Saturday, February 25, 2012

Le Virtu

Wade's Take:

Finally, we found a place with a dessert on par with the rest of the meal!

February's dining discovery led us to Le Virtu, a south, south Philadelphia Abbruzzesian restaurant. Yes, I think I made up the term Abbruzzesian (gesundheit!). Basically, it's a place defined by such descriptors as high-end, local, organic, grass-fed, house-made, rustic, etc.. Here's the thing, though - Le Virtu actually lives up to all of those things.

The space is pretty comfortable. The restaurant is divided into a few areas, with the back dining space abutting the kitchen (separated by open shelving cubbies filled with dishes). We had a nice hutch behind our perfectly sized table. The hutch helped to give the space a living room kind of feel.

Typical of most higher-end Italian menus, dishes were arranged for multiple courses, with pretty high price tags attached to each. We are fairly good at mapping out a caloric plan by now (except in the case of Uzu), and focused on three appetizers and three first / second courses. Plus, of course, the plan was designed to leave room for dessert.

We'd heard stories of Le Virtu's salumi plate, and couldn't pass up this opportunity to try it. It was great. There were loads of options, with most being cured directly below us in the basement. One of my favorites was a spreadable salame (ventricina teramana) with orange zest, garlic, rosemary and chili. The bresaola was also great.

I'll let Jess describe the special octopus starter, which we also enjoyed.

Apparently, the oliva all'ascolana was rated as a Philly Mag top appetizer in 2011. Truly? I thought it was a bland, meat-part mash that lacked interest and flavor. Every so often, a taste of the olives would peak through. Most of the time, all I tasted was the bland porchetta.

One of our entrees included a special pasta - chestnut flour gnocchi served with braised wild boar. It could have been fantastic if it hadn't been laden with salt. It almost made us think it was a mistake in the kitchen, or that no one had tasted the dish.

The brodetto was an excellent entree, though. This seafood stew had a rich, pure red pepper and tomato broth that sung with spice. Lump pieces of monkfish, shrimp (head-on) and calamari floated atop the broth, which I sopped up with chunks of bread.

And then there was dessert. We had eyed up a few other dessert courses that were delivered to other tables. We settled on the chocolate semifreddo and the olive oil apple cake.

The apple cake was a multi-textured cake with wintry spices and chunks of stewed, pressed apple. There was a crumb topping, which was then topped with walnut brittle and a marscapone thyme cream. That would have already made a great dessert, but it got even better with the addition of a vanilla gelato. I would say this dish was one of the best restaurant desserts I've had in at least a year. That's saying a lot for a guy that leans towards all things chocolate.

Three out of four happy sweet teeth.

Jess’ Take

I love our Friday dinner – especially those where we are able to secure a babysitter.  We all have a feeling of “ah… thank God for the weekend… and this fantastic glass of wine.” Le Virtu is a great spot for one of these Friday dinners.

After enjoying a glass of amazing Cabernet, the salumi plate just made me happy. In addition to the ventricina teramana that Wade mentioned, the duck prosciutto and bresaola were something I was thinking about long after we left.

In addition to the cured meats and olive all’ascolana starters, we also chose an octopus special to round out the course. While the sauce it was served with is escaping me, it really played second fiddle to the octopus, which was incredible tender. And also a good portion size for a starter – plenty for all three of us to share.

And now I get to do the dish I’ve been thinking about for days – the agnolotti alla porchetta, which is described on the menu as a braised porchetta-filled agnolotti, sage, butter, black truffle and crushed amaretti. This dish was an amazing combination of salty and sweet. The taste of the black truffle hits the tongue first in the front, and then the sweetness of the amaretti lingers on the back of the tongue, long after you’ve swallowed. It was amazing.

Wade was right in describing the gnocchi with braised wild boar as too salty. The dish probably tasted great about 6 hours earlier, but by the time we ate it, was just too salty to be enjoyable.

And dessert… ah dessert. Worth the calories for sure (and believe me – this dinner was a RICH one). The chocolate semifreddo was perfection and the olive oil apple cake wasn’t far behind. We left this dinner full and happy (emphasis on both).

La Virtu, we’ll be back.
3.5 out of 4 homemade salumi plates.

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