Dinner at Vetri
On Friday I celebrated my birthday by meeting my wife in Philadelphia and checking into an historic bed and breakfast called the Morris House Hotel. This is a huge deal for us because we can count on two hands the number of nights we’ve both been away from our kids overnight. We did get some protest from our 11-year-old Maddie when she heard she wasn’t joining us.
After checking in and sharing a split of champagne, we headed out the door for the second part of my birthday surprise. We walked a few blocks over to Spruce Street to one of the best and most difficult restaurants to get into in Philly by the name of Vetri. I have met Chef Marc Vetri several times because of my involvement with The Great Chefs Event and have dined at his other restaurant, Osteria, several times but never at Vetri.
My wife booked the reservation 3 months earlier as part of this incredible birthday celebration surprise. The tiny 35-seat restaurant has been voted “One of America’s top 50 restaurants” by Gourmet magazine. Mario Batali said, “Probably the best Italian Restaurant on the East Coast.” I knew it was going to be great because of my experiences at Osteria and from all the great things friends have been telling me over the years.
Unfortunately neither Marc nor his partner Jeff Benjamin were there this evening but it didn’t matter. The restaurant runs like a well-oiled machine and the staff including general manager Bill McKinley know every ingredient in every dish and every grape in their rather large selection of wines. I know, I think we tasted a large number of them before the night ended.
There are two seatings at Vetri, 6 pm and 9 pm. We were there for the earlier and I’m thankful for that. At my age I don’t think I could have made it through 3 hours of tasting the vast amount of the most delicious foods paired with perfectly selected wines if we started at 9 pm.
The menu is exclusively a tasting menu. In the past, you could order a la carte but now you are handed a large menu with four categories and many selections under each one. Our very knowledgeable and friendly (but not too friendly) waiter explained we could let the chef know if there was something on the menu we had to have or something we wanted to stay away from or just let him choose. We requested the chef choose everything for us but we preferred if we weren’t served the Roasted Sweet Bread with Romanesco Salad but would eat it if put in front of us. It was not served.
I said our waiter but in reality, there are several staff members who work hard to make your dining experience as pleasurable as possible. They are all well versed in how the food is prepared and each ingredient involved, some I was unfamiliar with. They are also encyclopedic in their knowledge of each wine of which there were many. We decided to go all out and order the wine pairing for each dish and their 3-ounce pours were more than generous. I’m not saying we were overserved but it was close!
I’m not a food critic so I didn’t take notes on each dish. I didn’t want to ruin this incredible dining experience with my wife by writing down and taking photos of each course. Besides, they give you the menu and wine list with all the pairings at the end of the night and we were having way too much fun.
The menu is a work of art by itself. It looks handwritten by Marc with an artistic drawing of a fork running down the middle of the page. It would look very nice framed and hanging in my kitchen as an inspiration of what can be done with simple fresh ingredients.
Speaking of inspiration, many of the dishes found on this menu can be found in Marc’s cookbook, Il Viaggio Di Vetri. I learned this when I asked the waiter if the Sweet Onion Crepe with White Truffle would be in his next cookbook and was told it is already in Il Viaggio. This was my favorite dish of the night and of course I ran home the next day and tried to make it in my kitchen. I’ll be writing more about this in a future post.
The bottom line is most of the dishes we enjoyed on this amazing night are available in his cookbook and more importantly doable. Some take a bit of prep and “slow cooking” but they are not overly complicated. I highly recommend you check out and purchase Marc’s Il Viaggio Di Vetri if not for the photographs and stories alone. I hope to eventually attempt every recipe in book. Enough said.
Here are some of the dishes we enjoyed on my birthday night. I may have left one out or included one I wish I tasted. I’ll skip the wine parings for now and talk more about them another time but you can also go to Vetri online and learn more about the food and wine.
Aperitivo E Assaggi (translated means Aperitif and Taste) – this consisted of a plate of locally grown vegetables cut into julienne sized pieces with a balsamic vinaigrette dipping sauce. I remember carrots and zucchini.
There was also this incredible plate with an assortment of little treats to get the appetite stimulated that included homemade salami, Foie Gras Pastrami with Pear Mostarda and brioche*, duck pate, and I think some roasted vegetables in a pastry and pickled radish but I’m not sure of these last two.
Sweet Onion Crepe with White Truffle Sauce* – my favorite dish of the night and not that difficult to make at home.
Burrata with Chanterelles and Watercress – Burrata is a form of fresh mozzarella cheese that is made with a pocket where pieces of the curd and cream are added. Chanterelles is a form of wild mushroom.
Spinach Gnocchi with Brown Butter – gnocchi is an Italian pasta that is sort of like a dumpling and some say got its name from the word nocca meaning knuckle.
Almond Tortellini with Truffle Sauce
I think we also had the Goat Cheese Agnolotti with Spring Onions – Agnolotti is a style of ravioli from the Piedmont region of Italy. They are very small and hand made.
Soft Shell Crab with Fregola and Green Beans. Fregula is a type of Pasta that comes from Sardinia, Italy and looks a lot like Israeli couscous. The dough is made from semolina and is rolled into 2-3 mm diameter bows and toasted.
Baby Goat with Freshly Stone Milled Polenta*
Alaskan King Salmon with Chickpeas and Spring Onion Agrodolce – agrodolce is the Italian version of sweet and sour sauce.
We started off with a plate of various Italian cheeses and then had a taste of Molasses and Wild Berry Gateau. Gateau is a type of Italian sponge cake. For the life of me, I can’t remember what the other dessert was but I think it was some flavor of gelato. It could have been the incredible Domaine de Grange Neuve Monbazillac 2001 dessert wine that fogged my memory.
Most of all, I would like to thank my brilliant and beautiful wife for making this happen. Thank you sweetheart.
And here are some photos from Vetri’s Flikr Slideshow.
* recipe in Il Viaggio Di Vetri