A Rare Italian Symphony

PHILADELPHIA --- As I sat feasting a few weeks ago at a corner table in the small and intimate restaurant run by Marc Vetri, I could have closed my eyes and believed I was in Italy. A passionate Italian cook would be alone in the kitchen, cooking his heart out, creating a rare symphony of fare that depended upon great ingredients, an inborn knowledge of how they must go together, and a palate that would out match anyone’s in a heartbeat.

That is Vetri in a nutshell: A 10-table, three year-old restaurant in the center of Philadelphia, the creation of young Marc Vetri, an American who worked in Italy, New York and Los Angeles before settling here in 1988. The next year he was named one of the 10 Best New Chefs in America by Food & Wine magazine. And the phone has not stopped ringing since.

When Italian food is great, it can’t be beat for simplicity, sensitivity, sensibility to ingredients. Vetri gets all this, and he also understands balance. His pasta dumplings are delicious on their own, but it is as if he understands exactly how much sage (the herb that kill a dish with its pungency) and how much pancetta will create a perfect balance that ends up in pure, warm, ethereal pleasure.

I felt the same exactness of measured ingredients in his spinach gnocchi, teamed up with shaved smoked ricotta and brown butter. Butter you say? But somehow, here, with perfect balance, the butter was an essential, can’t leave it out ingredient. Not butter for butter’s sake, but because it HAD to be there to make the dish the star it is.

The lightest touch of all was his ricotta with fresh fava beans with just a few drops of walnut oil, making for a refreshing mid-meal pause.

But I would go back again and again just to same his perfectly roasted spring baby goat, served with simple parslied fingerling potatoes. What is it about goat? So subtle, tender, pure when roasted to a crisp. There is that touch of wild about goat meat that makes one feel daring as a diner. And you palate says thank you for not offering it the same old tastes, day after day.

1312 Spruce Street (between Broad and 13th Street)
Philadelphia, PA 19107
Tel: 215 732 3478
All major credit cards. Open for dinner only, Monday through Saturday. About $50 per person, not including wine or service.