When anyone asks me where they should go to eat in Philadelphia, I send them to La Viola. It embodies the Philadelphia restaurant scene -- it's a BYO, it offers delicious, homemade Italian food, its servers have larger-than-life personalities and, best of all, it's cheap. I hadn't been in a while and this outbreak of decent weather prompted a visit.
Signage to the contrary, the La Viola outpost I've always enjoyed was closed. So I crossed 16th Street to its new "wing." Lucky I knew that they had expanded; there were no signs directing diners here, nor were there signs across the street naming the place. "La Viola Ovest," or La Viola West, beckons diners solely with a buttery glow and thick velvet curtains. Our hostess explained that the original location is closed on Mondays. Offering slightly more room than La Viola, the west location offers more seating as well.
The menu was interesting. A slight mirror to La Viola, the entrees are slightly more expensive, inexplicably so. My favorite grilled calamari dish was offered with shrimp at this location, albeit a measly addition with two smallish shrimp and none of the delicious grilled jus that I had enjoyed with bread across the street. Resisting my two standbys, the steak of the day (always delicious) and the lobster ravioli, I opted instead for the tagliatelle al salmone. I should tell you that the pasta is homemade, and this should prompt you to eat there, very soon. The pasta tastes homemade in that way that, after boxes of pasta, you forgot how much you love it. The dish was served in a pink cognac sauce, filled with a light creaminess and a hint of tomato that complimented the tender salmon. My friend ordered the caesar salad, which I both love and hate for its generous portion of garlic and dousing of dressing, perfectly contrasted against the crisp romaine and shaved parmesan. A vegetarian, she got the Penne Alla Caruso, featuring pencil point pasta in a vodka tomato sauce with peas and pancetta (minus the pancetta). Needless to say, we cleared our plates. Tiramisu is another favorite of mine here, but we managed to forego it, lingering instead over the bottle of wine and good conversation.
The price? $20 for each of us, for a sizable appetizer and entree. We got to bring the wine of our choice. The room was simple and cozy. It's what makes the Philadelphia restaurant scene truly great.
La Viola is located at 253 S. 16th Street, Philadelphia, Pa.; La Viola Ovest is located at 252 S. 16th Street. Photo thanks to http://www.philadelphia.citysearch.com/.