Marc Vetri's continually expanding mini-restaurant-empire has provided us a few opportunities to experience his food (even though he himself isn't doing the cooking), both at Amis (two visits) and Alla Spina. His namesake restaurant is too far off the charts for our lowly grad student budgets (don't mind all those other tasting menus we manage to do...), and Osteria seems like the quiet little sister that lives on the outskirts of town. Always getting high ranks in any citywide contest, it doesn't seem to get quite the blog/internet hype that the others do. Nevertheless, over the years we keep hearing bits and pieces of praise, so while our padre was
footing the bill visiting, we headed on over.
The whole "North Broad" thing was new for me (J went to Alla Spina, in the same general complex, without me), and I'm still confused about it as a dining destination. I'm all for expanding good eats to all corners of the city, but this one wouldn't be at the top of my list. However, the location suits Osteria very well, as it's able to spread out and provide spacious, warm, multi-room, almost suburb-like dining (imagine!). We were seated at the long spread of tables inside the main doors, with a view of the kitchen, the bar, AND the greenhouse-like "patio" dining room. Our waitress was quick, cheerful, and efficient- service in general is not something I can imagine finding fault with, as it seemed the staff to guest ratio was 1:1.
The bread basket is diverse and enormous, which is always something I wish I knew ahead of time-- it might change my food order! Long, thin, crispy "breadsticks," fresh, fluffy foccacia, and an earthier, drier semolina-herb loaf that was just right for dipping into fresh olive oil. With a dinner of pizza and pasta coming up, we tried not to devour the entire thing.
We took a bit of a risk by ordering the salumi plate ($14). A risk? But Vetri does awesome charcuterie, right? It does seem to be one of his specialities, but the salumi plate at Amis was disappointing (three small portions for the same price!). Osteria's salumi plate is an excellent way to start the meal- six portions of house cured meats, each representing a different part of the pig or a different preparation style. Our server explained each of the types of meat, each more delicious than the last.
The proscuitto di Parma stole the show though- ribbons of salty smooth, melt-in-your-mouth meat... vegetarians, you're missing out. The meat plate is served with a little bowl of artichoke mostarda- we had to ask our server about it since it was so intriguing. Chunks of caramelized artichoke lay in a thick, syrupy sauce with a hint of mustard and spice. The flavors are developed using a long, multi-step boil/rest/concentrate/repeat procedure- sounds like a lot of work, but well worth it.
Osteria is extremely well known for its pizzas-- and as one of them won this years Philly Magazine Best of Philly: Pizza award, they're not messing around. One big caveat though: there are two pizza styles at Osteria, the "tradizionale" and the "napoletane." The main focus is on the former, with six options, including the prize winner. These pizzas have a thin, crackery crust, and to us, no matter what you put in the middle, it's not going to be good. Since we're lovers of the thick, chewy crust (see: Nomad, Pitruco), we ordered the Marinara, napoletane style ($18).
A truly lovely pie, with sauce bursting with sweet summer flavor sharpened by slices of fresh garlic, and a crust anyone can love. However, I'm still a bit boggled at the price tag- I know it's a nice restaurant, but this pizza has no pricy toppings. How is it more expensive (alright, only $1 more but still) than the octopus-topped pizza?
As we wanted our meal to be a good reflection of the complete menu, we knew we needed to choose a pasta dish. To make our decision-making easier, our waitress let us in on the fact that the kitchen will do half portions of all the pasta dishes, giving us the go-ahead to order two halves. My choice was the herbed bufala milk ricotta fazzoletti with rapini and chili ($16/whole). I had to ask our waitress what style pasta this was-- it means "handkerchief" in Italian, as it is shaped from large squares of thin pasta, folded over the soft cheese. The texture was similar to lasagna, but the flavors of the rich cheese and the sharp rabe-like rapini made it unfamiliar. My favorite dish of the night-- next time I'm getting a whole plate to myself!
J took charge of making the other pasta decision (yup, leaving our dad with no say), quickly choosing the chicken liver rigatoni with cippoline onions and sage ($16/whole). When voicing her opinion, he seemed a bit wary- this was basically a bowl from his nightmares (apparently liver and onions brings back bad memories). Of course, we all dove right in on its arrival-- the chicken livers are well chopped and bring a rich, meat-on-steroids flavor to each bite of chewy homemade pasta. If you ever thought you couldn't love liver, try this dish.
The artichokes in the mostarda didn't quite satisfy our craving, so an order of artichokes alla giudia hit the spot ($10). Instead of the soft, boiled Roman-style artichokes we're used to, these babies (no, literally) are first blanched to soften the outer leaves and then essentially deep fried. The result: a chewy mouthful with a bit of the bitter flavor remaining. Not a healthy vegetable side, but a really fun snack.
|Someone please teach us how to photograph fried food.|
At the end of the meal, as full as I was, I didn't want to leave. The lively, comfortable atmosphere, a well-paced, delicious meal, and of course, the wonderful company, provided a feeling of contentedness that is rare in this stage of my life. A final two comments-- on my way to the restroom, I noticed a sign in one of the kitchens stating "Treat it like it's yours and someday it will be," quoted from the American restaurant God himself: Thomas Keller. It seems that each employee at Osteria does just that, and whether or not this prophecy will come true for any of them seems almost irrelevant to them- they're doing their job, and doing it well. And lastly, in one of the restrooms, a framed case displays a young child's schoolwork, a sentence-by-sentence (fully illustrated with stick figures) description of a meal at Osteria. This love letter from a six year old to his wild boar ragu melted my heart and helped solidify this spot as one of the top in the city.
640 N. Broad Street