Friday, March 28, 2014

Amis 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].   

Amis was actually the GF and my initiation into all that is the Marc Vetri family of restaurants. And with good reason - without sacrificing quality, the prices are extremely reasonable and the atmosphere is chic, but not stuffy. And to be able to remember our third date so fondly and vividly is a testament not only to the company, but to the food, drink, and service. In fact, our favorite dessert wine was first tried here - a 2011 Elio Perrone Bigaro Rose, one that we also had the pleasure of enjoying three years later at our most recent dinner at Vetri Ristorante. Sure we've had a few cases of our own in between, but it just tastes better at a Vetri restaurant - perhaps it's just the nostalgia?

In any case, Amis is run by Chef Brad Spence. After working with Tom Colicchio and Mario Batali, Chef Spence came to Philly to take the helm at Vetri. Since then, he became chef partner at Amis, which was named as one of the top 10 pasta restaurants by Bon Appetit. That's top 10 in the country and it's also how well the Vetri empire as a whole represents Philly to the fullest. And with a third addition to his own family earlier this year (congrats Chef!), the icing on the cake? For the second straight year, Chef Spence has been nominated for a James Beard Award for Best Chef: Mid-Atlantic. Hopefully he'll take the prize this year and if the food that I enjoyed on this most recent visit is any indication, it would be be well-deserved. 

The Vetri Family on opening day at Pizzeria Vetriy: Chef Brad Spence is on the right
On a Wednesday at 5PM, Amis already had a few diners. And shortly before 6PM, it was already starting to get busy - clearly a testament to the cuisine and service. The open kitchen is in line with the general vibe of the restaurant - an accessible invitation for everyone to enjoy the same quality ingredients that are represented at Vetri Ristorante.

Not only is the pasta expertly crafted at Vetri's family of restaurants, but they are just as deftly handled. This was apparent when Chef Vetri posted a video of Chef Alix Christina tossing pasta like no other. For those of you that don't know what I mean, check it out here. That left enough of an impression that I recognized the Chef at the pass on our most recent visit.

And if the name seems familiar, check out the Chef Christina posing with these other fine chefs at Tap Room's Fine Swine dinner. The associated pics stirred up a bit of drama, but a dinner in support of the Vetri Foundation while showcasing good eats and great chefs? All for it.

Photo Credit: Philly Mag, Foobooz

But let's get back to the food at Amis shall we? Something new to us was the Beast of Amis, a nightly round of specials that showcases different parts of an animal in a variety of dishes. Tonight's special was pork three ways. Unfortunately, in an effort to showcase some a la carte dishes, we decided to pass. Still, if there was a pork belly special on hand, I'm sure I would have been tempted.

Blood and Soda [$11]
Famous Grouse, cherry herring, vermouth

I started off the night with this scotch-based drink. For those that are interested in entering into the realm of whiskey, this is a great entry course. Light, refreshing, and bright, the cherry liqueur came through on the finish nicely. Easy drinking.
Mandoria [$11]
Tito's handmade vodka, amaretto, pineapple

The GF's drink offered even easier drinking. The amaretto brought forth soothing undertones of sweetness with the pineapple providing brightness. The vodka was easily masked, but definitely there.

Bread Service

Our night's indulgence started off with incredible olive oil focaccia. Light and airy within, the exterior had a crispy crust laden with sea salt. It took all I had not to get up and attack the whole house-made loaf being portioned out for the evening's diners by the server's station. Come for the bread alone. Seriously - it's that good. No accoutrements needed here.

Eggplant Caponata [$8]

In line with our eggplant kick (at least one of our weekly dinners involves l'aubergine), we had to get the caponata. It came with four slices of grilled, buttery sesame-crusted bread. A perfect vehicle for the smooth, savory eggplant. Certainly a contrast in textures as well as temperatures, with the caponata being served appropriately cold.

Bufala Mozzarella [$12]
Charred asparagus, mint, pickled red onions

The mozz was expectedly creamy and rich, with the charred asparagus offering a bit of texture. The pickled onion and vinegary base provided the necessary hit of acid. It's clear that the quality of the ingredients are there, but it truly is the sum of the parts that make each bite perfect.

Salami del Giorno [$8]
Onion marmalade

House-made salumi (crafted over in a room at Vetri Ristorante no less!) came complimentary from the kitchen. And I'm glad it did - mainly because it's now a must-order. The salumi were sliced gossamer thin - cleanly flavored and nicely complimented by the sweet onion marmalade. The quality is evident here, unadulterated by much else. I couldn't help but think about the next Vetri-Spence-Michaud venture however. Vetri-wich anyone? (Craftwich ... Grahamwich ... you get the drift). 

Fried Cauliflower [$9]
Pecorino, salsa rossa

The GF has really been in the mood for cauliflower so we decided to get this dish. The cauliflower were crispy, yet incredibly meaty and not greasy at all. It's definitely well-seasoned with the salty pecorino and salsa rossa adding extra layers of flavors. It was a good dish to alternate with the sweetness of the salumi and onion marmalade or the creamy-vinegar juxtaposition of the bufala mozz.

Arancini [$12]
Short rib ragu, truffle pecorino

Starting to make our way into some of the pastas, we had to get the arancini. These were deftly made - crispy on the outside, yielding to a creamy interior filled a surprisingly mild pit of cheese.

In fact, at first I thought it was a bit bland, but it completely made sense when paired with the bed of well-seasoned short rib ragu.

Pappardelle [$16]
Smoked guanciale, parsnips

For our first pasta proper, we went with the pappardelle. The GF was sold on the parsnips and for me, how can I say no to guanciale? The fresh pasta had bite and was not drenched, but perfectly coated in the sauce. I like to imagine that Chef Christina was the one tossing the pasta, but either way it was delicious. While the GF was begging for more of the parsnip, the pork jowl/cheeks were incredibly smoky and offered the heft and salt that each bite richly deserved.

Spinach Lasagna [$16]
Veal bolognese

We were getting full at this point, but this next dish came out, compliments of the kitchen again. While the previous pasta was great, clearly the chefs know how to order better than I. In fact, I may just have the kitchen order up my entire next meal. Basically, if you see spinach-pasta dish on a Vetri menu, you should probably just order it. I mean, we all know about the incredible spinach gnocchi at Vetri Ristorante, but this lasagna certainly holds its own. In fact, you could taste each individual layer that at one point I thought I was eating a large raviolo, infused with delicate spinach flavors. The exterior was so deftly crisped that it was like eating well-seasoned fried cheese with the veal bolognese adding an extra layer of sweet savoriness. Definitely a favorite of the night.

Chicken Spiedini [$22]
Fruit mostarda 

The chicken spiedini is oft-highlighted on Yelp. So going with my fellow Elite brethren, the GF and I opted to get this final course. The chicken skewers had a nice char, imparting some smokiness while maintaining moistness. But the star for me? The candied fruit mostarda was an amazing complement along with the well-dressed bitter arugula. Again, the whole, people. Totally greater than the individual sums.

Fried Brussels Sprouts [$8]

Along with the chicken, the kitchen sent out this final complimentary dish - fried brussels sprouts. Honestly, the GF and I were debating whether to get this or the cauliflower. And despite being overly stuffed at this point, we couldn't help but enjoy these. So deftly fried, these almost resembled baked kale in texture, though with more of a smoky taste. The lemon-salt seasoning was aggressive, but delicious. This dish and a drink. What more do you need for happy hour?

At this point, it was time to say no mas, though we fully expected to come in and complete our meal with our favorite dessert here - the tartufo. In fact, we had leftovers which went to some strangers around Broad Street since we were on our way to see Cirque du Soleil - Michael Jackson at Wells Fargo.

In any case, this was another incredible meal at a Vetri-family restaurant and definitely affirms Amis as one of my favorites. It starts with the food and high-quality ingredients, but it certainly extends to the service. Lindsay was great, regaling us in the occasional anecdote about the chefs experimenting with their food. In fact, the entire staff from the runners to the bussers were on point. Despite the relaxed atmosphere, plates and silverware were changed for every course.

It's also nice to see that despite the expansion of the Vetri empire, Chef Brad Spence was in house. Vetri partner, Jeff Benjamin was making the rounds as well and I'm pretty sure I saw the Director of Operations, Nancy Green-Benussi checking in on things. The fact that I recognize the people that help make the wheels turn for the organization makes me realize I am waaaay to into all things Vetri. Or at the very least, it highlights the fact that the omnipresent staff are there to ensure that every aspect of your dining experience is surpassed. Perhaps this is why everything Vetri and company touches turns to gold. 

FTC Disclaimer: A portion of this meal was comped by the restaurant. The opinions in this review are mine alone, and therefore, unbiased.

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