When Portofino Restaurant had to close down last year due to extensive damage inflicted by Hurricane Irene, general manager James McManaman saw an opportunity to reinvent the space into a stunningly gorgeous restaurant harkening back to the supper clubs from the 1940s, with a staff that takes turns performing songs from the Great American Songbook. And what a talented lot they are. Somebody damn near got misty when the waiter who kept refreshing our water and bread busted out “Rainbow Connection.”
If you are looking for the latest innovation in food and restaurant trends, this isn’t the place for you. But since we’ve been inundated with all kinds of culinary wizardry of late, it was refreshing to go back to the basics: good food and a good show. If you want to do your part, dress up in a tux and play along with the throwback fantasy. (But you can dress casually and get treated like a VIP, too.)
Unless you are fresh off the kids’ menu in your eating experience, you’ll be familiar with all the dishes Walnut has to offer — the classics any respectable restaurant from the bygone era would have. And Walnut Street Supper Club dedicates itself to nailing each and every one of these dishes perfectly.
Remember that scene in “Ratatouille” when the jaded food reviewer took a bite and was instantly flashing back to his childhood in the kitchen when his mother cooked his favorite dish for him? Yeah, that’s what it’s like eating at Walnut Street Supper Club. Each dish delivers a pitch-perfect food memory, whether real or imagined, taking diners back to their best earliest fine-dining memories.
Appetizers such as the breaded calamari ($8), the seafood medley martini ($10) and the wild mushroom ensemble were flawless and made you feel Frank and Sammy were about to enter the establishment.
The entrées were perfect as well. Fans of Portofino’s Italian fare won’t miss the old dishes at all, as they will find serious comfort in the lobster ravioli ($20, and the baby lobster tails that garnished the dish were a nice touch) and the fettuccini alla vodka ($17). And we dare anyone to try the “fall off the bone” babyback pork ribs ($18) and tell us they’re not perfection: tender, juicy and perfectly sauced. The tuna steak ($21), one of the specials on our night, was delightfully elegant as well.
The desserts included a classic range of cheesecake to cannoli and tiramisu.
If a restaurant like Walnut Street Supper Club is the result, Philadelphia should get hit by a hurricane every year.