The Revisit: The Saloon

The South Philly steakhouse stays true to itself

But there was nothing stale about it here—and the same went for the grilled langostinos, which bore nothing much more than a few bristles’ worth of olive oil, and didn’t need anything beyond that. The server had been right: “Don’t worry, guys. You’ll love ’em. Those langostinos are expensive.”

So is most everything else, not least a wine list that averages about triple retail on everything from Sutter Home’s white zinfandel (!) to a “Super Tuscan” from Ornellaia Tenuta dell’Ornellaia. But the homemade fettuccini is as delicate as they make it further south at Le Virtù, and my heaping portion of it came with a veal shank big enough to hide behind. It practically melted off its center bone, for which a marrow fork had been snuck onto my place setting without ceremony. What a relief to have that luxurious pleasure presented as an unctuous accent rather than as a macho centerpiece, as it would have been at Adsum or Barbuzzo or anywhere else that’s caught up in the foodie fetish for marrow. That’s a sense of propriety and proportion you’ll appreciate on the heels of the not-to-be-missed clams Pavarotti—a purported Saloon invention, albeit from way back, that lards the bivalve with lump crab and shrimp under béchamel sauce.

Are there better values in Philadelphia? No doubt. Is there more creative cooking? In every direction. But in each one you also find no shortage of pretentiousness, of slavishness to trends, of bills inflated by the retainer fees of PR firms and cocktail consultants and the cuts of absentee superstar chefs. There is pleasure in departing from all that.

At the Saloon, that pleasure lasted from the moment my hand met the unexpected warmth of the gargantuan brass door knob to the one two hours later when that server announced, for no discernable reason, that dessert was on him.

“If you want to make that happen,” I wish I’d have told him, “I’d be … grateful.”

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