Walnut Street Café jazzes up University City

Don’t let the basic name and its location tucked away on a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it corner of the shiny new FMC Tower fool you — Walnut Street Café in University City has a lot going on, both visually and on its stylish New American menu.

The bright space is illuminated by classy hanging light fixtures as smooth jazz percolates through the café, setting the mood for the confident and well-rounded menu.

Things got off to a colorful start with the daily ceviche, which, on the evening we visited, consisted of halibut steeped in beet juice. The bright purple of the beet juice decorated the dish, mixed with the subdued green of chive oil, making for a psychedelic swirl of hues and flavors.

The flatbread with littleneck clams ($12) might look plain by comparison but it offers a nice psychological fake-out. Your eye will think “pizza” but, once you take a bite, the combination of clams, cream sauce and herbs scream “chowder” to your palette. Brilliant.

Another interesting small plate is the chicken sausage ($14), which is served in a plentiful nest of hen-of-the- woods mushrooms with a poached egg on top. The mushrooms give the dish a slightly briny heartiness and the egg adds richness, to the point where the sausage itself almost gets outshined and lost in the shuffle. A pork or lamb sausage might have stood out more.

On the entrée side of the menu, the reginette alla arribiate ($16) was flawless, and a top contender for one of our favorite pasta dishes in the city. The black reginette pasta was luxuriously tender, and made an excellent vehicle for the bright and spicy tomato sauce and rock shrimp that round out the dish.

Dessert was equally stunning. The buttermilk panna cotta ($9) was a simple presentation that delivered tons of flavor. The panna cotta was smooth and creamy with pistachio crumble and fresh berries fusing for an excellent contrast in textures. But what really pulled everything together was the strawberry sorbet, giving the dish an added layer of complexity with its cool and bracingly citrus bite complementing the other elements.

This café is a welcome addition to the bustling Walnut Street corridor. If you want to impress your acquaintances with good food in a relaxed, but still elegant, atmosphere, Walnut Street Café is the place to visit.

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