This is favorite times of year in Philly. Yes, fall is officially here, for me anyway, since I had my first Pumpkin Spice Latte on Friday. But, it’s also Restaurant Week. This week and next, restaurants in Center City offer three course lunches and dinners, for $20 and $35, respectively. Restaurant Week(s) also happen in early winter, and it’s a great opportunity to try out new places or revisit old favorites.
To kick off the festivities this time around, I got together with two of my friends from Drexel, Jeff and Lara, for dinner at Le Castagne. Although I’ve been to Le Castagne, which specializes in Northern Italian cuisine, a couple of times before, I’ve only just made the connection that it’s name means “chestnut” in Italian, and it’s located on Chestnut Street. How clever (I’m blonde. These things take me awhile, okay?). Northern Italian is characterized by the use of butter (rather than olive oil), cream sauce (rather than tomato), starches other than pasta (including risotto, gnocchi, and polenta), and game animals. Le Castagne offers modern, upscale interpretations of these traditional dishes, while still preserving the hearty, rustic ingredients and flavors that characterize this region of Italy.
While we sipped our drinks, Lara and Jeff caught me up on everything that’s happening at good old DU. It seems that my presence is appropriately missed at the Paul Peck Alumni Center, and that makes me happy. Jeff is friends with the chef, and he was nice enough to send out a plate of antipasti for us to share. It included grilled eggplant, roasted peppers, olives, prosciutto, salami, and bits of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.
For an appetizer, I ordered gnocchi. I’ve tried my fair share of gnocchi at restaurants all around Philly, and Le Castagne’s is easily my favorite. Sometimes, gnocchi gets so overworked that the dumplings end up heavy and dense. Gross. Le Castagne gets the preparation just right. There were two versions on the menu when we visited—one with tomato sauce, basil, and mozzarella (alla Sorrentina) and one served in a white truffle cream sauce (al Tartufo). I ordered that latter. The gnocchi were pillowy and tender—they practically melted in my mouth—and although the sauce resembled an alfredo, it was much lighter and far more flavorful. The portion was very generous for a starter dish.
For an entrée, I had the timballo of slow-braised lamb. The traditional preparation of this dish features a meat filling, encased in pasta or rice and baked with cheese and vegetables. Le Castagne offers a different take. Shredded lamb is served with wild mushrooms and topped with a poached egg. The whole thing is placed on top of garlic crostini. While the cheese and pasta are missing, the earthy, rustic flavors are all still there. The only thing I didn’t really care for was that the crostini got very mushy from soaking up all the juices from the lamb, but that’s a minor point.
Finally, came a trio of desserts—a square of cheesecake with blueberry sauce, a cannoli, and tiramisu. I am not usually a fan of tiramisu, so I was surprised that it was actually my favorite of the three pastries in this instance. Instead of the traditional multilayered preparation, one small circle of cake was topped with whipped mascarpone cheese, and dusted with cocoa powder. It resembled the top of a cupcake and did not have the overpowering liquor flavor that I dislike about tiramisu.
Service was friendly, professional, and attentive, even as the restaurant began to fill up later on the evening. Restaurant Week or not, Le Castagne is definitely worth a visit.