Monday, February 7, 2011

Le Castagne

There are those who say that there is more happiness in the anticipation than in the actual experience of a good time. Though I don’t fully buy into this belief, I do have to admit that part of the fun of Restaurant Week consists in the expectation phase – the appetizing hours spent poring over menus, the final tally and selection of a restaurant, and then the patient waiting for the reservation day to roll around. It is all the more enjoyable when this phase culminates in an evening meeting and even exceeding those expectations. This was certainly my experience with Le Castagne, Rittenhouse Square’s Northern Italian ristorante and our final pick for this semester’s restaurant week expedition.

Upon entering the restaurant, I was immediately struck by the balance between the austerity of high ceilings and the congeniality of exposed brick and warm lighting. The space itself was a reflection of the Sena family’s gastronomical philosophy: fine dining with the flavors of an authentic Italian cucina – that is to say, an elevated experience that never loses the comforts or coziness of home. This was certainly the driving idea behind both the menu and the service. The night opened with a simple sundried tomato pesto and freshly baked bread. The pesto had all the vividness of fresh, high-quality olive oil, and took me straight back to my week in a Tuscan vineyard last summer.

When my boyfriend and I go out to dinner, we like to split everything we order so as to sample a larger portion of the menu. That night, the spoils were many: we started with gnocchi in a white truffle cream sauce and mozzarella di buffula with tomatoes and prosciutto. The gnocchi dish was of an unearthly sort of perfection, with a feathery, dreamy smoothness to it. It was well balanced by its earthier but nonetheless delicious counterpart, the mozzarella salad, drizzled in the thickest and sweetest of balsamic vinegars. We then moved on to two main courses: the apple-glazed pork chop on a gorgonzola polenta, and the pistachio-encrusted salmon finished with white truffle honey. Everything was a pleasure to the palate, but the biggest surprise was probably the carrots served as a side to the salmon. They were warm and still crispy, steamed without losing any of the vividness of their flavor.

Le Castagne’s restaurant week menu didn’t give us any choice over our desserts, but we were comforted by the mysterious trio of dolci. And indeed, it was a symphony of sweetness. There was the traditional cannoli, an amazingly flavorful, zesty lemon juice bar, and a chestnut cream-filled profiterole that filled me up with happiness. The trio was wonderfully complemented by the ristretto served alongside it. All in all, it was a lovely evening and reinforced my love for Restaurant Week, and the unique opportunity it offers for a food-lover with a college student’s wallet.

Le Castagne Ristorante
1920 Chestnut Street
Philadelphia, PA

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