The original La Viola is always on my "must eat" destination list whenever I go to Philadelphia, and it seemed like the perfect choice for a late Valentine's Day lunch since Underdog and I had tickets to see Anthony Bourdain at the Keswick Theater later that evening (so having a V-Day dinner was out). Ordinarily, I'm not that much of a pasta fan...there's something about pasta dishes that seem kind of "unspecial", particularly the ones we find at home in Tampa. La Viola's pasta creations, however, are bona fide, dreamy, al dente perfection...the kind that make me want a cigarette after I'm finished, only I don't smoke. ;) Oh, and did I mention that La Viola is a BYOB with no corkage fee (I'm sure I did in another blog blog post because it makes me so incredibly happy), which makes it the deal of the century in downtown Philly?
We arrived at the restaurant around 2:00 with wine bottles in tow, only to learn that La Viola was closed on Mondays. Never fear...their sister restaurant across the street, La Viola Ovest, was open for business and a server from that location met us as we were exiting to escort us and carry our wine. It is almost identical to La Viola, only with a slightly more expansive menu and a few more seats. Same relatively simple interior with white walls and tablecloths, though...and same great service and cuisine.
I love smoked fish (especially smoked trout), so I zeroed right in on the Smoked Trout Salad with capers, artichoke hearts lightly dressed in an Italian vinaigrette. This was a wonderful salad...the trout was delightful and the greens were crisp, cold and fresh (I could've looked all day long and not found a single brown edge). Raw tomatoes are one of the few foods I can't abide, but UD is always happy to take them off my hands (or my salad, as the case may be).
My Valentine started with the Antipasta Mista, lightly dressed greens topped with Italian meats, cheeses and marinated veggies, which seemed to go over well, judging from the practically licked-clean plate that remained.
Neither of us could come to terms with NOT trying the Gnocchi Al Filetto Di Pomodoro (spinach and ricotta cheese with homemade gnocchi in a fresh tomato basil sauce) even though we both had other entrees in mind, so we decided to split an order (which our server graciously offered to serve on separate plates for us). Ummm...somebody pass me the smelling salts because I may faint from just reviewing the photo. This was Sofa King wonderful...pillow-like, spinach-and-potato-y goodness, topped with mind-blowing sauce, crumbled gorgonzola, and hand-grated parmesan cheese. *thud*
Next up in the Carbohydrate Overload was my Penne Alla Caruso...pencil point pasta in a vodka and tomato sauce lightly creamed with peas and pancetta. Yes, it tasted as good as it sounds...otherworldy, almost. Try not to hate me. ;)
I've mentioned before that Underdog has a tough time passing up veal and I almost heard the little bells go off in his head when our server decribed the special of the day...veal medallions in a roasted red pepper sauce with capers and green olives. Yes, folks...we haz a winner! It simply met his expectations...but I would be remiss if I failed to mention that he's an anal-retentive perfectionist whose bar is always set at a ridiculous height. lol He loved it.
Since it was Valentine's Day (and everyone knows that holiday calories don't count), we could find no good reason to cease our Hoovering post-entree...not to mention we hadn't finished our wine yet. La Viola serves some fine desserts, albeit not as fine as their pasta dishes IMO, and we were feeling quite festive (that's a euphemism for "buzzed"). I ordered the rum cake, which I have had before at the other location and always enjoy. This dessert is not made in-house, but it's quite good nonetheless...super moist and boozy, not overly sweet, and with a touch of chocolate to add interest.
UD likes his ice cream and opted for a perfect ball of French vanilla enrobed in chocolate. Simple, yet very nice.
Now we've finished both bottles. Can we take a cab back to the hotel, dear?
Thanks for another wonderful meal, La Viola! We had Mario Batali pasta in New York City a few nights after we visited you...and, honestly, it paled in comparison and cost twice as much (even at Mario's "family" restaurant). More to come.