills up, it may be a bit noisy. Throughout our visit, service was attentive, friendly and not at all rushed. All of the food, from the pasta to the sauces, is house-made (the chef even grows his own oregano, thyme and basil on the roof of the restaurant).
We shared two seafood appetizers to start with. First up was a huge plate of mussels served in a red sauce with white wine, garlic. Although I usually order my mussels in a plain white wine sauce, I loved this preparation because the sauce was made with sweet San Marzano tomatoes. We are picky about our “gravy” and gave high marks to Porcini’s version. The second dish, tender grilled octopus and baby calamari, was simply dressed with a bright lemon, caper, olive and olive oil marinade, which would have made a great dressing for just about any kind of salad. Our server kindly brought out another basket of bread so we could soak everything up.
For our main courses, my mom and I both ordered pasta dishes: Papardella in a rich Porcini mushroom sauce for me and one of the specials, Lasgana with eggplant and a fluffy ricotta filling for her. The noodles were extremely light, and neither dish was heavily doused in their respective sauces; so, while the portions were generous, we didn’t end up feeling overly full. I just would have liked just a few more mushrooms on top of mine! Chester opted for the veal in Maderia wine and mushroom sauce. When I have had veal other places, there has been a tendency for it to be pounded too thin and cooked until it becomes too dry, but neither of those issues occurred here. The medallions were so tender that they could be cut apart easily with a fork.
Overall, the dishes are very simple, but the attention to detail that has gone into choosing the right combinations of ingredients and deciding what sauces to serve with which pasta is evident. Our experience at Porcini was a great reminder that if you look beyond the places that everyone is talking about lately, you just might discover a hidden gem.