Diet Vetri Tastes Like The Real Thing

amisfront

With all of the Jose talk around town, we figured we would chat a bit about a guy who just doesn’t get enough of the spotlight: Marc Vetri. ‘Narf.

Seriously though, Vetri is a bit polarizing around these parts, evidenced by showing up twice on our list of the best and worst of 2009. First, for a disappointing trip to his eponymous eatery, and second, for taking home the trophy for Dish Of The Year from the always ass-kicking Osteria.

So what could his latest, Amis, hold for us? Click on through and follow us after the jump.

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Navigating the streets of Trastevere on the way to my bartending gig was one of the highlights of living in Rome. I would never take the same path twice, turning down whatever nook and cranny led to Via Luigi Santini, where The Full Moon catered to locals and Yanks alike. I slung crappy beers (Heineken, George Killian’s Red) and made crappy well drinks. But I got to meet nice folks and watch American football, albeit at 4 in the morning. So sad that the bar that introduced me to the world of good wine is now a Goth Club. The economic downturn has hurt us all. Allora.

When Amis was billed as the ‘Roman Trattoria’, I was excited to see what that meant to Signor Vetri. His namesake is white tablecloth elegance, Osteria is open and grandiose, and Amis, is, well…not. It’s a little bit of Osteria with hightop tables tossed in the mix, and a row in front of the open kitchen. A slightly raised seating area is just beyond the front door, and the bar, which is no-reso, can hold around 20 diners. Return trips will change the experience each time, because of the severe differences in sectional seating. Unlike Parc, which couldn’t deal with the ‘sectioned’ dining room layout concept, Amis gets a thumbs up for handling this situation perfectly. The lighting is dim, but not gloomy, even with the heavily tinted windows that face 13th street. Did it remind me of classic Roman Trattorias? No. But it sure is pretty.

Sticker shock befalls anyone not prepared for a Vetri meal. It’s pressure for both diner and chef alike. Cooking to astronomical expectations can’t be easy, and for the diner, they are forced to contend with their own palate if they don’t like what’s being served.

For this reason alone, Amis is what we’ve all been waiting for. The prices are spot-on perfect, as I walked from dinner with a $54 tab for five dishes, including a meat dish, a pasta dish, a contorno, a salumi, and a hefty antipasto. A reasonable price point puts all involved more at ease, and creates a very relaxed environment. I didn’t leave hungry either.

Brad Spence helms the kitchen, but Marc was there in all his green gingham apron-wearing glory. We hope this is a continued trend, as Spence has been doing much of the cooking at Vetri in recent months, and it was the gruesome site of a serious culinary trainwreck during an ’09 visit. Word ’round the campfire is that Vetch spends most of his time at Osteria. We also weren’t the only folks disappointed by the obvious backslide in quality at 13th and Spruce.

Amis, though, was a different story. If what was put before me is an example of what Spence is capable of, then the future of Amis is very bright. Diners will continue to frequent Vetri for the name and prestige alone, but a place like this needs return visitors and regulars.

The only part of my meal I did not enjoy was the onion focaccia they plop down while you mull your options. The caramelized onions were way too sweet and I found myself drinking water after each bite. Luckily this wasn’t foreshadowing for the rest of the dinner.

I started off with a nice hefty piece of Fried Lambs Tongue, lightly touched with a salsa rossa. The fry on the meat was only a tad too thick and dominated the sauce a bit. I would have liked a little more tongue flavor and a touch more sauce. The rosso was light and a little spicy, with an earthy funk that would have played so nicely with more tongue-y goodness. But nonetheless, I will definitely order it again and it should be a big seller at $7.

I chose the Coppa salumi for course number 2, and actually was surprised at how well the honey and hazelnuts kicked down the fattiness of the meat. Spence drizzles the honey and nuts on one end of the coppa so you can decide how much you’d like to distribute over each slice. As a side note, going back to the rosso after having the honey was a real eye-opener. It brightened up the sauce immensely and made me like the tongue dish that much more.

The Bucatini With Pork Jowl and Chili Flakes was a huge hit. Yes, Vetri is in his wheelhouse with pasta, but so what? It’s awesome, and you get a serious amount of it too, insted of 3 ravioli and a dollop of finish. The chili flake was so light that it never really burned, but hummed along with the percorino in a wonderful concert of Roman goodness. In Italy, the pork jowl was always referred to as guanciale, and is a very underappreciated cut of meat Stateside. I was happy to see it ‘make the cut’ at Amis. This was the best dish of the evening.

The Cottolette Alla Milanese was spot on. Pounded and tenderized to perfect thickness, the completely even fry made the meat very juicy and tender. The only accoutrement was a slice of lemon, which the cut needs, but nothing more. The sidecar of bitter greens and paremsan was pretty, but didn’t add much to the dish, nor did it take away or overshadow the simplicity of it all.

Service at Vetri’s restaurants is always friendly and efficient, and it’s the same deal here. My water was refilled every 7 minutes (I drink like a camel), and our server only stopped by once to get in our business about how everything tasted. Service is what always takes the most work in terms of timing with the kitchen, but I am convinced Vetri breeds his own servers from some divine mother plant. They rock, and that’s that.

After a disappointing trip to Vetri last year, and so many great visits to Osteria, I was glad that my first visit to Amis went so well. Spence showed up big and tossed out really tasty dishes at a price point that is beyond reasonable for a Vetri joint. Get there soon. Reservations are hard to come by and will only get worse when the good reviews from real critics start pouring in.

Amis, 412 S. 13th St. (215) 732-2647

– Collin Flatt


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