Victor Café fuses fine dining with musical act

Nina Pellegrini

At The Victor Café in Philadelphia, traditional Italian dining hits a distinctive new note.

The small, cozy restaurant is nestled among residences on Dickinson Street, a small byway where crowds seem unlikely to congregate.

However, inside the brick building, the sound of tinkling glasses and pleasantly conversing patrons combine with aromas of garlic and tomato to welcome the diner to a unique meal.

Not only does hearty and delicious fare please the senses, but opera music, sung by the restaurant’s talented wait staff, heightens the experience.

The compact dining area exudes an Italian and romantic atmosphere.

The soft sage, ivory and burgundy walls and ornate columns and ceiling tiles bring an old-world feel to the restaurant’s interior. White tablecloths and vintage photographs of the rich and famous lend their Italian-American flair to the novelty of the dining experience.

The waiters announce themselves on a small stage overlooking both halves of the dining room and sing arresting and emotive arias.

An extensive wine list precedes the meal and requires more deliberation than the menu itself. A pesto-infused olive oil and loaf of bread are served as a refreshing appetizer to enjoy with one’s final choice.

The menu is small, but there is variation of most of the dishes to be desired from Italian cuisine.

The antipasti options feature salads and seafood delicacies. Many of the entrees are quite rich with cream and cheese as featured ingredients, but some do highlight fish, meat or poultry in lighter sauces.

The Calamari Fritti (fried squid) antipasti plate is of a freshness unmatched by most seafood restaurants. The tender squid is lightly breaded and lightly fried, sprinkled with fresh herbs and served with warm marinara sauce and a wedge of lemon.

Those who have yet to test the waters of eating squid should aim to do so at The Victor Café with this winning Italian favorite.

The lasagna entrée is stuffed with several types of cheeses and ground beef and served in a tomato and béchamel sauce.

A step above the usual ricotta and marinara combination, this variation of a familiar baked pasta bursts with new flavors.

The red snapper plate is also a unique choice. Prepared in a Sicilian style, filets of fish are layered on creamy mashed potatoes and covered in a tomato sauce, black and green olives and capers. This dish was an exception to most fish served at the restaurant; usually seafood plates are served with the fish cooked whole at The Victor Café.

Those who are squeamish about their dinner looking back at them might opt out of the fish platters.

While enjoying a filling and luxurious meal, diners are serenaded by their waiters, who perform songs to prerecorded music without the aid of microphones.

Most of them are quite young, some even still in high school, ambitious singers whose performances make the meal into an authentic escape from mundane dining.

A new song was performed every fifteen to twenty minutes, despite the patrons’ many requests from the bar and a full dining room. Genres ranged from Italian opera to choices from Broadway musicals. One particular favorite was an uplifting paean of “Ave Maria.”

Great food, kind service and a romantic atmosphere come for a reasonable price, but more than one drink can spike the bill up quickly.

Although the opera is free, one might feel compelled to honor the waiter for his or her talented performance by leaving a generous tip.

The Victor Café is an exceptional choice for a special night to remember.