Monday, April 20, 2009

Vecchia Osteria, Newtown

After just saying that I don't like to write about food... That's all this post is about. When Cathy and Nora came home Atlanta yesterday, we came up the Blue Route because of heavy traffic on I-95 through Philly -- which meant Nora got euchred out of dinner at Memphis Taproom, which she'd been banking on. I told her we could pick up Thomas and try the new place in Newtown.

But when we got to the Green Parrot, they told us all they could serve was pizza, "because our computer system is down." ??? Thomas and I had just had pizza for lunch, the women had just had it the night before, so, rolling our eyes, we left. ("Computer system"? Did all the paper and pens break?) Now where? Damn, damn, damn. "What about the place by the barber shop, where Sal's was?" Cathy says. I growled, uncomfortably. Sal's had been the third place to fail in that space in 12 years, and the space just felt cheap and cold to me, and I didn't want to go back. Cathy leaned on me. I gave in.

I'm glad I did. Vecchia Osteria was clearly a different proposition. Some love had obviously been spent on decorating the place, we were greeted warmly as soon as we entered, and one of the first things they asked was if we wanted some wine. VO doesn't have a liquor license...they are a BYOB, and they also make use of a loophole in The Almighty Liquor Code: they can't sell wine, but they can give it away. I enjoyed a small glass of Barbera d'Alba, ordered, and decided to run home (15 minute round trip) for a bottle of Cat Amongst the Pigeons Nine Lives Shiraz I'd picked up (not available from the PLCB, by the way). When we got back and our waiter had opened and poured it, we were both wishing I'd picked up a few more bottles: it was a luscious thick purple, full of layered fruit and a wonderful balance of acidity and sweet.

I stuck to water with my carpaccio, though. I'm used to getting shaved ribbons of beef criss-crossed on a plate with some kind of dressing artfully drooled across it. This was much more rustic: cloud-tender ravelings of beef relaxing on a lively-fresh bed of arugula dressed with lemon juice (which was why I held off on the wine) and olive oil. It was the very best carpaccio I've ever had. The kids both tried it, and -- wonder of wonders -- split an order of mussels, and liked them.

Main course? Papardelle with rabbit and marinara sauce. Just wonderful, silky with fresh oil and cheese, the rabbit firm and flavorful, the pasta with the perfect bite. And the wine was wonderful with this. Cathy had the rigatoni with bacon and artichokes, Nora had spaghetti with clams, and Thomas had the sauteed salmon with mussels. He was not wild about his, but I think that was more a Thomas thing; the bite I had was good. Cathy's was excellent, and Nora's was a textbook example of how to meld simple ingredients into something beautiful.

We split a small piece of ricotta cheesecake and two small cannoli. Our waiter offered me sambucca (!), but I reluctantly declined. I'd had enough, and the wine was warming me enough.

A great meal in totally unlooked-for surroundings. We'll definitely be back.

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