There is something about tradition and authenticity that is deeply engrained in me. Every holiday, every celebration, the memories surround the pure simplicity of sticking to what we know. And to digress from that? That just means that I did not do a good job as keeper of tradition in my family.
All of the memories of holidays, get togethers, and celebrations past cascaded through my mind as I entered the vestibule of Philadelphia Magazine’s #48, the archaeic Old City eatery, “La Famiglia”. Tradition spilled out from every corner of the room, clearly something this institution values probably more than I ever have.
In an age of environmentally friendly efforts and decisions for restaurant revamps to keep up with the trends, La Famiglia is no participant. Dated with the stamp of pink marble flooring, ornate walls, proper table settings, and dim lighting, they only care about what has worked for their establishment for the last 30 plus years, believing that they are “Philadelphia’s Best Italian Restaurant”.
Best might not be a word that I would choose, but they certainly are, as Philadelphia Magazine boasts, “the last of a dying breed”.
As my guest and I carefully considered the chef’s offerings, which only came after refusing the Xeroxed version of a Center City Restaurant Week menu, I found myself realizing it had been years since I had eaten in a place that possesses so much history. Other Italian establishments, with their fake murals, tacky checkered tablecloths, and vases with wilted roses, are all just wannabes to the Sena family’s Philadelphia landmark.
Before I admit to my disappointment that all began with the plate of fried rice balls “on the house” let me admit that I have struggled to find my words for this review. I don’t have a proper reputation, and by no means do I want to discredit the hard work of an establishment with such strong roots in our city. However, although the experience was lovely, the food was not what I expected. Truthfully,I was nervous from the moment that the hard working, although slightly over attentive staff, poked and prodded our dish decisions, questioning our rationale.
For the most part, guiding us the same way that my gut did, we decided to embark on our meal by sharing a selection of the Mozzerella in Pastella and the Radicchio e Rucola salad. Just as I anticipated, arugala salad is always a perfect palette prepper to start any Italian meal. The goat cheese was excellent, as was the light vinaigrette that coated each one of the crisp greens and awesomely tangy apple slices. Not only was the presentation pretty, but it was nothing more than the simple starter that it was designed to be. What do I always say about how much I love simple?
Simple was what I was preparing for as I sunk my fork into my next choice of antipasti, the Mozzarella “in batter”, if you translate it. For this recent college grad, any adapatation to frozen pizza shop mozzarella sticks is always welcome! Instead what graced our table was worse than any freezer aisle choice my microwave ever had to endure. The mozzarella itself was awesome, smoked and slightly creamy. Yet, what was done to it was like torture. The batter tasted like overused oil, greasy, unappealing. And what I believe was prosciutto was haphazardly strewn instead the fried mess, making everything quite flavor confused. The only saving grace might have been the basil sauce that added color to the dish, because visually these mounds looked uglier than an overused tennis ball.
I think I drank half my glass of wine, a smooth Beringer Pinot Noir, just to get rid of the taste in my mouth.
The pasta course definitely held it’s own, then again, one would hope that the signature, Pasta alla Famiglia would go over without a hitch. For those nights when you are craving pasta but don’t have all the ingredients to make a typical sauce, this Sena creation is a great go to. As my waiter explained, the combination of pancetta, caramelized onions, and plum tomatoes cooks together around the penne to form the illusion of a ragu. I loved that. It is always great when every noodle gets coated with flavor, not to mention anything with caramelized onions makes my heart skip a beat.
I wish I could say that the rest of the evening had me on cloud nine but instead I found myself firmly planted in my seat. The Capesante in Salsa Limoncina, were nothing more than grilled scallops in an overly sweet sauce with more than the needed hint of lime and a lemon zest. The texture of the scallops were superb, as was the portion, a meal in itself, but all I tasted was sour citrus.
My guest chose Tonno al Balsamico. The idea is appreciated, as any type of balsamic reduction always pleases me, but for some reason all I could taste was something bordering a teriyaki soy glaze. It was so unbelievably sweet, and then finding oily roasted red peppers swimming atop the tuna just led to another flavor confused dish, disappointingly unitalian.
I think the fact that the evening all culminated with a pathetic tasting platter of three lack luster desserts is what truly left the bad taste in my mouth. So, like I said, we had to refuse the restaurant week menu, but it was clear throughout the whole evening that restaurant week was in full swing. The dessert platter was meant to finish off the night for all of those participating in the prix fixed dinner, yet that was not why I came to La Familgia that Friday night.
Giving someone another chance is always in my repertoire, and in this case, I think the pressure of restaurant week skewed my experience on my first date with this forever Philly landmark. A second date in the near future? I am not sure. I think I need to continue to go on my other 46 dates that I have planned this year. But, Sena family, I will be back, one day. [A A 1/2]
Wine list lovers