Thursday, May 8, 2008


Finally, I'm getting this review up. Next time I won't tell you when I'm going!

This is what you all, and I, have been waiting for, as it my return to what has been called the best Italian restaurant on the east coast, by Mario Batali. Would my return trip be a sophmore slump? Read on.

Oh and P.S. The pictures suck, I know, but I guess they're better than nothing.

The occasion was Grandmom. That’s enough of a response. Everyone knows grandparents love their grandchildren, and they are not humble in displaying their affections. A dinner with grams (a veteran of Le-Bec Fin) had long been on hold and though I had marveled at Vetri’s refined rusticity (Hey! Oxy moron) once before, I couldn’t resist a second chance. Joining us were my aunt and my mom (bringing the latter of which to restaurants is an excuse to try more food). JK love ya mom.

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.


marthadotcom said...

I'm now starving and a bit dizzy. I will be dreaming about foie gras pastrami. That is one of the most amazing things I have ever tasted.

Unknown said...

Clearly the best place in Philly. Nice writing.


Trig said...

Now why spoil a good meal by taking photos with a box Brownie? Put the pinhole camera up on eBay for collectors and buy a decent one with the proceeds. We need to see what you are eating!

Pete Backof said...

Great article, it's fascinating to read good food writing from a teenager's perspective. We've linked to this post at my website, Keep up the good work!

Nick N said...

Sorry about that Trig. The awful pictures are more a result of poor lighting in the restaurant than a "pinhole camera," however that camera is nothing special. On the other hand, my mom just got a new and improved one for mother's day which I will be using.

enchilada8me said...

This is a lovely review, but I have just one negative remark for you; crumble is absolutely, positively an English dessert.

Mike Ferguson said...

I just ate lunch, read your blog on Vetri - and I'm starving. I haven't been there yet, but maybe someday. My sister in law runs the two Du Jours and got her start at Vetri. She speaks in hushed, reverent tones when recalling those days.
Keep going, Nick.