Wednesday, August 12, 2009
There are only a handful of countries which can produce better Gastronomic delights, than the Italians. Actually, in my opinion, there is only one, France. But that's my palate and many would disagree. Italian Americans are very proud people and they love to share their food with the rest of us. Just go to any town center and look around. I'll bet you see a dozen Italian influenced restaurants.
So what's the problem? The problem, my dearest reader, is that there is a distinct lack of great Italian restaurants in the US. At least on the East Coast. Yes, there are a lot of Americanized versions of what some wealthy Italian American, sitting in his Ivory Tower thought was genuine Italian tastiness. But I have never eaten anything in the US that even comes close to what I had in Italy. Restaurants like La Finestra, in Siena and little "hole in the wall" joints in Montepulciano produced some of the most amazing meals I have ever had the pleasure of eating. And let's not forget pizza in Naples. Restaurants like Pizzeria Trianon are plentiful in Italy, but in the US, trying to find something of similar quality makes me want to pull my hair out.
However, I thought I nailed it with Osteria in Philadelphia. Owned in part, by the visionary chef, Marc Vetri. Chef and owner of the respected, Vetri, also in Philadelphia. I've never been to Vetri, but it has an incredible reputation and I was excited to try out his sister restaurant. My excitement was quickly extinguished by the rude waitress, who seemed to care less about what we ordered and more about her apparently, extremely valuable time we were wasting. The restaurant was almost empty when we arrived at 5:30pm. The only people there were the dozens of staff they employ. Way too many staff. In fact, as we were eating we had swarms of staff hovering around us, refilling glasses, taking plates, standing behind us and just generally, being bored and trying to look busy.
The Olive Oil and Bread were quick to come out, so were our Woodford and Cokes. Little did I know that those two food items would be the best part of our meal at Osteria. We shared the Trentino Pizza with Gorgonzola Dolce, Mozzarella, Grilled Figs and Speck. Besides the charcoal taste it wasn't bad. The Figs were the dominating taste and they made the Pizza. But, for the most part, it simply tasted of burnt toast. For my main, I chose the Veal Tongue with Salsa Rossa. Although, this dish lacked serious flavor as you would expect from Tongue, it had a nice Pate component to it, which I actually enjoyed. One of the diners had what looked like 4 or 5 deflated Dumplings. But in actuality, they were Chanterelle and Bone Marrow Ravioli with Bitto Cheese. That's what the menu said it was anyway. I'm pretty sure the Chef went down the street and got some Chinese Take-Away and made a plate of deflated Dumplings and drenched them with Olive Oil. My fellow diner, Simple Foodie, couldn't even finish it. I ate what he couldn't and it was even hard for me. And I am, what my beautiful wife calls, an Olive Oil Fiend.
On the opposite side of the table, my wife looked to be enjoying her Pork Neck Cannelloni with Tomatoes and Basil. A gorgeous looking dish. But there was something very, very wrong with it. The size. The entire dish consisted of two tiny pieces of Cannelloni, each about the size of a Spring Roll. This must be one hell of a dish for $16. I'm afraid to say, it was not. It was a seriously mild dish with not enough Basil, nor Tomatoes, nor Cannelloni for that matter.
When we finished our meal we all dove into the rest of our Olive Oil and Bread like hungry Depression Era children. Scooping up whatever sauce was left on our plates. This was the first time in years that I had felt undernourished and underfed while spending that much on a meal. There was simply no excuse for it. Yes, we didn't get the full experience and order a Secondi. We simply chose an Antipasti and Primi with an accompanying Pizza. However, I have done this on many occasions in Italy and I have never walked away feeling completely unsatisfied. I truly hope Marc Vetri decides to make his dishes slightly larger, his tastes slightly more complex and his waitstaff slightly friendlier. And Marc, get rid of some of the staff, you don't need all of them. Osteria is not The Four Seasons. I felt like I was eating inside a Wasps nest.
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