Ever since the early 1980s I have relished every moment spent in Kitchen Kapers, on 17th St. in Philly. Yesterday I was in the city to catch dinner and a show with my friend Liz (pseudonym), and so I wandered in there before our 5:30 dinner at Branzino. (Dream Kitchen has been prancing about the city a lot lately!) I like coffee paraphernalia, and they have everything imaginable. I admired some beautiful retro/funky aprons (my birthday's coming up, ahem!), bamboo cutting boards, and glorious displays of Creuset in every size and color.
Just as I was getting into the stride of my lascivious 15-minute intensive browsing expedition, a store employee asked me if I needed help, where I was from, and whether I missed living in the city. Then he proceeded to opine about the state of the Philadelphia schools, and moved on to the problems with the teachers' union in New Jersey and then PANIC set in, as I realized I had not looked at any baking equipment or cookbooks and my time was running out. I hate to be mean or even standoffish to anyone in that mecca. It's like mouthing off to a minister--can't do it. Finally I said, "Well, I need to meet my friend at Branzino, got to go!" Clever of me, wasn't it? In retrospect, perhaps I shouldn't have told the man I was "killing time."
Then, on to Branzino. Dramatic pause. . . .Hello, everyone. I have discovered a quiet restaurant. That serves classic but not tired Italian food. I'm going to take my Dad here someday because he will actually be able to hear me. And I will get to hear his hearing aid hearing me, oh well. If he remembers to wear it. It's not one of the new minimal-chic places. It has ornate frescoes on the walls, but very tasteful, exquisite in fact. We had real waiters wearing those adorable waiter costumes, too. They were very attentive without being obtrusive. The guy clearing dishes was even a real Italian, from Italy, not South Philly.
We sat down and sipped our water and Liz Pseudonym showed me her engagement ring. Wait. WHAT? Her fiance is is in his late fifties and has never been married! She's been married but her husband turned magically into a jerk in his early forties! They're both in for a ride! So we hugged, I teared up, and all that girl stuff. I'm still not convinced they're actually going to do this, but . . . nice ring.
Here's what we ordered, splitting everything. I have copied and pasted this from the menu, leaving their charmingly idiosyncratic capitalization intact.
Carpaccio di Filetto
Thinly sliced raw Filet Mignon topped with capers, Sun Dried Tomatoes,Red Onions, Lemon,Arugula and shaved Parmigiano Reggiano
I love each of these things by themselves and together it was a party in my mouth. Footnote: I borrowed that expression from Ruth Reichl. I think.
Belgian Endive salad with Apples,Toasted Walnuts & crumbled Gorgonzola cheese in a Honey and Red Wine Vinaigrette
Pale, but tasty. The bitter endive was a great foil for the sweet apples and rich gorgonzola. We had actually ordered a different salad, but were too apathetic/easy to please/caught up in the complicated subject of middle-aged love to send it back.
Gnocchi al Funghi
Potato dumplings sauteed with Porcini Mushrooms, fresh Peas in a light Mushroom and cream sauce
Oh my word! Rich and full of flavor. I forgot how amazing porcini and cream can be. And the gnocchi--so light and pillowy.
Since it was a BYO, and we hadn't BYOd, we only had water, so our meal was under fifty bucks total, slightly over including tip. Not bad. Branzino. Take an old person there today. Remember, it's not hip or minimal. It's plush and hushed and classic, but without being stale or fussy. For some reason--I don't know how--we managed to pass on the fig gelato. Next time.
Then we went to see Menopause, The Musical. It was funny, not exactly a work of genius, but funny. Not that witty, either, but funny. Lots of physical humor. Much funnier than menopause itself, which I believe was the point. Now someone has come up with Assisted Living: The Musical. Next? Suicide: The Musical? I'm sorry but I don't think those work so well. The first word needs to start with "M." We in the word biz call that "alliteration." Murder, The Musical. There you go.