Radicchio Cafe

402 Wood Street
215 627 6850
215 627 6801 (faxed orders)

I should have you sign a Confidentiality Agreement before reading on. But, as usual, I will trust that as an officer of the court, you will exercise all self-control to keep this 4th Street BYOB culinary-corner, between Vine and Callohill, a close secret.

First, let me give you some mandatory warnings: (a) Radicchio will not take reservations; (b) Radicchio begins to fill up on week nights (earlier on weekends) at 6:00 p.m. with a young, vibrant crowd whose cacophony can bring eardrums to shaking and aching; and (c) the female members of your party will be utterly giggly and pop-eyed at the frankly gorgeously handsome visages and accents of the Italian waiters. Each waiter is dressed in shabby-Armani, some wearing Bruno Magli seconds. Most have won Al Pacino sound-alike and look-alike contests. A majority have opal grey eyes, black pants, brown belts, white shirts and lipstick "kiss-marks" on both cheeks. Urban "ciaoboys."

There’s an informal insouciance about this tiny place, airy with open floor-to-ceiling windows; lambent on a crepuscular September day’s sunny setting, and, later, from a distance, like a bright moonlit orchid shining in the darker night.

Its food can only be described as world-class Italian cafe cooking, inexpensively presented among peach walls, white marble-topped tables, and chairs whose color is identical to its window frames.

If you miss the Prosciutto & Mozzarella ($6.50) appetizer before the end of the summer season, you could be accused of malpractice, malfeasance and malfeasting. Pink Parma prosciutto is layered about fresh white buffalo mozzarella balls and quartered red Roma tomatoes. Extra virgin olive oil is drizzled thereupon, and chopped green basil scattered about. The meat is so thin that it’s like salty cotton-candy upon the tongue, its taste ephemeral. When the cheese and tomatoes augment to a ménage à trois within your mouth, salivary glands become erumpent. Your brain is awash in a Roman fountain. Swallowing is intentionally delayed until all ingredients are drowned and dissolved, leaving you breathless with a nosegay of basil.

Simplicity abounds. Risotto al Radicchio ($14), for instance, is creamy camaroli rice with sausages, purple-leafed radicchio and smoked mozzarella in a bowl large enough to create an echo when a spoon scrapes its surface to grab at its contents. Swirled in broth for a quarter of an hour, the rice is perfectly cushiony. The sausages are packed with crackling ground veal, and the smoked cheese is fragrant and flexuous. The composite fuliginous blend creates a gormandizing heartiness, in the perky redolence of the radicchio’s chickory.

There are "specials" every evening. Pounce upon them. I will not mention the half-dozen incarnadine-centered Lamb Chops, sizzled and wrapped in prosciutto, served with just-picked string beans and potatoes ($22). Nor shall I allude to the Pasta Special ($16), a plethora of spinach ravioli enveloped and cramped by shrimp and scallops in tomato gravy. There are not enough fabulous adjectives.

Best to devote some approbation to whole Striped Bass. The striped aquatic body is brought to table side, eyes gleaming, on a silver platter. There, your waiter, with lissome dexterity, removes the fish’ skin to reveal its marmoreal flesh. The cheeks are saved from each side, just beyond the gills, and placed on your platter. Then the deboning occurs with a precision usually reserved for the hands of a surgeon. When all is said and done, pearly filets steam forth, ready to be devoured. Similar handling of Dover Sole leaves as spectacular a result, with sweating filets a foot long, laid in oils praised with parsley. Roasted whole peeled garlic cloves and unpeeled brilliant red tomatoes add color and appealing accompaniments.

Order side dishes for the table of Broccoli Rabe ($5) and/or Spinaci all’Agro ($4) to complete the Italian oral peregrination. Each is verdant and soppingly warm with highest quality oils. Both boast attitudes of garlic, and complement any of this restaurant’s pelagic entrées.

The best for last: Radicchio’s veal; served as a breaded chop, Cotoletta Milanese ($19), topped with arugola and diced tomatoes, or as medallions, Saltimbocca ($14), sautéed with garlic and white wine, pummeled with prosciutto and savory sage. The veal is prime. A knife cuts through its exterior with utter ease, to expose a hewed delectable declivity shimmering in juices. I’m not saying these dishes are daringly original. I must say, however, they are the plumpest, most tasty versions of these staples that money can buy.

To avoid the nonquiescent, loud shivaree, I usually attempt to arrive for lunches and dinners here either very early or very late. Be prepared with an extremely cold bottle of Pinot Grigio or a room-temperature vinaceous decanter of Chianti. Take in the aromas as if you were a cognoscente, and keep this review close to your vest.


Copyright 2004 Richard Max Bockol, Esq. Back