Even at 8 p.m. on a Wednesday, Rittenhouse is tense. Outside, street lights buzz and Ubers blink as we rush out of our car and barrel into the restaurant.
But The Love. breathes. Here, you sit for a while. You steep in the glow of the candlelight reflecting against wood furniture, the ceilings high enough to feel airy but not daunting. The walls—a mélange of white exposed brick and gaping windows—are almost completely bare, save for a smear of color from a painting or a flash of yellow from a pot of flowers. There’s no dress code, but all the staff are wearing bright prints—Julian, our server, is wearing plaid. Our menus are sprinkled with dishes like “funny name here” and stickers that say “I Knead Your Love.” From above, The XX plays from speakers. It’s pristine, but unpretentious, playful, but tasteful: more grandma’s lake house than stuffy fine dining.
The menu is deceptively simple for the amount of flavor the dishes contain: each consists of only a few ingredients. We order the parker house bread rolls, ricotta ravioli, and fried spuds to start. The bread rolls arrive in a skillet, seated next to a small tub of chive butter. “Careful, it’s hot,” Julian cautions us. The whole grain buns huddle in the cast iron, and they taste as homey as they look.
The ricotta ravioli, gold and glistening in the light, sits on a cloud of orange squash gravy. The ravioli is still crispy, a feat given that it’s been simmering in the squash sauce. The sauce is surprisingly light, and the squash’s tanginess elevates the mellow flavor of the ricotta. The potatoes are the wildcard of the appetizers—they’re your classic smashed and broiled spuds, except filled with a whitefish salad instead of a traditional bacon cheese combo. One bite in and Toto, we’re not in TGI Friday’s anymore. The flaky skin bursts against your teeth, the ripe flesh spills onto your tongue. The acidity of the creamy whitefish salad offsets the oily, flaky potato, providing fresh saltwater relief and just the right amount of saltiness.
The Love. was born out of a collaboration between Stephen Starr () and Aimee Olexy (). It shows—the restaurant blends the theatricality of a Starr restaurant with the pastoral charm of any one of Aimee Olexy’s spots. Servers twirl around you; it feels like Moonrise Kingdom was transposed into a restaurant, and you play the diner in this picturesque narrative.
For our main courses, we order the acorn squash pomodoro, the cedar smoked whole Carolina trout, and the rosemary-garlic lamb roast. The dishes are a spectacle: the entirety of the trout sits on a wooden serving tray, the exterior of the acorn squash is shaved so that the fruit looks like striated pottery. The lamb rests on a froth of root vegetables with the buttery consistency and taste of mashed potatoes. The tangy sour cherry au jus spills over the dish, and counters the heavier lamb, which is seasoned with herbs that remind me of a French countryside. The trout, imported that morning from South Carolina, gapes at me. I ignore its glassy glare and dig my fork into it. Its tender meat gushes with freshwater and herbs—I don’t even feel guilty when I stab my fork into the crispy flesh and hear the crackle against the metal. The trout is served with a side of farrow, and this is what farrow is supposed to taste like, ripe beads of grain that pop on your tongue. The maple flavoring saturates the grains, a tart jolt from each individual kernel. The acorn squash nests on Pomodoro tomato, and its cheese filing stretches like elastic when we dig into its center. The squash is smooth as sorbet and bathed in equal parts tomato sauce and cheese.
Dessert looks like a painter’s palette. Dots of lemon sauce speckle the ceramic plate, lining a diverse selection of chocolates, pumpkin munchkins, and mousses. It’s served with a caramel sauce that’s blended with flecks of salt. The sauce changed my life—we guzzled it from the cup.
By now it’s 10:30 p.m., closing time. We walk outside and back into Philly, which hums with its familiar electricity.
TL;DR: New American cuisine with a rustic charm—more romantic than all three 50 Shades movies
Location: 130 South 18th Street
Hours: Every day for brunch and dinner
Monday–Thursday: 11:30 a.m.–2:30 p.m., 5:00 p.m.–10:00 p.m.
Friday:11:30 a.m.–2:30 p.m., 5:00 p.m.–11:00 p.m.
Saturday:10:00 a.m.–2:30 p.m., 5:00 a.m.–11:00 p.m.
Sunday: 10:00 a.m.–2:30 p.m., 5:00 a.m.–10:00 p.m.