Oh and P.S. The pictures suck, I know, but I guess they're better than nothing.
Ahh Vetri. The restaurant presents the ultimate contrast between rusticity and refinement. The unsuspecting diner walks into the dimly lit, simply adorned restaurant. The small, Italian cottage-like space that once housed Le-Bec Fin, is a far cry from the lights and action of center city. A few pots and pans decorate the walls and the intimate space (just 35 seats) gives a sense of comfort, a rare feat in the temples of fine dining. We were in Nona’s house, and judging by the small amount of seats, Nona was not interested in large profits. Her sole aim was to please her guests, and it seems she has taught Chef Vetri (guy on the left in my picture) a few tricks.
A friendly waitress explained the menu and described the specials of the day. I glanced to the left of the menu and saw the house specialties. I yearned to once again taste the rich, torchon-like foie gras cured in the style of pastrami, and the heavenly light spinach gnocchi that had highlighted my previous trip (my friend and I had attempted Vetri’s spinach gnocchi from a newspaper article, at home, and had thought they were delicious until I tried these). I also, however longed for the new. I satisfied both cravings by ordering the gnocchi for my grandmother and the pastrami for my mom and ordering sweetbreads with caramelized endive, and rhubarb jam, and a roasted lamb loin with English peas and lamb bacon, for myself.
A charcuterie plate for the table arrived, covered with cured meats and pickled vegetables. A silky, salty, bresaola melted in my mouth and the acid in the pickled fennel offset a cured pork belly’s richness perfectly. After I tasted my sweetbreads, I was finally satisfied with my decision of them over tripe. They were like mcnuggets, in the nostalgic sense of the word. These tender delights were without the off-putting flavor commonly associated with offal meets. A light almond dusting and rhubarb “agro dolce” (basically a fancy word for a sweet, tart, jam), took these mcnuggets avant garde. The spinach gnocchi were as delicious as I remembered, and since my mom’s palate is self proclaimed “to bourgeois for foie gras” I received the majority of the smoky, salty “foiecuterie.”
I received my lamb dish as the other three members of the party received pasta dishes. The fresh, English peas held their own against the tender, succulent lamb loin, both collaborating to form an excellent dish. After tasting the table’s other dishes however, I realized that I had made a mistake. Pasta is clearly the star at Vetri. A dish of garganelli (penne shaped pasta) with capon (castrated male chicken, swear on my life) and castelmagno (Piedmontese cheese) took me back to Italy. Casconcelli with sage and pancetta was so luxuriously rich; I could’ve sworn I saw old men checking their blood pressure after eating it. Short Rib Ravioli with morel mushrooms was my favorite of the night. Once again the pasta was impeccable, with the richness of the pasta melding into the complexly flavored, braised short ribs. Morels just fresh for the spring were highlighted just as they should be; with lots of butter.
Hey! I’m not done just yet. For dessert I just had a few cheeses that were so so. They were more a vehicle for the delicious condiments, most notably a raspberry jam, and an orange marmalade. Once again my mom made the better choice then me as she ordered the trio of rhubarb. A scoop of light refreshing rhubarb sorbet sat perched atop puff pastry. To the right was a delicate, petite, yet full-bodied rhubarb flan. A rhubarb crumble that despite being in an Italian setting, saluted America, completed the trio.
I left craving Italy, and praying to the gods that Nona will one day find me and show me her secrets. Until then, I will be writing on this blog and making $1 a month from my google ads. I love Vetri. It is unique in that is an escape. For a few hours you can venture away from the hustle and bustle, and sit in Marc Vetri’s intimate space. Italy emanates from every corner, every plate, and every strand of spaghetti. So how to conclude? I guess the way I started. Vetri presents the ultimate contrast between rusticity, and refinement.