We’re taught from a young age that you should always choose the tougher path when given the option. “Take the road less traveled” and “If it doesn’t hurt, it isn’t working” were printed on poster-sized Shutterstock photos and plastered to the walls of every elementary school. But we think sometimes it’s not only okay, but a totally valid option, to choose the easy course. In fact, we might even make our own motivational poster that says, “Taking the easy way out is okay sometimes, Mrs. Keffer” and hang it up in the cubicle we share with three other people who also gave up on their dreams to sell PVC pipe for a living.
L’anima is an Italian BYOB in Grad Hospital, and on any given night, it’s an easy option. It’s more modern and spacious than most other Italian BYOBs in the city, they serve great pasta, and you can almost always get a table without a reservation. Plus, it’s one of the first legitimate restaurants in an area that’s just starting to become a place where people actually want to hang out. Will you leave feeling like you just had an unforgettable experience that you want to shout about from a rooftop? Probably not. But on most nights, you’re not looking for that anyways. You’re just looking for a good place to bond with a few friends as you recount every time you’ve ever called someone by the wrong name. On those nights, L’anima is where you want to be.
L’anima is from the same people as Melograno, and it has a similar concept: Italian comfort food that focuses heavily on pastas and classic antipasti dishes with ingredients like pesto and mozzarella. The only notable difference with L’anima is that you’ll see a lot more seafood on the menu than at Melograno, like a swordfish skewer appetizer that’s served over garlic bruschetta and topped with salsa verde. It’s the best antipasti on the menu, and you should get it even if swordfish isn’t your favorite weapon-themed fish.
Where the food really shines, though, is in the pasta section, which includes a mix of traditional and modern options, and they’re all great. But if you have to choose just a couple, the vaccinara and the cacio e pepe are the way to go. The vaccinara is pappardelle tossed with a braised oxtail ragu, and you’ll likely be scraping the sauce off the plate even after the pasta is long gone. And the cacio e pepe is exactly what you’d expect from a cheesy, peppery pasta, but the al dente noodles and creamy, light sauce make this the one dish we’d place a repeating daily order for if any delivery company offered that service.
The rest of the menu, which consists of Roman-style pizzas called pinsas and a few entrees, is fine, but you could pretty much fold the menu in half right after the pasta section, and you wouldn’t miss out on much. It’s not that the rest of the food is bad, it’s just that if you want a pizza, you’d be better off going to a slice shop on South Street, and if you want a steak, we’d recommend one of the dozens of steakhouses that inhabit every other building in Rittenhouse.
We’re not here to step all over the idea that you should choose the harder route - there’s a time and a place for creating a 13-step plan to get the toughest reservation in town. But on most nights, it’s more enjoyable to throw your kindergarten teacher’s lessons to the wind and just go eat some great cacio e pepe.
Seared octopus in lemon oil with olives and potatoes. It tastes like most other octopus you’ve probably had recently, which is to say that it’s good, but it’s not doing anything you haven’t seen before.
Hands down the best appetizer on the menu. The swordfish is light and flavorful, and the salsa verde really makes this dish what it is, which is a really damn good swordfish skewer.
This is one of those pastas that makes you remember why you decided to go out for pasta in the first place. It should be on your table (and in your mind) always.
Even better than the Vaccinara. Get this.
This is in the pasta section, but it’s not really a pasta, and we don’t like it as much as the actual pastas. It’s a crepe filled with mushrooms and ricotta, and topped with a cheese fondue, and this is one of those cases where it sounds better than it tastes. And maybe that’s because it sounds so incredibly good, but either way, it doesn’t need to be on your table.
Of all of the pinsas (pizzas), this is our favorite, but you don’t need it. Save your appetite for the pastas.
It’s $29 and comes with cacio e pepe fries on top. The steak isn’t worth the money, but you should probably pay the $7 for a side of the cacio e pepe fries. They’re pretty nice.