Location: 134 Bala Ave., Bala Cynwyd; (610) 660-9400, pescatorebyob.com.
Cuisine: Traditional Italian with Mediterranean influences.
Cost: Appetizers $7-$14, entrées $17-$29.
Attire: Smart casual.
Atmosphere: Cozy and convivial.
Hours: Tuesday-Sunday 5-10 p.m.
Extras: BYOB, catering available.
Heaping plates of food whizzed by as guests poured into Pescatore on a recent Saturday night, bottles of Italian red in tow. The warm embraces between guests and hostess Carol Anastasi were of the sort you’d find in any Italian cook’s kitchen on a Sunday afternoon.
Carol’s son, Pescatore chef/owner Thomas Anastasi, should know a thing or two about family. The South Philly native is part of the Italian Market’s Anastasi Seafood clan, so it’s no surprise that his new Bala Cynwyd restaurant pays homage to his family’s long-standing livelihood.
Located in the former home of Avril, Pescatore—Italian for “fisherman”—strikes a nice balance between homey and white-tablecloth sophisticated. Old family photos line the walls. A large chalkboard welcomes guests and highlights the night’s specials.
Considering the throngs of diners making their way through the fabric partition to the hostess stand, my expectations were high. Maybe it was the homemade pasta I’d heard about, or the promise of the freshest catch of the day brought to the table accompanied by traditional Italian favorites.
Our three-course meal started off with fresh Italian bread and a pairing of vibrant basil pesto and Parmigiano Reggiano, freshly shaved from a large wheel in the back of the restaurant. Alas, the mussels appetizer was disappointing. Steamed in a slightly spicy tomato broth with a few slices of Italian sausage and toasted bread, the bowl arrived smelling slightly fishy. The mussels that had opened (and there weren’t many) were small and grainy.
Much better was our second appetizer: lump crabmeat tucked snugly inside thin slices of prosciutto di Parma, which really benefited from a tangy balsamic reduction flecked with fresh tomatoes.
Pescatore’s menu is almost identical to that of Anastasi’s former place, Thomas, in Moorestown, N.J., with gnocchi and ravioli made fresh daily. Five soft pillows covered in a pea-studded rosé sauce, the lobster ravioli was quite delicious, though a lighter treatment would allow the rustic simplicity of the handmade pasta to shine.
As a chef, Anastasi moves skillfully between thoughtful preparations of the day’s fresh catch and heartier meat options, including a pork chop stuffed with sausage, broccoli rabe and provolone, sautéed chicken and Italian sausage in a light pomodoro sauce, and braciole with a traditional Sunday “gravy.” This slow-baked version of flank steak—pounded into thin sheets and rolled in seasoned bread crumbs, garlic and grated cheese—gets its tenderness from the sear-and-bake preparation. The accompanying mashed potatoes were tasty, as was the sauce, made of fresh tomatoes, garlic, onions, basil, parsley and veal stock.
All desserts are made in-house, and the tiramisu was grand, its moist layers spiked with spicy cinnamon and rich custard.
THE SKINNY: With its attentive service, sizeable portions and cozy, welcoming environs, Pescatore has plenty of potential. Anastasi knows the rhythm of his kitchen, sending heaping plates of food quickly out the doors to keep the tables moving. And while speed is no doubt a necessity for patrons on their way to the nearby movie theater, those who care to linger may appreciate a bit more consistency in the execution.