At Vetri, both intimacy and ambiance are vital elements in the dining experience. Imposing wooden beams in shades of burnt caramel line the ceiling to lend the space a sense of warmth and history. Located on Spruce Street in Midtown Village, this classic brownstone has housed Vetri since its inception in 1998, and holds 40 coveted seats upon its beautifully restored wooden floors. A small lobby opens onto a larger dining room; and within minutes of entering, Vetri’s atmosphere infused our meal with a feeling of ease and comfort. While the kitchen remained hidden, the aromas of creative Italian cooking were impossible to keep under wraps, heightening the anticipation until our server arrived.
Incredibly attentive service punctuated the meal at various points. While the wait staff visited our table frequently, the servers were exceedingly discreet so that the serenity of our dinner was never shattered by hovering waiters. We were also impressed with the level of service supplied by the sommelier, who seemed to take a personal interest in crafting a dining experience with purpose and poise.
A prime example of Vetri’s above and beyond service came in the form of our customized course-by-course wine pairing. After a few minutes of indecisiveness over the wealth of menu choices, our table was no closer to making a selection among the broad spectrum of dishes. Our waiter graciously suggested that we might like to enhance our dining experience by combining half glasses of wine with each course under the knowledgeable guidance of Vetri’s sommelier. I was thrilled to have such a personalized approach to the menu offerings and we were not disappointed by the resulting pairings. For diners interested in choosing their own wine, the restaurant boasts an award-winning wine cellar containing over 500 varieties to choose from. The sommelier informed us that while the wine list focuses on Italy, featuring over 15 regions from the country, Vetri also showcases hand-selected bottles from Spain, Slovenia, France, and California.
We began with the Foie Gras Pastrami accompanied by a pungent Fruit Mustard, and were quickly seduced by the dish’s subtle texture. Vetri successfully avoids the tendency of some restaurants to prepare foie gras with a heavy hand, producing a consistency that is excessively dense rather than pleasantly hearty. I was impressed by Chef Vetri’s ability to whip the foie gras into a serving of substantial yet delicate goose liver. Coupled by an exquisite glass of Sauterne, the interplay between the incisively sweet wine and the fragrant foie gras was truly a revelation. The Sauterne unearthed a new depth of flavor specifically designed to complement the delicious fattiness of liver.
Intrigued by the chef’s use of everyday ingredients in unusual dishes, I also ordered the Golden Sweet Onion Crepe with White Truffle Fondue. Everything about this particular appetizer, from the preparation to presentation, was refreshingly unexpected. Firm and gelatinous, the crepe itself resembled a frittata in texture. By retaining a delightfully malleable quality, the dish held up easily against the white truffle fondue’s strong flavor. The two textures mingled seamlessly to create a taste all its own as buttery undertones gave way to the more acidic notes of sweet onion. Because we were interested in sampling a diverse cross section of the menu, both the Foie Gras Pastrami and Sweet Onion Crepe were ideal to round out the appetizer course.
Vetri’s attention to detail and commitment to accommodating its diners was also evident in the pasta course. Once again, choosing amongst our menu favorites became difficult and our waiter informed us that the kitchen would be happy to halve any pasta dish and adjust the price, portion, and wine pairing accordingly. The offer was unnecessarily generous and truly contributed to a well-proportioned meal. We chose two half-dishes of pastas to usher in the entrée, eventually settling on the Chestnut Fettuccine with Wild Boar Ragu and the Pappardelle with Lamb Ragu and Pecorino Al Tartufo. The chestnut fettuccine arrived nestled among heaps of wild boar, which fit nicely with the broad lines and considerable heft of the pasta. Slightly gamey in flavor with musky overtures, this dish is nicely suited for meat lovers looking for a foray into uncommon territory. Chef Vetri prepares the wild boar using a modified red sauce with intricate seasoning, demonstrating his creative abilities against the backdrop of traditional Italian fare. The chestnut flavor came through in mild notes throughout the dish and never overpowered my palate.
Vetri’s Pappardelle with Lamb Ragu and Pecorino Al Tartufo was no less impressive. This dish relies on “truffled cheese” to deliver its delicate balance between sweet lamb and tart sauce. A sumptuous offering, the pappardelle was lighter in texture than the fettuccine, and did an expert job sustaining the prolonged flavor complexity so often lacking from pasta dishes. I lingered over the lamb’s tenderness and relished the minimalist sauce that kissed the pasta strands without threatening to drown the dish. Complimenting the pastas was a half glass of Chateau Neuf de Pap originating from Provence and bringing with it a rich, red character that truly opened up the smoky meat notes in our dishes.
The entrees, listed under the menu’s Carne section, are limited in number but expansive in flavor. From the three choices, we began with the Roasted Ribeye Cap with Sofrito and Trumpet Royale Mushrooms. This dish surprised me with its pungent sauce, which breathed life into the beautiful array of mushrooms that lined the dish. I was interested in the dish’s unusual cut of beef and discovered a new world of taste in Vetri’s labor-intensive ribeye cap preparation. Requiring a skilled butcher, the ribeye cap is distinctive for its rich marbling and hearty texture, both of which were reflected in the chef’s preparation. Capitalizing on the flavor-filled beef cut, the rest of the dish was simple allowing the meat to shine through.
We also ordered the Roasted Capretto with Soft Polenta. Another unusual main course, the roasted capretto showcases baby goat accompanied by a velvety bed of rich polenta. The smooth textures of corn meal contrasted well with the capretto’s tangy flavor, adding another dimension to an already layered dish. Similar to lamb in sweetness, I was enthralled with the baby goat’s succulence. Though Chef Vetri used a roasting preparation, the dish had a braised quality that suggested slow simmering to produce exquisitely tender meat.
For dessert, I chose to indulge in Vetri’s signature post-dinner offering: the Chocolate Polenta Soufflé. With an undeniably decadent flavor, this dessert satisfied my sugar craving for days afterwards, and was a wonderfully rich exclamation point on the end of a finely tuned gourmet meal. Paired with a half glass of Riesling, the Chocolate Polenta Soufflé struck a powerful semi-sweet note that kept the richness from dominating the dish. In addition, we were met by a mahogany cheese cart that graces the lobby, beckoning us to save room at the end of our meal. I savored the triple cream Saint Andre Brie and Valdeon Bleu, while sipping espresso. The pairing’s rich, indulgent character expertly summarized Vetri’s emphasis on surprising the palate with a handful of quality flavor combinations.
At Vetri, the Chef’s approach is summed up perfectly by a quote that lines the bottom of each menu page like a quiet but commanding mantra: “The more simple the preparation appears, the more attention to detail is needed, as the margins of error increase.” The words are attributed to Fulvio Pierangelini, but the sentiment is pure Marc Vetri. This commitment to meticulous preparation and thoughtful cuisine shines through everything the restaurant creates.