When the Marathon Grill, 1339 Chestnut St., suddenly closed months ago, I knew someone would open a restaurant at this prime location.
I was surprised to discover Fratelli’s Italian Bistro as the new tenant because I remember its days at 17th and Spruce streets.
I’m not sure Center City needed another Italian restaurant, especially since Fratelli’s opened across the street from the Olive Garden. Still, I was curious about the menu and wanted to see if a few dishes had what it took to tempt my taste buds.
Edward and I hopped on the bus on a bitterly cold night. At Fratelli’s, two women greeted us at the door, checked our coats and showed us to a roomy booth. The interior has not changed much since its Marathon days. There’s a well-lit bar with two televisions, hanging lights and red leather booths near large windows affording a view of the happening Chestnut Street scene.
We settled in and glanced over the wine list, deciding on a bottle of Santa Christina Sangiovese ($29). Its rich, robust flavor enhanced our Italian fare quite nicely.
Our server brought us some cool Italian bread and softened butter. Then we began dinner with a Caesar salad and eggplant rolatine ($9.50 each). Bite-size pieces of romaine were crisp and cool, but the salad lacked flavor. A sprinkling of salt and pepper helped it a bit, but this was less than mediocre.
The rolatine consisted of two slices of not-at-all bitter eggplant filled with fresh, creamy ricotta cheese, rolled up and topped with a fresh homemade tomato sauce. This dish imparted a light flavor, but I think a few fresh herbs would have pepped it up. Still, it was tasty and arrived piping hot.
I usually enjoy a pasta appetizer portion when dining in an Italian restaurant. Since Fratelli’s does not offer small pasta portions, Edward and I shared the fettuccine Alfredo ($16.50). It’s important to hit the right balance of butter, cream and Parmesan cheese in this famous Rome creation. Fratelli’s version was OK, but it lacked depth in flavor. I sprinkled on a little grated Parmesan, which added a slightly salty flavor that the pasta needed.
Fratelli’s offers a list of fresh fish that can be either grilled or pan-seared and comes with a choice of sauces. In Italy, grilled fish is topped with a little wine, olive oil and chopped fresh herbs. Fratelli’s is an Italian-American restaurant so sauces, especially for the pasta, run the American gamut of brandy cream to simple fresh tomato.
I chose tuna Livornese ($21.50), a classic dish of seared tuna topped with a rich, slightly chunky tomato sauce and laced with olives and sautéed onions. It was pretty tasty, and the fish was seared medium and not overcooked. A few pencil-thin grilled asparagus and roasted potatoes encrusted with sea salt were fanned out on the plate.
Edward always enjoys a plain veal cutlet. He does not care for sauce or cheese on top because he feels it detracts from the flavor of the veal. His dinner ($22.50) consisted of a slice of veal pounded paper thin, coated in crumbs and quickly fried. I thought it was dry, but he liked it. The aforementioned vegetables also were included in his entrée.
Service was excellent throughout dinner. Our server knew the menu, answered our questions and offered distinct descriptions of several dishes.
However, I was a bit disappointed with the menu. I hoped Fratelli’s would be more upscale, with interesting twists on classic dishes. Italy’s diverse regions offer all sorts of antipasti, pasta and entrées. The bill of fare is run-of-the mill, but if I had a choice between the Olive Garden and Fratelli’s, I would choose the latter.
One-and-a-half tips of the toque to Fratelli’s.
1339 Chestnut St.
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