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special occasion italian in Philly

looking for a memorable italian meal. naturally, philly has an over-abundance of italian restaurants but we would like one for an intimate birthday dinner. Rustic food OK but family-friendly atmosphere not (babysitter night!!). Love all of Vetri's restaurants and looking to branch out.
I was excited to try Le Virtu until all the negative posts recently on Yelp and chowhound gave me pause. Considering Tre Scalini. Would have wanted Il Pittore but no reservation available.
ideas?

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  1. Salento is very good. So are La Famiglia, Ristorante Panorama and La Castagne although they are a bit more formal. Salento is BYO.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Beulah

      I would second Salento - very authentic food (compared to my experiences in Italy), not overly fancy but nice enough for a special night out.

      Panorama had nice wine and apps, from my experience, but the main courses were pretty forgettable.

    2. I havent been to Le Virtu in maybe 8 months but have enjoyed it immensely. I was at Tre Scalini pretty recently and it was very disappointing. I have liked it in the past but a couple bad dishes turned me off. I will definitely be back to Le Virtu despite the recent bad reviews, can't say the same for Tre Scalini.

      7 Replies
      1. re: barryg

        What did you have at Tre Scalini? I tried it recently for the first time in years (since they moved, I think) and was pleasantly surprised.

        1. re: Buckethead

          Good to hear. The most disappointing dish that I remember was a fresh pasta with lamb ragu, it was a special. It tasted like marinara sauce (not cooked with meat) with a few tiny particles of lamb stirred in at the end. Not at all what a rugu should be like. I don't remember anything else about the rest of the meal.

          Maybe I will give it another try.

          1. re: barryg

            Davios seems to be getting good press.

              1. re: drbouba

                Modo Mio is wonderful. Only downside I can see is the tight seating and the noise. Better if you go early. You would need to reserve a couple weeks or more in advance.

            1. re: barryg

              Went to Tre Scalini for the first time back in October, and although some of the dishes were quite good, the medium-rare veal rib chops several of us ordered all came out closer to well-done. Also that imported Tartufo w coffee syrup that some people seem to rave about was a joke.

              I like Le Virtu, but have only been to the 40-course La Panarda dinner recently and need to go back to see what's up with some of the criticism I've seen on this board. Also loud.

              Really enjoyed Amis recently. But Osteria was my single worst meal of 2012 (surely waiter, loud, incompetent food, or a just OK pizza, really can't really see what the fuss is about).

              Modo Mio is great, byob (and loud).

              Enjoyed my one visit to Modo Mio-sister Monsu last year.

              1. re: PhillyBestBYOB

                Finally I am not the only one around here who has been underwhelmed by Osteria (to the point I felt no need to return again any time soon) and have really liked Amis on several visits!

        2. Tre Scalini - good but not memorable. We have certain dishes that we like there. Noisy lately.

          Le Virtu - we have had consistently excellent dinners there.

          Paradiso - underrated. Delicious food. Not byob.

          We thought Salento was good but not memorable or intimate.

          If it doesn't have to be italian, consider Fond - intimate, delicious food. Or French, like Bistrot La Minette. Or Meritage, which is eclectic.

          Heard good things about Sbraga.

          1. Want to amend my last posting. Friends who are foodies went to Paradiso this past week and had a very unpleasant experience. Not good at all. Maybe the chef was off.
            Also some recent negatives about Meritage, though I hope it was just an off night.

            And to add to non-Italian - Vernick. Creative, delicious.

            1. Whew, reprieved! I will joint sockii and PBbyob in noting that one of the biggest disappointments of 2012 was dinner at Osteria. In a review after I noted non fulfillment of expectations on the food and a lousy attitude from the host to the server. I chalked it up to a bad night and expectations set too high. While I can understand an occasional miss on a menu item, the attitude thing is totally unacceptable. Shame on management!

              7 Replies
              1. re: Bacchus101

                I only ate at Osteria once, but the service was excellent.
                Food was also good, though others clearly like it more than I do. I found it expensive for the food you eat there; it was pretty clear sitting at the table that the prices in the food were going to the small army of people working there, and they all seemed to be very professional and competent, w/out attitude. (But not cloyingly friendly, which is fine with me).
                I look forward to going back, sitting at the bar, eating pizza and dessert. No plans to plan a trip there again, but glad I ate there.

                1. re: Bob Loblaw

                  I had no problems with service at Osteria - for me that was pretty much the highlight of the experience - but it was all down to the food.

                  I was not blown away at all by the chicken liver rigatoni after everyone bragged it up here. I love chicken liver and there just wasn't enough livery flavor to the dish for my tastes...I thought it was a pretty pedestrian meat sauce. A pork pasta special was overwhelmed by too much orange rind, and an artichoke side dish was burnt and swimming in oil - absolutely nothing like the way the dish is prepared in Italy (the many many times I've savored it there.)

                  I really only loved their house-cured salami. Pizza ok but nothing that made me want to rush back when I do my own at home better...

                  1. re: Bob Loblaw

                    I ate there once, early on. I, too, thought it was expensive. I remember the very good polenta budino. Portions were tiny.

                    1. re: JanR

                      I have been to Osteria once for a full meal with a big group and once just for pizza. I think the pizza is very good although it's not something that I find myself craving. I thought the rest of the food was great. the service seemed somewhat harried but pleasant. Ami's I've been to several times and always loved pretty much every single bite of each and every dish. Also love the atmosphere. I've been to Vetri twice. The first time I found it to be ephemeral and simply the best meal experience at every level in recent memory. Went back a few months ago and wasn't quite as blown away but in fairness we ended up with a late reservation, the group was a bit tired, we did the wine pairings which probably overdid it for us and frankly the expectations were just too high! I've been to Alla Spina twice and even though I don't eat pork, found plenty to eat all of which was fun and delicious. All in all, I'm a big fan of Vetri restaurants.

                      1. re: drbouba

                        I agree. I've had nothing but fantastic experiences at all the Vetri places, and Osteria is my favorite. I've been there many times and never encountered the food or service issues people here have mentioned. As for portions, they are typical Italian portion sizes, most of the food is very rich, and I always leave feeling stuffed (and I'm a good eater).

                        1. re: drbouba

                          Yes you are most certainly a "big fan of Vetri" restaurants. Quite a pleasure when one finds that level of satisfaction across frequent visits, different food at different venues.

                          Your comment "---first time I found it to be ephemeral---"; I am not understanding ephemeral in that context; except that perhaps the meal "lasted a day" or was too fleeting?

                          1. re: Bacchus101

                            too fleeting! for a leisurely tasting menu, it later seemed to have happened in a flash, like a very pleasant dream.
                            OK, odd word choice, I agree.

                  2. Update:
                    I'd like to thank everyone for their great suggestions.
                    In the end, we went with Le Virtu and were very pleased with this decision. There seemed to be a lot of Yelpers upset with the service, but overall I found the service to be excellent (maybe it has improved since those reviews). There was a very long delay between our pasta course and the single non-pasta dish (fish) which we ordered, but at that point, we were close to satiated and I'd much rather a delay than feel rushed through an enjoyable meal. The atmosphere was wonderful and the food was really terrific. Not a bad dish at all. We started with the tripe, a soup made of chick-pea, chestnut and farro which was quite memorable (delicious but also memorable for the fact that we asked the waitress what was in the soup in the hope of recreating it at home, only to find out that it's made with pork! We do not eat pork but really blame ourselves for not asking or making that clear when we sat down), rice ball, and burrata. Pasta were the single long noodle (I really enjoyed the chewiness but my wife found it too salty), spaghetti with lamb ragu, and gnocchi (interesting, small gnocchi I've never had before). We had the orata and then for dessert had the olive oil carrot cake, european style drinking/dunking chocolate, chocolate semi-freddo, and the peccorino panna cotta (mild but great for being not too sweet). My parents both found their cappuccinos to be too cold and they were promptly replaced. Needless to say, we left wonderfully stuffed and having nothing but positive things to say about the meal. I found the food to be on par with my experiences at Ami's and Osteria (in a good way!). It was also nice seeing that thriving stretch of Passayunk.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: drbouba

                      Thank you for letting us know where you chose to go! Glad the meal was good - I haven't been to Le Virtu in several months (so many restaurants so little time) and was worried about some of the reviews!

                      1. re: drbouba

                        Thanks for reporting back.
                        Le Virtu is one of our favorites and we have never been disappointed there. So glad you enjoyed it!