Osteria Restaurant in Philadelphia
Thursday night I experienced one of those perfect meals that a foodie can only dream about- good friends, great food, incredible wines and three superstar chefs to hang out with at one of the best restaurants Philadelphia has to offer. My good friends, Barbecue Bob and his wife Bert invited me to join them for dinner at Osteria to meet their friend Chef Chris Cosentino who was passing through town on his way to or from some unknown location where he was filming a new episode of his top rated food network television show, Chef Vs. City.
Chris is the executive chef and co-owner of Incanto in San Francisco. Born and raised in Rhode Island and a graduate of Johnson & Wales Culinary School, Chris has worked with some of the best chefs at several of the finest restaurants in the United States including, Mark Miller's Red Sage, Kinkeads and Rubicon under Traci des Jardins. He came back east to open The Coach House on Martha's Vineyard before heading back to California to work briefly at Chez Panisse and then at the three-star Belon.
Besides being a competitor on the Next Iron Chef and appearing on Iron Chef America, Chris is perhaps better known for his Offal Food web site. Offal are those parts of a pig, sheep, cow, chicken which are used as food but not attached to the animals skeleton. We're talking about organ meats like heart, liver, lungs as well as the extremities including tails, feet, head, brain, and tongue. You can read more about offal at Chris's web site Offal Good. There is a lot more to Chris's history and I'm hoping to interview him soon on Novice2Pro where I can talk more about his amazing culinary history.
Osteria in Philadelphia
You heard me talk about Osteria just a couple of weeks ago when I attended a charity event there for Alex's Lemonade Stand Foundation with Chef Barbara Lynch who was introducing her wonderful new cookbook Stir - Mixing It Up In The Italian Tradition. Owned by Marc Vetri, Jeff Benjamin and Jeff Michaud, Osteria is as close to perfection as you are going to find for amazingly flavorful Italian cuisine without having to travel to Italy.
We walked into the restaurant and were immediately greeted by Jeff Benjamin whom I have met before at several Great Chefs Events, a fundraiser for Alex's Lemonade Stand, a foundation whose goal is to find a cure for childhood cancer. Each year Mark and the two Jeffs bring a bunch of their best chef buddies in from all over the United States and Italy to present a sampling of their food to hundreds of foodies like myself. It is an amazing event and I encourage you to read more about it on the Vetri Foundation web site.
Jeff spent a few minutes with us at our table telling us about this year's Great Chefs Event getting us all pumped up for the June 15th date. It is going to be bigger and better than ever and they are looking forward to raising more money this year to support the foundation and find a cure.
As Good As It Gets Food
Chris was running late so we decided to start without him by ordering a bunch of half plates of Antipasti and Pasta dishes. Remember how I mentioned Chris is known for his offal food? Well Mark Vetri and Jeff Michaud know a thing or two about it as well. We started off with sheep belly that I think was roasted although it may have been braised and finished in the wood burning oven, lamb shank ravioli with rosemary, trotters (made from pig's feet) and served with delicious beans and my all time favorite dish at Osteria and just maybe the best dish I've ever tasted, chicken liver rigatoni with cipolline onions and sage.
Oh, we also enjoyed beet and goat cheese agnolotti al plin with tarragon, these 1 inch square delicate raviolis that just melt in your mouth with a hint of sweetness and tons of flavor. And I forgot the vegetable antipasti with perhaps the best Brussels sprouts I've ever had.
We didn't order a bottle of wine but asked Aaron, an extremely gifted wine sommelier, to choose samplings of Italian wines to go with individually dishes. For example, he started us off with a 2006 Cantina Terlan, "Vorberg" D.O.C. from the Alto Adige region and made from Pinot Bianco grapes to get our palates ready. It was amazing and I hope I can find it in one of our State liquor stores.
With the sheep belly, Aaron selected a 2002 Damijan "Kaplja", Bianco Collio I.G.T. from Fruili and made with Chardonnay, Frialano and Malvasia grapes. It was as he described it, "The most red white wine you will ever try" and it was the perfect match for the sheep belly.
Now if you are thinking, "I'd never dream of eating sheep belly or trotters," I can understand where you are coming from. Normally I wouldn't think to order these kinds of meats myself but I trusted Marc and Jeff's reputations and knew it wouldn't be on the menu if it wasn't going to be delicious and I wasn't disappointed. It was amazing.
Chris showed up halfway through the appetizers and ordered a veal tartar with truffled artichoke and parmigiano and Chef Jeff sent out the house cured salumi plate with artichoke mostarda as well as another chicken liver rigatoni with cipolline onions and sage. I love how chefs like to cook for each other and show their stuff.
Now it was time for our entrees and some more wine:
Bert had chicken "alla griglia" spring pea and chanterelle mushrooms gratin and was done drinking since she volunteered to be our designated driver.
I enjoyed the wild halibut al cartoccio with olives, potatoes and oregano that was prepared and served in parchment. Aaron served me a tasting of 2008 Feudidi San Gregorio, Falanghina D.O.C. from Campania made from Falanghina grapes. This was a big white wine, maybe even too big for the halibut but since I forgot to mention Aaron served us a Superior Ripasso (a baby Amarone) to go with the trotters and I think the chicken liver rigatoni, he felt I needed a big white and of course he was right.
Bob and Chris each were served the spit-roasted capocollo with rhubarb mostarda and Swiss chard. Capocollo is made from pork shoulder or neck. Aaron served them a Euzo Boglietti, "Roscaleto" Barbera d'Alba D.O.C. 2006 from Piedmonte made with the Barbeia grape. I don't remember tasting their capocollo or their wine so what was I thinking?
Marc Vetri & Jeff Michaud Arrive
At this point Chefs Marc Vetri and Jeff Michaud joined us and the conversation really started getting interesting. We talked about some of the dishes we were just served and everyone was interested in how they prepared the chicken liver rigatoni. Stories flew back and forth, I asked some questions about salt and tasting food. And since they do most of their cooking at the restaurant in a wood-burning oven and on a wood-burning grill, I asked Jeff Michaud a lot of questions about controlling the heat and how to make a better pizza. He told me to come take his pizza making class and I would if it wasn't always sold out.
Next the chefs gave us a tour of the restaurant as well as the herb garden outside. By this time we were done with the tour the last of the patrons had left and the staff started cleaning up. When we got back to the table there was a plate of 5 homemade gelatos and a nutella mousse tart that looked like a mini white pizza. And of course our good friend Aaron poured a delicious and I'm sure hard-to-find Madeira wine aperitif.
Some more stories were shared and it was time to go. We all shook hands and headed home. I've eaten at some great restaurants and enjoyed some wonderful meals with luscious wine but last night was something special. These guys are not only great chefs and restaurateurs; they are really enjoyable people to be around.
I would like to thank Marc, Jeff B and Jeff M as well as Aaron and the rest of the cooking and wait staff for a wonderful and memorable evening at Osteria. And if you want to learn how Marc and Jeff prepare dishes like the ones we enjoyed, I highly recommend you get Marc's cookbook, Il Viaggio di Vetri, A Culinary Journey. Not only does it have his recipes, it is worth buying just to read about his adventures in Italy and meet some of his mentors. And the photographs are incredible. One of my new favorite cookbooks.