L’Anima isn’t a restaurant that’s easy to miss, but if you’re driving to the Italian BYOB, you may think you took a wrong turn considering the few restaurants and retail options nearby. Then, suddenly, you’ll turn the corner and see it—a brightly lit patio with overhead string lights and colorful orange and blue seating. Located on 17th and Carpenter Streets, the restaurant opened over the summer and with its sunny atmosphere and enticing Roman–inspired menu, L’Anima is a lovely breath of fresh air.
If you’re familiar with Melograno in Rittenhouse Square and Fraschetta in Bryn Mawr, you’ll recognize Chef Gianluca Demontis and Rosemarie Tran’s cooking here. Although not the best Italian food in the world, it’s certainly comforting and flavorful enough to satisfy your carb–and–cheese cravings.
And that’s exactly how I’d characterize my meal there. It began with a caprese appetizer, a familiar dish that gets an original touch with slow–roasted tomatoes centered around a thick cut of cheese, marinated anchovies, and a generous drizzle of basil oil. The mozzarella possessed that unattainable balance of firm yet creamy, and the tomatoes carried a refreshing sweetness. The appetizer made me appreciate the aluminum basket of bread on my table, a basket that was constantly replenished as I reached for piece after piece of bread to sop up all that extra basil goodness. The dish could have stood without the anchovies, but, overall, it was as light and summery as the patio outside.
Next came the vaccinara, a pappardelle dish with a braised oxtail ragu and spiced tomato sauce dusted in pecorino cheese and cocoa powder. Though the cocoa was subtle and slightly hard to taste, it provided a nice texture, and I credit L’Anima for the creativity. I appreciated that the staff split the pasta onto two plates before bringing it over, an impressive extra touch of service. The dish wasn’t as heavy as I expected, which was a pleasant surprise. Like the bread in the basil oil, the wide noodles served as a perfect vehicle for scooping up the tomato sauce and cheese. Clearly, L’Anima is getting at something here with its sopping–and–scooping capabilities.
Our last dish was from the Pinsa Romana section, otherwise known as ancient Roman pizza. We ordered the Animae, a flatbread with mozzarella, crimini mushrooms, arugula, beef bresaola, shaved parmesan, and truffled lemon oil. The lemon lightened up the whole dish, and like the appetizer, the pizza struck a balance between crispy crust and chewy dough. The bresaola was a fun alternative to prosciutto, and the cheese pulls were simply stellar, all of which made this my favorite dish of the night.
With its sleek, modern interior and generally solid Italian fare, L’Anima is a restaurant you’d find me in again. Would I go for a special occasion, or if I were looking for Italian food to blow me away? Probably not. But it’s a niche spot to know about for just about anything one step below.
TL;DR: Comforting but light Italian food in a bright spot near GradHo.
Location: 17th St. and Carpenter St.
Sun: 5 p.m.–9 p.m.
Tues–Sat: 5 p.m.–10 p.m.