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Rocchino’s Italian Coal Oven

By Phyllis Stein-Novack
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 2 | Posted Mar. 22, 2012

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Photo by Greg Bezanis

A number of you may be surprised to learn I write at home. Writing is a disciplined art form. I am up early to do research, work on my columns and my cookbook, field phone calls and answer e-mails. By the time mid-afternoon arrives, I need a break.

My sister Sandy and I often go to the movies on a weekday. We take in a late matinee and look forward to an early dinner. Last week, we enjoyed “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen” and walked along Chestnut Street where a number of people were dining al fresco.

Several restaurants have recently opened in Old City. We thought about going to Reserve, a steakhouse and the Monkey Bar, a funky place that replaced the Society Hill Hotel. Along the way, we spotted Rocchino’s Italian Coal Oven.

“I’m in the mood for pizza,” Sandy said as we read the menu posted outside.

It’s a casual eatery equipped with several televisions tuned to the NCAA Tournament games. There’s a large bar in the front and seating near the pizza oven in the dining room. We slid into a large wooden booth and talked about the menu.

The all-day bill of fare features hot and cold antipasti, salads, pasta and pizza. This is my kind of place because I often like to build a meal around shared appetizers and a pizza or pasta.

The staff was friendly and courteous and answered our questions with a smile. A warm loaf of seeded Italian bread arrived on a wooden board along with a ramekin of tasty pesto and one of olive oil.

Dinner began with meatballs ($9) and eggplant Parmesan ($8). Two good-sized meatballs were prepared with ground beef, pork and veal and topped with tomato sauce. Sandy and I liked the flavor and texture, but felt they could have been hotter. The eggplant was a cold, soupy, goopy mess. It was inedible. Our courteous waiter whisked it away and I knew another serving would not be much better.

The Prince Edward Island mussels ($11) were overcooked and mealy doused in a thin tomato sauce. Neither Sandy nor I could taste basil and garlic, which were listed on the menu. I ate two of them for the sake of this review and stopped.

I wanted a glass of wine and asked our waiter for advice. He gave me a sample of the Malbec that tasted like cough syrup. A gentleman came over to assist me. He recommended the Côtes du Rhône ($11) a full flavored, rich red, which was a highlight of the evening.

“I wanted you to try another eggplant Parmesan,” our waiter said. “This one is hot and there is no charge. It was hot, indeed, but the replacement was a watery and goopy mess that was topped with too much cheese. The restaurant crams this dish in an oval ramekin recalling the 1950s. When prepared correctly, the dish is a stacked wonder of eggplant, cheese and fresh tomato.

I figured Rocchino’s has a bit of difficulty with hot fare. We went for the beet and goat cheese salad ($8), which looked nothing like the photograph on the restaurant’s website. About four or five large slices of roasted beets were placed on a rectangular plate and topped with goat cheese, which tasted more like cream cheese. Although the beets were nicely cooked, dressed in an arugula pesto and topped with a scattering of pistachio nuts, it lacked flavor.

When it comes to pizza, we all know what we like. There is marvelous flavorful pizza in the city. I think Santucci’s near the Italian Market is my favorite. I use it as a barometer to measure how fine a pie can be.

White pizza with wild mushrooms ($13) rated a six out of 10. The thin-crust pie arrived piping hot, but required a drizzling of olive oil before it was served. The mushrooms appeared to be of the white button variety.

Rocchino’s could be so much better. More care should have been taken with the dishes we sampled. It is a restaurant where the service is better than the food.

One-half tip of the toque to Rocchino’s. SPR

Rocchino’s Italian Coal Oven

239 Chestnut St.
215-238-6900
rocchinos.com

 

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COMMENTS

Comments 1 - 2 of 2
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1. Edward said... on Mar 22, 2012 at 01:16PM

“Don't give up on that Malbec, dear.

Indeed the French gave up on it long ago. It's grapes are thin-skinned, prone to disease, and now used mainly for blending. It has lot of tannin, is syrupy, and, yes, tastes a bit like cough syrup.

But! Try Argentine Malbec. A really good strain of the grape was brought over from France years ago, and it is now very widely and successfully used in Argentinian wine. It's still full-bodied, but much smoother and more drinkable. It can even be aged for more complexity.

Got it, dear? Malbec from ARGENTINA. You'll taste a world of difference.”

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2. Phyllis Stein-Novack said... on Mar 23, 2012 at 02:41PM

“Dear Edward:

All women and all men are created equal. But not all wine. I adore Malbec from Argentina. I buy Santa Julia organic Malbec all the time. It is great for sipping and cooking. In fact, it has become my everyday red wine just as Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand has become my every day white wine.

Try the Santa Julia. You will not be disappointed.”

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