Unforgettable (n.)– Impossible to forget. Things that linger in your memory.
Our recent visit to the Victor Café was added to our shortlist of unforgettable evenings. Valarie and I celebrated our Anniversary with an evening at this timeless and classic Italian restaurant, the Victor Café, on Dickinson Street in South Philadelphia. Stepping across the threshold of the Victor Café is like stepping back into time. It was a such a memorable evening steeped in tradition.
The Victor Cafe started with a young Italian immigrant named John DiStefano coming to America with little more than a love of classical music and grand opera. The first iteration of the Café was RCA/Victrola outlet opened by John to sell gramophones in 1918. People gathered there to drink coffee and enjoy spumoni – a molded gelato with different colors and layers. Spumoni originated in Naples, Italy. He continued this tradition until 1929 with the arrival of the great depression. Upon the repeal of the Prohibition in 1933, John purchased a beer and wine license. DiStefano’s Gramophone Shop then became the Victor Café – a “Music Lover’s Rendezvous” with that purchase.
The Victor Cafe cultivates old traditions and establishes new ones to create a living history, transporting you to another time. You feel like a character in a movie or play. Every detail is orchestrated yet spontaneous at the same time. The energy in the room is like electric, warm and fuzzy all at the same time. Between the low lighting, beautiful arias, fabulous food and carefully crafted drinks, time literally slows down. Truly living in the moment through your five sense is the best way to describe our evening. It is no wonder the Victor Café is described as; “1oo Most Romantic Restaurants in Philly,” “Famous Restaurants that are Actually Good,” and “Most Unique.” Their tagline of a “rendezvous for music lovers” is only part of the story. John passed on the operation of the Café to his two sons Armand and Henry. It is currently run by Gregory and his brother Rick (general manager and chef). Gregory in their twelve-minute highlight reel describes so eloquently that they are simply caretakers of the restaurant for the next generation, https://victorcafe.com/live-opera.
Our evening started with our phenomenal server Yanellie guiding us through the menu and describing the evening ahead. Her warmth was contagious and when she stopped in the middle of service, rang a bell and put on a beautiful opera record and sang an opera aria. The ethereal quality of her voice resonated throughout the restaurant as she sang. We were graced with five beautifully sung arias during our dinner with each one by a different singer.
We started dinner with a baked crespelle which was actually just a play on the Italian word for crepe. No crepes here, just their rendition of baked crespelle using aged Prosciutto the crepe filled with a crab and béchamel sauce. Béchamel is a rich white sauce made with milk infused with herbs and seasonings. This sauce was the perfect ingredient to blend with the crab meat before filling the inside of the perfectly broiled prosciutto.
For our main courses, Valarie had the New York strip steak prepared in a beautiful sauce infused with cognac. I enjoyed the classic flavors of veal saltimbocca with all its complimentary flavors of salty prosciutto, aromatic sage, creamy butter and lemon. Saltimbocca translates from Italian as “jumps in the mouth.” That is what exactly what happened with this classic Italian dish, it jumped off the plate into my mouth. We finished the evening with a salty and sour dessert combination. Another round of baked crespelle (don’t judge) and the lemon sorbet served inside a frozen lemon.
The menu was filled with classic Italian dishes both on the appetizer and entrée sections. The food here is all prepared à la minute (ah-la-mi-NOOT) style – prepared to order. The choices ranged from beautifully prepared PEI mussels to Burrata and Chicken Piccata to cannelloni and everything in between. The main menu features 8 classic appetizers and 18 classic entrees. The “Additions” menu features an equally impressive lineup of 7 appetizers and as many entrees. The appetizer choices ranged mushroom arancini to pear and prosciutto salad. The entrees featured on this menu were equally impressive – Spaghetti Rusticana with house made braciola, meatball & sweet sausage. It also featured Buccatini Amatriciana and Spicy Lamb Bolognese. There was something for everyone’s taste. I plan to try the fried smelts in spicy marinara and the Ravioli di Nettuno – ravioli filled with lump crab served in a champagne and saffron cream sauce. Look at all the beautiful choices available on this menu, https://victorcafe.com/menu.
The entire team from the front of the house to the back of the house provide such a magical evening to celebrate our special occasion. They have mastered the art of customer service giving the customer not what they want, but what they need. Our treatment was well beyond that of the VIP; more importantly, we were treated as family – “la famiglia è tutto” (family is everything).
That tradition of family is the fabric that makes the Victor such a special place. Three generations later and it is still a music lover’s rendezvous for foodies, I dare say! We are already planning our next visit for an unforgettable evening in a magical setting. Bravo! Bravo!