Sunday, January 12, 2014

Vetri Ristorante Review [2]

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].

Regular readers know of my love for all things Marc Vetri, Jeffrey Michaud, and Brad Spence - three Philly chefs who are the foundation for the Vetri Family of restaurants and are stalwarts of Philly cuisine. Vetri Ristorante is the flagship restaurant and I took the GF there for a birthday dinner a few years ago. But back then, I was only reading food blogs and never considered taking the time to detail my own culinary adventures. 

But I'm lucky to have a GF who knows what makes me happy. So as an anniversary gift, she brought me back to Vetri Ristorante to detail and, most importantly, enjoy the winter menu with Chef de Cuisine Adam Leonti at the helm of our dining experience.

Chef Leonti first started cooking at Vetri's eponymous restaurant at the age of 24. He was eventually promoted to Chef de Cuisine in 2011 and more recently, was listed on Forbes' Food & Wine 30 under 30. Chef Leonti now collaborates with Vetri and others to ensure an ever-changing seasonal tasting menu that is executed in an exacting manner each night.

DOCG Prosecco di Conegliano-Valdobbiadene

A complimentary glass of prosecco starts off the tasting menu at Vetri Ristorante. An excellent libation, effervescent apple notes were on the forefront and opened up our palates for what was to come.

Tasting Menu [$155 pp]
A few years ago, Vetri Ristorante shifted from offering a la carte options, to the dismay of many. But truly, the tasting menu is the only way to go. While the price may understandably be a stretch for many, it is on par with other tastings in this price range, if not a league above, in many respects.

Wine Pairing [$90 pp] 

 Being admitted wine novices in the sense that we drink plenty of it, but could not tell the difference between a burgundy and a pinot noir, we opted to go with the standard wine pairings. I highly recommend that if you do splurge on the tasting to let yourself be at the mercy of GM/Sommelier Bobby Domenick's perfect pairings.

House cured calabrese, mangalica ham, house made wild boar terrine, torta di herbe, Canadian Balconville apple vinegar, pastrami style foie gras on brioche with mostarda di cremona

Essentially "finger foods," there were several standbys from our previous dining experience including the pastrami-style foie gras and the vegetable torta. From left to right, we had delicious house-cured calabrese, aged mangalica ham from Rioja, Spain, house-made wild boar terrine, torta di herbe, Canadian Balconville apple vinegar, and pastrami-style foie gras on brioche. The tart apple vinegar helped to counter the heft of the stuzzichini, though atop the toasted brioche, the sweet, brightness of the mostarda acted as its own counterbalance to the weight of the foie gras. As always, the stuzzichini is always a great way to start.


Accompanying the stuzzichini were various crudite on ice and a delicious balsamic crema made from a reduction of balsamic vinegar and olive oil. To dip the haricot vert, radish, fennel haricot verts, radishes, fennel in the subtly sweet and tart concoction was heaven in my mouth. Definitely made a mental note to attempt to make it at home. 

Bocconcini di Baccala
Bucci, Verdicchio di Castelli di Jesi 2011

For the first course proper, the GF was presented with salt cod pureed with cream, potato, and anchovy. This was all poured over heart of palm and braised in the oven until the flavors melded together beautifully. The toothsome bite of the potato and heart of palm provided texture admist the creaminess of the salt cod puree. Certainly a nice way to indulge on a winter night. The Bucci pairing offered fruity notes that were not overpowering and was a nice balance to the heft of the bocconcini.

Diver Scallop and Persimmon Crudo
Abbazia di Novacella, Gruner Veltliner 2011 

I received the diver scallop crudo, which was topped with persimmon and blood orange. The deep sweetness of the persimmon and the bright, tartness of the blood orange did not overwhelm the clean flavors of the beautiful scallop. The Veltliner offered a complex bouquet - fruit and spice on the palate.

Bread Service

The bread service involved fresh semolina foccccia that was not overly greasy and filone, which had a similar crust to a baguette. Amidst the fruity olive oil were gaeta olives, which had a nice brininess.

Sweet Onion Crepe with Truffle Fondue

Next, we were presented with a classic Vetri dish - the sweet onion crepe. The caramelized onions within were stewed for hours on end, all amidst a delicate crust of crepe. The fondue was not overpowering with truffle essence, maintaining the depth of the sweet onions throughout each bite. The crusted, nutty Parmesan on top helped to add salt to the dish. It's no wonder that this dish is simply classic Vetri.

Tortellini Pie
Doc Lettere, Paolo Palumbo 2012

The sweet onion crepe was served alongside a separate plate of tortellini pie. This dish was newly introduced in the winter menu last year, though was a first for us. It was presented whole tableside, before being partitioned for the GF and I. 

The tortellini was stuffed with mortadella and whole polpettone meatballs, made from pork, veal, and beef. These were braised in a bolognese ragu and topped with bechamel. The delicate nature of the pastry was technically incredible - to be able to house all of the ingredients without creating a soggy crust was inspired. The finish of 30 year old balsamic vinegar added a tart and rich depth that was a nice counterbalance to the heft of the meatballs and bechamel.

The tortellini pie was paired with Doc Lettere, my favorite wine of the night. A light sparkling red, there was persistent fruit throughout, with a restrained sweetness that was subtle. There's a reason I went home and ordered half a case the next day - it was just that good. It may not be the most complex wine, but this was a refreshing libation with body and offers easy drinking.

Pastas were incoming and with that, the GF and I were excited about two dishes that are simply our favorites - Almond Tortellini and Spinach Gnocchi. Vetri Ristorante recently acquired new plates, which were perfect to serve the pastas as a duo - the best of both worlds. 

Almond Tortellini with Truffle Sauce
Domaine Gerard Thomas, Bourgogne 2011

Easily the GF's favorite dish - the almond tortellini were cooked perfectly al dente, redolent with almonds and crushed amaretti cookies, which added a nice textural sweetness to each bite. The truffle sauce helped to add an additional depth of flavor that was not overpowering. It was paired with the Burgogne, an aromatic and intensely fruity chardonnay. 

Spinach Gnocchi with Brown Butter
Poggerino, Chianti Classico 2009

My favorite Vetri dish is easily the spinach gnocchi with brown butter. The initial attack is all nutty cheese - Grana Padano and salty ricotta salata with hints of nutmeg. But then as the pillowy gnocchi envelops your tongue, spinach is readily apparent. The brown butter adds to the richness of each bite and it is at this point, I realize that the bite of spinach gnocchi alone is worth the price of admission. Truly a revelation of flavors. 

A perfect pairing with Chianti, the acidity and tannin in the wine helped to balance the heft of the gnocchi. Perhaps it was the Chianti that pushed it over the top, but it was at this point when I realized I was feeling the 'joy' involved with wine tasting.

Pappardelle with Cockles and Tardivo
Vie di Romans, Sauvignon 2009 "Vieris"

At the halfway point, the pappardelle was presented to the GF. The GF was in love with the perfectly crafted and cooked pasta. And despite her wariness of bi-valves, she enjoyed the flavor the cockles lent. The raddichio helped to balance the dish and the pasta was paired with a sauvignon blanc that was intensely fruity, with a long full-bodied finish.

Lasagna alla Giudia
Vie di Romans, Sauvignon 2009 "Vieris"

I received a decadent lasagna that contained baby artichoke and bechamel within baked pasta sheets. Parsley and mint helped to add an herbaceousness freshness to each bite. The crispiness of the pasta sheets helped to add texture.

As with the GF's pappardelle, the lasagna was also paired with the Vieris sauvignon blanc. 

Ricotta Ravioli with Wild Pecan
Yves Cuilleron a Chavanay, Roussanne 2012

We were also simultaneously presented with ricotta ravioli with shaved wild pecans. The gossamer thin pasta was filled with clean flavors and orange zest helped to add a unique brightness that simply enthralled the GF. The ravioli was paired with Roussanne, which was redolent with honey and fruit.

Milk Braised Lamb with Mint 
Anima Libera, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano 2007

For our final savory dish of the night, we both received the milk-braised lamb, with the GF receiving the bone-in lamb. As expected, though not as tender as slow-braised lamb shank, the grassiness of this lamb perfumed each bite in an intoxicating manner. The milk braise helped to temper each bite along with the meaty cannellini beans, which the GF appreciated. The classic mint pairing offered a refreshing note as well.

The lamb was paired with the Anima Libera, which was intense with spice, plum, and blackberry. Quite complex in its intensity, it was seemingly a nice choice for the lamb.

At this point, we were offered the option of a standard dessert or the cheese plate. Despite our mutual love of cheese, we opted to go with a standard dessert in deference to the GF's sweet tooth.

Blood Orange Sorbetto 
Honey, pistachio

As a palate cleanser, we were offered a blood orange sorbetto, which was heightened by the honey atop. For something so simple, the honey really added to each bite, with the pistachios offering texture.

Piccolo Pasticceria

We were also brought a plate of piccolo pasticceria or mignardises. Clockwise, we were offered torrone with pistachio and almond, an apple button cookie, biscotti with chocolate, pistachio, and almond, chocolate-covered balsamic-vinegar chocolate, orange tuile with lemon curd, quince cookie, ricotta hazelnut cheesecake, and in the middle was a peppermint marshmallow with chocolate. A melange of various bites, the balsamic vinegar chocolate and the marshmallow were clear favorites.

Elio Perrone, Bigaro 2012

We were also served Bigaro, our favorite rose and a great way to end any night. We first had the tipple at Amis, so it was capricious that this sparkler made its way to our table. In fact, since our first glass at Amis, we've easily had a few cases of the 2011 and 2012. It was a refreshing and effervescent way to cap off the night, but in addition to a bonus pour from the staff, there was more to come!

GM/Sommelier Bobby Domenick presented us with the entirety of panettone. For those of you that follow Chef Vetri or the Big Gay Ice Cream Truck on Instagram, you know what I'm talking about. In fact, we had a great time speaking with the staff about certain lawyers sniffing the classic Italian holiday sweet bread like crack. While ours did not contain a hidden gelati surprise, it was delicious in its own right.

As huge slices of panettone were served, Chef Adam Leonti himself came out to serve a heaping spoonful of sabayone made from prosecco - certainly a nice touch. 


Since we were stuffed to the gills, we could only take a few bites - but those bites were a great way to end the meal - candied lemon and chocolate. Mr. Domenick hastened to let us know that the top crust was simply the best bite - and indeed, the hazelnut sugar crust was divine. And let me assure you, the panettone was great with ice cream (just Turkey Hill, sorry!) over the next few days!

And as expected, at the end of the meal we were presented with a take-home bag, replete with hand-painted menus and some treats for the next day. 

Almond Coffee Cake

Even the following day, these bites were extremely moist and intense with almond - essentially coffee crumb cake on 'roids.

As you can see, the journey you undertake at Vetri Ristorante is pretty epic. And while it's apparent that many of the dishes are unparalleled, it truly is the service that makes the night. The GF and I felt as though we were in familial hands - from our excellent servers Kaitlin (incredibly knowledgeable about many of the wines) and Paul (great sense of humor), our busser Erasto (extremely courteous, swift, and knowledgeable about the menu) to the GM/Sommelier Mr. Bobby Domenick, who regaled us with several tales and recommendations throughout the night,. 

While the bill at the end of the night may be jarring, the extra pour of Bigaro and the complimentary Uber are the touches that makes Vetri Ristorante sublime.

The GF and I will definitely be back and look forward to trying even more dishes - though the sweet onion crepe, almond tortellini, and spinach gnocchi will forever be absolute must-haves. While I realize Vetri Ristorante is likely a stretch for many, regardless of the occasion, if there is one Philly meal to save up for or indulge in, it is certainly at Vetri. Or, you could just have the best GF ever ...

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