after dinner sneeze

a lot of g says, t says

Posts Tagged ‘Melograno

Melograno, Radicchio Cafe, La Locanda del Ghiottone, oh my!

leave a comment »

v & a say: Three very different Philly restaurants that fall under the same category – small/Italian/byob. Before continuing, we must reveal our bias with a disclaimer: La Locanda is our neighborhood go-to spot which is as inviting and quirky as the food is delicious. Everyone is welcomed with a poster of the late proprietor, Giuseppe’s, Green Card, which reads “I waited three years for my green card, you can wait an hour for your food.” In any event, the staff (read: the Italian-stallion from South Philly serving you), takes pride in the menu and directs you without hesitation or forced pleasantries. This no-frills, entertaining experience, always leaves you satisfied and is well worth the trip. And, if you can’t find anything on the rustic-Italian menu that strikes your fancy, then tell them what you want and they shall deliver. To start, try the antipasto sampler served with cheese, olives, and grilled veggies. Word to the wise, don’t even think about putting cheese on fish at this devout establishment. Oh, and in response to the many less-than-glowing online reviews of this restaurant: We can see how many may think the service is coarse – personally, we appreciate anyone who enables people to enjoy delicious food, byo libations, healthy portions, and, above all, do so with friends and family – but try to take it all in stride. Also, if you only have time for lunch and desire a little of what La Locanda (only open for dinner) has to offer, try its sister restaurant, Il Cantuccio, for a taste.

Radicchio Cafe and Melograno also provide environments where groups can meet and share Italian cuisine, though we would label Melograno’s as more ambitious. Whereas La Locanda can accommodate a more boisterous crowd, these two restaurants are for more “mature” groups. In terms of food, Melograno takes the cake. a and I both ordered fish specials at Radicchio Cafe and weren’t blown away by either. a was steered away from ordering the soup du jour by the waiter – you know it misses the mark if the waiter specifically tells you not to order something. We followed his recommendations and were still left unsatisfied. Of course, we can’t make judgments off of one visit and so, we’ll have to return and let you know what transpires. What a pity.

At Melograno we had a much different experience. d took us to dinner to celebrate one of the year’s many notable events. He ordered the Pappardelle Tartufate which, let’s just say, is the dish he keeps returning for, over and over and over. We both ordered dishes that left us satisfied, to the point where we didn’t have room for dessert. As with La Locanda, the Antipasto Rustico is a great dish to share. Melograno and La Locanda do not differ in terms of quality of food and ambiance; where distinctions can be made is in the overall experience and approach to the cuisine. Melograno is a modern, comfortable, sleek byo with a menu to match, whereas La Locanda is like eating at your Italian grandmother’s house, crucifix and all.

It’s impossible to fairly rank these restaurants without knowing who we would be sharing the meal with. What we can say is that Melograno and La Locanda are at the top. With a loud, boisterous crew, we would choose La Locanda. With a more subdued group and fussier palates, Melograno.

Written by afterdinnersneeze

10 August 2010 at 11:33pm

Melograno: Oxtail Sadness

leave a comment »

t says: I’m sure you’re tired of reading of Melograno, much like you’re tired of reading about Sampan.  But, I think I have finally uncovered Melograno’s weakness (aside from the horrendous cheese plate we had on our first trip there some time ago).

5/2010, 8pm, Party of 3.  On a recent visit with g and lc, I ordered the “special”: oxtail ravioli.  It sounded like a surefire winner, as I love oxtail.  Unfortunately, it was not.  Despite the profoundly-beefy flavor that oxtail usually delivers, I barely tasted the oxtail at all – it was masked by a tsunami of herbs like basil and rosemary!  For the record, a tsunami of herbs isn’t that bad, but when you’re expecting savory meat, fresh herbs is quite surprising.  Additionally, there was supposed to be oxtail in the sauce, but I encountered not a single strand … strike 2!  Then, I found that parts of the ravioli (where you’d pinch close the pouch) was a bit too firm … strike 3 – you’re outta there!  Oh … and what’s this?  An intact rosemary leaf to bite into and get stuck in my teeth, leading to mild discomfort and an overwhelming rosemary taste?  Yea, that’s like hearing the home crowd’s yo’-mamma jokes as you walk back to the dug-out with your head bowed down in shame …

Of course, g’s wild boar pappardelle was perfection as usual, and lc’s carbonara was delicious (who could say no to pancetta?), so some things were going quite right.  I guess even Melograno can turn out a flawed pasta dish.

g says: I don’t know what you’re complaining about.  You still ate every last bit, even though you “weren’t that hungry”. Sheesh.

t says: <moment of silence to reconsider> I never said it was so awful I couldn’t eat it … just flawed.

By the way, our server for the night was the awesomest server at Melograno ever.  He was very pleasant, didn’t mind giving us gratuitous amounts of bread, and suggested at the end of our meal that if we didn’t want their desserts, there was Capogiro right around the corner … and Melograno even offers gelato on the menu (for 50% greater cost)!  I love the honesty – the only thing left for him to say would be, “whatever you do, don’t get our cheese plate”.

Written by afterdinnersneeze

1 June 2010 at 11:08am

Melograno: Pasta Heaven … Again

leave a comment »

t says: Last week was a pretty tough week at work, so g and I were in dire need of some Thursday excitement just to make it through to Friday. It was a beautiful day, and, although it was a bit windy, we were determined to sit outside. g suggested Melograno. I was hesitant given the number of other restaurants that were on our hit list – but when you’re in the mood for pasta done right, then you go to Melograno. As a matter of fact, when g had some out-of-town friends from the Big Apple come and visit Philly, she took them to Melograno. They were quite impressed and still bring up the meal every now and then.

5/2010, Thursday 7:30pm, Party of 2. Melograno was super-busy! I squeezed through to the hostess and asked for seating for a party of 2. As she was about to tell me an approximate wait-time, I said, “and we’re willing to sit outside!”. Done deal. A table was just being cleared, and I guess the other diners feared the wind. We took our seats, uncorked a bottle of red from Va La, and off we went!

The “pear carpaccio” was still on the menu, so we gave it a whirl. k had this before, and it looked so good! It involves thin slices of pear with an aged balsamic, toasted pine nuts, parmigiana reggiano, and micro-greens. It was quite an effective combination and reminded me that I need to start adding pine nuts to my salads at home. It was very good, but I do recall scrutinizing a forkful and saying out loud, “you know … we can do this”.

g and I then went for two pasta dishes that were both phenomenal. g went for the wild boar bolognese which came with a rich red sauce with overtones of pig and rosemary. The rosemary totally surprised me, but I guess had I read the menu, I would have known that rosemary was in the dish. In any case, it is no wonder g gets it all the time – it was delicious. I went for their “other” red pasta, the one featuring pancetta in a spicy red sauce with macaroni that were kind of like really thick rigatoni. The salty pancetta bits were like nice little surprise fireworks, cutting through the smooth heat of the sauce. The sauce was also curiously “creamy”? No, it wasn’t white, but I think the Pecorino came through and tricked my tongue into thinking the sauce was smooth and velvety. Oh, and the pasta … perfectly cooked … again.

Drawbacks? Well, g was satiated perfectly by the quantity given – she sneezed a few times (i.e. the meal was “sneeze-worthy”). I was also happy with mine but would have gladly eaten about 15% more. Of course, this also meant that I had room to go to Capogiro and get some of their strawberry and avocado gelatos … so there was a silver lining to the cloud. Man … if Melograno was $3-4 less expensive, we’d have to move because I’d make us poor by going there every day …

Written by afterdinnersneeze

17 May 2010 at 4:23pm

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