Chefs Joe Cicala and Angela Ranalli-Cicala, in one of the more highly anticipated restaurant openings of 2019, are saying Nov. 15 for the debut of Cicala, their white-tablecloth Southern Italian at the Divine Lorraine Hotel, at Broad Street and Fairmount Avenue in North Philadelphia.
It’s about two blocks from the Met in a fast-emerging slice of town where the Francisville, Spring Garden, and Poplar neighborhoods converge.
Befitting the century-old landmark — restored as a 101-unit apartment building that is now 90% rented — Cicala’s look is polished and refined, with whitewashed brick walls, hardwood and old-fashioned tile floors, crystal chandeliers, family photos, and antiques.
“We’re going to still be doing the same rustic, authentic food that we’ve always done,” said Cicala (say it “chee-KAH-la”). ”We’re just doing it in more of a refined setting, which we think was the best fit for the building, the history of the building, and the design of the building.” Cicala and his wife, whose specialty is pastry, were the culinary team behind South Philadelphia’s well-regarded Le Virtu and Brigantessa before a huffy departure in mid-2017. Since then, they have been leading culinary tours of Italy, a practice that will continue.
“This is the time for me and Angela to really dig deep and tell our story through our food, family history, and our travels,” he said.
Where Le Virtu’s focus was Abruzzo, Cicala is heading farther south to channel Sicily. Menu includes Cicala’s cured meats (there’s a slicer stationed in the dining room for tableside prosciutto), fresh pastas, and plenty of seafood, including tableside fish fillet. Menu is priced at $10 to $19 for antipasti and first courses, and $18 to $26 for fish and meat. There’s a seafood-filled couscous alla Trapanese, a Sicilian specialty, meant to be shared for $65.
“You don’t have to come for a full meal,” Cicala said, envisioning Met-goers stopping in before or after the show for a couple of plates and drinks.
As chef de cuisine, they’ve imported Maxime Fanton, last at Alcove in Boston. French-born and raised in Northern Italy, he speaks five languages, worked in three-Michelin-starred restaurants in the Basque region of Spain, and spent eight years working for a three-Michelin-star chef in China.
They also have the wine services of Angelo Secolo, last at Amorette in Lancaster, who said he believes he was hired because he was born in Sicily. Cicala’s ancestral home, see, is in Fiumedinisi.
It was Secolo who persuaded the couple to extend the wine list beyond Italy. It is still 80% Italian. Cicala says they will go for the largest amaro list in the city, exceeding 50 labels. “Anything that’s available in the state, we’re going to pick up,” he said.
The restaurant seats 86, including a 10-seat bar. Next spring, 50 seats will be available outside. The roomy kitchen, whose lighting will be dimmed during dinner service to maintain the romantic levels in the dining room, also has a small chef’s table seating two or four.
Initial hours start at 5 p.m. daily. Brunch is in the works. Valet parking will be offered.