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Memorable meals

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Through the years, I have enjoyed a number of memorable meals, many in South Philadelphia restaurants. When I reviewed Tre Scalini, 1915 E. Passyunk Ave., and found the fare so uncommonly delicious, a friend told me, “Now we will never get a reservation.” 

Chef Lee Styer of Fond, 1537 S. 11th St., instinctively knows how to make his ingredients sing. Spring asparagus with a poached egg and some frisee I enjoyed four years ago is still locked in my memory. So is the rabbit ragout over homemade pasta at Paradiso, 1627 E. Passyunk Ave., served up on a cold November evening in 2004. Perfect fluffy omelettes, crab cakes benedict and oversized salads are among my favorite dishes at Hawthorne’s, 738 S. 11th St. The house-made pickled herring at Noord, 1046 Tasker St., brought me right back to my grandmother’s kitchen where we pickled schmaltz herring together when I was a girl. 

When I hunger for Vietnamese fare, I head over to Le Viet, 1019 S. 11th St. I have never been disappointed. I learned about the food of Puglia at L’Angolo, 1415 W. Porter St., which has been going strong for 14 years. I think the finest Mexican fare is at Las Bugambilias, 148 South St.

Memories of meals past are filed away. They often influence how I approach a new restaurant or what to look for when I make a return visit. 

Some of you may recall Deux Cheminees, Chef Fritz Blank’s French restaurant which is now Vedge, a fine vegetarian establishment. On a brutally hot July day, I was judging a salad competition at the Rittenhouse Hotel. The public relations official took me aside and said, “Fritz is having some people in for dinner. The restaurant is closed on Monday and he would like you to come.”

A buffet table was set up, covered with an old lace cloth. Platters of sweetbreads en route, red ripe sliced Jersey tomatoes, Jersey asparagus, a whole poached wild salmon, pork schnitzel, creamy potatoes au gratin and a large tossed salad immediately enticed us all. Here were simple foods, in season, at their best. Dessert was a blueberry cobbler with homemade rich vanilla ice cream.

Chef Franco Martorella, a South Philadelphia native, worked at The Four Seasons Hotel and then went on to the Ritz Carlton. During a Book and the Cook dinner, he too showed us that simple fare is usually best. Potato pancakes topped with smoked salmon and caviar, a green salad, roast rack of lamb with baby vegetables and a fruit tart were served with wines produced by Molly Chappellet from her Napa vineyard.

Babbette’s Feast won the Academy Award for best foreign film in 1988. It tells the story of a French woman chef who lives in a bleak village in Norway, wins the lottery and spends all her money on one meal to be served to town folk who have never seen such luxuries. After a screening of the film, I was fortunate to get an invitation from the owners of La Truffe, a now-shuttered French restaurant, which was among my favorites. Chef Georges Perrier, Chef Jean-Marie LaCroix and other French-born residents of Philadelphia, were also there. The chefs recreated Babette’s Feast. Turtle soup, quail wrapped in pastry and roasted to perfection, beef, cheese and a light sponge cake were served. The chefs tracked down the wines but could not find one of the cheeses. They found a close substitution.

I miss The Book and the Cook because it highlighted so many of our restaurants. In 1993, Café Nola, 414 South 2nd Street, hosted Emeril Lagasse before he became “Emeril.” I tucked into gumbo, jambalaya, Gulf shrimp and his signature peanut butter pie. This meal was a revelation, for I had never tasted authentic Cajun/Creole cuisine until I sat down to that memorable meal. Lagasse joined Edward and me during dinner and we chatted for an hour. It was as if I were taking a class in New Orleans cuisine at the Culinary Institute of America.

Space does not allow me to reminisce about all the meals which have influenced me. What are some of your memorable meals? 

Contact the South Philly Review at editor@southphillyreview.com.

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