Restaurant Review: Il Pittore

Il Pittore
2025 Sansom Street,
215-391-4900

Three stars.


Cuisine: Modern Italian.
Entrée prices: $25 to $32.

“I may have set myself up,” Chris Painter reckons.

Il Pittore’s chef could be referring to many things: the fact that his new restaurant is one of the priciest since the bubble burst. The fact that he’s dubbed it, self-referentially, “The Painter”—hardly a modest claim in the language da Vinci spoke. Or the fact that the longtime culinary director for Stephen Starr has created a singularly mellow, even restrained white-tablecloth place.

But what he’s actually talking about is pasta. “Everyone in America is obsessed with rolling everything paper-thin. It’s so soft that it gets all stuck together. And everywhere I went in Italy—from mom-and-pop places to Michelin three-stars—the silken thing, I just wasn’t seeing.”

So his duck agnolotti, draped with juniper-cured duck prosciutto­, have more al dente resilience than the delicate pillows at Vetri. His corzetti resist your teeth ever so slightly more than the luscious goat meat laid atop them. It’s a finely calibrated departure from the entrenched ideal of pasta soft enough for a bare-gummed eight-month-old—less the work of a contrarian than of a chef attuned to the way small differences add up. And if you’re willing to put that ideal on trial, you’ll find plenty to like about Painter’s approach. (It’s enabled by a pasta machine whose souped-up motor can push a drier dough through the rollers—achieving sheets that while still very thin emerge with a “laminated” texture.)

For one thing, the textural diversity—from soft gnocchetti dressed with blue crabs pureed in the shell, then pressed through a chinoise and married with sea-urchin cream, to clam-and-shrimp-strewn paccheri tubes whose thick walls retain a robust chew—makes the pasta course truly worth sharing around the table.

For another, Painter’s slow-cooked meats are all the silkiness you need. There are veal cheeks here with buttered beef marrow, blood-orange marmalade melting into them in a dance of citric tang and sweetness—the best I’ve ever had. So, too, the four-day suckling pig: cured, basted, boned, pressed flat under weights, and finally coaxed to a crisp-skinned perfection. No two ways about it: The guy has a way with baby mammals.

But not all is tradition at Il Pittore. Modern touches abound, like cod getting smoke-gunned right before being plated over saffron bacala. Prosecco jelly perks up a foie gras mousse. Beet juice floating on spicy Sicilian olive oil makes a scallop crudo almost too, well, painterly to disturb. The Italian wine list is encyclopedic—though it requires an expense account to explore. And that’s a shame, because with cooking born of such disciplined and subtle creativity, Il Pittore isn’t a place where you want to hold back.

  • Frank

    I have gone to il Pittore several times and have enjoyed very much their wines by the glass, so much so that I “explored” the wine list and found it very reasonable. Of course there are expensive wi