Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Review: Tre Scalini

There will always be room for the Italian-American "red gravy" restaurant in South Philly, but what of Italian-Italian food? Well, it's been around for a while now, but there's a case to be made that the Passyunk Avenue BYOB Tre Scalini is South Philly's standard-bearer for a taste of the old country.

Housed in the spot that once was home to the sadly gone and lamented Trattoria Lucca, Tre Scalini is a little less adventurous in its cuisine than its predecessor (no pork chop with blueberry sauce here), but the virtues of simplicity, freshness and quality show through. The space is nothing fancy, and we were seated on the second floor which feels a little more like a catering hall than a restaurant, but the food sets a high mark.

Our shared appetizers included polenta topped with broccoli rabe and a plate of burrata with speck, each simple but flavorful. Our charming and loquacious waiter talked us into a pasta course - a "specialty of the house" consisting of home-made black squid ink tagliatelle with crab meat. The pasta was really excellent and appropriately portioned, so that we all got a taste but didn't get loaded down with starch before our entrees.

The focus of the entree course at Tre Scalini is undoubtedly veal. From a large bone-in chop to a filet served with mushrooms, the baby cow gets much love and respect with straightforward, impeccable preparations. Of course, I got the branzino, served with capers that gave the fish a smokey undertone. L's eggplant, breaded and topped with tomato sauce and mozzarella, was a lighter rejoinder to the typical red-gravy eggplant parmigiana.

My dessert was an ultra-light tiramisu (and a near-perfect espresso) - other standouts were an affogato prepared tableside, tartufo, and a cupcake topped with chocolate gelato.

The menu is not huge, but prices are very reasonable, and if you like Italian food at all (who doesn't?) you'll be sure to find something you like. Tre Scalini does things The Right Way, and that's the highest praise I can give them.

Tre Scalini on Urbanspoon

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