Thursday, July 19, 2012

Penne Restaurant, Great Italian in West Philly

We had the good fortune to be invited to a birthday celebration at Penne last night.   We were greeted by friendly bartender who poured us aperitifs before we proceeded to our table.  We downed them,  then encountered a pleasant hostess, who seated us at a booth, and finally, our server, who was affable without being intrusive--which can be a tough balance to strike. 

One minor side note on seating:  in the future, I will request a table.   The booth's seat was uncharacteristically low and table  high, which made me feel like I needed a telephone booth to sit on, despite my respectable 5'7" stature.  But onto the food....

We started with a bowl of fried calamari.  Normally I detest this dish for its resemblance to greasy, fried teething rings.  In fact, I never eat it, but my husband, who loves it, seized the opportunity to order it for the table.  But this version was a revelation. The calamari was tender on the inside, crispy on the outside, and not at all greasy.  The sauce, a spicy tomato caper dip was a welcome departure from the typical tomato sauce that usually accompanies this dish.  I still only ate about 3 bites, but I enjoyed them.

 My husband handled the wine order, and he did an excellent job.  The birthday girl was Luisa, and husband found her namesake Pinot Grigio on the list.  Fortunately, it was the perfect pairing on a scorching summer evening for our pasta dinners.

My first course was a soup from the specials menu: sweet corn broth with tiny roasted garlic and scallion gnocchi. It was fantastic; the broth was light, but had an intense and deep flavor of sweet summer corn, and the gnocchi had a delightful crispness to them.  A really unique and seasonal dish!

Penne is known for their homemade fresh pastas.  Our table sampled a good assortment, one better than the next:

Birthday girl Luisa had the ravioli filled with zucchini, goat cheese, and potato, topped with herb pesto and pine nuts, which she thoroughly enjoyed.   I've mentioned before that potatoes, pretty much in any form, are a serious temptation to me, and their use here was unexpected and delicious.

I had the linguine with clams.  This was a bit of a departure for me, because linguine with white clam sauce is a signature dish of mine so I normally wouldn't order it in a restaurant.  But this version had some alternative ingredients that intrigued me--red pepper linguine and  bacon.  I'm happy to report that it was terrific.  The clams were tiny and toothsome, the linguine was perfectly al dente--not always easy to execute with fresh pasta, and the bacon was a great crispy-salty foil to the clams and noodles.  I don't think I'll mess with my version of the dish, but never say never.

My husband had the tagliatelle puttanesca with swordfish.  The briny capers were an excellent accompaniment to the steaky, mild fish, and the pasta was, again, perfectly cooked.

For dessert, we sampled the chocolate amaretto cannoli and the blueberries with lemon-thyme  mascarpone.  They did not disappoint!

If you hurry, you can still catch the special menu deals available through  University City Dining Days, going on now through July 26.

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