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.

Be respectful of our online community and contribute to an engaging conversation. We reserve the right to ban impersonators and remove comments that contain personal attacks, threats, or profanity, or are flat-out offensive. By posting here, you are permitting Philadelphia magazine and Metro Corp. to edit and republish your comment in all media.

  • 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