Restaurant Review: Amis

Amis

Chester and I have been trying to go out, sans Little B, once a month. We were excited that we were able to plan one of our date nights to coincide with a recent visit from Old Original Big Bridget and Bill (Obviously, I’m still working on a new nickname for my BFF. None of these seem to fit).

I sent Bridget a list of restaurants to choose from for our double date and she ranked Amis, as her first choice. I was pretty excited, because I have been dying for more of Marc Vetri’s signature handmade pasta ever since our visit to his namesake restaurant over the summer. Fortunately, Amis provides the opportunity to do so at a considerably more comfortable price point than Vetri.

Amis is Vetri’s take on a Roman trattoria. As such, the menu is relatively simple and the vibe is pretty casual. The interior of the restaurant, however, was more industrial than homey, with modern, wood and metal furnishings, an open kitchen and dim lighting. I loved the pink vases filled with daisies, that provided pops of color on each table.

While sipping our drinks and snacking on olive oil focaccia bread, we perused the menu to select a few small plates to share. Our server recommended one or two per person, but we erred on the smaller side to save room for pasta and dessert.

The arancini, served in a short rib ragu, was the universal favorite. The inside contained creamy aborrio rice and cheese and was fried to a crispy, but not greasy, golden brown.

The next two appetizers were simple, but solid. I would have eaten the avocado bruschetta with pecornio and pancetta with a spoon, but avoided embarrassing myself and my friends by spreading it on the accompanying toast like a normal person. The third dish, creamy buffalo mozzarella, with sweet persimmons and earthy chestnuts was an unexpected, but pleasant combination of flavors.

Our final dish, the sweetbreads, were a real “miss” for me. I know that many people can’t get past what they are (animal pancreas or thymus), but I have had them before and actually liked them. When they are prepared correctly, they have a mild flavor and soft interior. Unfortunately, Amis’ sweetbreads seemed tough and had a greasy aftertaste, as if they had sat in the frying pan for too long.

That’s okay, though, because it gave me more room to overdose on carbs.

My pappardelle pasta, with guanciale and parsnips, was reminiscent of a carbonara. The cured pig cheek has less salt, but more fat than, pancetta, which is traditionally used in the dish. The fat acted as a substitute for egg, in coating the pasta and lending a rich flavor to the dish.

Bridget chose the bucatini with almond pesto and jalapeno. The heat from the peppers, the creamy sauce and the crunchy almonds worked surprisingly well together. I don’t think I’ve ever tasted anything like it. Bill had one the evening’s specials–rotini with chicken. I didn’t try it, but it looked delicious.

Chester was torn between an entree and a pasta dish, so he asked the server if the cacio e pepe was available as a smaller pasta course. She ended up bringing us a complimentary, full portion of the dish so that we could all share it. It’s such a basic dish–just pasta, black pepper and pecorino cheese–but the key is getting the balance of the ingredients just right. Too much pepper overpowers the dish and too much cheesy makes it kind of gluey. Amis got it just right.

For those looking for something other than pasta, there is a short list of “secondi” or entree dishes, featuring seafood, steak, pork and lamb. Since he ended up with a smaller pasta portion, Chester also ordered the roasted lamb shoulder. Pan searing gave it a crispy exterior, but kept the inside tender. It was simply seasoned and very tasty.

How we had room for dessert after all that food, I’ll never know. But, I’m glad that we didn’t pass it up!

I chose the semifreddo sundae, which was another example of a seemingly random grouping of ingredients complementing each other perfectly. The semifreddo, with its buttery flavor and mousse-like texture, was topped with salted almonds, a sweet orange marmalade and a slightly bitter chocolate sauce, for an interesting combination of flavors and textures.

If I go back again though, I’m definitely copying Bridget and ordering the belgian waffle. The waffle itself was light and airy and topped with a generous helping of nutella, vanilla semifreddo and hazelnuts. I mean, really. You just can’t go wrong with that combination.

waffle

Stolen from Bridget’s Instagram

Although we had an early reservation, the restaurant filled up rather quickly during our visit. I’m not sure if this is because our visit took place over Valentine’s Day weekend or if it’s always that way on a Saturday night. Either way, service was on point throughout our meal. Our server checked in with us frequently, but allowed us to take our time with each course.

Small plates range in price from $8 to $14, pastas from $14 to $16 and entrees from $20 to $26. I think this is in line with most restaurants in the neighborhood, but the nice thing about Amis is that dishes are sized pretty well for sharing, so that might be an option if you are budget conscious. You could easily make a meal out of a couple of small plates or a small plate and one of the pastas, too.

Portions were extremely generous and we all left completely satisfied. And, as always, it was wonderful to spend time with great friends, who don’t mind that we’ve turned into old people and like to eat at 5:15.

Restaurant Review: Vetri

vetri_sign

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The weekend before Little B made her entrance, Chester and I celebrated our impending parenthood (and last date night for foreseeable future) with dinner at Vetri.

It was pretty amazing.

So, although I can barely remember what day of the week it is lately, let alone what I ate for dinner nearly a month ago, I feel I should at least tell you a little bit about it.

In 1998, Marc Vetri opened his 30-seat namesake restaurant in the townhouse that was once home to Le Bec Fin (yesterday was actually the restaurant’s 15th anniversary, according to an article on Philly.com). The rustic Italian fare, handmade pastas and spectacular service made him a fixture in the Philadelphia restaurant scene and one of the most lauded chefs in the country.

A couple of years ago, Vetri did away with its a la carte menu and now only offers a chef’s tasting menu. Dishes change with the seasons, with the exception of  several signature items. When I have chosen the tasting menu at other restaurants, dishes have usually been served family-style or everyone in the group is served the same dishes. But, Vetri does things a bit differently.

The menu, which is divided into four sections (fish, vegetable/pasta, di terra, meat/poultry and dessert) is presented in advance and diners can make special requests for dishes that they would really like to try, as well as those they would prefer to avoid. In addition, each person is served a different dishes during each course. I liked this approach because personalized the experience a bit more and allowed us to try about half of the items on the menu.

Our meal started off  with stuzzichini (hors d’oeuvres), including olives, cured meats, a rich foie gras pastrami on crostini and raw vegetables with balsamic crema.

After that came 12 other dishes, including:

Lorighittas with Frutti Di Mare: Delicate ring-shaped pasta and a simple white wine sauce allowed fresh scallops and squid to be the stars of this dish.

Conchiglione with Lobster Dumpling: Shell shaped pasta, stuffed with perfectly poached lobster, in a light tomato broth.

Corn and Tomato Tortino: A tiny pie, filled with a creamy corn custard and topped with roasted tomatoes. Both vegetables were perfectly sweet, just as they should be in the summertime.

Sweet Onion Crepe with Truffle Fondue: This dish had the best parts of French onion soup–caramelized onions and melted cheese–without the broth. It’s no wonder this is one of the signature dishes that always remains on the menu.

Spinach Gnocchi with Brown Butter: Another signature dish, these dumplings have a more intense flavor than the traditional potato variety. But, they had the melt-in-your-mouth quality that is essential to good gnocchi.

Almond Tortellini with Truffle Sauce: This dish was one of my special requests and is another signature menu item. The earthy truffle sauce provided a savory balance for the sweet ricotta and toasted almond combination (although if the sauce were omitted or something with a sweeter flavor profile was used instead, this could be an amazing dessert pasta!).

Agnolotto with Pistachio Vellutate: Agnolotto is basically a rectangular ravioli. All of the elements of this dish–the toasted pistachio filling, the sweet, julienned zucchini that was perched on top of the dumpling like a salad and the creamy sauce worked very well together.

Piedmontese Carpaccio with Figs: This was the only dish that I didn’t try because raw meat and pregnancy don’t go together. Sad face. Chester enjoyed it though!

Duck Stuffed with Chorizo: I’ve mentioned before that Chester has bad luck when it comes to ordering duck in restaurants, as it always seems to be overcooked. Not so in this case. Vetri’s duck was cooked to a perfect medium rare, with a pink center, and got just a little kick of spiciness from the chorizo.

Roasted Lamb: This was Chester’s special request. Like the duck, the lamb was cooked to a perfect medium rare. The cut was so thick that it looked more like beef. The use of Nebrodini (a type of oyster mushroom) and tuma persa (a sheep’s milk cheese) made this a very earthy dish.

Capretto with Stone Milled Polenta: I was a little apprehensive about this dish when the server set it in front of me. The only time that I’ve ever tried goat was at an Indian restaurant and I thought it was terrible. Fortunately, Vetri’s version had none of the gamey taste and tough texture that I remembered from that experience. It wasn’t my favorite dish, but at least I ventured out of my comfort zone and gave it a second chance.

Dessert: The sweet portion of the evening started with a plate of miniature pastries and cookies and a small scoop of mango sorbet. I could have easily been satisfied with that, but of course couldn’t pass up the chocolate polenta soufflé. It had a rich, pudding-like texture, that I’m sure I would never be able to recreate at home. Chester had the Paris-Brest, a puff pastry filled with a light, hazelnut cream. It was a little too sweet for him, so I ended up finishing most of it (I’m not sorry).

All of the dishes we tried were outstanding, but a month later I still find myself thinking about the pastas at Vetri. They were all incredibly light and the accompanying sauces were so delicate. In addition, the other ingredients in each dish (seafood, vegetables, cheeses, etc.) were thoughtfully chosen, so that all the elements in each dish complemented, rather than competed with, each other.

As you might expect at a fine dining establishment, portion sizes for each dish weren’t huge. But, they were just the right size for the two of us to share. In addition, many of the dishes, particularly the pastas and the meats, were on the heavier side. So, we definitely left feeling full and satisfied.

Service was impeccable throughout our meal. The servers explained all of the elements of each dish as it was presented and were very knowledgeable about how everything was made. They checked in with us regularly throughout the meal, without being overbearing or rushing us through the courses. At the end of the night, we were given ricotta cookies and a copy of the menu to take home as souvenirs. I tucked the latter item away so that we will be able to remember how we celebrated Little B before she was born.

At $155 per person, Vetri probably isn’t going to be in your regular restaurant rotation (if you have even deeper pockets, you can opt for one of the wine pairings, which start at $90). But, the combination of delicious food, exceptional service and intimate atmosphere makes it worth experiencing at least once, particularly if you have a special occasion to celebrate.