Starr strikes again in Rittenhouse

Chef Chris Painter (at Angelina in 2003) is getting a set-up from Stephen Starr, inset.

Another Stephen Starr restaurant is on the way: an upscale, modern-Italian dinner spot called Il Pittore, and it will occupy 2025 Sansom St., which until today was Noble American Cookery.

The deal – which will be Starr’s 19th Philadelphia restaurant and his 25th overall – will provide a showcase for Chris Painter, one of Starr’s brightest chefs and certainly his most durable.

The Pottsville native, a vet of French Laundry and L'Espinasse, is a partner in this venture.

Painter joined Starr in 1999 to open Tangerine, the now-closed Moroccan fantasy on Market Street that won three bells from Craig LaBan and a nod as 2000's chef of the year. Painter won raves at Angelina, Starr’s altogether underappreciated and short-lived Italian restaurant on Chestnut Street. After Angelina closed, Painter briefly left the fold for Kitchen 233 in Haddon Heights (now closed) and Izakaya in Atlantic City but returned to become Starr’s menu-development guy, credited with Parc, Frankford Hall, the similarly three-bell Pizzeria Stella, and the new Makoto in Miami.

All along, Painter and Starr have been trying to set up Il Pittore – yes, it means “the painter.” They first settled on the space at Third and Bainbridge Streets that for years was Judy’s Café and last was Ansill. That idea didn’t pan out; it’s poised now to house a collab between Chip Roman and Jason Cichonski, opening this fall. Their next Il Pittore spot was 1221 Locust St., the former longtime home of Deux Cheminees; that didn’t work out, either, and Horizons alums Rich Landau and Kate Jacoby secured the space and will open this fall as Vedge.

Third time might be a charm. Unlike many Starr ventures, this won’t require huge cranes and demo crews. They plan to do a modest renovation, thanks to Stokes Architecture, and open in mid-October. The two-story building, renovated just three years ago, has incredible bones – great windows and three sweeping skylights.

“We’re not going to add a ton of bells and whistles,” said Painter, understandably pumped about setting up in a neighborhood that seems well-suited for this posh approach. He told me that the wine list will approach 350 labels. Pricing is still being determined; I'm hearing projected per-person tabs north of $60 a head.

Il Pittore will join a restaurant-rich block in Center City, with the Italian BYOBs Melograno and Porcini across the street; Jose Garces’ Village Whiskey and the dessertery Capogiro at one corner (and Tinto next door to Village Whiskey); and a Danny Meyer-owned Shake Shack teed up to open on another corner in mid- to late-2012.

Noble, owned by Bruno Pouget and Todd Rodgers, has been quietly marketed for more than a year and, in a cruel twist, had been doing better business than ever under chef Brinn Sinnott. Pouget and Rodgers bought the building in 2005 and opened Noble in early 2009. Rodgers told me that he notified staff Sunday morning, calling it "a sound business decision." He said he had assurances from Starr's people that his 20 staffers would receive preferential treatment in hiring.

Besides Il Pittore, Starr also has a seafood restaurant planned for the 600 N. Broad St. project due to open this November, and in Manhattan is planning a restaurant in the New-York Historical Society run by former James chef/owner Jim Burke.

Map: Starr's Philadelphia restaurants