Dishes 236-8: Escargots at Cochon, 801 E. Passyunk Ave
Tuna Mixed Grill at Hamilton’s Grill Room, Lambertville
Black tea glazed spareribs with ginger spice ice cream at Honey, Doylestown
One year ago, a newly minted intern overheard her co-workers flipping through the pages of the local city magazine. Curious and eager to make friends, she popped her head over the cubicle wall, and what lay before her set in motion a chain of events that would change her forever.
Several hours later, she emerged from the fluorescent lit office onto midday Arch Street, shaded by the stature of the Comcast Tower. Her mind twisting around what she had seen on the pages of the magazine, a SEPTA bus whizzed by just inches from her face. She stepped back abruptly and shook free the thought. “I have to get to class.”
Later that night the nagging returned, the pulling on the base of her brain. She ignored it. “Stop it.” She finished her homework, brushed her teeth, went to sleep, woke up, and got dressed for work. And the thought re-emerged. She stifled it with a quick swig of coffee and a handful of cereal.
After work, she emerged again from the fluorescent office and the thought burst into the open air. She considered it for a moment, shook her head, and proceeded to class. That night, she made an otherwise routine phone call.
Hey Mom. Yeah, classes are good. –pause–
Derivatives, portfolio management, corporate finance, real estate development, business law.
Yeah. I like derivatives and development the best. –pause–
You know, Mom, I had this idea. –pause–
It’s a little crazy, hear me out. –pause–
Okay, so there was this article in Philly Mag the other day, with the 239 best dishes in Philadelphia. –pause–
Yeah. And I was kind of thinking that I haven’t tried any of them. Right. And so. I was sort of thinking. That. Iwouldtrythemall. In a year. And write a blog about it. Laughs nervously.
Yeah, pretty crazy. The name? I hadn’t thought about that. What about—uh—spreads arms grandiosely across empty apartment—LOVE TO EAT AND EAT TO LOVE: A GASTRO TOUR DE PHORCE, GETTING TO KNOW PHILLY THE TASTY WAY. –pause–
Yeah, maybe it is a little nuts. Alright. Night. Love you. Bye. –click–
The next day she went to Jones for an innocent grilled cheese sandwich and a tomato soup splashed with olive oil, and it was the best meal she had eaten in months. She typed hesitantly at first, unsure whether she was wasting her time, whether anyone but her mom, best friend, and omnipotent Aunt Kath were reading her posts. Turns out “anyone” was more people than she thought it would be.
The fourth day, she received an email from the woman who had written the article, asking for an interview. The fourth week, she received an email from 6ABC for the same purpose. The fourth month, when she discovered that the giant rock oysters at Morimoto were actually never on the menu, the manager special ordered them and asked the chef to concoct a recipe so that she could meet her goal. It was barely midyear and our intern was riding high on the euphoria of unexpected success, new friends, and newfound confidence. Graduation found her an infatuated woman on the verge of adulthood.
The ecstasy of her final collegiate gasps was choked instantly upon her postgraduate collapse to reality. College friends fled the area to their hometowns. Work was not the same as sunning poolside. There were no classes to register for, no books to buy. Left no other choice, she went shopping at Brooks Brothers. She made new friends. She jogged for relaxation and exercise. And she ate.
Every day was identical to the day before and the day after; wake, jog, shower, dress, oatmeal, walk to work, work, eat a fabulous meal, go home and fall asleep immediately, spent. There was barely time to document what she had eaten, and her writing deteriorated along with her interest.
It was August 18th, exactly 7 months after commencing her blog, when she caved. In the lamest, most weaksauce move she has made in the past 12 months, Lauren wrote to her long suffering readers that she had found work-life balance and blah blah blah. I’m not even elaborating because it isn’t worth saying.
Thankfully, she got over herself in time to get back on the horse and finish the race. At this point in the story, September 27th, it was a sprint to the finish. Mike Klein emerged in the plot like a deus ex machina, turning the cogs and pushing her along when she lost momentum.
And thank god that that Mysterious Man/Tim fellow showed up on the scene somewhere at about this point in time, because, in retrospect, he definitely abused her blog as a reason to take her on a number of dinner dates that the average American would probably find excessive. But she didn’t mind. He was pretty cute.
And thank god for her parents, who weren’t upset when she spent the checks intended for groceries and books on what seemed like a bizarre and sometimes pointless endeavor, who encouraged her with thoughtful emails and even patted her affectionately on the shoulder sometimes. And for Professors Arvanites, JMK, JP, and Jim V. Her brother, Brian. Her AK and Uncle Doug, and all of her aunts and uncles. Loretta. The Merry Mavens—Jessica, Rebecca, Megan, Sarah, Molly, and Kate. The Main Line Mama. Her friends— Dani, Biscuit, Tracy, Gustav, Leanne, Amy, Colleen, Aly, Gaby, Jeffers, Greg, Caitlin, Simone, Hess, Linsey, Pete, Jonas, Bradfordley, Tina, Megan M., Olivia, Jess, Steph, Katie O, Megan J., her cousin Meg, Lauren K., Danny K., Piercetopher, Heather and Todd, and everyone that she met along the way and partook in her adventure.
To the restaurant owners and managers, especially at L’Angolo, Morimoto, Blue Fin, Standard Tap, Amada, Osteria, Vetri, Zahav, Chloe, La Famiglia, Zento, Positano Coast, Caffe Galleria, Audrey Claire, the Clam Tavern, and Marsha Brown, to the servers and cooks and short-order cooks, to her fellow patrons and to the PR folks who worked a miracle or two. To her patient bosses. To the ladies of Philabundance.
And of course, to Philly Mag and their sister, 6ABC, for making it all possible.
The final bites—a perfect petite casserole of garlicky escargots from Cochon on Thursday, a tender tidbit of tuna from Hamilton’s on Friday, a transcendent sparerib smeared with gingersnap ice cream on Saturday—were bittersweet; lightened by the loves she had found and goal accomplished, weighted by the ending of something truly sweet. She looked across the lacquered table at Tim, his smile warm and familiar, yet only months old; how strange this journey had been, how friends had appeared to help accomplish this seemingly insurmountable and frequently absurd goal, sharing the weight until it seemed like a joy rather than a goal. How lucky she was. To have met who she met, tasted what she tasted, and realized that it really wasn’t what she ate at all, but who sat across the table. How lucky she felt, knowing that she had selfishly stashed away one final restaurant, the very last dish, to be all her own. To share with someone she loves, outside the bounds of an impulsive gamble, at the own pace, whenever and for however long, without ever having to report the details to anyone.