Dishes 19, 20, & 21: Onion Soup Gratinee, Baguette Provencal, and Nicoise Salad at Parc, 18th and Locust, http://www.parc-restaurant.com
Philly Magazine took me to lunch today. And by Philly Magazine, I mean Justin Pahl, a recent graduate of Temple University and one of the latest additions to Larry Platt’s small but mighty editorial army. Justin is a captivating individual, easy to relate to and with a diverse array of interests and experiences such that the conversation darted from our shared tendencies towards existential crises during transit to the necessity of road-tripping with friends to the peace and grace of golf courses under the full moon.
We had a jolly and excessively friendly waiter named Jon, whose ecstasy at refilling waters and clearing dishes was unparalleled in my entire dining-out history. He cheerfully brought us the first course, onion soup gratinee, which you may never have dreamed of sharing with someone you’ve just met. (As Jessica Hopkins might say, drawing a line with her toe, “Line. CROSSED IT!”) It’s a sweet broth, with onions cooked until they become caramel, moist croutons, and piles of stringy cheese atop. It was delightful, and not to nitpick, but I LOVE when the croutons are only partly submerged because then they are crunchy, moist, chewy, oily, and cheesy—and these croutons were fully submerged. It’s okay, it was still great.
The Baguette Provencal is piled high with French salami, camembert, and what appears to be the better part of a Nicoise salad. There are two ways to attempt to eat it—the first, as Justin did, just go for it, the results being mixed and, overall, quite hazardous. I chose a compression strategy, wedging the entrails in with a knife and mashing the baguette to be flatter and more conducive to biting. This proved somewhat effective, and I’m sure if you like processed meats and strong, pungent flavors, this would be right up your alley, but it’s not my scene.
The Nicoise Salad was similar to the baguette in the strong, tart-salty-rich flavors and the gratuitous use of olive oil. I’m rarely squeamish with raw meat; I will dive head first into steak tartare; but I found the tuna difficult to take today. The anchovies were very mild (I was all worked up about nothing!) and the egg was good with the drizzle of oil. The tuna salad was delicate and pleasant. Lemon isn’t my favorite flavor on savory foods, but I believe that this would be an excellent representation of a Nicoise salad.
I have a weak spot for fruit tart, and was overjoyed that Justin humored me with the tarte aux fruits. It was in the top three fruit tarts I’ve ever had; the custard was smooth without being slippery or gelatinous, with a round vanilla flavor and bean specks, the crust was light and buttery, and the fruit was fresh and beautiful. Parfaite.
How appropriate, to discuss the pursuit of perfection, when there it was, right before us; how ideal to discuss writing while we sat in an echo of the great salons of the past; and how wonderful to share my adventure with another who is just beginning his own.
If you would like to read about what actually happened at lunch, here is a link to our interview, as moderated by Justin: http://blogs.phillymag.com/restaurant_club/2010/02/09/lunch-with-our-very-own-julie-julia/
Tags: baguette, baseball, challenge, existential crises, expats, food and drink, full moon, golf, interview, lunch, missions, new, New Jersey, nicoise salad, onion soup, parc, pennsylvania, philadelphia magazine, philly, philly mag, provence, restaurants, rittenhouse square, salami, temple university, the midwest, tuna, waitstaff