photo credit: Gab Bonghi
Tulip Pasta & Wine Bar
Philadelphia doesn’t need another Italian restaurant. Spaghetti and meatballs, chicken parmesan, a little vodka rigatoni–we’ve got it covered.
But lucky for us, in a city with countless other Italian restaurants, there aren’t any quite like Tulip.
You’ve probably already heard about this Fishtown spot. A collaboration between Wayvine Vineyards and the team behind Attico and Messina Social Club, it strikes a perfect balance between being upscale enough for a special occasion, casual enough for a weeknight bowl of pasta, and hip enough to impress your annoying friends from Brooklyn. Funky modern wallpaper lines the narrow dining space, while oversized paper chandeliers hang overhead. The 40-seater is brightly lit but feels intimate, especially if you snag a seat at the chef's counter.
The place is buzzing with everyone from duos on date nights to four tops of friends. A Tribe Called Quest plays while you debate what to order. Will it be the Big Eye tuna crudo? Or the charcoal-grilled broccolini with bagna cauda?
Let’s make it easy. Start with the perfectly olive-oiled focaccia and creamy house-made stracciatella. You’re also going to want the mushroom arancini that’s crisp, dense, and doughy all at once. No matter which small plates you start with, don’t skip the sweet and savory Chesapeake Bay crab ravioli with honeynut squash and crab butter. The Cacio e Peperoncini is another favorite–waves of al dente mafalde are tossed with an addictive blend of dry and pickled peppers, aged pecorino, and just a touch of heat.
Not to be outshone by the food are the excellent cocktails, like the refreshing Secondary Gimlet (made with Pinot Noir serum and a very fake-looking but very real miniature grape cluster garnish). The wine list looks nothing like the one you’ll find at your local red-sauce joint—it’s entirely from Pennsylvania’s Wayvine Vineyards and every bottle is $60 or less.
You’ll have to plan ahead and get a reservation well in advance if you’re going with a group (though there’s almost always a spot for one at the chef’s counter). Unlike another classic Italian spot or more Jawn Morgan billboards, Philly could desperately use more of this–a completely original take on the neighborhood osteria, featuring local cheese, seafood, produce, and wine–not a chicken parm in sight.
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House Made Stracciatella
A generous serving of the house-made stracciatella (like the creamy, dreamy inside of burrata) is drizzled with olive oil and paired with sweet cherry tomatoes and crusty, sea-salt studded focaccia. A perfect way to start the meal (but save any extra focaccia for sopping up pasta sauces).
These arancini, topped with a light, sweet tomato sauce, have a perfectly crisp exterior, a rich and buttery risotto interior, and a savory mushroom flavor at the center. Get them.
Chesapeake Bay Crab Ravioli
This ravioli is like candy for adults. The crab and butternut squash makes a perfectly sweet, salty, and smooth filling, while the pasta itself is perfect–transparent and tender, but doesn’t break. It’s lightly topped with crab butter, pieces of squash and crunchy pine nuts. Easily one the best pasta dishes in Philly.
Perfect ribbons of pappardelle are tossed with a rich and savory ragu of melt-in-your-mouth lamb and aromatic mushrooms. It’s hearty, but not heavy, and great for sharing.
The gnudi is the only pasta we don't love. With goat’s milk ricotta and spinach, it should be light and airy, but these were dense, overly chewy, and bland. You can skip it.
Linguini & Mussels
We’ve never had a linguini dish quite like this one. There are hints of vanilla and nuttiness from the fig leaf flavor, which somehow goes with the peppery taste of turmeric. The mussels are de-shelled, so you waste no time enjoying this Thai-Italian mash up.