Ristorante Panorama

Penn's View Hotel
Front and Market Streets
(215) 922-7600

Luca Sena is a native of Naples, Italy, with genes imbued with the DNA of generations of Neapolitan restaurateurs. In 1976, his family opened La Famiglia in Old City to accolades; and in 1990, Luca's own vision focused upon the Penn's View Hotel and its Panorama restaurant. The ken is European-style, casual, bustling, comfortable and affordable. One feels as if one has entered an Italian grotto looking over a summer landscape of blooming verdant vineyards. The scene is visually realized by a Michael Webb mural extending the length of the dining area, to which were added full-bodied portraits of artisans and musicians, superimposing frolic and frivolity.

Luca used to play "forward" for the Naples Fire Company's football squad in his native Italy. If you ask him a question, his hands and arms gesture upwards instinctively, and his head moves toward you before he replies. It's as if a soccer ball has been directed his way rather than a query.

Allow me to start with the wines and how they are offered. Tim Kilcullen, Panorama's general manager and sommelier, oversees and recommends "flights," a five-wines-by-the-1.5-ounce-galss tasting program. He muses, "It gives attorneys something to argue about and to become judges without the cut in pay."

Gourmet Magazine and Decanter Magazine have named this restaurant as Philadelphia's "best to drink wine." It's Cruvinet, a wall of wine bottles, tied to a preservation system using pressurized nitrogen, allows the tastes of vintners' produce to remain perfectly pure, redolent, and available by the glass. So no meal should begin without a quintet of vintages at your fingertips.

The food is as varied and exceptional as the wine selection. You will never forgive yourself if you do not begin with Lumache all'Aglio Arrostito ($8.75). Escargots the shape and size of miniature roses bathe in a roasted garlic sauce, so buttery the underside of your neck turns golden as you face them. A glossy morsel slips onto tongue at a snails' pace, tantalizing your throat. Nary a knash occurs before you swallow, inhaling the roasted garlic's ghost.

Order an entire portion of Risotto del Giorno ($18) as an appetizer for the table, promptly, to eat throughout the meal. The arborio rice requires twenty minutes' preparation. It arrives steaming pearly white, infused with deep green flecks of parsley. Its aroma is reverently muted. A forkful's lift is angelically light, weightless. The taste of the brothy meld bursts with a warmth that touches the soul.

Nor should one overlook the Gamberi e Fagioli alla Toscana ($11.95). Huge shrimp snooze upon a bed of warm beans and salad, over which is spread a coverlet of extra-virgin olive oil. A utensil's prongs cause the long-tailed decapod to quiver before it's thrust upward to be chewed. The opaque beige beans softly follow with wet wisps of mixed greens. Three large bites are required to devour each turgid shrimp; it's a transubstantiated trio.

And please don't think I've forgotten that by now, you've sipped through your first "flight" of wines, and should be boarding another.

There are those who swear by the homemade pastas here, but the veal and beef dishes are so sumptuously served, one ought to splurge.

Braciola di Manzo con Gnocchi ($19.50) is a paillard of beef rolled around garlic, cheese, egg and herbs, slow-cooked in tomato sauce, and garnished with gnocchi. The Vesuvian mounds of meat collapse into manageable pieces, while cheese oozes occasionally onto the plate as if the latter were a porcelain Pompeii. Your palate is coated and stunned by a rampaging red sauce whose herbs erupt upon your tastebuds. Your brain simpers in the simmering heat as you add a fleshy gnocchi to the lava.

I will not mention the Vitello con Funghi ($21.50) except to say that the medallions of veal in this concoction are as tenderly vibrant as a Sophia Loren-Marcello Mastrianni love scene. The wild mushrooms vary in shape, and create an aftertaste of Neapolitan ribaldry.

Waitpersons are prompt and alert to your needs, unobtrusively placing and/or removing a barrage of wine glasses effortlessly. They dress in Old City black bottoms and metallic gray tops. Marble floors and recessed lighting fixtures add touches of elegance and coziness as beams bounce off the burnt sienna walls emulating a sunset.

Messrs. Sena and Kilcullen arrive with dessert, Tira Misu and Flan Cheesecake. The former is multi-layered and melts at ingestion. The latter, Americanized with Philadelphia cream cheese, sticks to your ribs for a moment and in your memory forever.

"So now you know a barbaresco from a barolo," says the smiling Kilcullen. Sena chuckles and nods forward.


Copyright 2004 Richard Max Bockol, Esq. Back