We arrived at the doors of Le Virtu on one of the coldest nights of the year. Though East Passyunk Avenue vibrantly lit up the South Philly neighborhood as usual, our extremities were freezing in the biting winds, and all we wanted to do was get inside. Lucky for us, Le Virtu was exactly what we needed to shake the chill.
The warmth of the yellow walls, dim lighting and dark wooden tables went perfectly with the cheerful demeanor of the staff — and when paired with a nice, full–bodied Sicilian red wine, the place had us warmed up in no time.
Our meal started off in traditional Italian fashion: with bread and olive oil. The thick, cakey, house–made focaccia was simple without being boring, and a crostini with spicy olive tapenade was the perfect introduction to the meal. Le Virtu has won several Best of Philly awards (for pasta and appetizers), but it’s clear that the restaurant sticks to the virtues of its Abruzzo roots, maintaining an emphasis on tradition and unpretentious elegance.
While the Insalata de bietole (beet salad with ricotta and house–made vinaigrette, $10) was beautifully presented, the flavors couldn’t hold a candle to the unassuming, modest Olive all’ascolana ($10) — breaded fried olives whose braised porchetta stuffing made for an unexpected kick of taste.
The pasta was equally inspired, making it no surprise that both the Fazzoletti con ragu d’anatra (“handkerchief” pasta, braised duck and beef ragu, $16) and the Papardelle ai funghi porcini e tartufo (saffron papardelle with porcini mushrooms and black truffle, $19) have won Best of Philly awards.
However, it was our waiter’s personal recommendation of Agnolotti alla porchetta ($16) that left the biggest impression. The sweet taste of the sage and butter went effortlessly well with the subtle crunch of the crushed amaretti, and despite the excess of filling dishes, it had us hungry for more.
By the time we got to the meat, our expectations were high. The balance of the Stinco d’aguello ($23) and the Coniglio ($23) did not disappoint. While the Stinco was a rich, decadent braised lamb shank that melted under your knife into a bed of risotto, the Coniglio rabbit was hearty and rustic, sitting on simply presented braised lentil and chestnut ragu.
They both seemed to have a different story to tell, and they were especially delicious because, like our previous courses, they weren’t trying to be anything other than what they were.
This blend of authentic Abruzzese tradition and innovative flavor combinations culminated in desserts, the shining star being the Pizza Dolce. This signature cake was covered in sprinkles and icing, making it look almost like a kid’s birthday cake. One bite proved that there was no need to make it look fancy, because it was saturated with flavor enough to speak for itself.
It was the perfect example of what makes Le Virtu such a wonderful experience: the presentation is simple and trustworthy, and the tastes are unexpected and delicious. It is all at once an elegant refuge from the hustle and bustle of South Philly while being real and comfortable enough to be part of the neighborhood.
1927 E. Passyunk Ave.
Don’t Miss: Olive all’ascolana; agnolitti alla porchetta
Skip: insalata de bietole