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 © Restaurant Agent Inc.
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.
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.
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
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!!
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!!
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.
I really can't say enough. It was wonderful.
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.
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!!
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.
The service was top notch from beginning to end. The food was delicous and the portions were perfect! We highly recommend this restaurant!!
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 food is delicious, the service was great and the atmosphere was extremely relaxing.
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.
Great service, food and ambiance. We will dine at this restaurant for sure!
Excellent food, service and ambiance. We would definitely go again!
This is THE place to go....
The food was very good for a reasonable price. The service was excellent. I would go back again.
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.
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.
Had the tasting menu with the wine pairing. Eveything was deicious.
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!
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!!!
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!
Highly recommend the restaurant for quality, value and service.
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.
I don't usually answer surveys, but the staff was so great I felt compelled
We had a great experience. Food was excellent. Beer selection was varied and excellent. Service was also very good. I would highly recommend
This was a great way to start the weekend! Good food and easy access to theater !
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.
The food was outstanding, and the cost was very reasonable for the amount of food you received. I would definitely recommend this location to my friends.
loved the food and service on our evening out with friends at Upstares and Sotto Varalli. Not surprised at how good the Risotto dishes were!!
Food very flavorful. Not worth the cost for the portion. Drinks very expensive. We arrived for the 4:30 seating. Service good. Good place to go if you don't care about $$$.
Our experience with Sotto Varalli was great. We arrived 45 minues past our reservation time. The host was very gracious and seated us immediately. He expressed to us that he knew we were going to an 8pm theater show and he would ensure our service was prompt. Our table was in a high traffic area in the front of the restaurant, but this did not detract from meal. The Philadelphia city sights on Broad Street's Avenue of the Arts through the large front windows and the Mosaic glass, with alternating colored lighting, above the windows make for a welcome viewing sensation. There are more quiet and subdued areas of the restaurant for those interested in a romantic, intimate atmosphere. Our server Steve G. was exceptional. He was knowledgeable about the special menu selections for the day and maintained just the right amount of attention to our dining needs. The salads were delicious. I recommend the Bufalo Caprese. Our dinner entrees, Chicken Marsala and the Risotto del Giorno, chef's selection, were flavorful and hot from the kitchen. My wife's only dissapointment was that the crab dinner selections on the menu were unavailable for her dining pleasure this evening. However, we were so impressed with our first visit here we will be back again. Hopefully, the crab won't be 86'd from the menu then. Service was prompt, so even with our late arrival the staff at Sotto Varalli ensured we made it to the opening of the show by 8 o'clock. See you soon at Sotto Varalli!!
I took my wife to Sotto Varalli for her birthday. We were quickly greeted and taken to a table. The service was excellent and our waiter was very attentive. The courses were brought at a nice cadence. The entrees were very good. Overall it was a great dining experience and one of the better values that Center City has to offer. We'll definitely eat there again and I will recommend Sotto Varalli to all our friends and family
Good Service and Good food. Nice setting. Would definitely come again.
The food was delish! The people there were pleasant and friendly. The waiter never left us waiting or wondering where our food was. There was timely service, and even the manager walked around making sure everything was okay. I highly suggest the restaurant. The only slight issue is the portions are a tad small for what you pay, you will still be stuffed beyond all belief as it is wonderful. But there won't be any leftovers.
had a very nice time, staff was very polite
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 ...
The food was excellent as well as the service!!
The food and the service was very good.
Fabulous meal from beginning to end.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Prior to an event at the Kimmel we had dinner....everything was great and timely!
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.
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!!!
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.
Great food, great location, great service
I was excited to try this restaurant but it was just okay. The food was okay (we had the tasting menu), the atmosphere was okay (though the piono player was lovely). The prices didn't meet the quality of the food. It wasn't bad by any means, but I expected more. It is very convenient if you're going to catch a show. Very good location.
The atmosphere was okay. The food was so so. We were a little disapointed with the resturant.
The music was really bad. Elevator music, come on. The food was just ok. The meal I wanted (duck), they were out of. The veal was not that tender. There was hardly any dressing on the salad. I thought by the reviews it would be really good, but I would never go back. They are many better restaurants that are local to us.
A restaurant with a personbality crisis. Looks like a slightly upscale Diner, has the atmosphere of one, behaves accordingly with young and mostly untrained waiters...but serves overall good food. Leaves one with a feeling of "whaat if".
Used reviews to select restaurant. Must have been an "off" night for waitstaff. Disappointed.
I went on the internet and typed in "Best Restaurant" and Varalli was on the list. Since we enjoy italian so much we would try it out. Service was excellent, drinks and atmosphere were just as good. However the food was not worth the price. I could have gone to the Olive Garen and had a better meal.
The ambience at Varalli is great, and the evening looked promising. But then... one appetizer was forgotten, shrimp was undercooked on one entree, and another entree was entirely the wrong one. The wait staff was hard to find, not very attentive, and not even apologetic with the mistakes that were made. The food is pretty good, as is the wine. If you are not picky about your experience and can't find a great place to go, this will do, but be prepared for mistakes and check your shellfish :)
I do not write reviews
Food offerings were plentiful! Service was friendly. Food was delicious. Prices were ok - but the Prix Fixe offering was excellent! We had a party of six and the server included 18% gratuity - not a problem since everything was great. We would've left 20%. However, he calculated the tip on the total cost with tax. We don't tip on tax. Maybe some luxurious folks do, but I NEVER do ... but I'll leave a generous tip for great food and excellent service. So, it wasn't a big deal, just didn't sit well with us. :(
food was not bad but restaurant was very noisy
Poor service. Not attentive. Food was just fair, not as advertised. Menu was relatively limited. We were treated as tourists rather than valued customers. Very disappointing.
I'm not sure what was worse the food or the fact I paid that much for it. This was a big let down. Plenty of better restuarants for the price don't waste your money.
I used this website so I could select a resturant for a romantic Valentines day for me and my husband. What I thought I was getting was a high class dining experience, turned out to be a low level dud. We were sitted in a high volume area, right by the front door, next to the Bar. So everytime a staff member would walk by, my chair would be bumped. (not off to a good start) The reviews online said the resturant was suppose to be dress casual meaning NO JEANS/SNEAKERS ETC, However I guess that is code for come one come all. It also said that the resturant was not a place for children, so it is more adult themed, and low and behold children and babies were there and made their voices heard. Don't get me wrong, as a mother I love my children and adore them, however when I am spending over $100 + for a meal and pay money for a sitter so I can have a romantic quiet evening with my husband without the kids, why the hell would i want to eat next to kids. For all that we could have spent our money at TGI Fridays. The waiter was either over worked with the table loads he had or really just sucks at his job, but he paid more attention to the couple next to us. We ran out of water and never once did he offer to refill it. He forgot the Bread and Pesto that is suppose to come with the meal. The bread was cold and not appealing at all and it was brought out seconds before our over priced appetizers. The appetizers were not worth even ordering. The 2 we selected were both drowning in grease. it took the waiter 20 minuted to remove the plates from our table. Then we finally recieved our dinners. Again drowning in oil. my husband selected the scallops and for 25.00 a plate, he has 4 med size scallops and five big chuncks of vegtables. My order on the other hand was suppose to be rosted chicked breast, what i got was two of the smallest chicken breast i have ever seen with a slice of american chesse melted over top peppers and onions in oil. blah. When we were finshed our meal, again the waiter took him time to clear off the plates and asked about dessert, when we said no thank you, the said fine, I will bring you the check in a demeaning tone. How rude!! The only positive thing i can say about this place is the live music is wonderful and the drinks are reasonably priced for being in center city. Please do not listen to all the other reviews on this site about this place. Here is the real Down Low, the skinny if you will. It's locate is convenient with the Theaters close by. You can wear whatever you want, they will get you out in a timly fashion if you ask them and let them know when you need to leave by. The drinks are reasonable. The live music does not start until 8:30pm and is wonderful. If you are looking for romance ask to be placed in the back where it away from the loud talking and laughter from the bar area. If you are well to do and have oney like that, then this palce maybe up your ally, if you are on a wee bit of a buget, then go some where else and save your money. I will never go back to this place and never refer it. I will probably call to complain later to get someof my money back. i would hate to think that my money is being use to still fund this piss poor attempt of Center City elegence.