Showing posts with label Marc Vetri. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Marc Vetri. Show all posts

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

A Sneak Peak at Marc Vetri's Amis

Amis, the new Roman-styled trattoria of Chef Marc Vetri, takes its name from the Bergamascan dialect for "amici" (friends). Located in the Washington Square West neighborhood of Center City, the much anticipated third spot from Vetri and partners Jeff Benjamin and Jeff Michaud will open this Thursday, January 14, 2010.

Courtesy of an invite from friends, I was able to sneak in on Monday night for the first night of a two-night soft opening run. The soft opening is a required rite of passage for any new restaurant, allowing the staff to "practice" on friends and family, to iron out a few wrinkles before opening the doors for regular business. Given the restaurant's modest size and inviting energy, something tells me it's going to be yet another tough reservation. I'd never write one of my full-on restaurant reports based on a first look like this, but I thought I'd at least share some photos to whet your appetites and give a sense of the place.

The bar spans much of the length of the room's main wall, which runs parallel to 13th Street.

Every table is subtly different, custom built for the new space.

An elevated dining area in the room's southwest corner.

Vetri on patrol in Amis' open kitchen, a few of the first round of diners enjoying their view from the chef's bar.

A few antipasti to start (clockwise, from top left): mixed salumi plate; marinated seppia with fennel and grapefruit; marinated sardines; and fried lambs tongue with salsa rossa.

Housemade pastas: tonnarelli "cacio e pepe" with pecorino and black pepper; gnocchi alla romana with oxtail ragu.

Carne e pesce: pork and fennel pollen sausage with peperonata; mixed seafood grill.

Sommelier and co-owner Jeff Benjamin has put together a diverse, compact list of about a dozen whites and reds each, plus a rosato, a bubbly, a couple of stickies, and house white and red by the carafe. Bottles top out at around $65, with all available by the glass and all save two hailing from Italy.

Late night, Bryan Sikora of Kennett Square's Talula's Table jumped in for a photo opp with Chefs Vetri and Michaud.

Local singer-songwriter Phil Roy, a frequent performer at wine dinners at Osteria, was in the house.

Amis Trattoria
412 S. 13th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19147
Amis on Urbanspoon

Friday, September 26, 2008

Two Philly Chefs Hit the Shelves (and Other Goings On Around Town)

I'm guessing I'm not the only Philadelphian out there who's proud of his own town yet feels like Philly tends to get snubbed when it comes to national recognition as a great dining city. A small handful of the area's most ambitious chefs have been out to change that for the last several years. Two of the most widely noted of that set have recently taken a big leap, one step further into the national consciousness, both releasing their first cookbooks over the last couple of weeks.

Marc Vetri, owner of the eponymous Vetri and of Osteria co-wrote Il Viaggio Di Vetri: A Culinary Journey with David Joachim. It's been ages since I've been to Vetri (heavy hint to anyone who's planning to take me out to dinner...) but you can read reviews of some of my meals at Osteria here. Marc, his partners and their staff are turning out what I think is some of the best Northern Italian fare this side of the Atlantic.

Latin Evolution, by Jose Garces, charts the chef's voyage through the cuisines of Spain and South and Central America, work that's put his Philadelphia restaurants - Amada, Tinto and, most recently, Distrito - on the map.

I've enjoyed some great food at the restaurants of both Marc and Jose, so I'm looking forward to reading their books.

In other goings on about town:

Tria Fermentation School has just announced its October schedule of classes. As usual, many sold out in a flash but there are still seats available for some pretty groovy sessions. It's a great classroom environment, both intimate and fun, so check it out.

The class with Sam Calagione, wild and woolly master brewer at Delaware's Dogfish Head Brewery, is already sold-out. Don't entirely despair, though. Sam will be on-hand at Tria's 12th & Spruce location before class, pouring his new ancient recipe brew, Theobroma, along with other Dogfish Head classics. The "Dogfish hour" runs from 5:00 to 6:00 PM next Tuesday, September 30. No reservations necessary. Just show up and enjoy.

Also next Tuesday, Blackbird Dining Establishment in Collingswood, NJ, is kicking off their seasonal dinner series with a four-course menu based around one of nature's greatest wonders: bacon. Tough to go wrong there.... Seatings are available at 6:30 and 8:30 PM. Just follow the link above for contact information.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Marc Vetri at Snackbar

What happens when one of Philadelphia’s most soundly established and respected chefs, Marc Vetri, comes out to play at one of the city’s more adventurous micro-restaurants, Snackbar? Let’s just say the city’s foodies take notice. When last I attempted to secure a reservation for one of these Snackbar events – it was Shola Olunloyo’s guest chef installment – I struck out in the race for a table. This time around, I succeeded thanks to a little help from some friends. The payoff, as served at Snackbar this past Monday, made our group effort worthwhile. I wasn’t sure what to expect of the meld between Vetri’s soulful cooking and Snackbar chef Jonathan McDonald’s reputation for gastronomic edginess. In the end it was clear that Vetri took the lead, to good effect, while McDonald’s creative touches with textures, techniques and flavors were cleverly inserted into each dish.

Snackbar’s usual front of the house staff was on fine form on the evening. They were helped along by Jeff Benjamin, sommelier at Vetri, who selected the beverages paired with each course and worked the tables, imparting wine background and pairing rationale along the way. Though we wouldn’t discover it until the end of the evening, there was some extra guest support in the kitchen as well, courtesy of Michael Solomonov, late of Marigold Kitchen, soon headed to Zahav and once a member of Vetri’s kitchen team.

Arancine di Riso with Parmesan Emulsion
The first course they delivered was a teaser. One lonely little arancine, a risotto fritter posed in a wave of foam set in a miniature casserole dish. Actually, the fritter was a nice size; it’s just that I could have eaten a handful. The outer shell of rice was toasted to a golden brown, not quite crunchy but with a great tooth feel. Inside, tender, ground essence of veal and peas were perfectly seasoned, at once rich in flavor yet light in weight. McDonald’s touch could be seen in the parmesan emulsion. It worked much better here than a full on sauce would have, adding flavor and delicacy without marring the texture of the rice puff.

paired with:
Franciacorta Brut Rosé, Le Marchesine 2002
I love bubbly as a starter, so I wasn’t about to complain when the bartender leaned across the bar to fill our glasses. When I found it was Franciacorta, I was doubly happy, as it’s rare to find any in the Philadelphia market. If Jeff hadn’t stopped by to point out that it was a rosé, I may have never known, as this was the palest possible pink, barely discernible in the red glow reflecting from Snackbar’s crimson walls. Though not particularly complex, it did showcase the chalky, slightly grapey character of Franciacorta that makes good examples a nice meeting point between the fruitiness of Prosecco and the more intense structure of some Champagne. It didn’t hurt that it was one of the better pairings of the evening.

Shaved Porchetta with Treviso, Arugula, and Celery in Forms
Tasted in its separate parts, this course at first seemed disjointed. “Celery in Forms” were pretty to look at, had certainly been modified through some culinary craft but were still essentially just celery. Lightly charred treviso radicchio also seemed at first to be there simply as a foil to the gentle, fatty richness of the porchetta. It was the dish’s assertive dressing, infused with flavors of cured, salty meat, and hinting at a touch of nut oil (hazelnut perhaps?), that pulled the dish up a notch, making it more than just a nod to the salumeria.

paired with:
Colli Orientali del Friuli Tocai Friulano, Rocca Bernarda 2006
This was without question the pairing of the night. As Tocai is a classic match with Prosciutto di San Daniele, the famous ham of Friuli, perhaps it was an easy leap to matching it with porchetta. Nonetheless, it was a leap well taken. Crisp, slightly mineral, floral and peachy, this showed the best attributes of young, unoaked Tocai. Its lively acidity married well with the acid in the dressing as well as the fattiness of the pork.

Squid Ink Spaghetti with Braised Squid and Hot Tomato Jelly
Italy met the Basque country in this dish of tender braised squid, sauced in its own ink and served with a nest of al dente squid ink spaghetti. This was arguably the simplest dish of the night, which might explain why I would happily tuck into a full-on portion of this as a main plate. However, it still managed to represent a mischievous interplay between Vetri’s soulfulness and McDonald’s tweaks. Plain to see atop the pasta was a sprinkling of intensely sweet and tangy oven-dried grape tomatoes, while lurking behind those black noodles were a few gel forms of molten tomato essence, shaped to mirror their vine plucked counterparts yet more cerebral in both their texture and flavor delivery.

paired with:
Blanche de Bruxelles Bière
As much as I enjoy good beer and believe in the possibilities of pairing beer with ambitious food, I’ve always found it a bit odd that Belgian beers are give pride of place on the beverage menus at both Osteria and Vetri, our guest chef’s establishments. Mr. Benjamin explained that he was looking for a low-alcohol option that would work with spicy heat, which he rightly understands as a challenge, when high intensity, for even lighter, sweeter wines. The problem was that there was only a barely perceptible tingle of red pepper heat in the squid ink spaghetti. A clean, vibrant white from Campania could have handled it easily. The Blanche de Bruxelles was refreshing. It didn’t clash with the dish but it did just kind of stand there and do its own thing, offering very little in the way of spark in the pairing. But hey, nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Braised Eel with Chanterelle Ragu and Winter Greens
There was real elegance in this dish, evoked by well integrated flavors, traditional flavors of the season and careful preparation and presentation, pulled back a notch only by its rather gray color palette. The eel itself was tender and richly organ-y in taste. Unlike the preceding course, it’s not something I’d want a heaping bowl of or something I’d choose as a regular dish. But it may have been the most challenging plate of the evening in spite of showing no obvious edginess.

paired with:
Bourgogne Pinot Noir “Vero,” Drouhin 2006
Named for Veronique “Vero” Drouhin, this is her “unique selection of Bourgogne Villages,” a wine she assembled from fruit grown throughout various parts of Burgundy. Her time spent working in Oregon, though, shows more than the wine’s cumulative possibility of character, as it lacked delineation, acidity and finesse, replacing them all with soft, round, one-dimensional fruit. As a guy who spends his days on the floor in a wine shop, I can understand the urge to concede to the popular desire for red wine. But this isn’t a party; it’s a chef’s tasting menu, man! I’m being overly tough on Jeff here, as it wasn’t a bad pairing. As with the beer/pasta combo, the Burgundy didn’t clash with the eel. I just didn’t like it. The wine, that is. Though not exactly seasonal, I would love to have seen rosé served here, perhaps a Bardolino Chiaretto, straight from the shores of Lake Garda where eel is a local staple. A Bardolino normale or a bright, un-pumped-up style of Valpolicella could have done in a red wine necessitated pinch.

Pomelo Campari Sorbet

The intermezzo on steroids. This cleansed the palate of the preceding courses and then some. The tart, bitter and explosively flavorful combo of grapefruity pomelo and herbal Campari was delicious. Its lingering tanginess left me very, very afraid to try the Negroamaro that had been poured in anticipation of the next course.

Veal Cheek and Sweetbread Duo
The final savory course of the evening took things back to a sound footing in comfort food, yet with a higher degree of elegance relative to the squid pasta. For me, the sweetbreads were the star of the plate, seared to a just barely crisp exterior and not shy of showcasing the tender, juicy offal. The veal cheeks were tender almost to a fault, buttery in their softness and richness, yet were hard not to like. A portion of saffron infused artichoke heart, firm and snappy in texture, provided color and art on the plate. It was cut and poised in a way that made it resemble, at first glance, a chanterelle.

paired with:
Salento IGT Negroamaro “Masseria Maìme,” Tormaresca 2003
Tre Bicchiere winner or not, this was (slightly) hot wine from a hot region in a hot growing season. Opaque, opulent and blowsy, it was another example of a pairing that neither clashed nor added much in the way of interest. Pugliese Negroamaro could certainly have been a nice match; it just needed a bit more acidity and cut in place of richness. Better yet, how about an old school Barbera d’Alba or a juicy rendition of Langhe Nebbiolo?

Castagnaccio (“Bad Chestnut”) with Ricotta Foam
Even after squid ink, eel and sweetbreads, the award for most unusual dish went to the dessert course, hands down. Essentially a brownie made with chestnut flour, this had wild flavors of fermentation, funk, even a slightly fishy nuance. It was irresistible. The slightly sour tang of the ricotta foam, texturally like airy whipped cream, matched perfectly with the Castagnaccio, while a generous streak of honey provided an optional spine of sweetness.

paired with:
Recioto di Soave “Le Schiavetto,” Le Mandolare 2004
Here, the pairing was on without question. For me, only the Tocai/Porchetta combination provided a more harmonious match on the evening. The honeyed nuttiness of the Recioto di Soave, along with its sound acidity, worked well and avoided the heavy handedness that might have come from a more obvious match like Recioto della Valpolicella or Banyuls.

Piccola Pasticceria
A little sugar artistry finished off the evening. The macaroon was well executed but it was the marshmallow – looking strangely like a decapitated Peep – that was the attention grabber. Artichoke and bitter orange zest, I believe, made it clear that Snackbar’s experimental tendencies were not being neglected.

Overall, this was a thoroughly enjoyable evening. Pacing was relaxed yet steady. Service, as mentioned earlier, was precise and friendly. Even sitting in the worst seats in the house provided its own pleasures. We may have suffered the occasional blast of cold air but our position front and center gave a great view of the room and afforded the opportunity to talk with the staff and other diners at the bar. The partnership between Vetri and McDonald clearly worked to good advantage in the kitchen. I’ll look forward to a return visit to Snackbar on a regular night and will certainly be on the lookout for their next guest chef event.

Many thanks are due to Philadining for sharing some of his photographs. The shots from the Arancine through to the Sorbet are all his. It was only beginning with the veal/sweetbread duo that I finally heeded his cue that shots taken at the bar were not likely to work. Check out his summation of the evening at the Philadining blog.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Easter at Osteria

The annual Philadelphia Film Festival is in full swing right now. We had tickets to a self-constructed double feature on Easter Sunday night so we figured, what better day to head for an early dinner at Marc Vetri’s new outpost, Osteria (640 N. Broad Street at Wallace). When calling for a reservation (which is essential) we were denied a table at 5:00 but offered one at 5:30. Knowing that the timing was an effort on the restaurant’s part to stagger tickets in the kitchen, we presumptuously arrived a few minutes after 5:00 as we didn’t want to have to rush through dinner to make our first screening. Greeted at the door by one, then two and finally three suit bound hosts and hostesses, we were told our reservation wasn’t actually until 5:45. After a few moments of deliberation though, we were graciously seated at a spacious two-top near the center of the room, adjacent to the lengthy chef’s bar.

Osteria is a big space, befitting of its setting in a rather wide open section of North Broad Street. High ceilings have been left unfinished, exposing duct work and lending a modern loft look which balances out the warm, rustic tones of the wooden tables and bars. Loads and loads of windows let in plenty of natural light and showcase panoramic views of the church next door – and of the Meineke shop across the street. Taking a page right out of Batali’s book at Babbo, pop music is cranked up fairly loudly. The twist here is that the music is pseudo-Italian. We heard covers of REM and U2 mixed in with some rather insipid Italipop. So much for the soundtrack – we hoped the food would prove to be worth the ear-sore.

The menu is classically Italian in structure, broken into sections for Antipasti, Primi, Secondi and Contorni. A pizza list adds a bow toward the casual intentions of Marc’s new enterprise. Here I must say Osteria is intended to be a more casual and less expensive alternative to Vetri Ristorante. It is. However, a look around at the décor and staff and a quick perusal of the menu make it clear that Osteria is not terribly casual and is quite expensive. Pizzas range from $15-24; antipasti from $10-16; primi are priced in the high teens; entrees land in the high $20s; and contorni at $8-10 a pop could quickly push the entrée ensemble into the $40 range. Do the math and the bill for a multi-course meal adds up fast.

As a saving grace, the modest wine list is, especially for Pennsylvania, quite reasonable. The most expensive bottle I noticed was a good deal at $81, the 2001 Barbaresco “Canova” from Cascina Vano. And most of the list comes in at under $50 per bottle. Though I didn’t ask, the numerous empty bottles of Sassicaia displayed around the room and the rear wall, which is decorated with wooden crate ends from high-end Italian juice, lead me to suspect that there may be a reserve list available for those looking to drop more coin. Of the handful of wines available by the glass, we settled for a couple of different whites – I for a glass of 2005 Pieropan Soave Classico and my wife Lori for some Prosecco – and got down to the business of deciding what to eat.

After listening to the fairly extensive list of daily specials, we opted to work mostly from the regular menu, though it was tough to pass up the Easter special of stuffed spring lamb. Lori opted for an Antipasto and Primo combination; I went with a Primo and Secondo. Here’s what we ordered:

  • Wood grilled octopus, cured lemon, potato and chives (antipasto)
  • Candele with wild boar bolognese (primo)
  • Capon tortellini with sage brown butter (special primo)
  • “Casoeula” braised pork ribs and sausage with cabbage and soft polenta (secondo)
The clear standout was the wood grilled octopus. Nearly whole (headless) baby octopi, incredibly tender and flavorful, were paired with well-chosen flavor enhancers: slivers of preserved lemon, perfectly firm little cubes of potato and quality olive oil. The boar Bolognese served over candele – long, extruded pasta (think of extraordinarily lengthy ziti) – was comforting and hearty, only lightly influenced by tomato, much more highly informed by slow cooking and mellow seasoning. If there was any disappointment to be found, it was in the slightly under-seasoned tortellini. The pasta component was supremely delicate, as was the mild, tender capon filling. The aroma of ample, rich butter rose from the plate but its color and flavors were still on the fresh side, lacking the nutty depth of a well-browned butter sauce. And for me, the sage element was just a little too subtle. The braised pork ribs, offering a perfect balance between the heartiness of braising and the slightly lighter ingredients of encroaching spring, were done to fall-off-the-bone perfection. The rustic sausage, like all of the cured meats on the menu save the Prosciutto di Parma, is made in-house.

To accompany everything, we selected a bottle of 2004 Langhe Nebbiolo “Perbacco” from Vietti, a large but very reliable producer of mostly estate bottled Piedmont wines. At $40 per bottle, it’s one of the best bargains on the list. Though served at too warm a temperature, it showed well – once it cooled down on the table – and worked admirably with most of the food. Warm red wine is one of my biggest restaurant service peeves. Though the bottles were not stored in the worst scenario – the kitchen – they were sitting out in service station shelving units around the room, exposed to the warming effects of sunlight on the back of the wood and computer screens below. I wasn’t kidding when I wrote that the wine actually cooled down once poured and left on the table. There is a wine room, presumably temperature controlled, in Osteria. Even if it means twenty extra steps for the service staff, the reds, not just the whites and beers, should be cellared. Luckily the whites were poured at a proper, slightly cool temperature, circumventing the all too common fate of being served ice cold.

Our early arrival had worked out well, leaving us just enough time to enjoy dessert and coffee before heading to the theatre. The desserts were perfectly acceptable if not memorable. The chocolate flan with pistachio gelato turned out to be nothing other than a well-executed version of the now ubiquitous molten chocolate cake. I absolutely love pistachio gelato when it’s done well; this one was just a little too heavy on the custard and, as a result, on the palate. Polenta budino with giandula delivered a predictably rustic, savory dessert. Its flavors were harmonious and satisfying. In retrospect though, I should have skipped dessert in favor of a pizza or antipasto at the beginning of the meal. Urged on by Rick Nichols’ recent write-up of Vetri’s coffee fetish, I couldn’t pass up topping everything off with a double espresso. I did need to stay awake through two movies after all. A good brew it was, hearty, with just the right bitter/sweet balance and an admirable crema.

With just a little work on some minor service issues and perhaps a rethinking of the music selections, Osteria could easily become one of Philly’s most attractive dining destinations. I’m looking forward to a revisit. The chef’s bar, the salumi plate and the pizza list are calling me now.

610 North Broad Street (at Wallace)
Philadelphia, PA 19130
Osteria in Philadelphia

More recent visits to Osteria:

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