To the Villanova community: you are in my thoughts and prayers.
Dishes 137, 138, and 139: Lombardo pizza and chicken liver rigatoni at Osteria, 640 N. Broad St., http://www.osteriaphilly.com/, and spinach gnocchi at Vetri, 13th and Spruce, http://www.vetriristorante.com/
I am, once again, pinching myself to make sure it all really happened. I’ll start at the beginning.
Mike Klein bounded in Osteria just seconds after I arrived, wearing the wide, welcoming smile of his portrait in the Inquirer. Who better to get the scoop in Philly than with the official Philly Insider, right? We headed back to the kitchen to say a quick hello to Marc Vetri, who was busy posing with a chicken for a photographer, Jeff Michaud, and Jeff Benjamin, before sampling their mind-blasting brainchildren, the Lombardo pizza and chicken liver rigatoni.
The pizza was superthin, with an ephemeral tomato sauce and creamy kisses of mozzarella. The chicken liver was hearty, heavy, rich; after a bite, Mike looked at me seriously, put down his fork, and said, “You really should eat every dish. This is liver. What makes foie gras so different?” I considered his point, but, lodged between foodgasm and starstruck, I didn’t have enough brain function remaining for Big Thinks. So this was the perfect moment for Jeff Benjamin to come check on us. I tried to contain my effusive compliments to a sociable level, and we chatted about his adorable daughters and Alex’s Lemonade Stand.
Then, like a gust of wind, we were up and on our way to Vetri, as Jeff made a call to start the gnocchi. Like a carefully executed military operation, we drove downtown, stopped the car, put on the hazard lights (AND HAD A DANCE PARTY! Shout out to the PA Gang!) and were whisked directly back to the kitchens of Vetri for part two. Mike and I watched the chef squeeze out green paste balls into flour, bounce it around, and then pop them into boiling water. Three minutes later, we were eye to eye with this:
Ohmygod. There are no words. We’re standing at a marble counter, in the kitchen of Vetri, eating possibly the best gnocchi in the world. It’s a little unreal. And Mike is trying to convince me that the food doesn’t matter. Ah, but it does! It’s all about the food! Great food brings people together, around a dinner table, crowded onto a picnic blanket, reaching across the bar; great food transforms coworkers, strangers, and family, into friends. Food is the glue, and the lubricant. Food gives you a reason to start a conversation with someone who looks interesting, buys you a minute when you don’t know what to say, says “I’m sorry” and “I love you” and “I want to be friends”. To love food, to put care into the dishes that you make and that you choose to serve, is to demonstrate appreciation for the ones that you love. It doesn’t need to be elaborate or buttoned-up, just delicious and big enough to share with a new friend.