Half of the restaurant evokes a kind of 1980s belle epoque derived from beautiful murals, dark woods and etched glass. I think a little more light is called for, but I have a feeling some people who come here think that such murkiness is romantic.
I preferred the other, better-lit half, dominated by a bronze food display that probably cost more to construct than most restaurants. The dining areas in this half are sectioned off by brass and glass partitions that, with wall mirrors, give an illusion of expansiveness, but not at the expense of intimacy.
The food? It's good, in several cases, extremely good. But we've raised our standards since the first DiLullo's opened (and even since this one appeared), so that many of these dishes don't seem novel anymore. And this is a very pricey restaurant with at least one dish that was outrageously overvalued.
Pastas ranged from ordinary to superb, as evidenced by the assagio di pasta ($10.50), a sampling of three that requires a three-person minimum. Orecchiette were diminutive shells in a red sauce ragu of lamb, zucchini and carrots. It was too understated, with no discernable seasoning and an absence of even a faint lamb flavor.
Better were raviolini, delicate wheels of spinach pasta in a light but savory cream sauce, accented with sage. Tonnarelli were nut brown strands of mushroom pasta in a magnificently fragrant sauce that elicited images of an autumn walk in the forest.
Noteworthy appetizers included salmone affumicato ($8), a delicious, silken oakwood-smoked salmon scented with juniper. Also very good were feathery, light ringlets of just-chewy-enough squid - calamaretti fritti ($6). However, mitili al vapore ($6.50) was an insulting eight mussels, from fat to miniscule (several of which were gritty) in a vapid sauce alleged to contain saffron.
Cosolettine d'agnello ($21.50) was a buttery rack of lamb, cooked rare (as ordered) but less than fragrant with rosemary as advertised. Lombata di vitello ($17.50) was an under-roasted loin of veal redolent with fresh thyme.
The Bisteccalai ferri ($18.50), a T-bone steak, was done - excellently - in the Florentine style. The aged-on-the-premises beef was gently marinated with olive oil and grilled perfectly. Aragosta ($21.50) was a bright presentation of a fresh whole lobster in a wonderfully subtle white wine sauce with ginger.
Though the vegetables that came with entrees were colorful, they were generally uninspiring. The earthy bread from Lancis, perhaps Philadelphia's finest Italian bakery, was terrific.
Among the desserts were several homemade gelati, including a creamy banana chocolate chip ($3) that was all banana and no chocolate chip flavor. An intensely lemon lemon tart and a moist chocolate mandarin cake (both $4) were very good. A vibrant and luxuriant orange and persimmon sorbet ($3.50) was the best dessert of all.
Service on both occasions (early Saturday evenings) was good, although more knowledgeable and polished on our first visit and a little rushed on our second once the 8 o'clock crunch arrived.
There is an excellent wine list with quite a few Italian choices you won't see elsewhere, including a dry, crisp Ferrari Brut champagne ($38) and a caramel-bouquet Arneis Montebertotto Bianco from Piedmont.
IF YOU GO
DiLullo Centro, 1407 Locust St., 546-2000.
Hours: Lunch, Mon.-Fri., 11:45-1:45. Dinner, Mon.-Fri., 5:30-10:30; Sat., 5-11. Bar open with late-night snacks until 1 a.m.
Liquor: Full bar. Wines $14-$150.
Parking: On your own.
Accessibility: Wheelchair accessible.
Credit: All major cards.
Atmosphere: Ultra-chic Italian.
Rating: Rating: **
** Very Good
**** Worth a 45-mile detour, and a change of plans.
No stars means fair or needs work.