I don’t know how many Italian restaurants there are in the city, but I do know that the price ranges go from very expensive to quite moderate.
I have reviewed every Italian restaurant in South Philly. While I was on the Internet, I discovered that Karina’s recently moved from the East Passyunk Crossing neighborhood to Queen Village. I enjoyed my 2003 meal there and wanted to see its new quarters and check out the menu.
The atmosphere was close to perfection. The walls are painted a sunny yellow enhanced by pretty artwork. Bright red hanging lights made it easy to read the menu and see the food. The music was a fine selection of jazz, opera and show tunes specifically “And another 100 people just got off of the train,” from Stephen Sondheim’s ground-breaking Broadway musical “Company.” It immediately made me think of the great Elaine Stritch, who was a member of the original cast, who died July 17 at the age of 89.
That said, I looked forward to dinner. Our server opened our wine and recited a list of specials. Although the main focus is on Italian fare, there is a separate list of South American and Spanish dishes as well.
Homemade semolina bread arrived crisp from the oven. From the antipasti we selected bolitas de mozzarella ($10) and antipasto riviero ($11). The former consisted of rolls formed from mozzarella and prosciutto topped with a sauce of anchovies and heady porcini mushrooms. We were surprised to discover this starter was served hot, but it was a twist on the classic cool mozzarella and prosciutto I make at home. The sauce was truly rich and satisfying, and the anchovies lent a fine flavor.
The shellfish appetizer was just OK. Mussels, clams, one small but well cooked scallop, three rings of squid (no tentacles here), one small shrimp and a few more the size of a newborn’s thumbnail were served in a white wine garlic sauce with minced parsley. Unfortunately, the mussels were scrawny.
The dazzling list of pastas can be ordered as an appetizer portion. We decided to share the fettuccine with lamb ragu ($16). It was immediately obvious that the fresh egg pasta ribbons were homemade and well prepared. I have had beef, rabbit and wild boar ragu but never one made with lamb. This thick sauce is one that the late Marcella Hazan has written, “must cling to the pasta.” This tomato-based version was very thin and contained very little minced lamb. There was an aroma wafting from my bowl that was very pleasant. It could have been a dash of cumin that enhanced the flavor.
We decided to order two specials of the evening for our entrees. A large thick slice of boneless pork loin ($28) was stuffed with fresh spinach, mozzarella cheese and sundried tomatoes and finished in a rich dark demi-glace. It was an Italian take on the classic French galantine. When we cut into the meat, it was a bit pink inside, as overcooked pork is most unpleasant. A mix of carrots, green beans, broccoli and cauliflower made me think of a bag of Green Giant frozen vegetables straight from the 80s, but these were fresh yet underseasoned. A roasted potato wedge was included on the plate.
Tuna alla Livornese ($25) is as Italian as one can get. The sauce is prepared with tomatoes, capers and green olives. It is reduced to a slight thickness so it can nap the fish with flavor. I have never seen a slice of very thin tuna shaped into a large oval until my dinner arrived. The pleasure of tuna is its thickness. Still, the fish was not overcooked and the portion quite generous.
I love a tartufo for dessert. This one ($7) was made with a small scoop of French vanilla ice cream, rolled in chocolate shavings and served with whipped cream. I prefer the thick, rich chocolate coating because of the crunch one gets when biting into it.
The service was excellent although we had to wait at least 20 minutes for our antipasti even though we were the only guests in the room. The service picked up as the evening progressed.
Three tips of the toque to Karina’s.
617 S. Third St.
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