Bistro La Baia: Italian BYOB Restaurant in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

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Review of This Enduringly Popular Italian Restaurant

An interesting mix of classic Italian dishes and house specialties make Bistro La Baia a neighborhood favorite in Center City.

Bistro La Baia is an Italian BYOB restaurant which has been delighting Philadelphia, Pennsylvania residents since 1998. Located in a charming corner building at 17th and Lombard Streets, the restaurant has a small single dining room as well as attractive outdoor seating during good weather. While Philadelphia, Pennsylvania has no shortage of “Bring-Your-Own-Bottle” Italian restaurants, there are many reasons to keep coming back to Bistro La Baia. From their well-prepared, traditional and unique dishes to their large portions at fair prices, it’s easy to see why Bistro La Baia is such a neighborhood favorite.

The dining room at Bistro La Baia is cozy – one might even call it a bit cramped, but that is typical of most BYOBs in Philadelphia. The decor is attractive if “old school” Italian, though thankfully no red-checkered tablecloths are to be seen. The menu is a single page of “Prima” (first courses), “Dopo” (second courses) and “Dolci” (desserts). A number of specials for each course are also offered every night. The Prima choices are all in the $6-8 range, and feature classic Casar and Spring Mix salads, as well as Bistro La Baia’s unique twists on traditional offerings. Try the Carpaccio Di Salmone, for paper-thin smoked salmon served with capers, onion and tomatoes.

Grigliata Di Calamari

Grigliata Di Calamari

I am especially fond of their, a generous plate of tender, grilled calamari served with a decadent lemon-butter dipping sauce. Also excellent is their take on a Caprese salad, the Mozzarella La Baia. Mozzarella, roasted peppers, tomatoes, black olives and basil make for a delightful color and taste combination.

Mozzarella La Baia

Mozzarella La Baia

For second courses, a variety of pasta, meat and seafood dishes are offered, all in the affordable $12-16 range. The amount of food for the price is quite generous, and I’ve always gone home from dinner with leftovers for the next day. For excellent comfort food, try the Orecchette Alla Pugliese: shell-shaped pasta with shrimp and sun-dried tomatoes in a tomato sauce. Their veal offerings are quite good, especially the unique Veal Cleopatra: veal scallopine with apples and arugula in brandy sauce. I also love the Salmone Nocello, which features a walnut-encrusted filet of salmon in a light cream sauce with orange zest. Meat and fish entrees are served with a daily selection of fresh vegetables, such as zucchini, carrots and potatoes. Everything always tastes wonderfully fresh at Bistro La Baia, from the pastas to the salads to the seafood.

Orecchette Alla Pugliese

Orecchette Alla Pugliese

Salmone Nocello

Salmone Nocello

Dessert changes nightly, but semifreddo or zuccotto is highly recommended if offered. Tiramisu and various gelati are typically available as well. One single dessert can easily be shared by two after a very filling meal.

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It is very easy for a party of two to enjoy a satisfying, multi-course dinner for $60-70 before tip at Bistro La Baia, making it one of the most affordable Italian BYOBs in Center City, Philadelphia. If you only order pastas and one shared appetizer, you can dine well for much less than that. One word of caution, however, is that nightly specials tend to be priced significantly higher than the regular menu choices, so inquire about the price before ordering if budget is a concern. Bistro La Baia does not accept credit cards, so be sure to bring cash as well as your own bottle of wine.

There are mixed opinions on the friendliness of the hosts and service staff at Bistro La Baia – some diners find them gruff and chilly. In my experience, the service is rather typical of what one would expect dining in an actual trattoria in Italy itself: not overly fawning or friendly, but they will warm up to you, especially if you become a regular there – and dine like a true Italian!

Bistro La Baia is a great choice for a solid Italian meal at an affordable price in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. While not one of the trendiest restaurants in the city, it’s a comfortable neighborhood place well worth visiting. Reservations are not required, but are recommended for Friday and Saturday evenings which can be quite busy, especially in the summertime.

This review originally was published at the Yahoo! Contributors Network on August 10, 2010.

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