Philly’s dining scene must be enjoying a robust health. Two South Philly places recently opened, and I could not wait to see what types of cuisine they had in store for those of us who crave something new and unique.
Bella Vista’s The Mildred once housed Michael’s, a red gravy restaurant, which morphed into James, a fine dining place with high prices.
The Mildred has a handsome, cozy look and atmosphere. There is an exposed brick wall with a fireplace in one of the dining rooms where the lighting could’ve been a bit brighter, but the acoustics were excellent. The interior was decorated with highly polished hardwood floors and wood tables set with linen napkins. The banquette was quite comfortable.
I had great difficulty reading the menu. The font was too delicate and the description was printed in an ink so light the waiter had to explain dishes to me.
Several waiters took fine care of us. Edward sipped a martini ($11) while our server recommended a glass of a bold, grassy sauvignon blanc from New Zealand ($12) to enhance my pasta appetizer.
We received a large loaf of sourdough bread that was piping hot from the oven and outrageously delicious.
“We bake our bread here,” a server said. “Must be the South Philly air.”
I began dinner with chitarra with cockles ($10) while Edward ordered the roasted squid salad ($8). A chitarra is a wooden box fitted with what appears to be guitar strings on which fresh pasta is placed, resulting in long strands. It was made with semolina flour, tossed with bits of pancetta and topped with five tiny black cockles. The meat from the clams was the size of a newborn’s fingernail and the course lacked a vibrancy. I found the dish a bit salty and the pasta could have been hotter.
We liked the roasted squid because it imparted a marvelous, smoky flavor. The play of warm squid to cool salad greens, particularly the thinly-sliced radishes, worked well here, but the appetizer portions were too small.
Whenever I see quail on a menu after autumn arrives, I always order it. The Mildred’s version ($24) rated good marks because the two little birds arrived juicy and succulent, and the breast bones were removed for easy eating. They were stuffed with a mixture of ground pork and veal that I thought was too bland, and the crispy skin was a little salty, but the pool of lentils improved the taste.
The hanger steak ($22) arrived medium-rare, tasty and juicy. I think it is visually appealing when a chef serves sliced hanger or skirt steak. Although we enjoyed the beef, the star of the dish was the potato galette. Thinly-sliced potatoes were placed in a concentric circle, seasoned with salt, pepper and butter and baked in the oven. Both dishes needed a vegetable to round out the entrées.
Our waiter advised a glass of San Martino SiiR, ($10) a rich, deep garnet red wine from Italy, to top off the quail. Edward sipped a glass of Cascina Bruni Barbera ($9) that was lighter but fared just as well.
A gentleman accidentally removed Edward’s wine glass even thought there was some left. He apologized and brought out two servings of homemade vanilla ice cream. The texture was more like gelato and rich in vanilla bean flavor.
The tarte tatin for two ($12) was more like a homemade pie crust filled with tart apple chunks and topped with butter, Calvados and sugar. It was not properly caramelized but no matter. It was tasty, obviously homemade and arrived with more delicious vanilla ice cream.
Although The Mildred only has been open for a month, word is out that there is a new fine dining French/American restaurant in Bella Vista because the restaurant was pretty busy for a weekday evening, especially during Restaurant Week.
Three tips of the toque to The Mildred.
824 S. Eight St.