The goal for the evening was to find some good Italian food, being that we were in Philly and all, within walking distance. When I told Nate, the manager at the Fieldhouse, that, the first place that he came up with was Osteria. But given that it was a Saturday, he figured it would be difficult to get in so he recommended Amis Trattoria which was around the corner. He said it was also a Vetri restaurant, but that it was a little smaller, a little more New Age, and we would have a better shot getting in there. The thing that I didn’t know is that Vetri isn’t just some local chef that own a couple Italian joints; he is Marc Vetri, the 2005 James Beard Award winner for Best Chef Mid-Atlantic, and his partner is Jeff Michaud, the 2010 winner.
The walk to Amis took about 15 minutes from the hotel. I had to keep encouraging my colleagues to go as they were ready to just stop anywhere, but I wanted to push on due to the conviction of the recommendation. Finally, we saw the simple red brick building with the sign, and made our way in. The restaurant was definitely crowded and we didn’t have a reservation. We asked if there was a place for four, and they offered outside (which we weren’t excited about given that it was 85 and humid even at 9 at night). Just as we were about to acquiesce, a group got up from the bar, and we quickly took their seats.
Finally settled in, we each placed a drink order, and then started looking through the menu. There were so many things that looked so delicious, that I did what I’ve been doing a lot lately which is ask the bartender for her recommendation (as a side note, I’m coming to really like this approach, and am working on a post that is more in depth about getting a great meal at a new place). Without a hesitation she said the veal cannelloni with a porcini bechamel. I asked what would be number 2 and she said that it was the abbacchio con patate, which was the lamb and potatoes. After much deliberation I ended up going with the lamb. I also ordered the mixed salumi plate as an appetizer.
While waiting for dinner, we were brought a couple dishes of bread. I think that there is a pretty strong correlation between the quality of the dinner and the quality of the bread before dinner. And this was excellent bread; a little bit of salt on the top and a nice soft and flavorful inside, with the requisite excellent Italian Olive Oil. I quickly downed one piece and reached for the second as the salumi plate arrived. All of the salumi was made on site, and the plate featured some things that I hadn’t tried. There was the more traditional salami with a bit of balsamic pickled onion, a pork liver salumi with a rhubarb compote, and a coppa with a hazelnut honey. Of those, I think that the liver was a stand out, being incredibly tender and almost creamy with a bit of sweet and tartness from the rhubarb. And the double bonus is that the people I was with weren’t nearly as excited, so I got to eat pretty much all of it!
After finishing the salumi and another couple pieces of the excellent bread, I was ready for some meat and potatoes. The bartender explained the cooking process to me which unfortunately I didn’t write down., and so I’m still a little vague on the prep process. But it was definitely a multi-step, multi-day process. I believe it started with a brine. It was then braised, and finished on the flattop to give it a little bit of a crunch on the outside. It was also lightly seasoned with some salt, pepper and rosemary. And it was excellent. Up until this evening, my two favorite lamb preparations were the lamb chops at Mercat a la Planxa in the Blackstone Hotel in Chicago (which I just this second found out was a Jose Garces restaurant) and the lamb porterhouse at the Mesa Grill in Las Vegas. The abbacchio was definitely right up there. It was fork tender, but finishing it on the flat top gave it an unexpected and delicious crunch. It managed to remain moist with no sauce. And the potatoes were a great, simple, but delicious accompaniment. It wasn’t a huge plate of food, but was so good that I didn’t need a huge plate to be satisfied.
At this point I was definitely full but thought that it wouldn’t hurt to take a look at the dessert list. Again, I was able to narrow it down to two choices, the Tiramisu and the Rhubarb Strawberry Tart. I ended up going for the Tiramisu while one of my colleagues went for the tart. Usually when you have Tiramisu it tends to be a heavy cream and soggy lady fingers. This was like a cloud of deliciousness, so nice and sweet and fantastic. The best I’ve ever had without a doubt. But as good as the Tiramisu was, the Rhubarb tart was twice as good (at least). It was sweet and tart with a homemade whipped cream. It was the type of thing that no matter how full you were, if that was put in front of you, you would eat until it was gone. Yep, I was jealous.
In the end, everyone walked out very happy and satisfied, and not too light in the pocket (only $50 per person after tip!). This was probably the best Italian that I’ve had…in fact, it’s not even probably. This was definitely the best that I’ve ever had. And even though I was given a hard time for the long walk, I felt redeemed when there was a unanimous feeling that it was worth the walk. Plus it gave me a little extra leeway for picking restaurants for the rest of the trip!