First Look: Res Ipsa

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In Latin, the phrase res ipsa loquitur means “the thing that speaks for itself.” And the recently-opened all-day cafe by Reanimator Coffee and Tyler Akin of Stock is easy to understand.

By day, Res Ipsa is a sunny coffee shop with blonde wood banquette seating and a Scandinavian vibe. There is a cooler full of kombucha and chia seed pudding across from a gleaming espresso machine where baristas pull shots and serve up snacks from a tray of house-made pastries. Then, just as night begins to fall, they wheel the cream-and-sugar station away and replace it with two additional tables and chairs. The coffee bar becomes the service station and, just like that, Res Ipsa becomes a restaurant.

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From dawn to dusk, chef Michael Vincent Ferrari presents visitors with a selection that far surpasses the usual coffee shop fare. In the mornings he puts up an egg sandwich on one of Michelle Capparell’s house-made English muffins. Inside, a tender slice of frittata with a patty of Italian sausage and a green smear of long hot spread, tangy with fresh parsley and cilantro. It’s just as satisfying as a typical egg-and-cheese, but with the added benefit of the punctuation that the pesto provides. It’s flanked by a cinnamon roll flavored with rosemary and flour de sel, mini polenta cakes, and trio of hand pies stuffed, respectively, with a winter vegetable ragu, tomato and burrata, or pears with honey and ricotta.

For me, the breakfast standouts are the individually sized focaccia. At the moment, the menu includes a sweet one with pomegranate, ricotta, and a lime leaf glaze; and a savory one loaded with greens, roasted garlic, and chunks of pancetta. Crisp on the bottom, tender on top, and loaded with toppings. I can’t imagine a more worth-it breakfast to-go.

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Once lunch rolls around there are sandwiches and salads, sure, but the array of options is refreshing and smart. Prime example? The caesar salad with nary a soggy leaf of romaine in sight. The base of the salad is entirely escarole. You know, the green stuff that occasionally graces a bowl of Italian wedding soup? Raw, it’s juicy and slightly bitter, which means that it can hold it’s own both in texture and flavor to an anchovy dressing and a snowfall of cheese and black pepper. Spanish boquerones, white anchovies, with their fine texture, add elegance and another layer of clean ocean flavor to the simple salad.

It’s in touches like these that one gets a sense of Ferrari’s resume. Formerly, he has spent time in the kitchens of Stock, Aldine, Zahav, and Zeppoli, so there are cheffy touches here and there, including on the dinner menu’s beet salad. The salad arrives as roasted disks of red beets, snappy little cubed of pickled golden beets, and raw disks of choggia beets on top, amidst dots of whipped ricotta and toasted almond. But even though Ferrari has tweezered plenty of food onto plates, the menu at Res Ipsa isn’t fussy.

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It’s full of warm, Sicilian flavors in a format that lends itself beautifully to an evening of sharing plates. Plan to begin with a few things to nibble on like little fried fish, graced with chili oil and salsa verde, or a root vegetable and date caponata. Choose one of two family-style entrees — a roast chicken and a whole fish — both designed for sharing. In between, prepare for pasta, because nowhere is Ferrari’s love for the soulful flavors of Southern Italy more evident than in his menu of pasta dishes.

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All of the pastas are handmade in-house daily. There is classic Pasta con Le Sarde — the emblematic pasta of Sicily — graced with anchovy, pine nuts, breadcrumbs, saffron, and fennel. The staff favorite so far is the Trofie con funghi, squiggles of pasta and shiitake mushrooms with marjoram and pecorino. Ferrari forms the Gnocchi Sardo Arrabbiata by rolling the little curls of pasta tightly against the holes of a strainer, instead of a ridged gnocchi board, which gives the finished pasta polka dots. Their sauce of jammy tomato, eggplant, and basil clings to them. The pastas are tender, the sauces delicate and subtle. The fact that Res Ipsa allows, and even encourages, the ordering of multiple half portions is a very, very good thing.

Another good thing is the fact that the restaurant is BYOB after 5:30, which is a nice little nod to Philly’s longterm love of an Italian BYOB, matched with our new passion for the all-day cafe. Whether at dawn or at dusk (armed against the early twilight with a bottle of Sicilian white wine), you should check out Res Ipsa. It speaks for itself.

Res Ipsa [f8b8z]

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