The culinary question of the day is “Does Philadelphia need another Italian restaurant?”
There are dozens throughout the city’s neighborhoods. Vetri is unique and upscale. There are family-style stalwarts throughout South Philly and new arrivals such as the delightful Monsu.
Stephen Starr decided to go upscale Italian (read: expensive) yet casual with the opening of il Pittore on a block that boasts Melograno and Porcini. I admire Starr for his brilliant business mind and his diverse restaurants, which are magnates for those of us who enjoy fine food.
I dined alone at il Pittore. The woman next to me was entertaining two clients while a gentleman ate alone with a book for company.
il Pittore is under the direction of chef Chris Painter, who has been with the Starr group for a number of years. He has put together a four-part menu of Northern Italian dishes: appetizers, pasta, entrées and desserts. My waiter explained the menu system to me as I sipped a Rob Roy ($13.50) that was cloyingly sweet and had to be sent back to the bartender for a remix.
Salt cod ($15) is a staple of Italian fare and Painter hit the mark with my starter. It consisted of a juicy chunk of fresh smoked cod served on a bed of creamy saffron-scented potatoes blended with poached calamari with a hint of garlic. This dish could have been overpowering but it was not. I cleaned my plate. My server brought me a pretty basket filled with pencil-slim crisp breadsticks, olive oil-laced focaccia and warm rolls, which I slathered with soft butter.
The sommelier came over to the long community table and helped patrons select a glass of wine. This is a fine one-on-one touch that made my evening at il Pittore so enjoyable. The gentleman makes his choices and offers a sip to see if diners like it or not. He paired my appetizer and pasta with a glass of Verdicchio di Metalica ($10), a rich white wine I have not sipped in many years. He suggested a Negro Amaro ($12) for my hearty lamb shank.
At this point, I was not sure whether or not someone recognized me. I left my place to answer my phone and when I returned, the waiter placed a complimentary bowl of risotto with wild mushrooms before me.
“Sorry it took so long for your baccala,” he said.
I thanked him thinking this is exactly what a Starr restaurant would do for any waiting patron.
The homemade pappardelle with wild boar ragu ($16) was the finest version I have eaten anywhere. The glistening long strands of freshly-made ribbon pasta were topped with bits of moist boar simmered gently in a Bolognese sauce of perfect flavor and texture. Painter has the seasoning down to a science. The ragu had a slightly spicy flavor, perhaps a pinch of cayenne was added to the mix. I initially had ordered an elbow-shaped pasta with duck ragu ($15) but it was so salty, I could not take a second bite.
Lamb shank ($28) has been a menu favorite in many area restaurants. This one did not disappoint. I received a large bone with lamb so tender, it fell off of it. It was beautifully braised and imparted a rich flavor, which became more heavenly each time I took a sip of wine. The lamb was served on a pool of creamy whipped potatoes.
It is possible to select a wrong dish even in the finest of restaurants. For dessert, I ordered a concoction of overly sweet custard, which had the texture of library paste, layered in between several pistachio nut tuilles with a small scoop of blood orange sorbet on the side of the plate. The sorbet was a winner, the cookies were as well, but my waiter watched me as I picked my way through the dessert avoiding the custard. I left most of it.
“I see you did not enjoy the dessert, so I removed it from your bill,” my server said.
In my mind, il Pittore is a place to celebrate a special occasion, not a place one would go when the thought of entering one’s home kitchen is too much.
Two tips of the toque to il Pittore. SPR
2025 Sansom St.