Dishes 101, 102, & 103: Tartufo Pizza at Pizzeria Stella, on Headhouse Square, http://www.pizzeriastella.net; Meatloaf and Cheese Fries with Scallions at Silk City Diner, 5th and Girard, http://www.silkcityphilly.com
Disclaimer to my fellow New Jerseyans: Silk City “Diner” closes at 2am. (I KNOW. Let’s not even talk about it.)
My freshman humanities professor, friend, and fellow New Jerseyan, JP, sat me down about two months ago to talk about not-food. About this blog not being about food. Which we all know but don’t talk about, because then there wouldn’t be a very good reason to go out to eat all the time.
After writing about food for a week or so, I had exhausted my foodie vocabulary, “juicy” “saccharine” “tart” “sticky”, and it was about this time that I began getting emails from friends and friends-to-be about joining the party. I really like people; I love watching friendships develop and transform, and I especially like that getting-to-know someone period where you gradually learn what motivates them, how the cogs in their brain fit together—having food companions revitalized my will to continue.
Food writing intrinsically is a discussion of pleasure; of what sensations cause pleasure, and when food began to take a back seat to friendship in my blog, the discussion of pleasure took a back seat to discussion of fulfillment, in the form of relationships and intellectual stimulation. Which I found to be more engaging—because when you choose only to eat at the best restaurants, every experience will be indulgent. If you want a full range of emotion, you need a second component. And what better than humanity? There is drama, humor, love, heartbreak—life revolves around relationships.
And then I began to notice that the most fun entries were not necessarily at the fanciest or most expensive restaurants. They occurred when we let go. When we didn’t get frustrated that a restaurant had closed or that they didn’t take cash or didn’t do take-out. When we just said, “Thank you, see you another night,” and walked towards the next closest option. Chandani and I found Las Bugambilias when Horizons was closed. Tracy and I brunched at Supper when Morning Glory’s wait list filled the overcast, freezing patio. Two fantastic meals. Two fantastic ladies.
There have been other setbacks with more material effects—the onset of allergy season, for example, that retarded my ability to smell and taste; several rigorous weeks of case competitions and preparation for finals—and in these cases, it was easier to accept the setback than to stress about falling behind. Sadness is valuable in that, indulging it allows one to more fully enjoy happiness. Anger, however, accomplishes nothing and feeds only itself. So I try to live without anger.
The absurd subplots that pop up—bodychecking John McCain, having a special-ordered dish at Morimoto, frolicking through a chocolate factory at night—these experiences I credit to my parents, Aunt Kath (AK), and Villanovan education, for teaching me judgment and risk assessment. There are things that sound crazy, like a 21-year-old taking on a multi-thousand dollar task (but are actually quite reasonable when you work out the earning potential of said student, the value of future cash flows, and the cost of food), and then there are things that actually are crazy and dangerous, like playing on railroad tracks. Or getting one’s tongue pierced. (Really. My friend’s au pair had it done, when we were in middle school, and the piercing gun hit a nerve. Now her tongue just hangs limply out of her mouth.)
The night that JP sat me down to talk about not-food, these were the topics we discussed. “Lauren,” he said, “you’re an Epicurean.” And I apologized, and said that I was not. I like food, especially black coffee and dry toast. But I don’t love indulgent food the way some people do. “No, not an epicure. An Epicurean. A believer in the philosophy of Epicurus. Look this up.” And he scribbled http://www.epicurus.net on a napkin. “You believe in living fully- not hedonism, it’s not the pursuit of pleasure. It’s the pursuit of life. Good and bad. You fast because it makes each indulgent dish more epic. You throw yourself into your relationships. You take risks. You search for truth. You love. You live.”
>>ON THE SUBJECT OF FOOD: Pizzeria Stella is Stephen Starr’s gift to Philadelphia. The tartufo pizza was a revelation; truffle oil has a steep enjoyment curve, before that a-ha moment when it starts to taste pleasant rather than like old Nikes, and the richness of the egg yolk smoothes out the earthy odor and makes the dish highly accessible for truffle newbies. I hesitated to order the tartufo when Mom was visiting because I did not know how she would feel about the truffles, but next time, we will definitely go back. She’ll love the egg.
The Silk City fries were an assortment of crispy, crunchy, and squishy, to please all French fry-eaters. The concept of this dish reminds me of a New Jersey classic, disco fries, which are smothered in cheddar cheese and then doused in gravy. (It’s good, I promise.) The barbeque sauce was also delicious and reminiscent of a campfire- smoky and warm, but also hot enough to burn! Fantastic.
I have only had meatloaf twice in my life, although Tracy and I frequently listen to his music before going out. (There is something invigorating about rock opera when you are gearing up for a big night.) Rumor has it that my mom was force-fed meatloaf too many times in her childhood and now refuses to even utter the word. However, this spicy, moist, giant bacon-wrapped, thick-cut Italian meatball might change her mind. Perhaps someday I will feed a similar dish to my family. (Maybe with tofu instead of beef? Experimental recipes to come.) The knobbly mashed potatoes and decadent, beefy gravy provided the finishing brushstrokes on a dish that needs no improvement.