Georgia L Herpel, Food and Wine Contributor
The Birthday Club snags a table for six without a wait at Melograno - Jan 21, 2004
- When one enters Melograno the first thing you notice is how tiny the place appears. You wonder if you’ll feel comfortable sharing your dinner and conversation with the 30 other diners in the room as you are that proximate to one another. That observation gives way to the design features of the space - its dark wood and soft lighting, the dried berries strung from the ceiling corner to corner and the fresh lemons and limes in simple glass vases against the wall. With an open kitchen the space is warm and inviting, even on a cold winter night. All of your senses are now engaged - with the exception of taste but the aromas filling the dining room signal to your tongue that its buds will soon join the party.
Our evening started out on a high note when our gentille waiter agreed to hold a six-person table for us even though our entire party was not present. While other patrons were being turned away, our spot in the center of the room stood out, as if it was waiting for us in all our fabulous-ness to take our places. As we assembled and our conversation filled the room we popped open a sparkling wine from the Loire Valley. With bubbles dancing on our tongues we listened to the waiter describe the specials. At that point it was hard to imagine ordering anything but the specials however the menu yielded more options that made decision-making a negotiation between us all. We want to ensure that the specials were ordered as well as the menu items that sound too good to pass up. Once the six of us agreed on first and second courses we passed all of our orders on to the patient waiter and got down to the serious business of being six friends out to dinner in celebration of a birthday.
In due time six plates are brought to the table including the appetizer specials - a fresh buffalo mozzarella wrapped in pancetta and a smoked salmon over baby arugula tossed with pine nuts and goat cheese. The caesar and house salad from the daily menu are placed in front of us as well. After we’ve given each other the signal to commence, a bottle of Italian chardonnay from the historic wine-making district of the Langhe in Piedmont is opened, new glasses are put in front of us and we swirl and sniff and taste our second bottle of the night. We all must have been famished, or the food that satisfying, as the first courses were devoured quickly. The caesar was held up as being significantly above the norm; the flavors and textures in the smoked salmon appetizer melded perfectly, and the buffalo mozzarella was shared amongst the group as it was huge. In a small restaurant with only 2 servers and a busboy the opportunity for service to suffer looms however this evening no one skipped a beat. The courses were paced nicely and plates were cleared with new wine glasses appearing without being requested. As the second courses were being placed we opened a Moore Brothers bon marche favorite - a Bardolino from the Veneto. With nice soft fruit and not a lot of tannin, this was the perfect accompaniment to the grouper, grilled mullet, ravioli, risotto and papperadelle. The simplicity of the grilled whole mullet brushed with olive oil and herbs allowed for the flavor and texture of the mullet to show forth. This is not a fish that you see often on a menu and the chef’s preparation showed it off perfectly. The pastas are all made in house and the difference is noticed at first bite. The papperadelle with wild mushrooms was rich and earthy and the plate still had some ribbons of pasta remaining even after it was passed around. The grouper was a hit for its succulent flavor and preparation.
The Bardolino bottle was emptied and everyone was content however when the desserts were described, five of us placed an order. One ricotta cheesecake, three chocolate mousse cakes and one bowl of hazelnut gelato later we all tallied our votes and picked the gelato as the star.
Overall the exuberance of the group voted this a four lipstick out of five without question. We were welcomed from the moment we walked in the door and the people, place and food had a calming effect on all of us. Upon entering we had smiles and looks of anticipation of what was to come. As we left we had the look of satisfaction and the knowledge that were now insiders, in the “know” about this tiny, unpretentious BYOB in a little corner of our birthday club world.
2201 Spruce St.
Philadelphia, PA 19103
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