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02/07 6 moderate- expensive

2201 Spruce St Philadelphia 19103
(215) 875-8116

Pappardelle with Mushrooms and Truffles, Pork Tenderloin, Bistecca, Chocolate Soufflé


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I can't say that I enjoy the whole no-reservation thing. I can understand why restaurants do it, immediately filling tables with waiting walk-ins, but with a place as good as Melograno, it would be nice to know you could get in at a certain time. But as a hot BYOB restaurant, Melograno is able to sustain a waiting list most every night. I actually understand that one CAN make reservations on some days, but it's still confusing to me which days they're doing it, so I usually just drop-in early or late... They'll take your cell-phone number, so you can always put your name in, and go grab a drink, or take a walk. But I recommend putting up with the inconvenience, it's worth a wait for the food here.

Our tactic has been to wander in late on weeknights, and so far we've had little or no delay, although we've occasionally felt a little self-conscious as the last folks in the place, noticing that the kitchen and waitstaff obviously want to go home. But everyone has been quite gracious, even as we intrude on their staff dinners. I hope they'll put up with this rudeness though, because our food has been delicious every time we've gone, so we plan to increase the frequency of visits. Equally effective is to show up right at opening, but I do mean EXACTLY at opening time, tables fill almost immediately.

A starter of artichokes and grilled scallops has been a hit at our table several times, simple yet elegant, with three medium scallops and a tender green scepter surrounded by a lemony sauce. Spinach and cheese bundled inside slightly dry crepes, splashed with a laid-back red sauce was not as dramatic, but still decent. A special crab and cod cake was ethereal. A shared antipasti brought a nice board with a generous portion of excellent prosciutto, a few slices of good salami, fresh mozzarella, grilled eggplant and zucchini, a roasted artichoke, three toasts each with a different spread, and good olives. This is billed as a two-person appetizer, but it's better for three of four.

A wonderfully refreshing special salad of arugula and grapefruit perked the palate for the next courses. The Panzanela salad was fresh and light, crunchy but still chewy bread soaking up the lovely dressing, enlivened by a tangle of frisee, along with chunks of tomatoes and sliced cucumbers.

For entrees, we've had grilled chicken with eggplant, made up of layers of improbably tender and juicy thin-sliced grilled chicken breast, grilled eggplant, cheese and a bright, fresh tomato sauce. No one element of this was particularly exciting, but bound together, they made a comforting, elegant whole.

And this is often the case. Many of the dishes we've tried here are simple, spare, plainspoken preparations, a few good ingredients, expertly cooked, satisfying in their simplicity. This seems to be a trend, I've been getting a lot of food like this lately, and while I still look forward to tasting surprising and jolting flavors from time to time, this movement of letting the dishes taste like their components is welcome.

Pork tenderloin featured medallions of yieldingly tender meat, so delicate it could be cut by waving a knife in its general direction. A deep, dark sauce was enlivened by sweet apple chunks and salty olives. DDP thought it tasted "brown" and he meant that in a good way, adding that it would surely have a calming effect. It did indeed quiet me, while stimulating my tastebuds quite dramatically. And that sauce - - I stopped short of actually licking the plate, but it took every ounce of my self-control to resist. I'm not sure it's good etiquette to mop one's plate with a dinner roll, as I did, but I'll risk being chastised by Miss Manners to get every drop. If I had any quibble, it would be that the meat could have used some company, some green vegetables, potatoes or pasta, something...

I never would have thought to order a steak at a place like this, there are just too many interesting alternatives. But a print review raved about it, so I gave the Bistecca alla Fiorentina a try, and it was one of the most enjoyable steaks I've ever had. The Porterhouse is a bit on the thin-side, making medium-rare a hard target to hit, but so packed with flavor that it doesn't matter. The extremely tender meat is served over a mound of herbed, juicy cannellini beans and tomatoes, and there's something about the melange of the garlic, the thyme, the juices of the beef and the beans that send this to a whole new level.

The "Pappardelle Tartufate" with wild mushrooms and truffle is another outstanding offering. The wide pasta has wonderfully springy texture, the sauce almost a glaze adhering to the noodles, the earthy, dark, forest-floor flavors and slight crunch of walnuts make this one of the best pastas anywhere in the city. AIDP was reluctant to order this: you spend enough time in small-town Italy and you'd get testy about pasta being cooked improperly over here too, but he LOVED it.

We've had a mixed seafood grill, featuring simple fresh fish and shellfish, which was nice, light and pleasing, if not especially remarkable. A duck special brought a nicely grilled plump breast, again, simply prepared, but quite tasty, accompanied by sweet potatoes and haricots verts. Other entrees have looked and smelled quite appealing as they passed by our table.

Save room for dessert. A gingery crème brûlée was good enough to be forgiven for messing with a classic, but the real draw is the chocolate soufflé: gooey and drippy and messy and delicious. A hearty apple tart was almost a cake, crunchy with pinenuts. We didn't get to try the tiramisu, AIDP inhaled it too quickly! I'm assuming that means it was good!

Melograno's tables are pretty tightly spaced, and the two walls of windows and other hard surfaces make it extremely loud, even when it's not full of raucous diners. SOund treatment on the ceiling have helped a little, but it's still pretty shrill in there. So catch up on the day's news with your dining partner as you cool your heels on the sidewalk, waiting for a table, you'll have trouble hearing each other inside.

But it doesn't matter, you can safely assume that all the person across the table is saying is "uhhhmmmmmm, this is REALLY gooood!!".

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