Bledar Istrefi, executive chef at Center City's popular Bellini Cafe, bought a house in Northeast Philadelphia.
Istrefi, 33, soon realized that although the Northeast is teeming with pizzerias and other quick-serve options, it has few Center City-style Italian BYOBs — polished, candlelit, great food and service.
The owner of Fish & Grill, a Turkish restaurant on Bustleton Avenue north of Grant Avenue, was getting out of the business, and so Istrefi, with his friend Ilirjan Asllani, left Bellini and opened Il Polpo (9825 Bustleton Ave., 215-677-2224, www.ilpolpo.com).
Istrefi added white tablecloths, fresh flowers, and candles, and ordered the room's fluorescent overhead lighting shut off. "People who used to come here say it's a big difference," says Istrefi. Like many other "Italian" restaurateurs, Istrefi was born in neighboring Albania.
His modern, seafood-focused Italian/Mediterranean menu has all the touches of downtown dining, except for the prices.
His signature octopus (as in, il polpo) is found in three places on the menu: grilled on a salad ($9) with cannellini, greens, tomato, and olives; served over squid-ink fettuccine ($17) with shrimp, artichokes, tomatoes, and mint; and grilled in a generous misto platter ($27), including calamari, scallops and shrimp. He bakes his own bread and makes his own desserts; specialty is amaretto tiramisu.
Victor Walls, also a Bellini alumnus, runs the front of the house. See menu at www.ilpolpo.com. It's open for dinner Tuesday to Sunday. Lunch (Tuesday to Sunday) starts next week.
Marlin & Ray's, which sounds like a baseball game but is a casual seafooder from Ruby Tuesday's, just opened in the former Ruby Tuesday's location at 600 Rockhill Drive in Bensalem.
The Bensalem location of Sonic, which closed at 1525 Street Rd. in January, has reopened under a new franchisee.
The Philly branch of the New York-based bar Johnny Utah's has opened at 461 N. Third St. (215-987-5760), replacing Buckhead Saloon. It's cavernous and boasts a mechanical bull, 25 TVs, two bars, and country/rock cranked up to 11.
Grand Luxe Cafe, a higher-end label from Cheesecake Factory, is looking at a July opening in Cherry Hill Mall.
Joe's Crab Shack has July penciled in for 555 City Ave. in Bala Cynwyd., where it will replaced the burned-out Houlihan's.
Tiffin Etc., the pizzeria attached to the Tiffin flagship location on Girard Avenue, has closed. Owner Munish Narula says he will resurface the concept in University City and is developing an Indo-Chinese concept for 712 W. Girard Ave. to showcase the dishes popularized by Chinese immigrants to India.
Timber Wood-Fired Grill, which opened in July 2010 in the longtime home of Inn Flight restaurant across from Abington Memorial Hospital on Old York Road, has closed.
More details, menus, and photos can be found on "The Insider," my dining blog at philly.com/Food. See the openings on my interactive map at philly.com/mikesmap. Contact Michael Klein at email@example.com or @phillyinsider on Twitter.