Da Vinci Ristorante

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A long time ago, not in a galaxy far, far away, but on Walnut Street, there was Da Vinci’s. I frequented this restaurant when I was a young girl and well into my teens. It was here I discovered authentic lasagna, fashioned from thin sheets of fresh pasta called "crespelle," which were layered with a rich beef ragu and bechamel. Alas, the place is now the Irish Pub.

A while ago, I read an eatery called Da Vinci Ristorante moved to Tre Scalini’s original location. I haven’t had a good Italian restaurant meal in ages. Francesco Parmisciano is the chef, born and raised in Italy, who learned to cook at his mother’s knee. This could be good news, especially if the fare turned out to be authentic.

This BYOB is a bright, sunny place with walls painted yellow or orange and tables covered in white linens. The menu features the usual mussels, salad with balsamic dressing (the red light always goes off here), an antipasto made with rings of calamari — not the whole baby squid — and the usual Italian-American antipasto of meats and cheeses.

Our server read us the specials without prices and it is a good thing we asked the cost of each; they were much higher than what was on the menu.

A loaf of warm, from-the-oven bread with a terrific crust was brought to us along with a large ramekin of a hummus-like dip made with leeks and tomatoes. It was unusually tasty, bright with the flavor of cooked-just-right leeks.

Edward and I decided to start with mozzarella and proscuitto ($11). The plate contained three, nice-size disks of immaculately fresh imported buffalo mozzarella. Each piece was wrapped with a razor-thin slice of Proscuitto di Daniele, a less salty first cousin of Proscuitto di Parma. A few black olives were scattered on the plate. A light pool of olive oil complemented the cheese, ham and olives.

We always like to split a pasta before our entrees. The menu featured dishes with so many ingredients (too American), they just did not tempt us. Still, our ears perked up when our server told us the pasta special was homemade spaghetti tossed with a rabbit ragu ($18).

A ragu is a rich sauce prepared with meat. A rabbit ragu begins with braising the meat and adding a few vegetables, such as onions, tomatoes and carrots. But this ragu was not a ragu. I looked in my bowl and saw a few round pieces of rabbit, each the size of a marble, that were on the tough side. I am still trying to figure out why Parmisciano added white beans, as it detracted from the pasta. The dish also lacked flavor, as there were no seasonings or herbs to enhance the taste.

For our entrees, Edward ordered meatballs and mashed potatoes ($20) and I warily went for the veal rollantini ($21).

I guess meatballs and mashed potatoes is the Italian version of Mom’s meatloaf. Three big meatballs were made with ground veal, chicken and mortadella. They were pan-fried and topped with a mushroom sauce of brown gravy, the kind found in Greek diners. The meatballs were dry because ground veal and chicken contain little fat. Pork and beef need to be in the mix. A side of mashed potatoes mixed with mascarpone was large enough for two.

I was cautious about the veal because the finest is humanely raised in nearby Lancaster County. This veal was dry and tough. The menu states the two rolls were stuffed with imported ham, raisins, pecorino dolce and fresh herbs. All I could detect was the sweetness of the raisins. The sauteed spinach on the side was fresh, however, but I asked for oven-roasted potatoes instead of mashed. The version I requested was dry and lacked flavor; olive oil and a bit of fresh rosemary were in order here.

The tiramisu ($7) was well-done: light, creamy and made with homemade sponge cake dipped in espresso. A sprinkling of cocoa powder made it fine.

Service was courteous and attentive. Our silverware was changed for each course and the water glasses were filled as needed.

I know chefs always look at the plates coming from the dining room back into the kitchen. I wondered what the chef and line cooks thought when they realized I did not eat my meal.

One tip of the toque to Da Vinci Ristorante.

Da Vinci Ristorante
1533 S. 11th St.
215-336-3636
Credit cards accepted

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Jane Kiefer
Jane Kiefer, a seasoned journalist with a rich background in digital media strategies, leads South Philly Review as its Editor-in-Chief. Originally hailing from Seattle, Jane combines her outsider perspective with a profound respect for South Philly's vibrant community, bringing fresh insights and innovative storytelling to the newspaper.