By Phyllis Stein-Novack
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 6 | Posted Jul. 3, 2013

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Branzino, an Italian Center City BYOB, offers Mediterranean cuisine from executive chef Mike Stollenwerk.

Photo by Staff Photo by Kathryn Poole

Twitter is an excellent source for restaurant news. When I read chef Mike Stollenwerk, who worked magic with sea creatures at Little Fish in Queen Village a number of years ago, was at the helm at Branzino, I could not wait to visit the restaurant.

Branzino, a BYOB Italian restaurant, opened nearly 10 years ago. I enjoyed my dinner, but suspected Stollenwerk might tweak the menu.

The bi-level establishment has yellow-green walls, a crystal chandelier, pale yellow linen and lovely china from England. Our server opened the Muscadet we brought as Edward and I settled in to peruse the menu. Warm bread and a dish of olive oil with slightly salty black olives kept me happy as I decided on dinner.

We began with a generous order of freshly grilled asparagus ($6), beautifully slicked with the right touch of olive oil and fresh herbs.

Beet salads have become so ubiquitous that I usually pass on them, but Stollenwerk’s version ($9) was an inspired choice. A large mound of immaculately fresh, spicy watercress was topped with tiny cubes of roasted cool beets, a scattering of marcona almonds and small shavings of hard goat cheese. All it required was a few twists of the pepper mill. The flavors and textures in this properly dressed salad set my taste buds up beautifully for the next course.

Risotto can be tricky. The rice is the star while other ingredients play supporting roles. The wild mushroom risotto ($14) was about the finest I’ve had in any restaurant. Each grain of arborio rice was properly coated and cooked. It was blended with a heady mix of woodsy mushrooms and stock that added a creamy texture. Our server grated a bit of Parmesan on top of the risotto, I stirred it a bit and the rice spread, as it must, in the heated bowl.

Orecchiette with chicken ragu ($14) also was outstanding. The little ear pasta was cooked al dente and topped with a mix of tender chicken, fresh herbs and bits of chopped fresh tomato. As Marcella Hazan always says, “a ragu must cling to the pasta.” Stollenwerk’s version surely did.

I prefer a whole fish baked or grilled on the bone. Bones add flavor to any fish and a simple classic preparation always pleases me. Stollenwerk’s keen sense of how to properly prepare it was more than evident in the whole branzino ($32).

A waiter carefully skinned and boned the whole fish with the skill of a surgeon at our table. He placed the fillets on a hot plate and napped them in a warm white wine butter sauce laced with tiny capers and bits of chopped fresh Italian parsley. Stollenwerk placed a handful of fresh grilled asparagus on the plate as a perfect tasty foil for the fish.

Edward’s salmon ($27) consisted of a six-ounce center-cut fillet, covered in spices and grilled to perfection. It was slightly translucent inside, imparting a natural juicy flavor that we both enjoyed. Stollenwerk set the entrée on a bed of cool potato salad prepared with tiny fingerling potatoes. It was tossed with a bit of olive oil and fresh herbs. We did not need to reach for the salt and pepper. Stollenwerk knows how to season each dish as it leaves his kitchen.

Don’t miss the vanilla panna cotta ($8), which arrived in a small glass Mason-type jar. The creamy pudding-like confection was scented with real vanilla and topped with fresh seasonal juicy berries.

An individual chocolate hazelnut cake ($8.50) was akin to the chocolate lava cake. It arrived warm and was obviously baked with top-quality chocolate and topped with a scoop of homemade vanilla ice cream.

Service was on the mark. It was unobtrusive, professional and caring. Our plates were cleared with ease, fresh silverware was given because the waitstaff watch the tables.

Branzino is the perfect restaurant for me to make a return visit, especially on a sultry summer night when facing the stove is much too much. I want to enjoy Stollenwerk’s crudo of the day and the whole organic roast chicken.

Four tips of the toque to Branzino. 


261 S. 17th St.

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Comments 1 - 6 of 6
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1. Anonymous said... on Jul 4, 2013 at 12:48PM

“Noord was outstanding! Looking forward to many more great meals there.”

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2. Marty Medals said... on Jul 4, 2013 at 02:51PM

You are so right about a place being predictable.
Who would believe that an Italian resteraunt would service oil and olives with bread, how original.
And wow! Aldente pasta. Who would have predicted that?
Chocolate cake with ice cream is nice. Ordinary but nice
So Fred, why are you afraid of a review of the Broad Street Diner?

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3. Marty said... on Jul 9, 2013 at 12:50PM

“Last time I checked Branzino was a mediterrian seabass that is served in most Itialian Resteraunts.
So, I guess I am wondering why one would go to a place named Branzino and order chicken or salmon.
Sort of like the idiots who go to Ruth's Chriss and order seafood.
Tre Scalini has great Branzino.”

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4. Lisa said... on Jul 9, 2013 at 12:51PM

“Why would you drink a French wine at an Italian restaurant?”

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5. Marty Medals said... on Jul 9, 2013 at 03:53PM

“Dear Anony,
Wow, who dropped off the wrong side of the bed today?
First, I do not know Lisa. My real name is Marty.
Second, I believe that a news paper named "South Philly Review" should be addressing the interests of the people who get delivery every week in South Philly.
Am I expecting too much to be able to read about places in South Philly? Also, you failed to address my remarks about people ( yes I called them idiots) who go out of thier way to order the wrong things. When taking a bottle of Gewürztraminer (yes I already knew that it is a German name) to a Chinese restaurant would you order a turkey club sandwich or Chinese food?
Finally, I often wonder how the advertisers in this paper feel about reviews that fail to address the needs of thier customers.

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6. MS said... on Jul 10, 2013 at 08:22AM

“Marty - kind of agree with you. However a trip to Center City (I still call it downtown) isn't that far. Anyway even west Philly isn't very far either.

However I do have a problem with the PSN's reviews. She strives for a NY Times audience and seems to tailor her reviews for those readers. This is a neighborhood newspaper.

Anyway why not a review of the Pennrose, Oregon, etc. Maybe they don't have sweeybreads or duck lips on their menu...hahaha

Take care.”


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