after dinner sneeze

a lot of g says, t says

Melograno: Our Nearby “Go-To” for Italian

with one comment

t says: Ah, Melograno. You’ve never given us a bad meal. You’re BYO, and you’re within walking distance, thus saving us cab fare. And your pastas … there’s just something about your pastas …

We’ve been to Melograno four times, and g and I alone have had 7 pasta dishes. The first time we went, I had a special of the day – a braised short rib pasta that was to die for – it actually was the reason why I had to find a recipe on how to cook short rib pasta at home! The third time we went there, g ordered another special of the day – a lamb ragu pasta – another genius dish (now I have to start cooking some lamb). And then Melograno sprinkles in those “weird” dishes – we once had a mushroom and pear “lasagna” as an appetizer (g says: actually, I think it was peach, not pear) – it was such a great idea and so close to perfection (the textures of the ingredients were a little mismatched – the pear [peach?] was a little lost).

But of course, we need to be fair … Melograno has had some issues. The cheese plate (which we also had the first time we went) was an atrocity – they need some cheese guidance up in there (and this is coming from a guy who knows absolutely nothing about cheese). We haven’t tried it since for fear that it hasn’t improved (but maybe it has – who knows!?) Also, they had a pasta carbonara on the menu that totally misled one of our pork-loving friends (their version used anchovies as the salty protein in lieu of pancetta) – on one hand it might have been his fault for not reading the menu – on the other hand, it could have been their fault for not printing in bold letters the lack of pig in the dish (someone’s gotta take the fall). Finally, the portion sizes are a bit small, which is definitely not helped by the fact that they serve their pastas in ridiculously large dishes, so anything seems small the moment it hits your table. Additionally, I firmly believe that they have somehow calculated exactly how much pasta it takes to fill someone up adequately and don’t give a single noodle more; I’ve never been hungry after eating there (but I’ve always had room for dessert – luckily Capo Giro is right there), but I’ve also never had leftovers (g has had leftovers once). While most are ok with not having leftovers, if you consider that other Italian BYOs are ~25% less expensive (e.g. La Viola) and give you a bit more food, you really have to ask yourself what you want out of a meal. Is the taste worth it?

We recently realized that we had not gone to Melograno in a while – with all of the new restaurants we’ve been trying, we had forgotten about the old goodies. So, what we needed was an excuse to go. Aha! People’s birthdays! Excellent excuse! We got together a party of people and looked forward to some good Italian …

2/2010, Sunday 5:30pm, Party of 7. We got together a party of 7 (there were some birthday friends among us) and headed out to Melograno at the geriatric time of 5:30pm – it’s the easiest way to book a table this large. The original reservation was for 9, but we had two last-minute cancellations – it was an opportunity to see if they could roll with the punches (although I guess a real challenge would have been reserving 7 seats and then showing up with 9 people). The hostess (actually – I think she’s one of the owners?) looked at me kind of funny for a few seconds after I told her that we needed to change the number, but after contemplating what I was saying, she said that she thought it would be fine. She left to go adjust our table (they had just pushed together a bunch of tables along a wall for us, so she just separated a two-topper) and was back in a flash to let us know that, if we wanted, we could be seated before the rest of our party arrived. We were happy to hear this, as we’re so “over” restaurants making parties wait until everyone’s shown up when it’s clear the table’s ready, and moved to colonize our own little territory of the restaurant. It’s a good thing we did – 2 of our party didn’t show up ’til 6 (but we still love them).

We ordered an antipasto plate for the table – it was fun to pick at. Overall, it was a solid antipasto with a selection of grilled vegetables (e.g. eggplant) cured meats, mozzarella, and pickled vegetables (g especially liked the celery). Personally, I think Mercato does it better (theirs is a little more “rustic” – I still remember the grilled peppers – mmmm), as does Vetri (duh), but Melograno’s wasn’t bad at all – definitely leagues ahead of La Viola.

I ordered the pasta carbonara. WHAT? Pasta carbonara? Did I not just whine and complain about this dish in the second paragraph? Yes, I did. But this time was different. While I was browsing the menu, I noticed that Melograno had swapped out the anchovies for pancetta in their pasta carbonara (too many fooled customers?). It was a sign – they were begging for a chance at redemption. I knew I had to try it – that and there was no lamb pasta of the day. When it came to my plate, it looked plain – a neat clump of off-white spaghetti against a large white bowl. My eyes were not amused. But then I ate it. It was the second best carbonara I’ve ever had (the first best was made by our pork-loving friend that I mentioned above – that’s right, a home chef still holds the title). Melograno’s pasta was perfectly cooked, there was just enough sauce to cover the noodles, and the bits of pancetta were nice little meaty surprises. It was a very rich dish, so, in retrospect, I’m happy there was only as much as there was – if there was any more, I would have eaten it and been unable to move.

k was also at our meal with us. A Melograno virgin, she maximized the number of things she’d taste by ordering two appetizers as dinner. Her first was the roasted portobello, which I sampled. It tasted quite good – a little more umph than just a mushroom, but I didn’t hear her say “holy crap”, which I’m pretty sure I’ve heard her exclaim about food in the past. For her second, right before she ordered, we had an interesting discussion:

k: What is carpaccio?

t: It’s really thinly sliced raw meat.

k: But this says pear carpaccio …

t: Oh … ummm … really thinly sliced pear? or are they going to hide meat somewhere?

It turns out that it’s thinly sliced pear, an aged balsamic, and micro-greens. k liked that dish as well, as [I feel that] she’s a huge fan of a good aged balsamic. I kind of wished I had seen that on the menu because it definitely seems like something I’d order.

d was also at our meal. After seeing him at this dinner, I can say with complete confidence that he has a food obsession, which is surprising because he normally “keeps it real” and thus seems like he’d be immune to crushes, obsessions, and fetishes. I figured he would “like” a lot of things, and maybe even “love” some things – but no – these terms cannot even begin to describe the affection he has for Melograno’s pappardelle tartufe. This pasta dish seems simple on the menu. It has mushrooms (shiitake, button, and portobello), truffle oil, cheese, and walnuts. See? Simple. But, you know what – if there was a woman who could make this dish like Melograno (or maybe even only half as good), I’d bet he’d make her his wife … like, tomorrow. But you better act quickly, ladies – I hear he’s going to start trying to make it, himself …

g says: I can’t remember the name of my dish, but it was a spaghetti-like pasta with some olive oil, grated cheese, and fresh cracked black pepper. That’s all. And it was AMAZING! Sometimes I need something simple to satisfy my cravings for homemade italian – it resets my palate, bringing it back to a baseline standard for greatness.

Also, all that jazz about t being so picky-picky — you can take that with a grain of kosher salt because this place is certainly one of our favorites. It has delicious food, pleasant atmosphere, and plenty of space to breathe (not like many other tiny Philly BYOs which can cause claustrophobia). And their bathrooms are pretty darn nice, I must say. Bravo to them!

t says: In summary, Melograno did a fine job. Everyone seemed satisfied with how everything tasted – there really weren’t any complaints. I’m happy that pig is back in the carbonara and that they’re still experimenting with interesting appetizers (I guess they have a thing for pears?). I do wish that they would have a dish featuring their namesake, the pomegranate. Yes, they do have some in one of their salads (and I had a few seeds in my water – but no one else did – weird!), but I’m hoping that one day they have some sort of melograno appetizer that every first-time visitor just has to get. We had good friends and good food (and good service – I didn’t really notice them, so I assume they were good) – we had a great time. Nevertheless, we didn’t stick around for dessert – Capo Giro is less than half-a-block away.

Written by afterdinnersneeze

2 March 2010 at 10:37am

One Response

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  1. d says: pappardelle tartufate. I cannot say enough about it. But Terry has described it accurately… … LADIES.

    Anyway, more about the blog:

    to g: Cacio e pepe was your dish, and it includes exactly as you described (and as the name implies), 2 basic ingredients: grated parmesano reggiano and large-grind cracked pepper.

    to t and g: very nice work with the blog. this is the first post that i’ve sat down to read, and thus far, I LOVE IT. the banter makes it homey (not like homey the clown, just like… home) and the impeccable descriptions and tonal undertones allow me to virtually hear you both with no audio.

    Beautiful work, and I’m hungry again after reading it. :o)

    Keeper of All Things Real (i.e. d)

    3 March 2010 at 7:55pm

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