Roman Ruins – Philadelphia City Paper

TABLE GAMES: Popolino’s tavola calda, a conventional Roman antipasti unfold located in the course of the BYOB’s eating room.

[ review ]

Peter McAndrews is nothing if not constant. I do know precisely what to anticipate from his eating places, an empirelet presently composed of Modo Mio, Monsu, the Paesano’s twins, quickly-to-open La Porta close to Media and Popolino, a vivid, buzzy, two-month-outdated BYOB impressed by these for whom snout-to-tail is an historic lifestyle — the “widespread folks” of Rome.

I do know there will probably be revelatory home-baked bread. I do know the servers will probably be relaxed and welcoming, with data of esoteric Italian components, uncommon pasta shapes and on-cue accents a la Giada De Laurentiis. I do know there will probably be two or three of these servers working the small eating room, when 4 could be in all probability be higher. I do know the meals will probably be on the wealthy facet, however not unbalanced. I do know money would be the solely methodology of fee.

Popolino crumpled my expectations like wrapping paper. None of what I rely on from McAndrews, none of what makes him one of many best native cooks to root for, resides right here, within the sunny nook house previously residence to Lafayette Bistro. Well, I nonetheless needed to pay money, however I can’t say I did so willingly.

Would you, for spaghetti gone swimmin’ within the sorriest excuse for carbonara this facet of Buca di Beppo? Grated cheese, cracked black pepper and crispy bits of pancetta type the bottom of the everyday Roman recipe, components that coalesce into one thing wealthy, silky and satisfying with additions of uncooked egg yolk and a splash of pasta water. At Popolino, it was as if McAndrews’ kitchen had added an entire pot of starchy H2O to my carbonara, lending the sauce the pallor and viscosity of skim milk. While correct carbonara clings, this impostor slunk down strands of spaghetti like a Delaware Avenue dancer down a greasy pole.

The spaghetti got here because the second course and the primary disappointment in Popolino’s turista menu, a $40 4-courser as well-liked right here as it’s at Modo and Monsu. Before the pasta, issues had been following a typical McAndrews trajectory, with dense nation-model bread, freely poured wine and enjoyable, manic antipasti, like fried calamari tossed with mint, chilies, laborious-cooked egg and garum, the traditional Italian tackle fish sauce, and succulent grilled lamb rib kebabs astride a comet of cervella (lamb mind) aioli.

Offal, organs and entrails, what Romans name the “quinto quarto” (fifth quarter), taste Popolino’s peasant-meals menu, however these doubtful treasures are utilized in disguise, a la the mind mayo — not McAndrews’ unique intention for the BYOB. “I used to be attempting to be hardcore with the offal,” he says. “Nobody was ordering it.”

Ergo, Popolino’s organ sport has been reeled in. The rigatoni alla pajata (pig-gut ragu), which I used to be curious to attempt, had been banished by the point I visited. Instead, my primi consisted of the aforementioned carbonara and a crock of cauliflower cannelloni in equally skinny, milky tomato-cream sauce. Though the flavors managed to nudge their option to the entrance of this pasta, shoddy execution once more perplexed. The stuffed tubes bore not one of the goo, bubble or burnish of baked pasta, with no textural contrasts. I imagined the kitchen, clotheslined with tickets and making shortcuts: “You received solely 5 minutes, cannelloni! Your sister’s gotta get in there subsequent!”

The pair of servers, certainly one of which was the supervisor, was as weeded as I’d pictured the kitchen. As the three-quarters-full eating room crested over its first flip laborious into the second, employees received scarcer, delays between programs extra noticeable. When meals did come, it was dropped off with the reticence of bitter exes sharing custody. The tavola calda, an antipasto platter assembled from a dozen beautiful vegetable dishes displayed on an vintage butcher-block desk within the heart of the eating room, arrived with no rationalization in any respect, and it’s the dish that requires probably the most.

We managed to determine the assortment of salads, pickles and agrodolci on our personal: roasted carrots made elegant with delicate cinnamon; cauliflower cooked the identical method, then tossed with raisins and almonds; honeyed roasted peppers; al dente borlotti beans anointed with aged balsamic; beets with orange and mint and extra. Still, a run-by way of would have been useful, contemplating the shy tuna hiding within the dynamic chickpea salad rouged with smoked paprika. Without introduction, the innocuous-trying tavola is a harmful territory for vegans and vegetarians.

There ought to have been a hostess that evening (there wasn’t) in line with McAndrews, and a sick server apparently had the eating room down a physique, which can have compelled the supervisor onto the ground. But I’ve seen managers pull devoted server shifts at McAndrews joints earlier than, a apply that, apart from feeling greasy, can result in a disorganized entrance of the home. This evening, Popolino wanted the soothing, ship-righting presence of a correct GM, in a position to pitch in at tight spots, candy-discuss impatient clients and assuage the room’s sweaty chaos.

Seven and seven:30 reservations had been pouring by way of the entrance door when entrées arrived: an overcooked beef involtino simmered in marinara until disintegrating for the girl. Yours really received measly wisps of off-the-bone oxtail in a soupy cocoa gravy that might have been chocolate milk had been it not for the celery and pine nuts. By the time we received to the stiff panna cotta with competing accents of apricots, hazelnuts and sapa (some 45 minutes later), I’d had sufficient. The wine was drained, like my endurance.

There is hope. Chris Davis, previously of Barbuzzo, has simply come on board to repair a kitchen whose management and skill McAndrews claims he by no means felt 100% about. Coming from Barbuzzo, I’m certain he’ll convey model and edge to the cooking at Popolino. Or no less than know find out how to make carbonara.

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Popolino | 501 Fairmount Ave., 215-928-0106. Lunch/brunch served Wed.-Mon., 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m.; dinner served 5-10 p.m. Appetizers, $8-$11; pasta, $13-$16; entrées, $15-$23; desserts, $6; “turista” tasting menu, $40. BYOB.


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