Been a while since my latest entry, but I cut myself some slack, due to my ridiculously hectic January thus far. Not a whole lot of cooking because I've been away from home so much; not a lot good eats on the road either, much to my chagrin. Calling college basketball games for ESPNU doesn't always lend itself to visiting cities/towns that warrant much raving (see: Murray, KY; Pine Bluff, AR). But, there are exceptions... to wit, my dizzying travel schedule dropped me in Philadelphia the past 2 nights... and I was NOT going to pass up the chance to get some real eating in!
In search of a quick but rewarding meal the first night, I defaulted to the Ruth's Chris that was directly across Broad Street from my hotel. I ate at the bar, as I am wont to do (dining alone lends itself to that). To my surprise and delight, the bar menu featured half-price foodstuff for happy hour. Let me tell you: this is a GREAT DEAL! I went with an unorthodox take on Surf & Turf: Voodoo Lobster and the BBQ sliders, thinking it would equal the amount of food I would normally get for an entree... I was wrong.
The lobster dish is reminiscent, if not a bit elevated, conceptually, of Bonefish Grill's Bang-Bang Shrimp: lightly breaded and fried, and smothered in a spicy-sweet-savory sauce. A nice-sized portion, and very tasty, although the amount of sauce comes dangerously close to overpowering the natural goodness of the lobster.
The Sliders are a revelation in proportion. Three on a plate, as is usually the case, but the size of each was more than substantial; almost intimidating! The sheer sight of the them drew gasps from my barfront brethren. I could've done without so much of their housemade BBQ sauce, because I chose this option for the simple fact that I wanted steak with ordering a steak! In that respect, it was on point. Generous portions of sliced filet, accompanied by sauteed mushrooms and onions. Tasting this takes you to a place somewhere in between Memphis BBQ and -- well -- a steak house!
The best part?
With a Yuengling and a glass of Pinot, my bill came to a shade over $20. TWENTY DOLLARS!!!
That, my food friends, is bang for your buck...
Last night, I was determined to make it to a resto I've long heard of and aspired to visit. Full disclosure, I was politely turned away from Vetri the first night, which made me ever more determined to fulfill my desires on this night.
It all works out for the best, as I had great company to join me this time: Adrian Branch, my broadcast partner, came with me after our game. The first thing that strikes me is how small Vetri is. Took away the sting of not getting a table the night before, to be honest! It is dimly lit, welcoming, and warm inside. Like a single floor of a converted brownstone. The decor is casual, yet also gives off an air of rustic sophistication, which, I soon found, is an apt way to describe Marc Vetri's food.
I'd read all about how this is the best resto in Philly -- some even going so far to ask the question "Is this the best Italian restaurant in the country?" -- so I was more than ready to experience it firsthand. My budget prevented me from going overboard, which would've been so simple to do, what with everything on the menu sounding so tempting. AB and I both went with the Red Wine Bucatini with Stilton and Pickled Vegetables and House-Cured Speck.
A dish like this can change the way you look at pasta. The bucatini, it's long strands roughly swirled on the plate, were perfectly al dente. As a matter of fact, this is what I will now hold up as the standard-bearer of what al dente truly is. When I search my mental food rolodex, this is the visual I will recall for the term from now on. Fresh, with a bit of chewiness to it, giving you all the more precious few moments to savor it in your mouth. The cheese and pickled veggies added a nice tartness to the overall flavor, and the speck was the ideal accent to add texture and the saltiness I love in a pasta dish like this (I benefited from an extra helping since Adrian passed on his!). Impeccable all together, with the whole being the sum of these delectable parts.
We splurged on dessert (I blame AB; he has a weakness for the sweet stuff). I made the tough choice, but went with my gut: Apple fritters with a Cinnamon Ice Cream Milk Shake. Again, the presentation was outstanding, and it taste was even better. Powdered sugar dashed atop of delicate stack of lightly fried apple rings, still warm inside. Next to it, a shot of frothy, creamy milk shake. So much fun finding all the ways to combine the two components on the plate: I dipped. I dunked. I bit. I sipped. Well worth the extra calories.
A memorable meal to say the least. I am in no position to argue that this is Philly's finest. I salute Marc Vetri for his vision, his integrity, and his honesty with his ingredients. It is clear that his is a clear and simple vision of Italian food... and it scores on all levels.