702 N. 2nd Street

If Hollywood were to do the life story of Senior Circuit Judge Edward R. Becker, it might have to hire Joseph Scarpone, Sovalo’s co-owner and chef, to play Judge Becker’s “young Republican years.” Joe is almost a replica in physique, facial similarity, intensity and talent (albeit with food rather than honky-tonk piano).

And if it were the life story of Third Circuit Judge Marjorie O. Rendell, then Karey Scarpone, Joseph’s wife (and the other Sovalo co-owner and manager), would astonish you with her near look-alike beauty, sensibility and brilliant composure.

So I giggle, as will most attorneys when first meeting Karey and Joe, at their visible risible resemblances to these two finest Federal benchmarks.

But one cannot rest on looks alone. The Scarpones have made Sovalo a “Napa”–Northern Liberties six-month old upstart parvenu. Joseph, a lad from Drexel Hill, had spent seven most recent years at Tra Vigne, Napa Valley’s most adulated Italian eatery, culminating as its executive chef. Karey, who managed Tra Vigne’s dining rooms, was born, bred and buttered in California’s Simi Valley, six thousand miles from Drexel Hill (as the crow files), and millions of miles (as the mind wanders). Up the culinary ladder they ascended together; in Philadelphia they’ve imported whatever rung true.

Shining dark rosewood floors are at your feet. Painted stamped tin ceilings are high above. Gold-orange shaded wheel-chandeliers complement identically opalescent bulbed wall sconces, highlighting maroon chairs and rectangular tables clothed in white linens. A tiny one-inch round transparent fish bowlette sits tabletop holding an even tinier lit candle. Framed mirrors intermingle with floral wallpaper to complete the walls. Large wine glasses are in place, at attention, adding glitter and glassy class.

A preprandial Bellini ($9.75) is pampered by Prosecco with white peach. It’s perfectly prepared in a frothy champagne glass, and is redolent of the perfumes of those seated at Harry’s Bar in Venice, and of those surrounding the liquor cabinet of the buffet at the Hotel Cipriani. Here, the only Italian you need know is: “Bellini-me.” As the drink is sipped, a light ludic buzz lingers in your ears. Peach fuzz coats the tongue’s tip, which topples into as much liquid as it can trickle forward. The Bridge of Sighs appears before your closed eyes, as you exhale.

Your reverie is interrupted by the appearance of an easel of olive and white bread chunks, provided gratis, with a paste of churned white beans, garlic and Calamati olives. Have some, but not much. It’s the first underlayment for what’s to come; simply tantalizing the palate. Order your wine by the bottle, from notable vineyards of Italy or California ($24.00 and up), or by the glass (most in the $7.25 range).

Share an order from the menu’s “Antipasti” or “Pasta” categories. The chef accommodates by serving half portions on two plates. For instance, you can’t possibly devour the Roasted Organic Polenta with Salsa Rosa and Balsamic Vinegar ($8.25) by yourself. The wedge of baked polenta is as thick and rich as pie. The corn is milled to a course but concise pudding, vibrant with flavor. An aroma of roasted red peppers, garlic and basil rises from beneath the polenta whose corny tush has been tickled by salsa rosa and aged vernal balsamic vinaigrette. Baby red and yellow tomatoes (sweet 100’s, halved), garnish the plate.

The pasta of choice should be Pappardelle with Shiitake and Braised Rabbit Surgo [sauce] and Parmigiano ($16.25). Nothing better defines Joe Scarpone’s pompously powerful pairings. Wide noodles glisten and glide over bits of dark rabbit in a brown brooding cheese-laden sauce. The fat elongated pasta strands swagger on your fork, challenging you to gulp it all. And you do, gratefully groaning in response. Taste buds flourish in the aftermath as your teeth tenderly tangle with the lush leftover soupcon of rabbit. Brash, bold, delicious.

Don’t allow my fondness for thickness to dissuade you from ordering “Secondi” of Grilled Swordfish with Onion Soubise, Baby Fennel and Heirloom Tomato ($21.95). The fish is too thinly sliced, and too tamely bathetic, albeit perfectly grilled. This seafood entrée seems bland in contrast to most other combinations.

Instead, attach your molars to the Grilled Hanger Steak, Purple Mashers, Pepperoni in Padella ($19.50). Ordered “medium” for tenderest texture. Bountiful slices of dark red-centered beef are mounted over the best mashed potatoes in the city, topped with roasted red peppers, all spiked with pepperoni and mild chilies and served in a semi-soup bowl. The meat’s edges are seared black, giving an initiating crunch to the first mouthful. Hold onto your seat when you plunder the potatoes, for you will feel faint with exuberance. The names of every deity pass through your mind’s dietary linguistics, until you pick two or three of them to shout out loud.

I shall not mention the Arugula and Ricotta Ravioli with Chanterelle in White Corn Brown Butter ($14.95), nor the Talleggio and Roasted Fig Risotto with Prosciutto Bits ($14.95), except to say that Sovalo’s supererogatory renditions surpass the extraordinary.

End with Strawberry Sorbetto and Lemon Granita ($5.50), a two-scoop mix to clear your lawyerly worries, if any, coldly away. Northern Liberties now has its finest restaurant. Judges Rendell and Becker should find this establishment most appealing.

Copyright 2005 Richard Max Bockol, Esq. Back