Roberto Cafe

By Phyllis Stein-Novack
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 16 | Posted Sep. 14, 2006

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Though the Vincenti brothers take good care of their customers, their new restaurant needs some work in preparing authentic Italian cucina. Staff photo by Meredith Edlow

For the past six months, it's been quiet on the new Italian restaurant scene. The city is packed with too many of them already, the majority of which are mediocre and serve the same fare. Many are BYOB, but thankfully, that craze now includes places with spicy Thai food, authentic Mexican plates and dishes from China's diverse provinces.


I knew the Italian BYOB lull was bound to quicken when I heard about Roberto Cafe, a new trattoria on South Street. The Vincenti brothers, Roberto and Fernando from Apulia, Italy, recently opened their pretty eatery with no sign. They worked at Radicchio, a forerunner of the Italian BYOB, for a number of years. They figured if that restaurant had a loyal following, they could, too, if they cloned the formula and offered some of the dishes on Radicchio's menu.

The dining room in Roberto Cafe is a long space with yellow, sponged-painted walls and high-polished dark-wood tables finished with linen napkins and Italian crystal glassware at each place setting.

Roberto and Fernando are the servers and they brought an ice bucket for our white wine along with another pretty crystal bucket filled with ice and a pair of tongs.

Complimentary bruschetta was prepared with red ripe tomatoes, chopped basil and sweet onions. A basket of bread and a bottle of olive oil, which has replaced butter in many restaurants, kept us happy until our appetizers arrived.

Soup of the day ($5) was lentil with fresh vegetables. The homemade broth was enhanced by saut�ed onion, celery, carrots and tomatoes and arrived nice and hot.

Chef Isidro Ramos is fond of shiitake mushrooms and they appear in a number of his dishes. "Mozzarella affumicata" ($9) was a hot antipasto prepared with smoked mozzarella and topped with saut�ed radicchio and shiitake mushrooms. Although the ingredients were tasty, there was too much balsamic vinegar in the dressing, overpowering the fresh taste.

"Insalata scoglio" ($9) was disappointing. This antipasto, which was served cold, is prepared with squid, scallops, shrimp, mussels and clams in lemon and olive oil. But the seafood was overcooked, the mussels, out of their shells, were the size of an infant's fingernail and the calamari rings lacked flavor. I needed a microscope to find three tiny pieces of sliced shrimp and I am not sure scallops were even used because what looked like them did not taste like them -- they had a grainy texture, like overcooked swordfish.

I sometimes wonder why the Italian dishes I make don't look or taste the same as those in restaurants. I wrote about "Vitello alla Milanese" a few weeks ago and this restaurant's version ($20) was way off. A good-sized veal chop was pounded thin, breaded and saut�ed. It was topped with arugula, loaded with olive oil and so much balsamic vinegar it unpleasantly seeped into the meat. Instead of shards of Parmigiano-Reggiano, the arugula was finished with bits of chopped tomato, which also tasted of balsamic vinegar and oil. I also wondered why it did not come with any vegetables.

Veal saltimbocca ($16) is one of my favorite Roman dishes. It's made with proscuitto and fresh sage leaves, but most Italian restaurants ruin it because chefs smother the meat with too much gooey cheese and spinach. Ramos had the recipe correct. He pounded the veal, saut�ed it in a white wine sauce and topped it with not-at-all salty proscuitto. Unfortunately, he forgot the fragrant sage, which gives the dish its distinctive flavor. Instead, it was sprinkled with bits of chopped parsley. My plate included unappetizing, cold, mushy potatoes, neither mashed nor cubed, and watery, tasteless slices of grayish-yellow zucchini. Roasted potatoes with rosemary and garlic and saut�ed spinach would have made it a real Italian dinner.

Mom asked that her "penne amatriciana" be made with fusilli. Instead, she got rotelle (the corkscrew version). Penne amatriciana can be made with fusilli, which, in Italy, are corkscrew shaped. Here, fusilli are the long strands with squiggles. Traditionally, this dish is made with spaghetti. Regardless, we could hardly detect the pancetta, which is what gives the recipe its flavor.

Although the Vincenti brothers took good care of us, the kitchen needs help. Since much of our dinner lacked flavor, I wondered if any of the cooks were actually tasting the food.

Perhaps Roberto Caf� should bring in someone's nonna for a few lessons in selecting ingredients and turning them into classic Italian cucina.

One tip of the toque to Roberto Caf�.


Roberto Caf�
2108 South St.
Cash only
Open for lunch and dinner

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Comments 1 - 16 of 16
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1. gabry said... on Nov 16, 2008 at 06:58AM

“I am never disappointed in this beautiful trattoria, service and price are excellent. Food is fresh and super tasty.”

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2. ALAN .L said... on Mar 20, 2011 at 09:28AM

“Wery good autentic italian cucine, we nice space back dining patio ,non question about food ;GRAIG LA BAN critic food in philly say the truth.”

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3. Donna said... on Apr 5, 2011 at 09:15PM

“center city surging dining scene,roberto cafe change your life ,remainders of how good it's gotten lately ,,the cozy trattoria italiana byob.”

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4. even -l said... on Nov 29, 2011 at 09:51PM

“Roberto cafe with standard italian dishes ,everything from Milan to Rome.”

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5. ALAN & NANCY said... on Dec 10, 2011 at 12:30PM

“Very pofessional people, authentic italian cucine with fabulos inexspenseve lunch cozy for romantic date.”

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6. Samantha .w said... on Jun 12, 2012 at 10:45PM

“Fall in love with Roberto cafe, is ese, beautyfull atmosfere ,in and out dining to enjoy autentic italian cucine.”

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7. David .c said... on Jun 16, 2012 at 09:15AM

“Every weekend we enjoy Roberto cafe ,to as is like dinning in italy the authentic food is astending ,tray the lobster ravioli,or the veal milanese ,you never stop to say a moch is deliscius.lovely food to lovely peaple.”

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8. Efaudite.lagman said... on Jun 16, 2012 at 09:38AM

“Food and peaple wery authentic ,filng like dining in italy, seafood fresh every day homede bread ,to the delicius cannoli,or tiramisu" .we love to introduce peaple to this lovely trattoria italiana.”

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9. david coshman said... on Jul 10, 2012 at 09:56PM

“The perfect trattoria in tthe perfect location incoming area , roberto cafe is wath every body looking for.real italian cucine weth italin acxent to enjoe every day lunch or dinner.”

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10. sindy .m .d said... on Jul 19, 2012 at 12:49PM

“We are regular costumer ,at Roberto cafe and we love this place moore and moore,you see famose face from philly in this cozy autentic trattoria.”

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11. RAMONA.L said... on Dec 18, 2012 at 08:09PM

“If you creve ,fresh,made to order ITALIAN and need it fast ,this BYOB ful service put many on the in ; the fish is absolutely delicius.”

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12. Elisa serlusconi said... on Dec 30, 2012 at 02:16AM

“This Italian red souce stample off rittenhouse clientele pleases older crowd with basic but good autentic italian cucine make you feel part of the family ,.[godfather lives on reputation]”

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13. Samantha wellen said... on Jan 20, 2013 at 11:24PM

“Impress the client'' by taking them to join the crow of movers and shaker''at this ''landmark'' southtreet italian BYOB where you can't go wrong with its memorable mangia,mangia,served by some of the most attractive Man .”

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14. Haunt Neighborhood said... on Dec 1, 2013 at 10:12AM

“The kind of place that everyone wants to have in their neighborhood ,this intimate BYO Italian on an unassuming Rittenhouse square people, impressive menu ,cooking proffered by an attentive staff ,-just keep in mind ,this is a first date place to date eny one.”

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15. Brenda and Lilly said... on Jun 3, 2014 at 08:48AM

“Running through this beautifully decoration Italian ,with excellently dish. To don't missing the dining out Patio.”

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16. lovely phiadelphia said... on Aug 19, 2014 at 12:08PM

“BYOB in a cute little converted row house for fans ,it's south street Italian authentic at its best.”


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