Oyster House AND Bellini - Philadelphia, PA
We were in Philadelphia to help out with auditions, so we had lunch and an incredible gelato with the directors before we all parted ways. After hanging out at the hotel for a bit in comfortable silence (gotta get some TikTok and Instagram time in!), Alex and I headed off to find a snack and kill time before dinner.
First up – Oyster House. I have been craving oysters for some reason and knowing there are some good oyster bars in the city, I was bound and determined to find some! And find one we did. We were greeted and seated quickly at the raw bar. I am amazed at how those working the raw bar can shuck oysters so efficiently, without slicing themselves open in the process. And they are good here. While the oysters are served with a tiny little seafood fork, there is no need to use it. The oysters slide right off their shells into your waiting mouth. Since it was mid-afternoon, we went light. We split a dozen oysters – 6 Betsy Cape Salts from New Jersey and 6 Pink Moons from Prince Edward Island. I love knowing where the oysters come from. That’s not something you often get without asking in Lancaster. It was a perfect treat for the afternoon.
After that, we did some wandering through Philadelphia. There’s an odd mall not far from the hotel that we’re still trying to figure out. I’ve been there a few times now and the random collection of shops still doesn’t make sense. Eventually, though, it was almost time for dinner, and we headed over to Bellini. We arrived just a couple of minutes before our reservation and the host actually thanked us for being early. I guess he had a lot of late arrivals on Saturday! I could never do that without calling – and even then, it would only be because of traffic or some other really good reason. Over the last decade, many of us have had “if you’re on time, you’re late!” drilled into us and it really does just make sense.
The restaurant is fun – it’s kitschy and over-the-top trying too hard to “look” Italian in a fun way. It’s loud and the seating is tight, definitely not a place to go if you have a hard time with crowds or noise. But the service is impeccable and the food was fabulous.
Of course, we needed to start with drinks. We each started out with a Gin Don, made of gin, maraschino, crème de Violette, lemon, and St. Germaine. What a fun drink to begin the evening with! From there we went to the starters. Again, we shared. There are many great-sounding options to choose from. We went with the Carpaccio di Manzo, which is the only beef dish on the menu. The cured filet mignon paired well with the arugula in the center, with a hint of Parmigiano to add a salty lilt. The beef was melt-in-your-mouth tender. No chewing required.
We also tried something I have not had in many years – Escargot. These were large wild Burgundy snails (perhaps they partied too hard?) served in what was described as a Sicilian sauce over polenta. The snails were firm, but not chewy, with a nice bite to them. The polenta was perfectly done. Creamy without being gooey. The sauce, though, is where Alex and I were on opposing sides. My family is Sicilian. My father is literally right off the boat. I cannot recall my Nonna ever making a sauce that was sweet and contained raisins. It was just too sweet for me. Alex loved it, though. And a Google search shows that this is, apparently, considered Sicilian. Maybe it is, but it isn’t something I’ve ever had. There are a lot of provinces in Sicily, so maybe it’s from the east coast?
I didn’t get a shot of Alex’s meal. He went with the Vitello alla Saltimbocca. I had a taste and it was divine. I ordered one of the specials – lamb chops served with Sicilian peas (I’m not sure what made them particularly Sicilian, though). The chops were served medium rare and were also tender. I shared with Alex and he noted that the chops were the kind of meat that made you want to gnaw on the bone afterward. He was not wrong! The only downside to the meal was the peas. I could only describe them as “woody”, which is not a texture I want to associate with peas.
We went simple for dessert. I am still in search of the perfect crème brûlée, and after Friday night, I really needed to try one that wasn’t going to make me wish for more alcohol. The only thing I would have changed about the crème brûlée at Bellini is the amount of powdered sugar sprinkled on top. There was a nice crack to the caramelized sugar and the custard was not too sweet. The sugar was overkill on an otherwise really good dessert. Alex’s cheesecake was solid, also. The word “Bellini” in sauces on the plates made us both smile. A silly little addition that wasn’t needed, but was appreciated for the fun.
This is certainly a restaurant I will be returning to when I am in the city. Both Oyster House and Bellini are recommended by these heifers!