Via Locusta is a new arrival on the burgeoning gourmet Italian dining scene from a crew with an impressive Philadelphia culinary resume.
Husband-and-wife team Michael Schulson and Nina Tinari have partnered with chef Jeff Michaud, who helped build the Vetri empire, to deliver a sophisticated selection of shareable plates, housemade pastas, larger dishes and from-scratch cocktails. “Local, seasonal and sustainable” are key tenets of the kitchen philosophy, helmed by executive chef Ed Pinello.
I had the good fortune to dine at Via Locusta (“Locust Street”) on a Tuesday evening. We had an early reservation (6 p.m., and by the time we left at 8:15 p.m. there was not a seat to be had in the place). It was buzzing.
We each started with a cocktail — my friend had the “Contrada Archi,” which featured vodka, cranberry bitter, black walnut and honey. Our server assured her, correctly, that the honey was subtle and the drink was not sweet. I enjoyed the “Via Giovanni,” a refreshing combination of tequila, Aperol, Contratto Vitter and grapefruit.
The restaurant is not kosher, but there are many vegan, vegetarian, dairy and “kosher-style” friendly options.
We dove enthusiastically into the menu, starting with the focaccia — a warm, heavenly disc of crispy, crusty, rosemary-scented manna. We opted for the classic, which comes with whipped honey butter and bee pollen; it was sweet for a starter, but we did not complain.
We shared a number of small plates, which included the snapper crudo, topped with a dressing bursting with freshness of fennel, horseradish and Meyer lemon. We moved onto the crudité, a picturesque assortment of vegetables surrounding a cup of agliata sauce, a garlicy-mustardy-Caesarish dressing for dipping. We also shared the Romanesco fritto — the seemingly ubiquitous fried cauliflower that appears everywhere these days. Pinello’s stood out with its crisp, light coating and delicious complement of flavors. The florets were just barely breaded, set atop farmer cheese and strewn with mint leaves and chili.
For my main course, I thoroughly enjoyed the quadretti ravioli, a twist on the classic. The ravioli were stuffed with buffalo mozzarella, which delivered a chew and slight sharpness, a welcome change from the traditional ricotta filling. The buttery sauce and the shaved Parmigiano topping were decadence itself. My friend had the salt-roasted chicken with porcini, purslane and Barolo vinegar, which she reported to be delicious, juicy and perfectly sauced. Direct quote: “I could just eat a bowl of this sauce for dinner.”
Believe it or not, even after all that food, we did find room for dessert. My chocolate caramel crostata, a chocolate-crusted tart filled with a velvety silk of chocolate caramel, was divine. My friend, less decadently (and opting for dairy-free) enjoyed the orange sorbetto. Our final ciao was a “bacio cookie” for each of us delivered with the check. The small chocolate hazelnut orb of delight left us eagerly anticipating our next visit.
Speaking of the check, the prices were on the higher side, but that is to be expected at a restaurant of this caliber in this neighborhood.
Appetizers range in price from $5 for the focaccia to $16 for the beef tartare. Pastas start at $14 for a simple olive oil and garlic preparation and go up to $26 for seafood fusilli. Main dishes span $24 for the salt-roasted chicken to $56 for a bone-in ribeye. Cocktails were all in the $13 range, and wines are available by the glass, the quartino (a ½ liter carafe that holds about 2½ glasses), or by the bottle.
If you go:
1723 Locust St.
Philadelphia PA 19103
Sunday-Thursday 4:30-11 p.m.
Friday-Saturday 4:30 p.m. to 12 a.m.