By Phyllis Stein-Novack
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 14 | Posted Mar. 1, 2012

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Recently opened in November, Ulivo — under the direction of chef Joseph Scarpone — provides authentic Italian cuisine in Queen Village.

Photo by Greg Bezanis

It is a rare occasion, indeed, when I pen a belated valentine to a masterful chef. Chef Joseph Scarpone is the subject of my culinary heart. He opened Ulivo, a Queen Village BYOB trattoria in November. Cousin Carl and I astounded as this talented man turned out scrumptious dish-after-dish. "Keep it fresh and keep it simple" is his mantra. He succeeded in countless ways.

Cousin Carl and I settled in and marveled at the short, but expertly planned menu. Our delightful server Simone opened our sparkling wine, bought us flutes and placed the bottle in an ice bucket. Warm, slightly salty homemade focaccia and olive oil kept us happy as we decided on dinner.

Chargrilled, tender octopus ($14) was bursting with a smoky flavor, enhanced by the right touch of citrus, which played off marvelously against the rustic flavor of julienned sopressata and cubes of potato, drizzled with a garlic/basil vinaigrette. The octopus was braised before it met the grill.

Batons of crisp fried polenta ($9) were another hit. Creamy on the inside, the coating imparted a lusty, herb-like fragrance.

Since Scarpone’s restaurant is authentically Italian, pasta may be enjoyed as a second course. I found it difficult to find the words to describe two of the finest dishes I have sampled in what appears to be eons.

The gnocchi ($9.50 for a half order) almost floated off the plate. Scarpone prepares these little pillows with ricotta, adds some fresh spinach for color, flavor and texture and bathes the pasta in truffle butter. I have no more to say.

When was the last time you saw spaghetti carbonara ($9 for a half portion) on a menu? You can imagine my face when a runner placed the pasta on the table. A proper serving of spaghetti with bits of crisp pancetta was topped with an egg yolk. The first bite was a tasty thrill harkening back to the first time I tasted a dish.

At first sight and taste, Scarpone’s dishes appear simple. They are. But the flavors they impart are subtle and complex. This was clearly evident in the roast chicken ($19) and seared salmon ($21).

The chicken was brined and superbly roasted. Subtle hints of Meyer lemon added flavor along with the rustic heady hen of the woods mushrooms and slightly salty olives that were scattered on the plate. The chicken was served on a bed of saffron-laced fregola — the tiny pasta from Sardinia which made for a fine marriage.

Salmon is boring, yes? Scarpone’s version was anything but. He gets the right sear and serves it with a salsa verde made from Brussels spouts prepared with herbs and a carrot vinaigrette. Faro can be tricky. It is so often undercooked. Scarpone hit the mark again.

Desserts shined as well. Carl and I shared a slice of rosemary olive oil cake ($7) that reminded me of the cake Marcella Hazan once served during a Book and the Cook dinner.

I called Scarpone at 9:30 a.m. on a recent weekend. He was eating a bowl of oatmeal in his restaurant office.

“I wanted the restaurant to be neighborhood-centered,” he said. “I am 40 years old and my cooking continues to come with age. This is something I need to do.”

We chatted about what annoys me most in restaurant dining. We agreed we do not like dark places, over-the-top chatty staff, being attacked with the pepper mill and when a server constantly interrupts tale conversation with the dreaded “how’s” the so and so, is everything all right, especially when I have food in my mouth.

Suffice to say, Scarpone’s delightful staff was not guilty on these accounts.

Sunday brunch is in the planning stage.

I looked through my notes and reviews from last year. There were highs and lows but one thing is certain: Ulivo is the area's finest new restaurant.

Three extraordinary tips of the toque to Ulivo. SPR


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Comments 1 - 14 of 14
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1. Ava said... on Mar 1, 2012 at 08:22AM

“I would love to go here. The food sounds incredible.”

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2. Foodie said... on Mar 1, 2012 at 08:32AM

“Thank you for the wonderful review. Definitely will have to try this place out.”

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3. Phyllis Stein-Novack said... on Mar 1, 2012 at 10:39AM

“Make sure you make a reservation!”

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4. Anonymous said... on Mar 1, 2012 at 11:10AM

“Three tips to Phyllis for one of her best written reviews!”

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5. Cupid said... on Mar 1, 2012 at 10:23PM

“I wonder how different this review would have been if the dinner partner was different.

I can imagine Sandy blanching at what she would call "burnt octopus" or throwing a fit over a cake with "slimey olive oil". Same dish, different reaction. Cousin Carl, on the other hand, aside from being handsome, perhaps has a sophisticated and joyful approach to eating out that infuses Phyllis' taste buds and writing with positivity.

And then there's Edward. LOL. Say "BYOB" to him and he suddenly remembers having other dinner plans. Without his Vermouthian Verbosity at the table, perhaps Phyllis becomes a more positive reviewer.”

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6. Angelique said... on Mar 2, 2012 at 08:41AM

“Agree with Cupid.. seems like it may be time to ditch the old ball and chain and sister Sandy. This review was actually worth reading!”

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7. Anonymous said... on Mar 2, 2012 at 08:50AM

“Don't confuse a positive review with a good review.”

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8. Phyllis Stein-Novack said... on Mar 2, 2012 at 09:23AM

“Cousin Carl is a fine companion. He's been on reviews with me for a number of years. I enjoy his company, conversation and sense of humor. What is interesting is save for the octopus, my sister Sandy would have lapped up each dish Carl and I ordered. She would have cleaned her plate. I don't know how an above reader would call olive oil cake "slimy." In fact, Sandy bakes cakes using oil and they are tasty and quite a triumph. I know Sandy's likes and dislikes and as soon as Ulivo opens for brunch, we are booking a table right away. She will enjoy Chef Scarpone's tasty dishes as much as Carl and I did.”

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9. Cupid said... on Mar 2, 2012 at 01:08PM

“OK, fair enough Phyllis. Enjoy your brunch with Sandy.

Yo, Edward. While the girls are doing olive oil cake how about you and I head over to the Southwark Bar for a few of their world-class Manhattans. And guess what's on the small-plates list in the back dining room: VERMOUTH-STEAMED CLAMS! Heh heh.

701 South 4th Street, 215-238-1888,”

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10. Phyllis Stein-Novack said... on Mar 2, 2012 at 03:18PM

“I reviewed Southwark when it opened in November, 2004. It was one of the most pleasant dining experiences in town. I love the space and remember when it was Alouette.”

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11. Edward said... on Mar 2, 2012 at 05:54PM

“I remember when I was a youth
That I had a great pain in my tooth.
When I rinsed it in gin
The whole bottle went in
So I finished my cure with vermouth.”

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12. Phyllis Stein-Novack said... on Mar 3, 2012 at 12:37PM

“Musings are nice but this column is about the extraordinary talents of Joseph Scarpone. I cannot fly to Italy right now but dining at Ulivo is the best next thing. I hope you go but be sure to make a reservation.”

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13. Unsure said... on Mar 5, 2012 at 10:49AM

“Wait, do I need a reservation?”

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14. SPhillyLady said... on Mar 5, 2012 at 01:34PM

I'm sorry Ulivo is the saltiest food I have EVER eaten (and I like my salt). The caesar salad was doused in salty dressing (as were the main dishes), and that ricotta cake was dry as a bone.
Are you sure we ate at the same restaurant?

I used to read your reviews after having been to the same restaurants and think that maybe I just hadn't ordered the right dish, because I have often found your reviews to be the polar opposite to my experiences. But after this review, I'm confident that I have been correct in my assessments. Philly folks should take these reviews with a grain of salt (pun intended.).”


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