Of all the amazing and highly-rated restaurants that I have visited in places like New Orleans, Philadelphia, New York, Chicago, Florence and Beijing, I have yet to find a restaurant, where every single bite that I took during my meal was a clear definition of what I hope for my heaven to be like (or taste like). That is until May 26, 2010. For my 3rd wedding anniversary with my husband, we decided to take our celebration to the highly-acclaimed, Vetri Ristorante, located just east of Broad Street in Center City Philadelphia. Knowing how challenging it is to get a reservation in chef and owner, Marc Vetri's intimate 40-seat trattoria, we called well in advance, and still only had the option for either a six o'clock or nine o'clock seating. We opted for the early reservation to leave plenty of time for a relaxing meal and after dinner drinks. With much anticipation of this special dinner, I found myself studying Vetri's website. At first glance, even my adventurous palate was a bit intimidated by this menu but the more I studied the more I realized that I actually wanted to try everything.
After rushing to get ready for dinner after work, we hopped a cab to Center City on a hot and sunny Wednesday evening. I decided that we should exit the cab early to avoid traffic and death, walking the rest of the way. We made it to 13th and Spruce Streets finding the humble little wooden Vetri sign in front of what appears to be a traditional Center City town home. Walking into the entryway, we were immediately greeted and brought to our perfect little table for two right by the large front window-a pretty good score being that only 2 tables in this 40-seat restaurant are near the windows. This was just icing on the cake because any seat in Vetri would have been just as good. I felt as though we were entering someone's lovely home with all-wood floors, a decor of rustic elegance, and the smell of fresh Italian cooking from the kitchen.
Our meal began with the "Foie Gras Pastrami with Fruit Mustard" and the "Artichoke Salad with Arugula and Parmesan". The foie gras pastrami, sinfully decadent, melted in your mouth like butter while the richness was cut by the sweet fruit mustard. The artichoke in the artichoke salad, cut in thin long slices, maintained a bite as if al dente and was dressed ever so lightly to highlight the flavor of the artichoke, the peppery bite from the arugula and the sharp nuttiness of the shaved Parmesan. After the surprises of flavor and textures from our first course, we knew this dinner would just keep getting better and better. And it did.
Our second course included a dish that may be the dish that I would request if I knew it was my last meal on this earth. Heaven on a plate, an appetizer that could spread world peace is none other than the "Spinach Gnocchi with Shaved Ricotta and Brown Butter". These gnocchi were unlike any I have ever had. Large, fluffy, soft pillows of flavor dance in your mouth as you taste one of these. It is as if Vetri met up with Paula Deen for a minute and she told him-more butter please. Well, he listened and butter, that is-brown butter (and plenty of it) makes the already phenomenal gnocchi into something orgasmic. I kid you not-I am thinking about his gnocchi right now and could almost bring myself to go to Vetri this weekend and order nothing else but the spinach gnocchi.
With all of the magnificence of the spinach gnocchi, there are still four more courses that deserve much attention. Also with our second course came the "Tempura Soft Shell Crab with Bitter Greens Slaw and Red Pepper Cream", an exemplary and perfectly fried soft shell crab, which was enhanced by maintaining the freshness of the crab without overpowering it with too much tempura. The red pepper cream added the perfect sweetness and tartness to compliment the rich crab and bitter greens. Each bite of the soft shell crab had the ideal ratio of crispness on the outside with a juicy burst of flavor on the inside. After the gnocchi and the soft shell crab, we were getting a little bit full but had to suck it up for three simply sublime half courses of house made pastas.
Our three pasta dishes arrived at the same time but my first bite was from the "Fazzoletti with Duck Ragu and Gaeta Olives". The Fazzoletti, rectangular sheets of pasta, similar to the shape of a Lasagna, constisted of just the right thickness to hold the saucy duck ragu. Incredibly tender and succulent pieces of duck almost melted in with the sauce, pasta and fresh Parmesan, while the bold Gaeta olives, small oval black Italian olives, infused a surge of salty, tart flavor.
The next bite was from the delicate dish of "Pea and Robiola Agnolotti with House Cured Prosciutto". The best part about this dish for me was that I forgot the ingredients that were in it, so with each bite my palate was exploring these flavors trying to pinpoint what they were. Notes of sweetness and nuttiness came from the peas and Robiola, a soft-ripened Italian cheese, as the buttery tenderness from the Agnolotti, a form of Ravioli seen in the Piedmont Region of Italy, brought a luxuriousness all enhanced by the salty bite of the house-cured prosciutto.
The final pasta of the evening was the "Ramp Ravioli with Ricotta and Lemon Zest". These Ravioli, firmer and more defined than the Agnolotti, were stuffed with ramp, a kind of seasonal spring onion, along with the creamy ricotta cheese. The ravioli was garnished with a garlicky-onion infused oil and lemon zest making this pasta a savory masterpiece.
After this feast, we had to forgo the dessert although we felt a bit guilty being at this divine restaurant and not partaking in dessert. There is always next time and for me there must be a next time. Next time at Vetri, if I don't go for the chef's tasting, which can either be a 5 course or a 7 course feast, then I will certainly be ordering a full portion of Spinach Gnocchi and dessert! If you plan to be in the Philadelphia area or live in the area, then I can recommend with out a doubt of uncertainty that you will have one of the most memorable meals to date at Vetri.
1312 Spruce Street
Philadelphia, PA 19107