Marc Vetri’s Rustic Italian Food Takes Over Harry’s Pizzeria
In case you haven’t heard, as if I wasn’t announcing it through all forms of social media, I won tickets to a pop up at Harry’s Pizzeria this past Wednesday. I wrote one paragraph for Miami New Times’ Short Order page and, in exchange, experienced rustic Italian food as prepared by the great Marc Vetri, the James Beard Award-winning chef. As if unlimited amounts of champagne and pasta weren’t enough, I was also lucky enough to meet many great chefs, like Vetri himself, Andrew Carmellini (The Dutch MIA & NYC, Locanda Verde) and, of course, Michael Schwartz (MGFD & Harry’s). But, more than meeting great people and eating great food, the night also offered a peak into a world that people scarcely see, one full of camaraderie, understanding and friendship. After all, few dare venture into the restaurant kitchen, a space that is tough, competitive and demanding. Of those few, even fewer reach success like the aforementioned chefs.
My strict policy for the evening was to try it all and to accept everything that I was offered. As soon as I sat down, champagne started flowing and my glass never reached empty. This in itself helped me follow my policy, since unlimited amounts of wine always makes chowing down surprisingly easy. The meal also began with a signature cocktail, a mix of tequila, Campari, Lillet Blanc and lemon. Between this and the champagne, I began blushing after only ten minutes into the dinner.
Waiters graciously bounced from table to table, offering a selection of pizza (ricotta and zucchini), tuna ricotta fritters and “Sal’s old school meatballs” to accompany the cocktail. As if the name weren’t enough of a signal, the meatballs were prepared the way meatballs should always be prepared. Antipasti included salumi, durum focaccia, eggplant caponata and an endive celery salad. I kept trying to focus and pace myself, but one bite all together of salumi, a spoonful of caponata and a slice of the focaccia was enough to lose control. The refreshing salad lightened up the otherwise heavy antipasti, but let’s be serious, when Michael Schwartz gives me tickets to a pop up dinner by Marc Vetri, I’ll just take a bite of the salad and leave the rest of my appetite for meatballs and, well, more meat.
Primi included veal cannelloni with an earthy porcini bechamel and spaghetti with clams, cooked in parchment. I had never tried spaghetti cooked in parchment, but have prepared pesce al cartoccio several times. This parchment method allowed the pasta to suck in the flavor of the clams. For secondi, we were offered tuna tagliata and roasted lamb shoulder with roasted potatoes. Keeping with my mission of trying everything, I enjoyed a bite of the tagliata, but my love was reserved for the tender roasted lamb.
I can sum up my thoughts of the dessert by just naming one of the options – grappa jelly. Erase those blurry memories of college years with jello shots. The grappa jellies, petite squares dosed with sugar and punched with boozy flavor, were a rare, fragrant combination of a confection and a strong drink.
Everyone received a signed copy of Vetri’s cookbook, Rustic Italian Food. At the end of the night, Marc Vetri personalized my book and signed, “Emily, enjoy cooking”. After a night of talking to award-winning chefs, I felt humbled and inspired. If there is one thing I got from that night, apart from a lot of wine and food, it’s confidence that I love the world behind the swinging kitchen doors. Yes, its rowdy, competitive and, as many chefs will tell you, not at all like it has been romanticized in the media, but it is also rewarding like nothing else. Since I believe we should always be humble and accept the advice of those who have succeeded, I will enjoy cooking as Vetri wrote to me. But, from now on, I might be cooking with stacks of grappa jellies next to me, in case I ever need to take them in as my new muse.