Photos, story by Brittany Harlow
Kicking off the spring season, we were invited to attend a media tasting dinner at Palladino’s in East Passyunk. No stranger to Luke Palladino’s mad skills, he was actually one of our first stories for Explore-Philly.com when he opened the restaurant. The event was arranged to introduce the new spring menu, as Palladino’s subscribes to the concept of being completely house made, as well as working with a seasonal, rotating menu.
Throughout the evening, Palladino’s staff demonstrated their sincere engagement with their East Passyunk neighborhood, located just an arms throw from the Italian Market. Palladino’s on Passyunk has only been located in this neighborhood for a little over two years, but their love for the area was evident as they made sure to encourage everyone’s return to the East Passyunk Flavors of the Avenue Food Festival.
The night began with a casual cocktail hour, over a menu of the new spring drink selection. The Palladino’s staff and Chef Luke Palladino himself really stressed their devout efforts to continually rotate the menu and constantly introduce new items according to the seasons. My date and I each sampled one of the elaborately designed cocktail options, but we agreed that the elaborate tastes were probably a little bit too strong and intricate for our newly 21 year old tongues. We switched to the house’s white wine option after the cocktails.
As we got settled into our tables, the Chef Luke Palladino came out and introduced the group not only to himself, but to the imported Tuscan steak we would be sharing that evening. He explained the process in which he was going to prepare the meat, as well as his over standard for freshness throughout the establishment. The showing was a strong testament to his dedication to his craft, but the food to come is what really drove the point home.
In classic Italian dinner style, the table was first greeted with fresh bread and oil. However as expected, the oil had its own sweet seasoning and a butter marmalade to compliment. I think any fan of Italian food will tell you that a great bread and oil combination is a solid foreshadowing of the excellence in the meal to come. And in this case, it definitely was.
The first item we received from the appetizer menu was pesto romano bruschetta. Although items like pesto, romano, and bruschetta may not seem like ground breaking additions to a traditional Italian menu, it was the execution of this plate that made it so phenomenal. The chef put an interesting spin to the classic bruschetta concept by instead of dicing a medley of tomato, onions, and various other kitchen favorites, simply placing a perfectly flavorful cherry tomato atop of the pesto romano spread. The addition of the romano to the pesto created a rich and thick texture, which was perfectly complimented by the juice of the tomato.
An octopus carpaccio came next. I had never had octopus before this dinner, out of shear fear and mistrust for the preparation. But already so early in the night, Chef Palladino had won me over and I was actually eager to try it. I truly enjoyed the octopus and agreed with the woman seated next to me who had exclaimed upon her first bite that it, “tastes like the sea!” Yet another deserving testimony to freshness and quality of food to be found at Palladino’s.
We were given a few more appetizers; a wood fire artichoke, split open and dressed in garlic oil, olives and capers; blood sausage; focaccia bread; and focaccia bread topped with tomato and pesto. The artichoke and toppings were very oily but richly flavorful. The blood sausage was a bit drier but equally flavorful. It was also topped with a sort of cocktail marinara, which complimented it finely. The focaccia bread (focaccia cheese essentially, baked into a bread) was as savory as imaginable, and the focaccia bread topped with tomato and pesto were a great, milder alternative to the plain focaccia bread.
We were given 3 small main course dishes, one at a time. A handmade romano pasta; asparagus ravioli; and the wood fire Tuscan steak that we were introduced to in the beginning of the evening. By the time we were given the romano pasta, I had started to pick up on the recurring theme in Palladino’s work for rich, savory and oily tendencies. Like all of his dishes though, it was treat none the less. The asparagus ravioli was definitely less rich, savory and oily, but it was earthy and flavorful. It was topped in cheese and the fantastically flavorful cherry tomatos I recognized from the bruschetta. The wood grilled imported Tuscan steak was severely perfect. I usually order my meat well done (again out of a long history of mistrust between the chef’s and my own plate) but Palladino’s steak was a little on the rarer side and absolutely perfect. It was tender and very lightly salted, well worth the wait, and highly deserving of the recommendation. Get the steak.