Ulivo opened late last year in Queen Village and might not have been on my radar screen if we hadn’t passed it while en route to Cochon (for brunch and dinner), just across the way. Each time we peeked in, it looked warm and inviting and the menu posted in the window sounded amazing. I filed it away on my mental list of places to check out and when our friends Lara and Matt suggested picking a BYOB for a weekend get-together, it the first place that came to mind.
Since I like my personal space and I don’t like sitting too close to strangers, Ulivo immediately scored points with me because there was plenty of space between the tables. This is quite different—and much more comfortable—than other BYOBs which try to maximize their revenue by packing as many customers in as possible. In line with the simple décor, the seasonal menu isn’t huge and features classic Italian dishes, many of which have touches of flavors from all over the Mediterranean, including Spain, Turkey and France.
Our server informed us that all of the pasta dishes could be served in appetizer portions. So, we decided to share the gnocchi, along with the Caesar salad and the calamari. The salad was tasty, but pretty standard. But, I’m still thinking about the latter two dishes today. The wide strips of tender calamari were fried to a perfect crisp and topped with a slightly spicy salsa. The delicate gnocchi seemed to be made solely of light, airy, ricotta—I couldn’t detect any heaviness or flavor from potato at all. They literally melted in my mouth.
For our entrees, Lara and I both chose the salmon, which was grilled and served over a cold, toasted barley and sweet white corn salad, tossed in a roasted garlic vinaigrette. It was definitely a dish that showcased a lot of great summer flavors. Chester gave high marks to the duck, and although I didn’t try it, I could see that it was cooked to a perfect medium rare. Finally, Matt enjoyed the fennel spiced chicken, which was prepared Milanese style with a light breading.
Side dishes are served family style. At the suggestion of our server, we chose the chilled zucchini. With a touch of citrus flavor, they had acidity similar to pickles and were the perfect complement to all of our dishes.
I don’t remember everything that was on the dessert menu, but do recall it including a selection of gelato and sorbet. Do yourself a favor, though, and just go for the chocolate tart. Really, it’s more like a flourless cake, with a base that resembles a cakey brownie and a cracked, crunchy top. The mild flavor of the accompanying mascarpone whipped cream, cuts through the richness of the chocolate just a bit.
The concept of an Italian BYOB is certainly not new (particularly in Philadelphia), but Ulivo is certainly one of the best that I’ve visited recently. It’s also a great value for the money. The bill came out to about $50 per person, which I thought was very reasonable given the generous portion sizes and quality of the food.
The only negative thing I could say was that we were seated right under a fan, which made it a bit chilly. But, that’s the kind of thing you hardly notice after a glass or two of wine.
If you plan to visit—and you should—know that Ulivo accepts reservations (which can be made through its website) and credit cards.