While a chic center city crowd travels the Avenue of the Arts, diners at Varalli sit back and take in the view. While looking out ceiling-to-floor windows at the corner of Broad & Locust, diners can sample head chef William Carroll's selection of seafood classics fused with flecks of Northern Italy and the Mediterranean. The menu and the restaurant’s playful decor boast a knack for seafood, but that doesn’t mean those not so keen on sea fare should shy away - meats, pastas, salads and fresh vegetables are sure to dazzle carnivores and vegetarians alike. Add an accessible wine list and there is something for everyone to come back to at Varalli.Read More ...
The Avenue of the Arts is proof that Philadelphians and tourists alike need top-of-the-line art venues to satiate their call to the city. In the same token, it doesn’t hurt to give them an accessible yet superior dining experience to top it off.
Which is exactly what Joseph Varalli did. In 1989 he opened Upstares at Varalli on the corner of Broad and Locust in the hopes of bringing a competitively-priced restaurant to the city’s theatre crowd as well as Center-City dwellers and tourists. Today, Varalli has done us one better with the addition of Sotto Varalli, on the ground level, which came into play about ten years after Upstares.
The two separate restaurants are connected by means of one elegant, dramatic winding staircase and both offer unique views of one of the city’s busiest intersections: Sotto, which means below in Italian, offers large windows that open up to expose a sidewalk crowd and create an alfresco feel, and Upstares provides ceiling-to-floor windows that invite in electrified lights bouncing off of the buildings on Broad and light up the interior of the restaurant.
While the views are something to be noted, what keeps regulars coming back is the food produced by Head Chef William Carroll. The cuisine that Carroll creates at Upstares & Sotto Varalli leans less towards trendier fusion and more toward a classic mix of fresh seafood highlighted by hints of the Mediterranean and gourmet Northern Italy classics. Carroll, however, isn’t afraid to play around with traditional dishes, everything about both restaurants, right down to the décor and wine list, is playful yet classic.
It’s Sotto Varalli we choose first when we enter in through the massive, shining glass doors off of Broad Street. Right away we notice that the crowd this Friday night makes the restaurant a place to see and be seen. Chic Center City dwellers and tourists donning business casual attire set the pace for a fabulous evening of upscale cuisine in a comfortable, yet artsy atmosphere.
As we wait only a moment to be seated, soft music floats through the air and mixes peacefully with the buzz of quiet conversation. The main dining room is bright and inviting, offering a space for a piano where regular jazz performances take place. The eye is immediately drawn to the marble-topped bar that dominates the center of the room, and a look above shows a truly unique piece – a giant squid that topples over the bar, portraying an almost fanciful, under-the-sea appeal.
Low lighting in the restaurant’s subsequent dining rooms combined with seating that includes high booths offer an ideal setting for a romantic date, the celebration of a milestone with family, or an upscale festivity with friends. The main bar is separated from the dining room through several large “waterfall windows,” offering a feeling of tranquility and adding to the overall coastal ambiance.
Endearing details, such as starfish light sconces, hang down from the ceiling. Light wood polished floors are complemented by a whimsical, sea blue paint that covers the walls.
Perhaps the most divine spotlight piece is the mosaic that trails around the entire restaurant, shifting colors from tranquil blues to fiery reds; it is a piece of art all on its own. Made out of recycled materials, it dances around the restaurant’s perimeter, creating a feeling of movement and generating a buzz from captivated diners.
As we take one last glance around, we are led to our table by a friendly host. The feeling is relaxed, the crowd is elegant, and now its time to try the food.
We order a bottle of San Rocco, Pinot Grigio with crisp flavors and overtones of spring-like green apple and pears to accompany the tempting basket of bread and pesto flavored oil that are brought. The bread is warm and delicious, an excellent head start.
Sotto Varalli’s Rocket Cobb Salad presents a seasonal mix of flavors that play with your tastebuds. Rocket, also known as arugula, adds a fresh, zesty overtone that combines with the baby greens and the other fresh tastes of blackberries and strawberries to contrast with the hearty chunks of whole lump crabmeat and tender pieces of shrimp. Topped with English blueberry cheese and a light lemon vinaigrette dressing, it is a divine mix of fresh, fruity and hearty tastes.
The Crab Cake, which can be served as either an appetizer or an entrée, is not your typical dry, seafood chain concoction. Instead it's smooth and almost creamy on the tongue. Combined with the slight crunch of the breading and a slightly spicy and sweet corn relish, it’s a lovely mixture of textures and tastes.
The Tuna Tartar features fresh ahi tuna flown in from Hawaii. It’s served with cumin chips: crunchy and spicy, which are a wonderful complement to the cool, fresh seafood. A nicely perfumed sampling of arugula tops the dish, and when combined with the wasabi, the dish comes alive with earthy and spicy tastes.
The Shrimp and Crabmeat Linguine is a dish that highlight’s Chef Carroll’s affinity for mixing tastes from the coast with authentic Italian techniques. Tender hunks of shrimp and whole lump crabmeat sit atop swirls of fresh cooked linguine, all bathed in a white wine sauce with hints of sun dried tomatoes, shallots and garlic. Carroll also throws in some more arugula, and somewhere inside the bed of meat and pasta lies a hidden ingredient that delivers an almost shocking taste, goat cheese. This addition, while unexpected, has a warm, rich taste to it that ties the dish together beautifully.
The Scallops arrive carefully arranged with slightly browned tops. The meat is succulent and almost sweet, with a full, rich flavor complemented by a warm bed of wild mushroom risotto. Spring-like tastes come into play when coupled with a simple, fresh arugula vinaigrette.
The Breast of Chicken Fra Diavolo bears a tender texture that melts on the tongue. The meat is rubbed with mustard and seasoned breadcrumbs, presenting a hearty taste. It is served with Diavolo sauce, which tastes almost like a barbecue sauce, and offers a very nice array of flavors and textures.
The Tartufo is a sweet ending to this meal: its small spheres of smooth, vanilla gelato come with their liberal dusting of powdered cocoa and are well-suited to sharing. The dessert is accompanied by two dollops of homemade whipped cream and fresh, juicy strawberries. The dish is sweet and creamy and contrasts appealingly with Varalli’s deeply flavored espresso. We couldn’t be more satiated down to our fight over the last spoonful.
Whether it’s the artsy appeal or the tranquility imparted by the water rippling through the windows next to us, we are reluctant to leave when the check arrives. The Academy of Music stares us down outside, but with no tickets, we decide instead to float Upstares for a nightcap and some sweeping views of the city.
The winding staircase located in the rear, draws us to Upstares where we find a smaller, yet enchanting atmosphere. An oil painting that scales the restaurant’s back wall features the great music houses of the world while vast, ceiling-to-floor windows allow a unique view of our own city’s great landmarks and invite in the lights from the other buildings outside, illuminating the room and setting us right at ease.
We take a seat at the smaller, smooth topped bar and slowly sip a glass of Biso, Merlot with ripe berry and cherry flavors and a slight vanilla finish, as we soak in the views around us.
Once we finally do pull ourselves from one of our new favorite seafood-centric Avenue of the Arts staples, we promise we’ll be back, but next time with tickets in hand.
Insider Tip: When booking reservations, whether by phone or online, be sure to mention any shows you might be seeing that evening so that the staff of Varalli can be sure to get you there on time.
Copyright © TableAgent.com
This as an altogether friendly place to have a meal. The captain and the waiters talk to you, and the food is as good as they say it is. Fresh soft shell crabs, a good bottle of ale, and nobody to rush you through dinner. What more could we want.
This was a great way to start the weekend! Good food and easy access to theater !
We had a great experience. Food was excellent. Beer selection was varied and excellent. Service was also very good. I would highly recommend
I don't usually answer surveys, but the staff was so great I felt compelled
I celebrated my sons college graduation dinner at Varalli. The waiter,service,food and prices were outstanding. My whole family had a wonderful time and dining experience.
Highly recommend the restaurant for quality, value and service.
Varalli's is a great place to dine. Walking distance from many Old Town hotels. Great serving staff and the food, oh my, so good. Try the tiramisu...like eating a cloud! Wine selection great and the price was very reasonable for the quality of food and service. Love, love, love this place!
First time visit we were looking for a relaxing evening, filled with good food and good wine. Our service was superb; waiter gave us our time and space to converse and eat slow. Best part was the pesto dipping sauce they serve with their bread. Second visit was about a week later, service was once again superb in which we were somewhat in a rush to get to the theater and they accommodated our time table again!!!
This was my first time at Varalli's and it was amazing. The food was incredible and I especially loved the huge portions. My favorite was the deserts. Best in Philly!
Had the tasting menu with the wine pairing. Eveything was deicious.
From the time we were greated by the host until we tipped the waiter, we enjoyed a great experience at Varalli Restaurant. It was our first trip to the city and we were looking for something special. We found it at Varalli Restaurant. We were greated warmly, seated at a window table with a good view of South Broad Street, treated well by our waiter, and enjoyed a great meal. It was a great experience.
Great food and great service close to major music and theater venues. Both the seafood risotto and the pasta with crabmeat were outstanding--world class. Prices are fair and ambiance is great. Highly recommended.
The food was very good for a reasonable price. The service was excellent. I would go back again.
This is THE place to go....
Excellent food, service and ambiance. We would definitely go again!
Great service, food and ambiance. We will dine at this restaurant for sure!
We had a wonderful experience at Sotto Varalli. Our waiter was knowledgeable and had great suggestions. Everything he suggested tasted amazing! The food was good and there was an extensive wine list. The waiter definitely made our experience as amazing as it was. I absolutely recommend going to this restaurant. We were not rushed and able to spend about 2 hours just relaxing and eating our meal. We went on a Friday night and did not have a problem making a reservation.
The food is delicious, the service was great and the atmosphere was extremely relaxing.
This was a surprise for my husband, for Father's Day. We have known each other for 10 years, dated for 5 and have been married for 3. He told me that I have taken him out 3 times in our relationship. LOL!!!!!!!! So I decided to make it 4. He loved it! He loved the food and the ambiance of the restaurant.
The service was top notch from beginning to end. The food was delicous and the portions were perfect! We highly recommend this restaurant!!
We had a most enjoyable dinner experience at your restaurant. Our server, i think her name was Aggie, was truly a delight. We had our 2 young granddaughters with us & they loved it. The food was excellent & the service was exceptional.
we arrived as "out of towners" and were immediately made to feel completely welcome and personally attended to by the manager. The bartenders were as perfect as they come - not at all intrusive but very warm and mixed a sensational cocktail and no request was too tough for them. The food was terrific and easily met or surpassed the hopes of even a 100% Italian family like ours. We brought 2 guests with us who were Philadelphians but hadn't yet been to this restaurant and they put it on their "must revisit" list before our meals were finished!!
Good value for service and food. We had a graduation party for Penn graduate. Guests were from NY, Hong Kong, San Francisco, and D.C., all used to gourmet food. We were all happy with the restaurant.
I really can't say enough. It was wonderful.
While both my husband and I would order less sauce on our entrees, the service during our visit was most accommodating. We were caught in a traffic jam and arrived a half hour late. We needed to leave the restaurant in time for the theater. We called ahead to notify them of our situation. When we arrived, they scurried us to a table and took our order as quickly as possible. We were able to have a dining experience that did not fee rushed. The staff continued to monitor our needs carefully so that we could enjoy the experience and still get out on time. They were extraordinary.
My Husband and I enjoyed ourselves immensely here. We celebrated his birthday on 2/20 and had the best meal. It was not too pricey and the ambiance was excellent for and intimate dinner for two. The service and food was also excellent. My suggestion if you visit is the Wild Mushroom appetizer. Excellence in every way!!
I took my daughter-in-law and my step-daughter to the restaurant based on the comments others had made. It was a celebration of both of their birthdays and the evening was as special as I hoped it would be. We sat in a lovely booth, had excellent service, and delicious food...what was not to love about this evening. I highly recommend Upstares & Sotto Varalli. Excellent choice!!
The mussels started the meal and they set a very high mark but with each course the food became better and better. The duck was incredible only to be possibly bested by the bread pudding. Great wine list and service very high marks
First of all, the service is phenominal here. I made a reservation, and we were running late. I called from the car and the host couldn't have been nicer. He said not to worry and not to rush, that we would have a table, and when we got there we did. Upon leaving, he even stamped our ticket for the garage we parked in, to give us a discount for our parking. Also, even though the restaurant was super busy on a Friday night, our waitress never neglected us and we had our food within a very reasonable amount of time. I've been here twice. The first time I went I had scallops over a crab risotto that was so delicious I craved it for weeks. My husband and I went back again and I was disappointed to find out the scallops and risotto dish was no longer on the menu however, I did have the seafood risotto which was absolutely phenominal. There were scallops (which by the way are cooked so tender they practically melt in your mouth), lobster tail, clams, mussels, shrimp, and lump crab meat all within perfectly cooked rice in a rich delicious sauce. My husband had a dish that was filled with lump crab meat, shrimp, calamari, mussels, and clams over linguine in a red sauce that was just the right amount of spicey. I'd like to also recommed the clams bianco for an appetizer. The pancetta gives it such a wonderful savory flavor. Also, the jumbo shrimp was outstanding, cooked to perfection with a fabulous sauce with just the right amount of kick. We'll definitely go back again.
Dined here on November 6, 2009. I started off with the Mushroom and hazelnut Soup...it was superb. Flavorful and a nice portion. I had the grilled polenta with beef short ribs appetizer...the polenta was the one of the best I ever had outside Italy. For an entree I decided on the Eggplant Agnolottis with a shrimp sauce. They were perfectly cooked and the sauce was something I never tasted before...it was delicous. The meal was topped off with a Rum Bhaba for dessert. Just like my Grandmother used to make. When I got the bill, I was amazed how reasonably priced everything was. Server was knowledgable and friendly. I look forward to returning next time I am in Philly.
Great food, great location, great service
Food was excellent and exceptional value. I had the lamb shank and it was probably the best I have had stateside. It was cooked really well, full of flavour and was on good size. The only criticism I had which made this a 4 instead of 5 was the drinks were a tad expensive. Great service as well. Joe was our server who was excellent. Really nice decked out place. Atmosphere was really good on the Saturday night and was quite busy. Dress code was nice too. Some suits but also a few with jeans. Nice and relaxed. Excellent and would definitely return.
The host made us feel very welcome and we were seated promptly. The waiter (Eddie) was very professional, friendly, attentive and accomodating. Food was very good...the restaurant was out of a few items but they made excellent substitutions. We will be back...with friends!!!
We enjoyed dinner in a private circular booth at Varalli which created an intimate dining experience. Food was very good - especially the fish and seafood selections. Excellent choice of wines, beer and bar selections. Only suggestion is to list sides with entree on the menu. We ordered sides a la carte, when asked by the waitress, along with salad, only to find that some of the entrees already came with sides. Overall, would recommend without hesitation.
Prior to an event at the Kimmel we had dinner....everything was great and timely!
The Italian mushrooms were wonderful. I had them over polenta and my wife had the soup. They were both wonderful. The rest of the menu was also very good. This restaurant competes very well with the many other great offereings in center city.
Great ambiance and good service. Took my girlfriend here for Valentine's Day and she loved it; got seating near a small waterfall there's also live music. A good place to go if you can spend some money but not too much.
We celebrated a family occasion this past Saturday night at Varalli's restaurant. Our table location, meal, server and total experience were all excellent. Can't wait to go back sometime soon.
This is a lovely restaurant with a very efficient staff. We were a party of 9 and our waitress was excellent. Except for one outstanding appetizer though, no one commented strongly favorably or unfavorably to the rest of our meal.
The night beore the Penn Vet graduation the whole famiy came from all over and celebrated at Varalli's. It was the next best thing to gathering at mom's - good food, wine and fun. Loved Varalli's.
I have been going to the Theater for many years and for some reason we just missed trying Varalli. Took my family there before a show and it was such a great spot. Loved the friendliness of the staff. The food was so great and the service was even better.
Fabulous meal from beginning to end.
The food and the service was very good.
The food was excellent as well as the service!!
Great food and service. Excellent choice of raw seafood. Oysters and little necks were superb. This place can be recommended without hesitation. The reception area was a little chaotic, but it was a Saturday ...