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cozy, authentic italian, byob...?

newbiechick Aug 1, 2010 07:27 PM

hi there. i'd like to take my boyfriend out to eat at a cozy, authentic italian restaurant for his birthday (it will be a saturday night). i'm looking anywhere in the philly area . we'll have a car so i don't mind driving.

i'm not looking for anything too modern/trendy or crazy expensive. ideally some place rustic, intimate with fantastic food. i'd prefer byob but it's not a must. oh, and someplace where the noise level allows us to carry a conversation.

we don't live in the area anymore so i'm clueless as to where to go.
thanks in advance!

edited: i guess i should also add that he's a bit of a foodie. we're not looking for the hottest new place - just great good and atmosphere.

  1. b
    bonappetite Aug 2, 2010 12:44 AM

    BYOB's- La Viola, Branzino, Melograno, Caffe something(!) Vista, Tre Scalini
    Not a BYO but a foodie destination, Le Virtue, also Osteria or the high end Vetri

    1. j
      JanR Aug 2, 2010 04:45 AM

      Mr. Martino's on Passyunk Ave.

      1. linguafood Aug 2, 2010 05:26 AM

        I think bonappetite means Caffe Casta Diva.

        I've been to Porcini, a tiny place on Sansom, which I really liked. Seems to fit the bill perfectly.

        1 Reply
        1. re: linguafood
          newbiechick Aug 2, 2010 07:44 AM

          All of these recs seem so great! I am going to a little more research on each one and try to decide.

          Keep the ideas coming. Thanks everyone!

        2. b
          Bigley9 Aug 2, 2010 07:38 AM

          I would second Mr Martino's (although I think they vacation in Aug sometime so be careful!) and Le Virtu and add La Angolo

          1. b
            Buckethead Aug 2, 2010 07:56 AM

            I'm a fan of Mr. Martino's, but Le Virtu would be my suggestion. It kind of depends on what exactly you mean by "crazy expensive".

            5 Replies
            1. re: Buckethead
              newbiechick Aug 2, 2010 08:16 AM

              yeah, i guess "crazy expensive" is all relative ;)
              i'd prefer somewhere around $125 (gratuity included) for two. i'll spend a bit more if it's not BYOB, to include a bottle of wine

              1. re: newbiechick
                Buckethead Aug 2, 2010 08:40 AM

                Mr. Martino's will probably cost you half that, it's BYO. Le Virtu would probably be over that, you could spend less depending on what you order. Entrees there start at $21, but usually when I go I just skip the entrees and get an appetizer and one of their pasta dishes, which are almost all under $20. They make great fresh pasta.

                You didn't say where in NJ you'll be but if you're near Collingswood I would also consider Blackbird (http://www.blackbirdnj.com/), their gnocchi are fantastic. Their entrees are more expensive than Le Virtu's though.

                1. re: Buckethead
                  newbiechick Aug 2, 2010 08:51 AM

                  thanks, this is great info. price really isn't set in stone for me. i'll pay more for great food, but of course, if i can get great food for less $ than that would be great, too.

                  i did look at blackbird online and their website didn't seem too appealing (i know, not the best way to judge a restaurant...but i can't help it! it seemed a bit dark and halloween-ish).

                  the thing about martino's that threw me off was an article that said all the food is cooked in advance and then reheated for service. is nothing made fresh there? is it authentic italian or your italian-american fare?

                  1. re: newbiechick
                    Buckethead Aug 2, 2010 09:17 AM

                    I'd say it's Italian-American. I read that article. I will say that though I do like Mr. Martino's, the food there is the least interesting of those three places, and some dishes there are way better than others, probably partly due to the fact that some things are fine when they aren't prepared to order and some things aren't. I really like the sausage and polenta dish, the spinach lasagna, the white bean soup and the lemon dessert. But I've had things there that weren't good. You will have a better meal, food-wise, at Le Virtu or Blackbird (or L'Angolo). But then again, Mr. Martino's will only cost you half as much, and their atmosphere is unique.

                    1. re: newbiechick
                      barryg Aug 2, 2010 09:18 AM

                      Mr Martino's is good but not great. Many other Italian restaurants have better food and more ambitious menus, but the atmosphere at Mr Martino's meets your criteria exactly. It is very hard to find a BYOB that is not very loud; Mr Martino's is pleasant in this regard.

              2. CindyJ Aug 2, 2010 08:00 AM

                If you're willing to drive out to the western 'burbs, Avalon in West Chester may be what you're looking for. We had a really great meal there this past Friday evening. Outdoor dining was perfect. The food was really delicious. It's BYO. The prices are quite reasonable. And, if you check Restaurant.com, you might find a $25 certificate for as little as $2. http://www.avalonrestaurant.net/

                1 Reply
                1. re: CindyJ
                  newbiechick Aug 2, 2010 08:10 AM

                  this place looks so cute. unfortunately, we are staying on the jersey side of philly so the drive to west chester is a bit too far off for us. thanks though!

                2. sockii Aug 2, 2010 08:16 AM

                  Caffe Casta Diva, Branzino, or Roberto Cafe would be my picks for hitting authentic, cozy, AND BYOB. Also love Melograno for the food but the atmosphere/noise level can leave a lot to be desired if you're looking for something a bit romantic or quiet.

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: sockii
                    newbiechick Aug 2, 2010 11:08 AM

                    thanks everyone. i think i've narrowed it down to caffe casta diva, le virtu, and modo mio. i know that no one suggested modo mio on this post but it seems to have gotten great reviews. i'm just not so sure the atmosphere is the best option?

                    hmm...so many decisions!!!

                    1. re: newbiechick
                      Buckethead Aug 2, 2010 11:17 AM

                      I'd narrow it down to Le Virtu and Modo Mio just based on food, they're both very good, both on a different level than Caffe Casta Diva in my opinion. Modo Mio's atmosphere is nice and cozy (cramped, some would say), but it's really loud.

                      1. re: Buckethead
                        barryg Aug 2, 2010 11:32 AM

                        Agree with this, Modo Mio is awesome but you are elbow to elbow with other diners and it's really loud. Le Virtu is less cramped, and like SlyiaG says, the garden is very nice.

                  2. l
                    lawgirl3278 Aug 2, 2010 09:30 AM

                    L'Angolo or Branzino would fit the bill. Caffe Valentino is South Philly is also very nice.

                    1. s
                      sylviag Aug 2, 2010 11:15 AM

                      Le Virtu has a lovely garden area that is delightful if the weather is good. You need to ask for a table outside when you reserve; that area fills up fast.
                      Not byob, but you could eat very well and stay within your price range.
                      The pastas are exceptional. Very light and delicious. Food is from the Abruzzi area.
                      Way better than some of the other places mentioned.

                      1. n
                        newbiechick Aug 2, 2010 06:04 PM

                        Ok, I finally decided on Le Virtu. Thanks so much to all of you for your wonderful suggestions. I may try some of the others next time I'm in the area!

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: newbiechick
                          Bigley9 Aug 3, 2010 08:38 AM

                          let us know how it is!

                        2. n
                          newbiechick Aug 25, 2010 07:45 PM

                          thanks to all for their recommendations. I really appreciate your help in planning the dinner. it was a success!

                          i was glad to get seating outside - it was a nice night out and i always love a chance to eat outdoors. a little buggy, but worth it. we had a fairly early reservation so the place was empty when we arrived but by the time we left it was packed.

                          we started with the antipasto misto. fresh and plentiful. then i had the duck ragu. delicate and rich all the at the same time...heaven!!!! the boy had one of the pork specials and he enjoyed it but i was too happy with my handkerchief pasta to even pay attention to his plate, to be honest.

                          we ended with the limoncello tiramisu. it was superb. i just may try to recreate it myself.
                          not saying i'll succeed but hey, it's worth a try.

                          service was good...very friendly and accomodating. you can tell that many other diners there had been repeat customers, which is good to see.
                          next time im in philly i'm going to check out some other suggestions (if i don't go back to le virtu!)

                          thanks again for all of your replies!

                          3 Replies
                          1. re: newbiechick
                            gan911 Aug 25, 2010 08:20 PM

                            so le virtu is BYO? on the website there were wines offered...

                            1. re: gan911
                              newbiechick Aug 25, 2010 08:32 PM

                              nope, not byo. we decided to go with le virtu based on food alone.

                            2. re: newbiechick
                              Buckethead Aug 25, 2010 08:44 PM

                              Sounds like a good time! Thanks for reporting back. If you go back, their Pizza Dolce dessert is pretty great too. The fact that they aren't BYO is offset a bit by their wine list, I like that they have lots of glasses under $10.

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