Editor’s note: For our ratings, we’re using a scale of 0 to 4 Quakers , in whole integers only (it would be cruel to chop that little guy’s head in half). See notes at the end of this story for an explanation of what each level means.
In restaurants across the country, very little food speaks for itself anymore. Every dish comes with an aside on an exotic ingredient, an heirloom vegetable, a heritage breed. We’re richer for it, but sometimes it’s nice to just eat.
Which is what happens when you sit down for dinner at one of the white marble-topped tables at Res Ipsa, the tiny all-day Italian-ish restaurant that opened last December on the ground floor of a Rittenhouse apartment tower.
The name might look and sound strange (pronounce it reh-zip-suh), but it is in fact an abbreviation of the Latin phrase “res ipsa loquitur,” or “the thing that speaks for itself.”
It fits. Chef Michael Vincent Ferreri, who followed time on the line at Zahav with several years cooking for Joey Baldino at his acclaimed Collingswood BYOB Zeppoli, is channeling his former mentor’s faith in exacting simplicity. His housemade pastas come out exactly as they’re described on the menu.
Slivered shiitakes camouflage themselves among twisty trofie spirals in a profoundly woodsy mushroom-marjoram sauce. Gnocchi made in the style of Sardinian peasants (no cheese or potato) arrive in a vermilion arrabbiata where sneaky, creeping heat is balanced by sweet fried eggplant and basil. Tender fazzoletti resemble a heap of Post-It notes, but their humble appearance belies loud, persistent flavor, from the synaptic zing of house-preserved lemon and blood orange to the marine funk of the bottarga grated over top.
With five varieties offered nightly (and perhaps the city’s only on-request cacio e pepe policy), pasta is the heart of the menu here. Ferreri is already on a level with the city’s best craftsmen — and he’s just getting started.
“Mike has a million different [types of pasta] he wants to serve,” said Tyler Akin, who first met Ferreri at Zahav and owns Res Ipsa with ReAnimator Coffee’s Mark Capriotti and Mark Corpus. The three share a landlord in Fishtown, where the Marks have their coffee HQ and Akin runs pho boutique par excellence, Stock. With Stock in the care of a trusted chef de cuisine, Akin helps out most nights at Res Ipsa “but Michael cooks every single plate of pasta.”
The compact dinner menu has things besides pasta, but they’re beside the point.
The smoky squid-and-heirloom bean appetizer would be better as an olive-oiled, room temperature salad than its current iteration as surprise soup; the menu fails to mention the considerable amount of broth, which is thin and a murky lavender color, like someone just cleaned a paintbrush in it. The roasted chicken “agrodolce” is moist and crispy-skinned, but the promised glaze needs a thicker application to boost its impact. The bird comes as a half or whole with sides of potatoes roasted in ash, garlicky broccoli rabe and hellishly spicy long hots, all of which are terrific. The veggies speak for themselves; the chicken and calamari mumble.
Sometimes the misdirection is winning, like in the root vegetable “caponata” that’s nothing like the ugly-but-delicious traditional eggplant version. Ferreri’s take, on the other hand, is not at all ugly and is very delicious. A carefully arranged wreath of roasted celery root, pickled ribbons of butternut squash, charred carrots and lemon-and-bay-steamed parsnips is decorated with glittering pomegranate seeds, cocoa-dusted walnuts and fennel fronds. Order one to eat, another to hang on your front door.
With all-day hours a la Hungry Pigeon and Double Knot, Res Ispa is part of the national croissants-to-cocktails movement, and daylight looks good on this high ceilinged, white-and-khaki room. Sun pours through the floor-to-ceiling front windows. From overhead planters, succulents peer over students pecking at Macbooks and macchiatos.
In the morning and afternoon, you order at the register, where pastry chef Michelle Capparell’s creations tempt you away from healthier stuff. It’s hard to say no to her plush focaccia rounds done sweet (with pomegranate and a chiffonade of kaffir lime leaf) and savory (tomato sauce and Pecorino) or the sesame-seeded cookie bar with a spiral of date puree inside. But if you succeed, you won’t be disappointed. Made without actual cream, the tomato soup has lightness and brightness from whey, the byproduct of the house-made ricotta. And thanks to caramelized sweet potatoes, plump golden raisins and cranberry-shallot vinaigrette, Res Ipsa’s righteous kale salad doesn’t make you feel like a rabbit when you eat it.
Ferreri and Akin collaborated on a tasty breakfast sandwich as well, available all day and modeled as “a really good version of the WaWa Sizzli,” according to Ferreri.
It could use a few tweaks — more long hot salsa verde, gutsier doses of cardamom and fennel in the juicy pork sausage patty — and while perhaps thematic, I’m not sure Asiago fresco is a better cheese choice here than good old American. But the baked egg square is light and fluffy, and the sandwich holds together beautifully on Capparell’s toasty, chewy English muffin.
Like Ferreri’s pastas, there is something elementally understandable about the breakfast sandwich. You know what it’s supposed to be. You can take a clean bite while hustling down Walnut Street with a ReAnimator brew in your other hand, savoring both while pondering which dish you’ll order at dinner later that night.
2 Quakers – Very Good*
2218 Walnut St., 267.519.0329
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Cafe Hours: 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday to Friday; 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday
Dinner Hours: 5:30 to 10:30 p.m. Wednesday to Sunday
Executive Chef: Michael Vincent Ferreri
Owners: Tyler Akin, Mark Capriotti, Mark Corpus
General Manager: Megan Andrews
Pastry Chef: Michelle Capparell
Sous Chef: Adam Sosnowick
Line Cooks: Andrew Cini, Miranda Meredith, James Shattuck
Baristas: Amr Sultan, Mack Silvestri, Sarah Myers, Mattea Falk
Server: Allison McDaniel