We'd been trying to get into Zavino for a few months now. The consistent 90 minute wait times on Friday and Saturday nights were too much to ask with so many new places opening, so we kept moving on. This past Saturday night as Center City buzzed with the warm weather and the Phils drubbing of the Mets, we seemed to have gotten lucky.
After initially hearing that the wait was 'probably only a half hour or more,' we go the news that a deuce had just opened on the sidewalk and we could be seated right away! That was good news since the tiny, almost crowded dining room at Zavino was super-hot and way too noisy to hold a romantic conversation, and I had romance on my mind!
Our 'server' returned to ask what we want to drink. I asked him about what rye they use in the Sazerac cocktail on the menu. He looked at the sky and sighed. "No. It varies," he said. No offer to find out, no admission that it was odd he had no idea. I said ok, the Sazerac was fine. My lovely date ordered a Troeg's Dreamweaver and our 'server' stormed off. No inquiry about whether we wanted an appetizer, no refill on the water.
A few minutes later, the beer was dropped without comment or eye contact and we were left to gaze at the woeful 12 ounce mug of Dreamweaver that still managed a 2 inch head. More time passed and the exceptionally well-made Sazerac was abandoned to the table for my further contemplation. And we had plenty of time to contemplate those drinks. About about 20 minutes later, a hostess noticed four empty glasses on our table and refilled the water and too refill orders for the bar.
Then a strange thing happened. The 'server' showed up, and asked if we were ready to order. No. That's not the strange part. The strange part was that when I said yes, the hipster-turned-hopefully-soon-to-be-unemployed-waiter got his pad out, looked to his left and walked away as I ordered. I've never seen anything like it.
A full 33 minutes after he took our drink order, and after ducking past our table numerous times, the young miscreant finally decided we had waited long enough to be allowed access to actual food. We ordered appetizers and then had to nearly physically restrain him to put in our entree order at the same time.
After first getting the wrong food to the table, we got the grilled zucchini (her) and the prosciutto (me) for our first course. We'd been on there more than an hour at the point both appetizers finally made it to the table. Sadly the food was not memorable. The zucchini was shockingly flavorless, in a melange of oil and grated pecorino and romescu cheeses served cold. The 7 delicate slices of prosciutto were a nice portion, but simply could not stand up to the scorchingly hot day they had apparently had.
We were starving, so we ate.
The pizzas arrived comparatively quickly, but still a few minutes apart.
I had the polpettini, which was a crispy pie with huge fresh basil leaves, provolone cheese, red sauce and near-microscopic veal meatballs. It was sadly average, and depressingly was the best food we had all night. My lady had the Kennett, with three different mushrooms over a bland white sauce and burnt crust.
Once again, we were starving, so we ate.
A few words about the restaurant itself. The door area is cramped, with the appetizer station immediately to your right as you come in. The tables are arrayed to the left, with windows onto Sansom Street. The bar is a fairly ample expanse of white marble for such a small room. You have to walk through the server area to get to the bathrooms, where the sinks are rather oddly outside the toilet rooms. The outdoor seating is along Sansom Street and is hampered by a narrow, sloping sidewalk. The fits and finishes of the spaces are very well executed and it has a nice atmosphere overall.
The upshot of the night is that we could have handled poor service or average (to below average) food, but not both. It's pretty clear that the ownership group is pushing the ability of the kitchen to get food out and the staff to serve the space they have. I assume that the problem is there are barely enough seats to make the space profitable and that the kitchen is undersized. The fix is to short staff the front and overwork the kitchen. I know the owner is the chef, but he's missing some of the fine points on quality control.
While I left a perfectly appropriate 15% tip, I will admit leaving a rather scathing note about our waiter with the hostess stand. Hopefully someone reads it. It's pretty bad when you watch another 2 person table get seated after you with the same waiter, get drinks, appetizers and dinner all before you and leave before you have gotten a check.