Palladino’s on Passyunk


Like Boston and Manhattan, Philadelphia is famous for its Italian restaurants. The great wave of immigration, roughly 1880 to 1920, brought many Italians to our shores.

The earliest Italian restaurants offered simple foods as a way for the newly-arrived to recall what old country life.

I don’t have any idea how many Italian restaurants there are in Philadelphia. But in ’98, something new occurred. Marc Vetri opened his namesake restaurant on Spruce Street and changed the way we think and love about Italian food. Upscale? Yes. But Vetri’s trips to Italy secured his dedication to regional Italian food. In 2004, Lynne Rinaldi opened Paradiso, 1627 E. Passyunk Ave., offering her vision of regional fare.

In 1989, Luke Palladino graduated from the Culinary Institute of America. He flew to Italy and learned much about the culture and cuisines of its regions.

He opened Palladino’s on Passyunk, 1934 E. Passyunk Ave., in December. From all the scuttlebutt, I thought it would be a white table cloth restaurant, but it is a casual upscale restaurant serving up some of the finest local Italian food.

A Negroni ($11) was well mixed and served in a pretty large on-the-rocks glass. A martini ($12.50) was fine, too.

Dinner began with two stunning antipasti. Oysters casino ($11) were three freshly-shucked beauties topped with smoked pancetta, Espelette peppers and panko bread crumbs. The peppers played off well with the smoky bacon and crisp panko breadcrumbs.

Whenever I see sweetbreads on a menu, I always order them. Stecchini Genovese ($12) was a baked mix of sweetbreads, mushrooms, mortadella, trugole cheese and veal and truffle polpetta threaded on wooden skewers. The ingredients imparted unique flavors and the mostarda aioli made the dish a star.

We wanted to share the porcini pappardelle ($23) and asked our server if the sommelier could counsel us on a glass of wine. One can imagine my surprise when Palladino came to our table and, with the ease of a knowledgeable man, made his choices.

The creation featured bits of red wine braised oxtail and heady porcini tossed with handmade ribbon pasta and placed in a large bowl. A glass of Monrosso ($13) and a glass of Casolare ($13.50) drank well with the pasta.

Palladino installed a wood-burning oven and may have baked his delicious focaccia and Italian bread in it.

Swordfish is one of the most popular fish in Sicily and often comes with almonds and raisins. Two meaty juicy herb-marinated swordfish medallions were threaded on a metal skewer and fire-roasted to perfection. Fragrant fresh jumbo bay leaves and grilled leeks were on a bed of white beans. I loved the inclusion of a half-fired grilled lemon.

Striped bass ($26) was as succulent as the swordfish. It contained fennel pollen and a tangle of luscious ramps, now in season, which served as a bed for the fish. A glass of Falerio ($13.50) and one of Verdicchio ($12.50) complimented each fish. I drink this particular Verdicchio at home.

We shared a dish of vanilla and pistachio gelati ($7) as I contemplated a trip to Italy this autumn. The only disappointment was the pencil thin asparagus ($6). They were limp, lacked flavor and overcooked.

Service was excellent, and the delightful manager made his way around the room. My only complaint, a small one, indeed, is that the staff seemed a bit too chatty.

""Four tips of the toque to Palladino’s on Passyunk. 

Palladino’s on Passyunk
1934 E. Passyunk Ave.

Palladino’s on Passyunk has won great respect over its four-month existence.

Photo by Corey Carter