Marc Vetri: La Dolce Vetri

With wild accolades from foodies far and wide and plans afoot for a third restaurant, Marc Vetri has surpassed Georges Perrier as the city’s most influential chef. But can a quiet, speech-impaired guitar-hero wannabe really cement Philadelphia as America’s next great food city?

THE NEXT STOP is almost certain to be another Italian place. Vetri and Benjamin came very close to signing a deal to move into a boutique hotel being developed at 17th and Arch, running a restaurant, a rooftop cafe and the hotel’s room service. But the deal dragged and dragged.

One Saturday night, just before dinner service was about to start, I sat in the offices upstairs at Vetri and watched Benjamin try to tone down an e-mail his partner had written, but not yet sent, to the hotel’s developer, complaining of their impatience. “I’m just trying to make it a little more polite,” Benjamin said as he typed.

“How about this,” Vetri said. “‘Roses are red. Violets are blue. Go fuck yourself.’”

He was joking. Kind of. Within a week, the hotel deal was dead.

“Osteria we always wanted to do,” Vetri says now. “I always liked making pizzas. I’ve always liked working with wood, and I always wanted to do wood tables. Really casual. And I think we nailed it.

“And now I’d like to do this other concept, which is the Italian trattoria concept. A little bit lower, even more casual, but the food’s still awesome. And I would like it to be smaller than Osteria, but not by much.” The plan is for Brad Spence to become chef-partner of the trattoria. “And we’d like to do a real Italian coffee place,” Vetri says, “where it has the liquor license and it has the pastries lined up in the morning, and you walk in and grab one and go up to the counter and say, ‘I had this and this.’ Kind of the honor system.”

All of which hardly sounds like the crass designs of a jet-setting media-whore culinary mogul wannabe. But how much can a guy juggle and still cook? Can Vetri become a brand and really remain a chef?

“I was doing an event at Macy’s,” he says. “And somebody asked me, ‘What’s your dream restaurant?’ And I said, ‘I opened it 10 years ago.’” He spreads his arms a little, to draw in the tiny dining room of his eponymous spot. “This is the restaurant that people open up at the end of their career. This is the one that everybody, all the chefs who walk into it, says: ‘This is what I want to do.’ Small place. Make what you want. You don’t have to do 400 dinners a night. You can make almost everything yourself, touch every plate if you want to.

“I want to do these other things, right now, because it’s fun,” he continues. “But five years from now, when you’re wondering, God, Marc’s got all these restaurants, where is he tonight?, you’ll be able to say, ‘He’s at Vetri. He’s working the line over at Vetri.’ This is where everybody expects to see me. This is where I want to be cooking eventually. This is it. This is every chef’s, ah, dream restaurant.” The semi-secret, original lair of Polenta Man.