Restaurant Review: Spasso Italian Grill

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.

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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.

Restaurant Review: Positano Coast

Happy Thanksgiving Week! I should have eaten much lighter than I did this past weekend, in order to prepare for Thursday’s feast, but I didn’t.

I took a couple of days off of work last week to hang out with my mom and aunt, and so I kicked off my weekend eating a bit earlier than usual. On one of our days off, we hung out in Old City, saw a movie at the Ritz (Anonymous. Highly recommend if you like the soap opera which is Tudor England. Which I do.  A lot.) , drank a lot of Starbucks (first Eggnog Latte of the season!) and then headed over to Positano Coast for dinner. Chester had to work that day, but he braved the nine bus down Chestnut Street to join us as well.

I’ve mentioned Positano Coast in passing before—it used to be Pasta Blitz, which was a weekly dinner destination for my family. When it became Positano Coast, it switched its menu from traditional red gravy Italian food to slightly frilly Mediterranean style tapas. When BFF and I tried it a few years back, the food was good, but just not the same
as we remembered.

On this most recent visit, however, it seems that they have struck a balance between the creative tapas plates and the more traditional dishes. The menu features a variety of appetizers, pasta/risotto dishes, and poultry, fish, and beef entrees. There is also a raw bar available. The portion sizes hover between small plate and entrée size. We chose to share a couple of the appetizers and each ordered and entrée size pasta dish, but if you aren’t in the mood to share, two or three courses per person (for example, an appetizer, entrée, and side) would probably leave you feeling pretty satisfied.

We started off with the Antipasto platter (which featured mozzarella, Parmigiano Reggiano, sharp provolone, prosciutto, speck, salami, eggplant caponata, grilled artichokes, olives, and mushrooms) as well as the fried calamari. My favorite items on the former were the creamy burratta style mozzarella and the caponata, which is an eggplant/tomato mixture that is kind of like a cross between a stew and bruschetta, that’s served cold on crostini. The calamari was pretty run of the mill, except for the fact that it was topped with peppers that had quite the kick to them.

The pasta dishes that we chose weren’t very large thought the prices were pretty reasonable for the size of the dishes. My aunt and I both had tagliatelle, served in a rich, creamy mushroom sauce. The portion size was just right, so that I felt full, but not like I had overdosed on carbs and truffles. Chester had the tagliatelle with bolognese sauce, which tasted exactly as I remembered it from the Pasta Blitz days. I had a small bite of my mom’s baked cannelloni with ricotta, spinach, and mozzarella. I liked that it was stuffed with rib eye, instead of just ground beef. It gave it a heartier flavor.

We all enjoyed our meals very much, and the delicious food was enhanced by the beautiful surroundings. Usually, I’m so focused on food that I don’t notice the décor of a restaurant that much, but Positano Coast is really beautiful. The cool shades of blue, mosaic tiles, crisp white linens, lounge style furnishings and images from the Amalfi Coast might cause you to forget that you are in the middle of Olde City Philadelphia for a second.

The only décor element that is kind of questionable are the articles of clothing that are mounted on the walls—it reminded us of something out of an end of the world movie, where everyone gets taken up to heaven or wherever and their clothes get left behind on the street. I tried to find a decent photo of it–the best I could do is below–I direct your attention to the back wall.

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I would definitely return to Positano Coast again, since there were a variety of things on the menu that I would like to try. Plus, it would make a great location for a summertime happy hour. Positano Coast does offer happy hour specials throughout the week and is BYOB on Sundays and Mondays. If you are in the neighborhood before or after catching a movie at the Ritz, it’s worth checking out!