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Via Locusta: Stylish pasta off Rittenhouse Square | Let’s Eat

Also: Ardana, a polished Mediterranean in Bucks County, and would you believe a shop that sells both French pastries and porchetta sandwiches?

Dining room at Via Locusta.
Dining room at Via Locusta.Read moreMICHAEL KLEIN / Staff

The end of the year has brought a fresh round of restaurant openings, including a chic, inviting pasta destination off Rittenhouse Square from Michael Schulson, Nina Tinari, and Jeff Michaud. This week, I also visit a stylish Mediterranean bar-restaurant in Bucks, as well as a cool shop that sells French pastries and porchetta sandwiches. Only in South Philadelphia.

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Except not next week. “Let’s Eat” will be off. I’ll be back on Monday, Dec. 30 with a look at the Philly restaurant scene for 2020.

Michael Klein

Go ahead. Eat this pasta with your hands.

A year after going South Philly-style Italian with Giuseppe & Sons, Michael Schulson has headed to Rittenhouse Square with the more refined, pasta-focused Via Locusta. It’s at 1723 Locust St. — hence the name, a direct translation of “Locust Street — tucked between Parc and the Prime Rib, and across from Curtis Institute of Music.

Schulson and wife Nina Tinari are joined here by chef-partner Jeff Michaud, also their partner at Osteria in North Philadelphia. (The couple and Michaud, who has been Osteria’s chef since its 2007 opening under Marc Vetri, bought the restaurant early last year from Urban Outfitters.)

This is essentially Michaud’s pasta lab. Overlooking the sultry, subway-tiled dining room is a room lined with cooking equipment and refrigerators that’s dominated by a 10-seat table. By day, Michaud and crew are rolling and cutting dozens of kinds of pastas, including agnolotti, garganelli, rigatoni, and paccheri. By night, the room is a private dining space. The agnolotti, by the way, is filled with porcini mushrooms and black truffle and is served with a cheese sauce. Michaud wants you to eat this with your hands. Michaud’s truffles come directly from a truffle hunter in Val Brembana, Italy.

Besides the pastas, the menu has plenty of small plates, such as snapper crudo and scallop crudo. But you have to try the sweet onion filled with a mixture of black bread, toma cheese, and pork sausage, and a season-appropriate cabbage stewed with Parmigiano brodo and sliced apple.

More here.

Hours (for now): 4-11 p.m. Sunday to Thursday, 4 p.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday.

This Week’s Openings

Ardana | Warrington

See below.

The Fairview | Fairmount

The Belgian Cafe at 21st and Green Streets gets a reboot on Dec. 20.

Mooyah Burgers, Fries & Shakes | Blue Bell

Syndicated burger shop opened Dec. 16 at Centre Square Commons (Dekalb and Skippack Pikes).

Small Oven Pastry Shop/Porcos | South Philadelphia

See below.

Stove & Tap | Malvern

Lansdale pub heads to Chester County, where it just opened in Lincoln Court on Lancaster Avenue in Frazer/Malvern.

Via Locusta | Rittenhouse

See above.

This Week’s Closings

Jason’s Toridasu | Wynnefield (Temporary)

Sushi shop at Presidential City says it’s closed during fire repairs.

Oyster House | Rittenhouse (Temporary)

The popular Sansom Street seafooder shuts from Jan. 1 to Jan. 12 for remodeling.

Joe Coffee | Rittenhouse and University City

The New York-based coffee shops will close late this month.

Lotus Farm to Table | Media

New Year’s Eve is the finale of this downtown Media BYOB.

Tre Scalini | South Philadelphia

New Year’s Eve caps a 25-year run on East Passyunk.

Where we’re enjoying happy hour

Sidecar Bar & Grille, 2201 Christian St., 4-7 p.m. Monday to Friday

Like a fine cheese and meat board? Chef Will Lindsay was visiting his buddy’s dad at an upstate Pennsylvania bar whose only standard food offering was a bowl of ring bologna and Cooper Sharp cheese with Ritz crackers.

Lindsay, who founded Stockyard Sandwich Co. in Spring Garden, took that inspiration for a bar snack he put on the menu at Sidecar in Graduate Hospital, where he is now a partner. The so-called Pennsyltucky platter ($9) is simply smoked ring bologna from Harleysville and slices of Abundantly Good Cheddar from Lancaster, which gives $1 from every pound of cheese to Philabundance. It’s offered only during happy hour and after 10 p.m.

Where we’re eating

Ardana, 751 Easton Rd., Warrington

Cypriot-style Mediterranean is on the menu at this smart-looking bistro in the Shops at Valley Square.

Brothers Mike and Antoni Christou, who own the nearby KC Prime steakhouse, have dialed down the poshness, setting up an open kitchen offering views of the wood-fired Morello Forni, which turns out Neapolitan pizzas. The bar, separated from the roomy main dining room by a private dining room, is ready to go with cocktails, five beers on tap, and a mostly Greek wine list. (Though the restaurant opened nearly two months ago, the liquor license starts Friday, Dec. 20.)

This is much more than a pizzeria. Most dishes are mezze meant to be shared. Try the spiced lamb skewer, served with pomegranate seeds and lemon yogurt; the creamy cacio e pepe; the crispy cauliflower with golden raisins and pistachio; and a fun spin on crispy calamari with honey, chives, and charred lemon. Lemon? Yes, that’s a live lemon tree in the dining room. (More looks here.)

It’s worth noting that Warrington has been defying the odds among local “highway towns,” as it’s attracting new independent restaurants, rather than chains. Ardana — named for the Christous’ ancestral home in Cyprus — replaces a Melting Pot, and newcomers include the Lucky Well and a more refined version of Pat’s Select.

Hours: 4-10 p.m. daily.

Small Oven Pastry Shop/Porcos, 2204 Washington Ave.

Federal Donuts offers doughnuts and fried chicken. Bagelati in Cinnaminson does bagels and gelati. The Cub & Bunny Cafe just opened in Cherry Hill with ice cream and Korean food.

So why should we be surprised at a place that offers bite-size French pastries on one side, and porchetta sandwiches on the other?

Pastry chef Chad Durkin, who last did R&D for Cake Boss Buddy Valastro, has set up this duopoly in an industrial building at 22nd and Washington, across from Dock Street’s brewpub. Durkin knows the spot; he was pastry chef at predecessor Kermit’s Bake Shoppe.

Small Oven has its own entrance, display cases, and community table (where you can pick up dozens of bite-size varieties — such as baba au rhum, Mont Blanc tart, and pistachio tea cake — for $3 and $3.50 a pop, plus coffee), while Porcos dispenses its sandwiches through a sidewalk window.

Durkin’s five porchetta sandwiches include a belly-busting Carnivore Caveman, which piles on the equivalent of two sandwiches’ worth of pork with vegetables, sausage, two meatballs, crispy prosciutto, provolone and Gruyère. Yes, there is a vegan riff on porchetta made with sliced vegetables, as well as vegan meatballs made with lentils. All sandwiches are served on house-baked ciabatta rolls. (More looks here.)

Hours for Small Oven and Porcos are Tuesday through Sunday 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and 8 p.m., respectively, or until sell-out.

Dining Notes

Hanukkah begins this Sunday, which means it’s time for potato latkes and jelly-filled sufganiyot. Chef Michael Solomonov’s Hanukkah meal is a little different.

Perhaps Delaware’s best-known special-occasion restaurant, the Green Room, in the Du Pont Hotel, is closing after 100-plus years; Philly chef and Wilmington native Tyler Akin, who owns Stock and Res Ipsa, is set to open a new restaurant there in 2020.

Last night, four Center City bars went head-to-head in a Christmas-decorating smackdown judged by Jewish beer reps and brewers. But those aren’t the only bars decked out for the holidays.

Craig LaBan’s Q&A does not appear this week, but his best whiskeys to give this holiday season will be available tomorrow at