After digging on Chowhound, Citysearch, DigitalCity and personal recommendations, I settled on a trip to Ravenna for a recent thank you dinner from a friend. We went on a Thursday night around 7 in the evening.
When I read about Ravenna, most people described it as being in the middle of shopping center and advised me not to judge it by its outward appearance. I was expecting some hole in the wall in a strip mall. It's actually a well kept building among a few other shops and restaurants. The interior is well kept with sections of tile floors, carpet, bright yellow walls and fresh flowers.
I started my meal with rock shrimp on garlic toast and my friend ordered the panzanella (grilled bread) salad. This is where the trouble began. There was only one server at Ravenna that night. She was very gracious and competent, but clearly overburdened. That would explain why we got two mixed green salads instead of our appetizers. We corrected her and she took them away. My rock shrimp appetizer came out shortly thereafter, but my friend's bread salad took at least 10 more minutes. I was done by the time she got her salad.
The rock shrimp were cooked perfectly: firm, but not tough. Their sauce, however, was bland and lacking flavor. The one piece of toast wasn't particularly garlicky as advertised. My friends bread salad did have a tasty vinaigrette which seemed to have been made with an aged balsamic, because it was a bit sweeter and more syrupy than usual. The grilled bread was too tough. The trick with grilled bread salad is that you want the crispy bits of the char to contrast the softer bits of the bread made more tender by the juice of tomatoes or the vinaigrette. I think the salad may have been rushed.
At the advice of fellow Chowhounders, we both ordered the tagliatelle bolognese. Ravenna is supposed to be known for their homemade pasta. Unfortunately, we didn't homemade tagliatelle. We got linguine. Judging from the perfect uniformity of each of the pieces, this was boxed linguine. While satisfactory, it was not what I ordered or paid for. The meat sauce was unevenly distributed between the two portions. Both dishes had plenty of sauce, but my friend's had much more meat.
We chose the well-regarded cheese plate for dessert. The cheeses are from Dibruno Brothers, which is one of the best cheese places in Philly. For $12, I think we got a very generous serving. There were at least 3 pieces of 5 different cheeses. I didn't write the options down, but I enjoyed them all except the parmigiano romano (it was too hard to eat for me, but my friend loved it).
I did have two qualms about the cheese plate. First, the accompaniments were sparse and plain. We got walnuts, balsamic vinegar and figs. Half of the fun of a cheese plate are all the little extras that go with it. I'm thinking of bing cherries, membrillo, lavender honey, etc. I love learning what pairs well with a cheese and trying an exotic new ingredient I don't have on a daily basis. My other qualm was the bread. Cheese is usually best served with a plainer bread (such as a baguette) or cracker to let its flavor stand out. We got three pieces of grilled multigrain bread with walnuts. There wasn't enough bread for the amount of cheese. Plus, the texture and grilling of the bread made it a bit too tough for cheese.
I was disappointed with my trip to Ravenna. I could have overlooked the small service errors if the food stood out. During my trip, the food was underwhelming and, in the case of my entree, incorrect. I don't recommend Ravenna.