Alla Spina - just ok
We were in town for the night on Saturday. We ended up with a reservation at Alla Spina. It was our first time down in Philly in quite some time, and it seemed like a perfect chance to try out a Vetri place while also keeping it kind of casual because we spent the bulk of the day stuffed in a car.
We're budding beer nerds, so we loved the selection of local stuff we never see. I ended up with the Sly Fox O'Reilly's Stout and the wife had Neshaminy Creek Trauger Pilsner - both were quite good.
Sadly, the food, for lack of a better word, was MEH. We ordered 3 small plates first: (1) Prosciutto cotto with poached pears and walnut pesto - the prosciutto had a little bit of a slime to it which really turned me off (2) Tuscan kale with provolone - I really enjoyed the use of whole peppercorns in here (3) Housemade pretzels with spicy beer cheese - quite good, and I appreciated how you could actually taste beer in the cheese dip.
For our larger plates, we ordered the swordfish “blt” with basil maionese and guanciale and the north philly sausage cheesesteak on a pretzel roll. The swordfish blt needed more swordfish and less of the other stuff. If it were me, I'd raise the price point from $14 to $16 and give the customer a portion that allowed them to actually know what they were eating. Also, it was served on rather pedestrian white bread, which became incredibly soggy. The cheesesteak was the better option of the two. We're not cheesesteak experts by any means, but the combination of the meat, sauce and salty pretzel roll was pretty perfect. Both options came with potato chips. The salt and vinegar chips weren't crisped enough, but were fine. The bbq chips were an inedible mess of overseasoned potatoes.
We went into the meal with very high expectations, so that's always tough to live up to. That being said, we expected more from a place that people a lot more knowledgable than us rave about.
IMO there is a bit of a reality distortion field around the Vetri restaurants. I haven't been to the flagship but I have been to all the others and while there are some great dishes, there is a lot of mediocrity as well. And Osteria and Amis are very expensive given that (the food at Alla Spina is very fairly priced though). If you look through the boards you will see a lot of people echoing this about Osteria. I liked Alla Spina, but not enough to make any more special trips there -- there are many cheaper and less pretentious places to get gastropub food as good or better.
The lamest thing about Alla Spina, a self described beer bar, is the complete lack of proper glasses for the beer. Stocking proper glassware is not hard or expensive (plenty of downmarket bars in the city manage it)--the only reason I can think of is to keep the pours small while everything is priced like a full pour should be (or more).