Date: 27-Aug-2005 11:12
Author: Covert Harris Email
Subject: Bla, bla bla and bla, about restaurants, mostly, again...
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Intrigued by both the promise of Moroccan French cuisine and a BYOB policy, set foot in La Boheme in the Washington Square District of Philly.
First I had to buy a bottle, since I hadn’t brought one. Very surprised at the selection paucity of State run stores in Penn. A well stocked one, I was told, nearby the restaurant, at the corner of 12th and Chestnut, had only four Bordeaux; all cheap, while costing 50% more than they would have in New York. Chose 2000 Larose Trintaudon over Greysac; had not heard of the other two. The wine tastes like 1985 Cal cab, with a touch of class added.
Philadelphia is very villagy, like San Francisco and New Orleans. Blocks are small and people are out and about and friendly. 11th Street near Spruce and Locust reminded me of the Left Bank, and tried to, it was pretty obvious. And it seems that more than a usual proportion of local inhabitants are gay. I sat facing the sidewalk through the front window, and unless I wanted to stare at my plate, my view was a brotherly love couple dining al fresco. There was ne’re a glance at bare midriff girls walking by, and only the dog of one bonny lass caught their eyes. The most interesting vignette, however, was how they held their glasses by their stems initially and gradually shifted to full bowl holding near the end of their bottle.
The straight couple next to me never made such a migration. They held their stems like professionals. Very deeply engaged in each other, while consuming a bottle of Cantemerle. One small table was the only choice I had to sit near a window, so I politely asked if I would be encroaching to sit there.
The guy with a tie smugly never made eye contact with me, but asked his date very seriously to consider whether I should be allowed to sit down at the independent table. She smiled at me as much to apologize for the creep’s less than gracious response as to say of course. I was hoping that the man would ask me to take another table so that I could have borrowed an expression from Tommy in Goodfella’s and just sat down anyway.
And I wish I could rave about the food. Maybe I don’t like the acrid Moroccan influence. The Cornish hen (and they served both halves) was cooked exactly correctly, however and I do like white beans. But the fact that the restaurant is strictly BYO, supplies quality stems and has no corkage charge is noteworthy. Zagat rates the food at 23 and the bill totaled out at $28 (I tipped $20). I’ll go back as much to drink a nice bottle of wine in a campy atmosphere as anything. Next time I will bring a bottle from home.
There is a definite nut scene in Philadelphia, in street names, on the street and in plates. The escargot employed toasted hazelnuts, just as Le Bec Fin uses walnuts in their escargot. And the White Dog Café, the previous evening, in the University City section, adroitly speckles toasted almonds in their delicious light tomato cream sauce with dill over tilapia, crusted with lump crab and rock shrimp on a bed of snow peas and julienne carrots. This was the best dish I have enjoyed in Philadelphia so far (besides the pike quenelle at Le Bec Fin, of course). A real delight. Never tasted such fresh fish that didn’t come of the water the same day. Farmed, not sure where. Really, really good.
Still hungry after returning to my room, after La Boheme, and not tired at all. It was hard to close the curtains on the 18th floor view of the city lights. So, after removing my clothes to protect them, I reclined on the bed in front of the TV (watching an interview with a naked porn star graphically explaining what she does for a living) and commenced a bag of chocolate kisses that I almost always carry with me. They had heated up in my car, but that still doesn’t explain how I came to be covered with the candy.
I have a trick of using a hotel towel on my chest to catch splintered-off chocolate so that it doesn’t get all over the bed. I guess I am self conscious about leaving sheets covered with brown smears. But I was finding three-inch-in-diameter spots of solid hot chocolate on my neck and chest, and wiping them off with the towel. In the end, the towel was atrocious to look at. I left a note next to it on the counter next to the sink identifying the mess as chocolate and exhorting the maid not to be afraid. Is that neurotic or what?
Fell asleep and woke up three hours later; got up and drove home to Albany. Nevertheless managed to drive my wife to Saratoga to dine at Chez Sophie, last night. I had promised her that I would. For the third restaurant evening in a row, there were people holding stems rather than bowls. I believe that fine wine enjoyment is finally catching on in America.
Crabby, probably from being tired, I just couldn’t countenance the speal of the husband of Sophie, who died a few years ago, when he spied us and approached the table. He’s an interesting guy, in his seventies with a ponytail, but I had already heard how Sophia Parker was a friend of Dorothy Parker, and told him so. When he couldn’t tell the story, again, he seemed to be stifling convulsions. For a moment I was concerned that I might be responsible for his death; but nobody would have known how I did it. I guess I was like the guy in Washington Square who tried to shut me out, too.
I wouldn’t have bothered to bring up Chez Sophie if it didn’t lead to this, further making a case for the fine wine juggernaut: A guy walked in (with some very pretty women in toe) carrying in hand a bottle of 1982 Ducru! I watched while the current owner used the waiters’ friend (or whatever that standard cocked corkscrew is called) to take out the cork - or at least that was the idea. I knew it would never work, because of the long, old cork. Sure enough it broke apart, requiring a strainer to get the cork out of the wine, once it was dug out of the neck. How déclassé a finale for the bottle.
But I couldn’t resist approaching the table on our way out and asking how they liked the Ducru. The guy who brought it said it was still breathing in a decanter. The wine I had seen them drinking was a Burgundy they had purchased. One of the ladies offered to pour a glass of the St-Julien for me to try. That would have been over the top, since they hadn’t even tasted it, yet. Lovely scene, but I graciously declined, turned and exited left into the warm Adirondack night feeling awake again.