I had wanted to try Vetri Cucina in Philadelphia for a long time, ever since a friend mentioned it. On a recent trip to the city to celebrate our wedding anniversary, my husband and I finally had our opportunity. For the average person, Vetri will be viewed as insanely expensive; however, for a foodie like me, it provides a whole evening of entertainment, with a price comparable to a ticket to a Broadway show.
We booked the first seating, at 6 pm. It took almost three full hours before we walked out, just in time to make room for the second seating.
Recommended strategy: Let the chef choose for you unless some items turn you off.
Favorite dishes: Sweet onion crepe with truffle fondue; proscuitto cotto: almond tortellini with truffle sauce; fig caramelle with gorgonzola; porcelet chop; pistachio flan
Cuisine: Upscale Italian
Most surprising: The building once house the renowned Le Bec Fin.
Dress: Business casual to urban chic. No formal dress code.
Décor: Old World
Price: $165 per person, excluding alcohol and gratuity.
How Vetri Cucina Works
Unlike at most restaurants, you don’t order à la carte. Instead, you commit to the full seven-plus courses. When our server presented us with a menu listing that night’s offerings, she advised us to choose 4-5 antipasti, 4-5 pasta, 2 secondi plates, and 2 desserts — and then to share. Rather than selecting our menu items ourselves, however, we asked the chef to choose for us. I requested only one specific pasta dish, the fig caramelle with gorgonzola, because it intrigued me.
Like most upscale restaurants, Vetri Cucina begins a meal with amuse-bouches. To our delight, they also offered a refreshing alcoholic spritzer aperitivo. Our amuse-bouches included a goblet of vegetables served with a solidified balsamic dip, foie gras on toast, duck breast slices, and a layered savory pastry. While everything tasted wonderful, the foie gras, melting slightly on the warm bread, tasted like heaven.
Out of the six listed antipasti, the chef chose five for us: Dayboat scallop crudo; sweet onion crepe with truffle fondue; octopus with pork belly; proscuitto cotto; and bresaola with melon. My husband and I agreed that the sweet onion crepe and the proscuitto cotto stood out. The only dish I wasn’t wild about was the scallop crudo. The preparation did not elevate the flavors the way I had hoped.
Perhaps not surprisingly given the Italian cuisine, the housemade pasta courses were the highlights of our meal. The Swiss chard gnocchi were delightfully soft and fluffy, and the almond tortellini with truffle sauce tasted subtly of nuts and truffles. I most loved the fig caramelle with gorgonzola, a pasta shape twisted at the ends to resemble wrapped candy. Although the paparadelle with guinea hen ragu and the fettuccine with chanterelles were good, they did not rise to the level of the others.
Since the previous courses had arrived at the table in small tasting portions, I didn’t expect the secondi, or main course, to be full-size. But it was. My porcelet chop was thick and juicy, perfectly cooked. The chef chose the goat (capretto) for my husband. My husband blanched a little when he realized he had goat in front of him, but he liked it once he got past the idea of it. The goat meat fell off the bone, much the way beef short ribs can.
Bread, Bread, and More Bread
Each course came with its own bread. The bruschetta was a foccaccia-like bread with grape tomatoes baked into the indentations. The regular foccaccia had a dark, charred-looking top that may have been balsamic vinegar. And the sourdough was an excellent example of a peasant bread, soft and slightly sour. I ended up just sampling each bread for fear that I wouldn’t be able to finish dinner otherwise.
Our server brought three desserts to the table: a pistachio flan, a chocolate polenta soufflé, and a corn panna cotta with peaches. The pistachio flan won out as the best of the trio; its green interior spilled hot onto the plate. The chocolate polenta soufflé came in a close second, with the panna cotta a distant third.
Dessert was followed by more dessert: tiny pastries on a glass dish. Our server even sent us on our way with a pair of chocolate-layered biscotti.
I wouldn’t expect anything less than impeccable service at a restaurant of this caliber. That said, I also expected something more formal. The servers were relaxed and friendly, never intrusive but always nearby if we needed something. They helped create an atmosphere that made us feel at home. Even a self-conscious diner not used to elevated dining would feel welcome at Vetri Cucina in Philadelphia.
What You Should Know
Vetri Cucina offers two seatings, one early and one late, with slightly staggered times. Because dinner includes multiple courses, expect to spend 3 hours or so. The restaurant has a full bar and a good wine list. They serve dinner every day, and lunch on Fridays only.
Even though the restaurant supposedly accepts reservations through Open Table, we found it impossible. Instead, call the restaurant.
Located at 1312 Spruce Street, Vetri Cucina occupies the building that once housed the world-famous Le Bec Fin.
Wow. A review can only attempt to do this restaurant justice. Over the years, I’ve had some memorable meals, and the one at Vetri Cucina ranks up there as one of the best. Foodies should delight in the leisurely parade of excellent and innovative dishes. If the price makes you flinch, remember to consider how much tickets to a play or concert can cost. Here, you get three hours of dining entertainment and leave with a full stomach.
If you plan to visit Philadelphia . . .
Check out my blog entry on the historic district of Philadelphia. If you find yourself in that part of the city, you might want to reserve a table at Buddakan. Check back for an article describing things to do in Center City as well as reviews of hotels and other restaurants.
Debbie Lee Wesselmann