Long after Sicilian chef Joe Cicala helped create the East Passyunk Restaurant Renaissance with Le Virtu and Brigantessa – then dramatically left those partnerships in 2017 – Philly’s culinary culturalists have been waiting for Joe and his wife (master pastry chef Angela Rinalli Cicala) to, gymnastically, land their next jump.
Cicala – a homey, yet operatic space fronting the new Divine Lorraine Hotel – is just that leap. While the broad space’s clementine motif is a cozy reference to Joe’s great-grandmother, Clementina, tons of the restaurant’s plush vintage furnishings came directly from the couple’s grandparents (I hope they were done with the chairs), while all of the family portraits on the scraped white brick of its walls detail the Cicala family history. I heard while dining at Cicala over the weekend that the vintage sconces nearest the bar come directly from Angela’s grandparent’s home.
I didn’t get a chance to find out what the story was with Cicala’s waiting area and its near-sacred shrine to Neapolitan soccer legend Diego Maradona. I will next time though. And there will be a next time. For as much as you’ll go just to marvel at Eric Blumenthal’s Divine Lorraine improvements and Cicala’s operatic hominess, you’ll return for a familiar Sicilian menu of musky salumi and sott’olio items, an escarole and cannellini bean soup with pork shoulder and rosemary that’ll make you tear up form muscle memory, six handmade pasta dishes you’ll find impossible from which to choose (first time, I went for the braised lamb shoulder ragu, San Marzano tomatoes, pecorino), and – a Larry David favorite for fans of “Curb Your Enthusiasm” – Pesce Spada.
If you’re not exactly certain which wines are appropriate for each course, talk to Angelo. He knows.
And for those thinking they’ll leave Cicala, stuffed or not, without dessert: wrong. Mrs. Rinalli Cicala has a traditional Spumoni parozzo cake that will amaze, and a special “Green Gold” experience of Sicilian Pistachio gelato, Ursini “Limone Verde” olive oil, and Trapani sea salt – one that is as delightful to watch as it is to linger in your mouth.