Restaurant Review: Nomad Roman Pizza

After Little B was born, everyone told us that the newborn stage was the best time to take a child to a restaurant. This is why most of our Saturday outings now revolve around lunch or brunch. For now, Little B will generally sleep for at least an hour or two after she has been fed and settled in her car seat/stroller, which gives us plenty of time to enjoy a meal and a walk around the city.

We stick to casual places (B has been to Sabrina’s so many times that she already has a regular table) and try to go when it’s not too crowded (i.e. early in the day), just in case B decides to have a meltdown. When it was warmer, we sought out places with outdoor seating; it’s just a lot easier when you don’t have to steer a bulky car seat/stroller combination through narrow restaurant aisles.

This past Saturday was a bit too cold for dining al fresco, so we decided to check out Nomad Roman Pizza in Midtown Village. I have been on the hunt for a pizza like those that I fell in love with on my first trip to Rome nine years ago, so I was hoping that this much closer to home location would fit the bill.

Nomad Roman is the second Philadelphia restaurant from the team behind the Nomad Pizza truck. Its focus on hand rolled, thin-crust style pizza sets it apart from other restaurants in the a neighborhood that specialize in the thicker Neopolitan style.

The menu consists of twelve kinds of pizza that run the gamut from traditional (such as the Margherita to fancy (like the Truffle Pecorino). Each one is made to order in a copper faced, wood-fired brick oven, using ingredients from local farms.

Our server noted that each pizza generally serves one person, but that one could be sufficient for both of us if we also opted to order a salad. Since the salads sounded pretty basic (house, Caesar, arugula, etc.) we decided each order a pizza so that we could sample both the red and white varieties.

In terms of style, Nomad hits the nail on the head. The crust was thin and crispy and the center of the dough was paper thin. Somehow though, it managed to stand up to the ample amount of toppings that went all the way to the edge of the crust. The red sauce on my arugula pizza struck the perfect balance between sweet and acidic. Chester’s Truffle Pecorino pizza was quite rich, due in part of the perfectly poached egg that oozed over the entire pie.

nomad roman pizza

The only thing that was a bit different was that the server sliced the pies as they were delivered to the table, whereas pizzerias in Rome serve pies unsliced and they are eaten with a knife and fork. In this case, though, I was happy to be able to eat with one hand, as Little B woke up from her nap and I ended up holding her in my other arm throughout lunch.

b pizza

Pizzas ranges in price from $11 to $19. This is a bit more expensive than other restaurants in the area (such as Barbuzzo and Zavino) that have pizza on the menu, but the pies are a bit larger and the ingredients, although very simple for the most part, are of the highest quality. Homemade dark chocolate from Nomad’s Hopewell, NJ location was a welcome surprise at the end of the meal.

Although nothing can replace the experience of enjoying pizza in Rome itself, Nomad’s pies come pretty close to replicating the flavors of one of my favorite cities. I’m glad to have it close by, because it might be awhile before I make it to Italy again!

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.

 

On the Road: Seattle

l_c cary park

With all the baby prep we have been doing during the past few months, the summer has just flown by. Needless to say, I’ve had less time to focus on blogging, which is why I’m just getting around to telling you about the last leg of our trip to the Pacific Northwest. Better late than never!

Anyway. Our last stop was Seattle, which is easily accessible from Victoria, via ferry or airplane. Since the first option can take three hours or more, we opted for the quick 25 minute plane ride instead. The day that we made the trip also happened to be our third wedding anniversary. Spending a bit of extra money on a plane ticket was worth it, since we were able to arrive with plenty of time left in the day to start exploring and enjoying the gorgeous weather.

Our first stop was the Chihuly Garden and Glass museum, which showcases a collection of work by internationally renowned glass artist Dale Chihuly. It is located in the Seattle Center area, which  is home to several museums, theaters and other entertainment venues and the Space Needle, so you can easily spend a day in the area doing several different things if you want.

I can easily say that this is one of the most beautiful museums that I’ve ever visited. The vibrant colors,  grand scale of the works and the way that the space is organized—so that you feel like you can almost walk through the installations instead of just looking at them—made me feel like I was walking through someone’s crazy dream or an adaptation of Alice in Wonderland.

I’ll just let the photos (which I could not stop taking) speak for themselves.

blue chihuly 2

 

chihuly boats 2

chihuly flower ceiling

chihuly red and yellow

glass garden_space

glass house

 

blue glass garden

Regular adult admission is $19, but you can also buy a $26 ticket that allows you to visit twice in one day, so that you can view the exhibition during the day and night. We couldn’t take advantage of this because we had anniversary dinner plans, but I imagine that seeing the gardens, in particular, all lit up at nighttime is amazing.

After that, we headed up to Kerry Park to take some photos of the Seattle skyline. Getting to the park requires a climb up a pretty steep hill. Since I was carrying around the extra weight associated with growing a person, we decided to cheat and took the bus up to the top (but, we did walk back down!).

cary park

When doing the research for our trip, Chester came across Seattle Free Walking Tours (SFWT), a non-profit organization that operates on a “pay-what-you-wish” model. Jake, SFWT’s founder and our tour guide for the day, started the organization after taking a trip through Europe where tour guides frequently utilize this system. SFWT is sustained by tips and donations and although a minimum tip of $15 is suggested for the guide, you can certainly tip more or less, depending on your own assessment of how valuable the tour was.

We ended up taking two tours on our second day in the city–The Pike Place Market Experience and Seattle 101–and thought that they were more interesting and informative than some of the paid tours that we have taken in our travels. Jake was a funny and engaging guide who was clearly passionate about his city and wanted everyone else to love it too. He knew all of the major facts and lesser known tidbits about all of the sights included on the tours.

The Pike Place tour started bright and early at 9:30 a.m., which gave our group some time to have the Market almost all to ourselves for awhile.  The Market covers nearly nine acres and offers just about every kind of food and handmade craft imaginable. It was nice to have a guide to help us navigate through its winding alleyways and staircases, and of course to make sure we got to try plenty of samples along the way!

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At the original Starbucks

market

Checking out the gum wall near the Market theater

Checking out the gum wall near the Market theater

Our next tour, Seattle 101, took us through the downtown corridor, to historic Pioneer Square and finally to the waterfront.

I pretended that this ferry was taking all the Grey's Anatomy people to work.

I pretended that this ferry was taking all the Grey’s Anatomy people to work.

skyline

For our last two days in town, we rented a car to explore some of the neighborhoods a little bit further out from the city center. Our first stop was Fremont, an offbeat neighborhood referred to by its residents as the “Center of the Universe.” It is home to vintage clothing and gift shops, bookstores and music stores and quirky public art, including the Fremont Troll, who lives under a bridge.

fremont

 

Getting up close and personal with the Fremont Troll

Getting up close and personal with the Fremont Troll

While we were in Fremont, we took a tour of the Theo Chocolate factory. Theo was the first organic and fair trade chocolate producer in North America and it was fascinating to learn the ins-and-outs of how cocoa beans are harvested, roasted and milled in amazing chocolate bars and other gourmet treats. A one-hour tour costs $7 per person and includes plenty of chocolate samples!

Suited up for the factory tour

Suited up for the factory tour

 

Chocolate making equipment

I would like a chocolate pipeline in my living room.

 

Next, it was on to Ballard, where we spent some time at the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks and Gardens. The locks allow commercial vessels and recreational boats to pass through Lake Washington to Puget Sound, while keeping the fresh and salt water from mixing. It was a pretty cool process to see in action.

Boat exiting the lock

Boat about to exit the lock

Seattle’s food scene reminded me of Philly’s, in that it has an eclectic mix of offerings, from high-end restaurants run by Michelin-starred chefs to hole-in-the-wall neighborhood favorites. Obviously, it’s been a few months so some of the precise details of what we ate are getting a bit hazy, but we got to enjoy several amazing meals at the following spots:

Tilth (1411 N. 45th Street) is a cozy farm-to-table restaurant, located in a remodeled craftsman home, where we decided to celebrate our anniversary. Executive chef and owner Maria Hines, a James Beard award winner, changes the menus with the seasons. Five or eight course tasting menus (including vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options) are also available. Some of the highlights from our tasting included a refreshing English pea soup, the light-as-air ricotta gnudi in a lemon-parsley cream sauce, and the Wagyu beef, which was cooked to a perfect medium rare and served with creamy farro.

Paseo, with locations in Fremont (4225 Fremont Avenue N) and Ballard (6226 Seaview Avenue NW) looks like little more than a shack from the outside, but it has quite the following among locals and tourists alike for its amazing Caribbean dishes. We climbed up Fremont Avenue, braved a 30 minute wait in line and had to pounce quickly to snag one of the four tables in the tiny space. It was totally worth it. Most of the well-deserved fuss is over Paseo’s sandwich offerings. Crusty French baguettes are stuffed to the point of bursting with tender, roasted meats, jalepenos, onions, lettuce and a creamy cilantro mayo. At around $8.50 each, this is one of the least expensive, most satisfying lunches we’ve had anywhere. Make sure to stop by an ATM beforehand, as the restaurant does not take credit cards, and grab some extra napkins before digging into your lunch!

The Book Bindery (198 Nickerson Street) is worth a stop, just because it is so beautifully designed. It’s housed in, you guessed it, a former book bindery that overlooks a canal. I’ve decided that when I have my dream home someday, it will include a library that looks just like this restaurant–white wainscotting and marble, soft grey paint and fabrics and huge bookcases filled with vintage books built into the walls. Sigh.

As if the interior design wasn’t enough, the food was outstanding and beautifully presented as well. The hearts of palm salad that I chose for an appetizer had every kind of spring vegetable imaginable, from fava beans to radishes to carrots (and a couple of more that I’m probably forgetting) for an interesting mix of flavors and textures. It was dressed simply, with just a squeeze of lemon, to keep things light. Good thing, too, because the cavatelli that I ordered as a main course was a much heartier dish. In addition to the pasta, it included a generous helping of wild mushrooms and was served in a foie gras emulsion. I’m not normally a fan of foie gras, but in this case, the rich, fatty flavor and silky texture was the perfect complement for this earthy dish.

Most of the time when we travel we grab a quick cup of coffee and a pastry at a cafe before starting out for the day. But, we had heard good things about breakfast at Toulouse Petit Kitchen and Lounge (601 Queen Anne Avenue N.), located right across from our hotel, so we decided to make time for a more leisurely breakfast on our last day in the city. The restaurant brings the flavors of New Orleans to the Pacific Northwest. Make sure to get an order of the beignets, which are served with a coffee infused anglaise sauce for dipping.

benigents

Chef Tom Douglas has built quite the empire in Seattle, and we ended up at three of his restaurants during our time there. First, we met my friend Nellie for lunch at Etta’s (2020 Western Avenue), his seafood restaurant near Pike Place Market. The shrimp roll–piled high with sweet bay shrimp on a buttery, toasted roll–was perfect after our morning spent walking around Seattle.

Next, up was pizza at Serious Pie (401 Westlake Avenue N or 316 Virginia Avenue). Pizza topping combinations ranged from the traditional margherita and mushroom varieties to the more unique, like the clam and pancetta pizza that Chester chose (and deemed a bit strange, in a good way). I liked that the crust was almost like a foccacia bread–chewy and on the thinner side, with lots of air bubbles to keep it light.

Our final meal of the trip was at Lola, which draws inspiration from all over the Mediterranean region, from North Africa to Greece. As usual, we found ourselves in a situation where we wanted to try everything on the menu, so we opted for the “Big Dinner” tasting menu instead. At $50 per person, this worked out to be less expensive than ordering a la carte and we got to try dishes from every section of the menu.

I could have made a meal out of the first course alone, which featured a selection of six different spreads and grilled pita (my favorites were the roasted sweet red pepper and the fava bean and garlic varieties). But, I paced myself so that I could enjoy the Greek salad, squid and chicken kababs, and the highlight of the meal–thinly sliced leg of lamb in a rich sauce. I felt bad that we could barely touch the loukamades–Greek donuts served in a honey sauce and topped with walnuts–for dessert! Next time!

So, that wraps up our trip! It’s crazy to think that when we go on our next adventure, we’ll be taking an extra person along with us. But, that won’t be until she can drag her own suitcase through the airport (I actually spotted a kid on this most recent trip with one of these and I’ll be getting ET one when the time comes!). Until then, I guess we’ll be sticking close to Philly!