Friday, January 11, 2013

Alla Spina Review

This is for a series of posts for the Vetri family of restaurants including: Pizzeria Vetri [1], Pizzeria Vetri [2], Pizzeria Vetri [3], Alla Spina, Amis, Vetri Ristorante [1], and Vetri Ristorante [2].   

The GF and I have previously been to James Beard Award-winning Chef Marc Vetri's namesake Vetri, Osteria, and Amis. And with this visit to Alla Spina, we have now completed what I like to call the Vetri Quartet. Without resorting to fan boy bias, I can easily say that all four of his outposts are some of my favorite places to dine in Philly. 

Amis is Vetri's trattoria serving a bevy of small plates, Osteria is his rustic Italian restaurant, and Vetri is his masterpiece of fine dining Italian. Alla Spina acts as his venture into gastropubs, something that has been inundating NYC, but is really just starting in Philly (Varga and Khyber Pass come to mind). Alla Spina is on a whole 'nother level though.

The whole vibe screams cool, relaxed, and unpretentious. Check out the detailed graffiti on the walls. Heck, check out the ceilings!

I don't know who they got to do the art, but the cool urban-chic vibe made me feel like I was not in the northern part of Broad Street. You know what I'm talking bout - that area between Temple University and Hahnemann Hospital, a barren stretch of Philadelphia that is pretty much the pits in terms of quality of living.

Yet Vetri decided to bring two of his restaurants to the neighborhood. First with Osteria, and now with Alla Spina. Coupled with Stephen Starr's Route 6, these establishments have brought a breath of fresh air to the area. So in addition to satiating this belly of a pig, Vetri has helped to bring about some social gentrification to a city that needs it - not just in the centerest of Center City.

But enough social topics. Let's admire the kitchen and get on with the food shall we?

I was hoping to try their pork belly dish, which is typically offered at dinner service. Unfortunately, we came for brunch. I did ask if the kitchen could accommodate us but alas, it could not. Just another reason to return for dinner I suppose. To be honest though, the pig's head poutine more than made up for this ...

Testina Hash Poutine ($14)
Pig head, french fries, mozzarella curd and sunny side up eggs

I happen to love most things Canadian, which is so un-American of me. One of the most important Canadian contributions to cuisine has been poutine. A Quebec dish made with french fries, you'll find it typically topped with gravy and cheese curds.

Vetri's iteration takes it even further - topped with tender meat from the pig's head, fried eggs, and a hot sauce hollandaise, you know it ain't time to remember your New Year's resolutions. Now, I can imagine a few of you might be leery of the term "pig head," but don't be alarmed! We're talking about some of the tenderest parts of the pig. In fact, the luscious cheek is usually the best part of any animal be it fish, cow, and yes, pig.

So break open the fried egg and let the yolk mix with the hot sauce hollandaise, helping to drench the crispy fries and mozzarella curds. In addition to being tender, the pig head had crispy bits that helped to make the dish over the top. Fair warning though - be prepared to guzzle down a few glasses of water. This dish is over the top - salty, unctuous, and coma-inducing.

Alla Spina Gnocchi ($16)
Potato gnocchi, porcini mushrooms and taleggio 

Vetri is without a doubt - a prince of pastas. Since he's been effusively praised for his craft at his other restaurants, you can kind of understand why he might limit the number of pastas at Alla Spina, especially considering it's a gastropub. But when you see a lone gnocchi on the menu, you can't help but gravitate to it. 

These potato gnocchi are pillowy and decadent, draped in a luxurious taleggio cream sauce. The meaty porcini mushrooms help to prevent this dish from being one note. Still, having this on top of a pig head poutine made for one heavy brunch! 

Cheesy Parmigiano Polenta ($4)

Of course, adding a cheesy polenta didn't help matters! But that's just how I roll. Perfectly salted from the parmigiano reggiano, the polenta was creamy and smooth, while still maintaining the natural grainy texture of the polenta. Luxurious and over the top, especially when coupled with the previous two dishes.

Overall, Alla Spina hit the mark for me. In typical Vetri fashion, the dishes are elevated, yet comforting. The dishes I ordered were perfect for sopping up a hangover, but not for maintaining your figure. I'm already looking forward to our next visit to have dinner and drinks. And I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that 5% of all profits from Vetri's restaurants goes to his foundation for children. Coming from a pubic health background, his efforts to secure healthy eating and living for children is admirable. So here's to his ever-expanding empire, and even more so to his philanthropy.

Alla Spina on Urbanspoon

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