La Panarda, or How To Give Up On All Your New Years Resolutions at Once

As we arrive in the Le Virtù dining room, there is a saying written on one of the chalkboards: “Three are the powerful: the pope, the king, and he who doesn’t give a damn.” RayRay and I are feeling decidedly in the third category as we take our seats for our third La Panarda in three years. La Panarda, the 40-course, eight-hour meal, is as much a test of intestinal fortitude as you’ll find anywhere. But this isn’t the reason RayRay and I aren’t giving a damn; it’s just creeping on noon, we’re staring eight hours of unlimited wine in the face, and, idiots that we are, we’ve already had two beers.

We take our usual seats (we arrived an hour before the meal started to get the same seats we’ve sat in the last two years). We happen to be sitting with two of the same people from last year, so the same rules apply: pictures come first, and we cheers with every new wine.

The event starts off much the same as it has in the past: Le Virtù owner Francis Cratil Cretarola makes a quick speech, Sean from Artisan’s Cellar briefly explains the wine, and we are treated to some music from the zampogna, or Italian bagpipes. Throughout the fanfare, we’ve got our first glass of Cantina Frentana Cococciola Spumante, and the food begins to make its way out.

We begin similar to last year with a torta rustica, though we all agree that, from what we could remember, this year’s seems creamier. We also have crostini assortiti made with Abruzzese ricotta passita, mushroom, and cannellini. Finally, we’re treated to the olive all’Ascolana, which are stuffed with veal and beef and fried. With the olives, we already break our initial promise to try one taste of everything. They’re too delightfully salty (and too small, we tell ourselves) to eat only one.

For the next bit, we’re served a trio of raw fish dishes, starting with oysters with mignonette. Following the oysters is a tuna crudo with apple and fennel, which also demands multiple tastes, and scallop crudo with citrus. While raw scallop may have a texture most people don’t value, the salty taste of sea and the sweet citrus really make the dish pop. The tuna’s texture with the crunch of the apple is probably more palatable to most, however, and the flavor pops just as much.

Our next grouping leads with beef carpaccio with pecorino and salsa picante, burrata with brussels sprouts and anchovy, and sardines in salsa verde. As much as I eat, I’m never sure the proper way to eat a sardine, but the consensus at the table is to eat them whole – including the head. This isn’t a problem, and the fishy taste with the salsa is better than I thought it would be; there is a slight crunch from the bones. The real standout, however, is the burrata. Anything with fried brussels sprouts is a winner, and the fish complements the cheese perfectly.

To round out this section, we get our first non-family-style dish with the scrippelle ‘mbusse, a delicate crepe filled with cheese and floating in a light but heady broth.

Bringing the first third of the menu to an end is an Abruzzese tribute to Philadelphia by way of a smoked lamb hoagie with a stuffed pepper. After the hoagie is a hot cast iron tray of fried potatoes and scamorza, a cow’s milk cheese reminiscent of mozzarella.

After these dishes, we take our first break to stretch our legs, and everyone outside on the patio can’t stop talking about how good the lamb hoagie is. Basically made with lamb prosciutto, a red pepper-like spread gives the sandwich a nice zing and the oily, vinegary stuffed pepper plays perfectly beside it. Most people we talk to agree it is the best dish so far, and it should be added to the menu.

We come back in after our break, refreshed and rejuvenated by the slight chill in the air, which is by no means cold (especially for late January). We’re eased back into the meal with pizz’ e foje, a salad of cornbread over stewed mixed greens. The cornbread is a bit dry for my taste, but the next two dishes have plenty of sauce to fix that. First is a dish of shellfish with ‘nduja sausage, though a lot of the clams didn’t open, and prawns with garlic, peperoncino, and lemon. The prawns have a nice bit of heat to them, and as always sucking on the head is immensely enjoyable.

Next is a selection of charcuterie, beginning with sopressata (supersod for any South Philly Italians out there) with vegetable agrodolce, followed by capocollo (gabbagool) with eggplant oreganata, and finally chilled porchetta with roasted peppers. And while the meat is good, it’s surprising how tasty the accoutrement are – especially the lightly picked vegetables with the sopressata: tangy, but not overly so. This does not apply, however, to the porchetta, which itself has a slight vinegar essence to it, and is thin enough that multiple pieces aren’t out of the question.

Moving along, we’re gifted polpette all’Abruzzese, delicious little meatballs of which we don’t leave any leftovers. We are also brought sweet potatoes with golden raisins and pine nuts, which are better than any sweet potatoes have the right to be. Pine nuts add great flavor, but the raisins (which I usually don’t prefer in my savory dishes), brighten the salad and give it an extra dimension. Finally, we have a pure di fava with chicory, which may be the first time I’ve ever had chicory – at least as a main part of a dish.

For the last section of part two of the menu, we begin with mushrooms sott’olio, which is simply a variety of roasted mushrooms in oil. Simple, woodsy, and bursting with a variety of umami mushroom flavors. We’re also given a bowl of arrositicini, or lamb skewers. Rounding us out is a personal-size bowl of sausage and lentils, which sounds like it is going to be a stomach bomb but is surprisingly light in its heartiness.

We take our second break at this point, and are greeted on the patio with a small fire and glasses of warm, mulled wine. This year may be the chilliest Panarda I’ve been to, even though the temperature is still in the mid- to high-40s. While I wouldn’t say we needed coats, the warm mulled wine keeps it that way.

We return from our break warmed with wine and heartened to be more than halfway through the meal, though the tough part looms: the pasta courses. They are upon us quickly, beginning with one of the restaurant’s specialties, maccheroni alla mugnaia with aglio, olio, and peperoncino. The pasta is a single-strand that can reach up to six feet long, and is wonderfully al dente. It seems if I’ve learned anything from Le Virtù, it’s that I want my pasta to be toothsome.

The other pastas include sagne e ceci, a rhomboid, flat pasta in tomato sauce with chickpeas, anellini with pistachio pesto, and orecchiette with spicy sausage and rabe. While they are all excellent, a grab a few more rings of the anellini before they’re gone, even though I know there is more pasta, and it’s the pasta last year that almost pushed me over the edge. I stay strong.

And then: more pasta. First, Chef Menapace joins us in the dining room to show off the full timballo alla pescolana, which we had a version of last year and we are all looking forward to. In addition to the timballo, we have tagliatelle with boar ragu and chitarra with lamb ragu. In hindsight, with the lack of large portions of meat this year, it almost seems like they are doubling up the meat and pasta dishes. This is fine with me, and my stomach.

Following the pasta is another break, and then lighter fare in the form of fish. A whole porgy with acqua pazza (the broth used to poach it), which we peel back the skin and dig in to. There is also a dish of meaty monkfish with potatoes and olives. Potatoes aren’t particularly appreciated at this point, but the saltiness of the olives help with the heaviness. Finally, as more of a side dish, are long hots – however, the one I take a bite of is more hot than anything. It may be the hottest long hot I’ve ever had, and the gentleman across from me agrees. We need a glass of milk – not the best idea this late in the evening – to counteract the heat.

Finally, we come to the final savory courses of the evening. The first out are a favorite from last year, the pork ribs agrodolce, which remain a favorite this year. We know the end is near, so we each take two ribs: we still have room, and the sweetness and flavor is worth the indulgence. If we were offered another plate, we would take it. Along with the ribs are roasted lamb with polenta and broccoli rabe. As good as the lamb is – and it is good – it pales in comparison to the ribs.

Before desert, we all take another break. Night has firmly set it, even though we are moving along quickly. Music plays throughout the restaurant, and every once in a while the band will come into the main dining room to play for us. Whether or not we know the words (and they’re mostly in Italian, so we don’t), after six-plus hours of drinking, everyone is singing along.

We come back in to a refreshing sorbetto, followed by some house-made digestivi. The digestif flavors include fennel, watermelon and pepper, and two others that it’s far too late to process. The watermelon was the best. We are also served a board of Abruzzese unpasturized formaggio with honey, preserves, and fruit, as well as dolci assortiti, and assorted dessert board. I am excited to see the return of cannoli, as our first Panarda had the best cannoli I’ve ever had. The board also has a favorite of RayRay’s, the olive oil dome cakes covered in chocolate.

We have a round of limoncello to finish the evening, and some of us stick around to enjoy the company, listen to more music, and chat with the owners. The meal has been wonderful, but the food is only part of it. To be able to want to spend an entire day at a restaurant, no matter how good the food is, speaks more to the company than anything else. And not only the fellow diners: Francis, Cathy, Freddie, Chef Menapace, and everyone else busting their asses to put together a massive meal and convivial atmosphere should be incredibly proud of what they are able to accomplish every year.

I used to look forward to Thanksgiving above all other meals throughout the year, but now Thanksgiving is just a training ground. It’s spending hours with people I enjoy and food I love in order to train for the same thing, only longer, bigger, and better. And you’ve got to love anything better than Thanksgiving.

Chef Menapace celebrates the end of Panarda with his crew.

Great Chefs Return to Philly in Support of Alex’s Lemonade Stand

On Saturday, June 8, some of the top chefs in the country will gather at the Urban Outfitters HQ in the Navy Yard to celebrate the Great Chefs Event. The top-of-the-line food festival, which benefits Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation, will return for its second year to the family-friendly timeframe of 1-4pm and feature an interactive kid zone. Tickets, which will run $195 this year, are available at GreatChefsEvent.org.

The list of chefs, as impressive as ever, is well worth the price of admission.  The list of Philadelphia chefs alone will feature Matt Buehler (Vetri Cucina), Jen Carroll (Spice Finch), Top Chef winner Nick Elmi (Laurel), Jose Garces, Emilio Mignucci (DiBruno Bros), Kevin Spraga (Fitler Club), Yehuda Sichel (Abe Fisher) and Greg Vernick (Vernick Food & Drink). If that list wasn’t enough to whet your appetite, attendees can also expect small bites from Timon Balloo (Sugarcane, Miami), Cesare Casella (Casella’s Salumi Special, NYC), Derek Dammann (Maison Publique, Montreal), Elizabeth Falkner (Falk Yeah!, NYC), Food Network star Alex Guarnaschelli (Butter, NYC), Top Chef alum Bruce Kalman (Square Peg Pizza, Connecticut), Ludo Lefebvre (Trois Mec, LA), barbecue genius Adam Perry Lang, Jon Shook & Vinny Dotolo (Animal, LA), Jonathan Waxman (Barbuto, NYC), and Rocco Whalen (Farenheit, Cleveland).

Cesare Casella doing what he does best.

Whew. Deep breath.  That’s only a portion of the 40 chefs that will be in attendance, in addition to mixologists, winemakers, and the second year of the outdoor beer garden, which will include Yards, Victory, Sly Fox, and Roadhouse Brewing Co. A full list of the participants can be found here.

Did I mention that kids under 12 get in free with an adult? Or that $95 of your ticket price is tax-deductible? How about that in 2018 alone, just the Philadelphia edition of the Great Chefs Event raised over $340,000 for Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation? There is also an online auction with some pretty incredible items, as well as a live auction that anyone interested in the best food will salivate over.

Yehuda Sichel’s Montreal-style smoked shortrib sandwich.

The price may seem prohibitive at first, but once you take into account the sheet magnitude of the chefs in attendance, as well as all the good this event does, it becomes much easier to justify.  Take the opportunity to treat yourself, and also to help children with cancer—what better one-two punch are you going to get with your money?

Jonathan Waxman’s Stracciatella with heirloom tomatoes

La Panarda 2019: 40 Courses in 7 Hours

We’re gonna do this again, right?

My good friend Ray and I went into La Panarda 2018 as a once-in-a-lifetime experience: we would pay a lot of money to spend an entire Sunday, from noon until who knows when, eating and drinking non-stop. But then, about a week after we’d completed that task (and when we had finally started to feel hungry again), it became obvious to both of us that we were going to do it again.

This year we arrived early once again, wanting to get seats not only close to the end of the table, but also against one of the walls–when you’re sitting and eating for eight hours, having the option to lean back against something is very welcome. I once again wore my most comfortable shirt, my Canadiens jersey, and Ray wore a Flyers jersey; both sparked plenty of conversation with Le Virtu owner Francis Cratil Cretarola, who has been an avid hockey fan since before I was born.

I also was surprised to be recognized by many people who had read last year’s description of the meal, saying it was what they had shown friends who asked what they were getting into, and what they had used to plan for this year. I was asked for my advice on how to make it through the entire day, and I just echoed Francis’s advice from last year: the race isn’t always to the swift.

Soon after we were seated, Cantina Fretana Cococciola Spumante Brut was poured, and introductions were made to the folks we’d be spending the balance of our day with, Cretarola made a small introduction thanking everyone for being there and introducing us to a musician who would start us off with some “war music” played first on a goat’s bone, and then on what amounts to an Italian bagpipe.

The first item to come out was the torta rustica, a small quiche-like square served cold. I wasn’t expecting it to be cold, but it was delicious all the same, and just like that we were underway. No one having eaten breakfast, of course, the first few courses went quickly–we were all hungry and ready to eat.

Along with the torta was the mushroom polpette, an umami bomb of salty mushroom goodness served in ball form. At this stage in the game, despite repeated warnings not to get too ahead of themselves, a few people took some extra servings so as not to leave any food on the table. I admit I was one of them.

We then had a crostini with olives, and all the salt was working to get our saliva and digestive juices flowing. It also made me pretty thirsty, so the first few glasses of wine went down a little easier than they probably should have.

The final course of our first section was vegetable fritto misto, a selection of vegetables lightly fried in a tempura-like batter that worked because it was neither heavy nor greasy.

How do you eat this thing?

After the initial amuse offerings, we got started with fish–a change from last year’s movement into cheese and charcuterie. The first course, octopus with fennel and red chili pesto, would stand the test of time and remain a favorite of everyone by the end of the meal.

With the octopus were mussels and calamari with saffron, another delicious dish that was light and easy to eat. It was at this point I realized the day would move a little more swiftly than last year: courses were coming out two or three together rather than one at a time, which was definitely a step in the right direction for moving things along.

Next were baccala polpette, little salty bombs of fried salt cod. These were much smaller than the mushroom polpette but just as delicious, and everyone got two (and I took one extra).

One of the final fish dishes was shrimp with brodo piccante, whole shrimp in a spicy broth. While the broth wasn’t too spicy, it definitely had a slow burn and was the spiciest dish we’ve had in the two years I’ve done this. We made sure to suck the brains out of the shrimp as best we could, and between this and the mussels, it was really hard not to ask for bread to soak up all the delicious sauce we were missing out on. Bread, however, would have been a terrible idea, and we had to be happy with spoonfuls of the broth.

The final fish course was sardines with salsa verde, and was the first course that was not served family style: we each got our own sardine. And while I’ve eaten a lot of food, I am very rarely faced with an entire animal to try to get through, so I was a little unsure of how to proceed. The gentleman across from me–a hearty Italian who knew his way around–pulled the spine out like some kind of cartoon cat and was left with only the meat.

I gave up on that method almost immediately and ended up treating the fish like pulled pork, pulling it apart with my fork. That worked, for the most part. I still ended up swallowing some small bones, but on the whole I made it through the entire sardine, despite it being one of my least favorite dishes thus far.

Oh, just what we need: beans

Following the fish course was our first break. Everyone got up, went outside, stretched their legs, and chatted about the nine courses we’d just eaten. Francis made his rounds, talking hockey and once again thanking everyone for coming out for the meal. Once again, we’d lucked out with a beautiful late January afternoon, and no coats were necessary.

We returned from our short break to personal bowls of lentil soup and while it looked like a lot, it was just a small layer on the bottom of the bowl. Still, lentils and bread aren’t really what you want to load up on this early in the game, so most people opted to not finish. I was not one of those people.

More groans came as we were delivered sausage with white beans, another course that was sure to be heavy. Of course, as with almost everything else, it was exceptionally tasty despite the heaviness, and it was very hard to leave any remnants in the bowl–but we did, leaving most of the beans to be taken away. It was for the best.

Next were lamb polpette, a succulent lamb meatball served with cherry tomatoes that almost tasted as if they were candied. While I only wanted one of the meatballs, I ended up taking an extra spoonful of the tomatoes–they were that good.

One of the highlights of the day was the pork ribs agrodolce, ribs in a sweet and spicy sauce that would win my family’s yearly wing competition without a problem. And while we all hemmed and hawed over how great the sauce was, Chef Damon Menapace told us it was simply water, honey, vinegar, chili, and garlic.

The final course of this portion of the meal, and course #14 overall, was scrippelle ‘mbusse, delicate crepes rolled up in a clear broth and sprinkled with cheese. These were soft and fluffy with a subdued flavor that was a bit out of place with the other courses in this section.

What is this? Salad??

After the scrippelle, we were delivered two types of salad: escarole with citrus, and arugula with pistachio and pecorino. While we all jokingly complained that we were being given salad instead of real food, this turned out to be a brilliant move as far as meal pacing went. We were too fond of the escarole with citrus, but the acid probably went a long way to helping digest what was coming up. The arugula salad, however, was a big hit, and there was none left as we got up to venture outside to stretch our legs once again.

After our brief respite, we were treated to a course of charcuterie. As with the salad, this was a perfect way to slow things down before the pasta courses came up: we were given light ruffage, as well as a few small pieces of cured meat–not a lot of food to take up room before we got to the hard part. All the meat was house-cured, and included capocollo (or gabbagool for all your South Philadelphians), salame aquilano, ventricina vastese, fennel salame, and mixed pickles.

The fennel salame was the overwhelming favorite of the group we’d established, in no small part due to the delicious beets served with it. And being a sucker for anything pickled, I made short work of whatever was left of them once everyone had their share. The stewed tomatoes on top of the ventricina were also excellent.

You just have to make it through the pasta

The one thing that has stuck with me from all the articles I’ve read about Panarda is: you just have to make it through the pasta courses. Once you’re through them, it’s all downhill from there. This year, however, was slightly different. Chef Menapace said he went hard on the pasta, and it showed. Last year, there were five pasta courses and five offal courses. This year, offal was cut out entirely and we’d have to make it through eight pasta courses, separated by some vegetables.

It was time to put our game faces on. The first pasta to come out was the gnocchi with saffron and baccala, our second go-round with the salt cod. The gnocchi was dense, but the little pillows mixed in with the cod were all delicious.

Following the gnocchi was one of my favorite dishes of the night: juniper-smoked ricotta ravioli. Anyone who knows me knows I love smoke, and it was a subtle and delicious addition to these little raviolis. I definitely ate too many of them.

Next, the fazzoletti with swordfish and lemon may have been my favorite dish of the night. I don’t know why. Fazzoletti is known as “the handkerchief pasta” because it’s a long, flat sheet, and combined with the lemon flavor it was perfect. I love lemon as it is, and I think that contributed to my spooning serving after serving onto my plate.

I should mention that, after last year’s meal, I either wasn’t super full or don’t remember being super full. We had played the meal conservatively, being our first time, and so I felt I could dive a little deeper into the dishes this year. This thought process–especially as it relates to the fazzoletti–is where my hubris got the best of me.

The final course of the first round of pasta was the maccheroni alla mugnaia with garlic, olive oil, and peperoncino. This is an uneven, long, fresh pasta, and was very chewy, which I have really come to love in my noodles. This one was very good, but I only had one serving since I kept spooning the fazzoletti onto my plate.

After the first round of pasta (and after the first abandonment due to vomit out front of the restaurant), we of course went back outside to stretch and give everything a chance to digest. We came back to the duck and porcini timballo, which is a baked dish usually containing pasta, rice, or potatoes. This one, we were told, we should consider to be like duck lasagna, but the noodles were replaced with crepe, so it wouldn’t be as filling.

Despite looking like an odd lump, this turned into a quick favorite, and was the only thing I took home a portion of. After eating two slices, I couldn’t bring myself to eat any more, but also couldn’t bear to see any go to waste. Our tablemates seemed surprised that I claimed I could’ve eaten the entire portion were it the only thing served at dinner.

Along with the timballo was mushrooms with garlic and honey, a variety of grilled mushrooms that was meaty without being too filling. On any other day, I could’ve eaten much more than I did (I love mushrooms), but under the circumstances–as well as sharing the table with the timballo–the mushrooms were more of an afterthought.

The final dish in our pasta break was radicchio with apples and red wine vinaigrette, another salad that served it purpose: it was light, but delivered much-needed acid to combat all the heavy, fatty foods we were getting into.

And just like that, we were once again under attack, this time with anellini with pistachio and panchetta. The pasta was toothsome enough that some of the people at the table posited that it may be undercooked, but once again I really liked the bite the pasta had. I don’t know enough to know if it was undercooked or not, but I certainly enjoyed it.

Maccheroni alla chitarra with lamb ragu. This is where things started to blend together and get difficult to remember, and where I started to really regret taking fourths of the fazzoletti. If it makes things any better, I don’t remember this dish being bad.

Sagne e ceci, a flat pasta served with chickpeas–just what we needed, more beans to fill us up.

Finally, course 32 and the final pasta course: taccozelle with pork sausage, truffle, and saffron. Truffle and saffron makes this pretty decadent, and I am usually a truffle slut, but once again I couldn’t enjoy this dish to its fullest potential as all I could think of was getting up and going outside to get some fresh air.

Ryan, are you okay?

We came back in from our break to find a citrus sorbetto placed at our seat, which would have been a nice break from the pasta had I not been already getting too full. I made sure to eat it, though, as it was quite good and very refreshing. And then the piles of meat came out.

We started with aged ribeye with fried potatoes, cooked extremely rare. As put-off as some people would probably be, I ate an entire slice. It was soft, tender, and delicious. I did not find the “undercooked” texture off-putting at all, as some others claimed it to be.

With the ribeye was porchetta with long hots and broccoli rabe–an Abruzze nod to the Philly classic roast pork sandwich. The pork itself was succulent and tasted phenomenal, and I wish I had more room. I took one piece and struggled with that as it was.

Thankfully, there was only one more meat course to go, which was a lamb shank with polenta. Being in the same city as Zahav, I’m always leery of anyone serving any kind of lamb shank, but this stood on its own merits and I would order it again, despite only taking a small piece to taste, and not having any of the polenta.

After our final meat course, I immediately went outside and laid down on the convenient little wall they have in the courtyard. The cold concrete felt wonderful on my back, and my stomach felt like it was reaching to the sky, nine months pregnant. At one point I stood up and got the spins–maybe the two shots of limoncello among the endless wine wasn’t such a good idea. At one point Cathy Lee, one of the owners, came over to make sure I was okay. It was nice to feel cared about.

We went back in (with a little reluctance on my part) to a 75% ABV Centerba sorbetto and decided it would be a good idea to order espresso. When it arrived, I took a sip and almost immediately felt the pushing sensation on the bottom of my chin that signifies vomit is imminent. I excused myself from the table and walked to the bathroom, where there was a line. I waited, I took deep breaths. Luckily, I was able to get myself under control while I was in line so nothing came back in when it was finally my turn to go in. Disaster averted.

I came back to the table no worse for the wear (though no better, either) to find something I would have enjoyed seven hours before: cheese. There was a pecorino canestrato with honey, a ricotta passita with citrus preserves, and caprino stagionato with pepeoncino jam. They were all great–especially the sides served with them–but I could only bring myself to take a small bite of each.

We were also brought housemade lu parazzo, another plate of small desserts I only had a bite each of. This was the only thing that doubled up from last year, and the olive oil cake was definitely welcome back.

Finally, we had cicerchie, which was almost like a caramelized gnocchi. It was sweet, chewy, and had I been in a better state of mind and body, I could have eaten it all on my own.

We’re gonna do this again, right?

For Ray and I, La Panarda has transitioned from a once-in-a-lifetime marathon of food to a yearly friends day out, so we will most certainly be back next year. Last year I under-ate, this year I over-ate, so I feel like I’m really going to hit the sweet spot on the next go-round. I asked everyone at the table if they would do it again, and they all said yes. Whether I actually see them there next year, time will tell.

The whole ordeal is a great testament to the entire staff at Le Virtu: from the owners and servers making everyone feel welcomed and appreciated to the chef and his staff for the marathon of cooking they have to go through for us to have our marathon of eating. To do something like this really shows a love for and dedication to the Abruzzo region of Italy, and I almost feel like I’ve been there. I certainly know what their food is like.

A special shout-out, too, to Cantina Frentana, who supplied the wines for the evening. The wines we were served were Cantina Frentana Cococciola Spumante Brut (sparkling), Terre Valse Trebbiano d’Abruzzo 2016, Cirelli Bianco Organic Terbbiano Pecorino 2017, Costa del Mulino Pecorino 2016 (all white), Terre Valse Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo 2015 (rose), Cantina Frentana Organic Montepulciano d’Abruzzo 2015, Cantina Frentana Rubesto Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Riserva 2014, and Cantina Frentana Panarda Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Riverva 2012 (all red). I don’t know much about wine, but I would drink them all again.

To put something like this on with two new chefs in two years, and to not repeat a single dish (other than the dessert cookies) seems astounding to me, as does the ability to get it done in less than 12 hours. This year moved even more quickly than last, and we were done eating by 7:30 at the latest. In my short experience, it seems to get better every year, and the people in charge are able to tweak enough to make it run just a little more smoothly each time.

So, as things stand, I will see you next year. We’ll be in our loose, billowy hockey jerseys, hopefully not eating too much pasta or drinking too much wine. Although if we did, who could really blame us?

FEASTIVAL Changes Direction for 9th Year

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Jesse Ito’s dish, the highlight of last year’s event

Feastival has long been one of Philadelphia’s top food events, always gathering the city’s top chefs to raise money for the FringeArts program.  This year’s edition—taking place on Thursday, September 27—is no different, though the concept has changed slightly.  To more fully honor the city of Philadelphia’s extraordinary food scene, chefs will be paired together to represent cuisines from five of Philadelphia’s most iconic neighborhoods.  The pairings were chosen by two of the event’s co-hosts, Michael Solomonov (Zahav) and Nick Elmi (Laurel).

The event, presented by Audi, will as always go beyond the food and offer a night of live art and music to accompany the delicious drinks and dishes. Running from 7-10pm, tickets will set you back $300.  If you’d like to spring for the VIP experience, which gets you into the event an hour early, tickets will cost $450.  Each ticket includes a year-long FringeArts membership (which gets you 30% off all tickets for the season) and benefits the FringeArts program.

If you’re wondering exactly what you’ll get for that money, take a look at the chef pairings and the neighborhood cuisines they’ll be representing:

West Philadelphia

Aaron Bennawit (The Good King Tavern) & Scott Schroeder (Hungry Pigeon)

Eli Collins (a.kitchen) & Adan Trinidad (Sancho Pistola’s)

Nick Elmi (Laurel) & Nick Macri (La Divisa Meats)

Matt Fein (Federal Donuts) & Jon Rodriquez (Mission Taqueria)

Nate Horwitz (Morimoto) & Todd Lean (Pod)

Armando Jimenez (Harp & Crown) & Charlie Schmidt (Philadelphia OIC)

South Philadelphia

Chris Baretta (Continental Midtown) & Abigail Dahan (Parc)

Jezabel Careaga (Jezabel’s) & Clark Gilbert (Louie Louie)

Jason Cichonski (Ela) & Andrew Farley (High Street on Market)

Joncarl Lachman (Noord) & Ben Puchowitz (Bing Bing Dim Sum and Cheu Noodle Bar)

Richard Pepino (Drexel University’s Center for Hospitality) & Michael Yeamans (Audrey Claire)

Seth Petitt (Urban Farmer) & Rakesh Ramola (Indeblue)

Chinatown

Nich Bazik (Kensington Quarters) & Aaron Gottesman (Oyster House)

Camille Cogswell (Zahav) & Manny Perez (Walnut Street Café)

William Kells (Capofitto) & Peter Woolsey (La Peg)

Michael Loughlin (Scarpetta) & Jeremy Nolen (West Reading Motor Club)

Michael Strauss (Mike’s BBQ) & Michael Sultan (Revolution Taco)

Kensington & Fishtown

Kenneth Bush (Bistrot La Minette) & Richard Landau (V Street and Vedge)

Jonathan Cichon (Lacroix) & Ari Miller (Lost Bread Co.)

Christopher Curtin (Eclat Chocolate) & Ari Miller (1732 Meats)

Chris Kearse (Will BYOB) & Joe Thomas Jr. (Bank & Bourbon)

Francisco Ramirez (Tredici and Zavino) & Greg Vernick (Vernick Food & Drink)

Northeast Philadelphia

Kiki Aranita and Chris Vacca (Poi Dog) & Marc Vetri (Vetri Cucina)

Michael Brenfleck (La Calaca Feliz) & Doreen DeMarco (American Sardine Bar)

Rob Cottman (World Cafe Live) & Andrew Wood (Russet)

Jesse Ito (Royal Izakaya) & Townsend Wentz (Townsend, A Mano and Oloroso)

Samuel Kennedy and Matthew Hettlinger (The Farm at Doe Run) & John Patterson (Fork)

I, for one, am excited to see what teams like Poi Dog and Vetri can come up with, as well as how some of these chefs represent my neighborhood of Fishtown. And as I can attest from years past, the event is always worth the price and one of the best food- and drink-related nights of the year.  For more information and to order tickets, you can check out Feastival’s website. While it remains to be seen whether or not this is the most delicious incarnation of Feastival, it will certainly be the most interesting.

Things to Eat in Philadelphia That Aren’t A Goddamned Cheesesteak

Whenever people ask me where they should get a cheesesteak when they come to visit Philly, I always have the simplest answer for them: nowhere.  I’ll get a lot of guff for my outspoken dislike of the cheesesteak–especially since I’ll eat just about anything–but I really don’t see what’s special about some garbage meat put in a bun and topped with melted cheese whiz.  The city can offer you so much more.

For instance, did you know the stromboli was invented in Philadelphia in the 50s?  Sure, it’s basically just a rolled up pizza, but pizza is awesome so you can’t go wrong.  And Philadelphia is filled with the kind of Italians who have never been to Italy and love to pronounce things wrong (“Get some muht-zuh-rell when you go buy the gabbagool!”), so you know they do Italian food right.

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Tomato pie from Corropolese

And speaking of pizza-like concoctions, there is the even-better-than-stromboli tomato pie.  It took me a few years after moving to Philly to try it, because when someone mentioned “tomato pie” I immediately thought of apple pie but with tomatoes, and did not want that.  As it turns out, tomato pie is pizza-adjacent, with a thick crust topped with a sweet red sauce (or as they incorrectly call it here, “gravy”), often sprinkled with some parm powder, and best served at room temperature, or straight out of the fridge the next day.  Plenty of places have good tomato pie, but Corropolese Deli is where you’ll get the most consensus on the best. And they’ve been doing it for almost 100 years.

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Termini Bros. cannoli

Also going strong for nearly 100 years is Termini Brothers, the (originally) South Philly Italian bakery that can really do no wrong.  They can especially do no wrong if you get their top item, a cannoli. Eat it while you’re walking around the city; it’ll be worth however many thousands of calories it is.  Another Philly institution worth checking out is DiBruno Bros., home of any high-end food item you could desire, but especially focused on cheese.

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The cheese counter at DiBruno Bros.

If you’re avoiding the cheesesteak but still want a sandwich, you have two options. Philadelphia, for whatever reason, does an Italian hoagie better than pretty much anywhere in the country. Whether it’s the bread (Sarcone’s or Liscio’s rolls, you savages) or the toppings, any sandwich place worth its salt will have a good one. Just remember, if you want a traditional Italian hoagie, pass on the mayo and stick with oil and whatever hot pepper mixture they have.

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Italian hoagie: far superior to a cheesesteak

The other sandwich option is the creme de la creme of Philadelphia food, and what should be the real shining star: the roast pork sandwich.  Slow roasted pork, topped with sharp provolone and broccoli rabe, should really be the city’s namesake sandwich. The best are from John’s Roast Pork or the more accessible DiNic’s in Reading Terminal Market (which itself is worth spending time wandering through), whose roast pork sandwich was named the best sandwich in America by the Travel Channel.

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DiNic’s Roast Pork – make it a priority

I understand, though, you may want to get a cheesesteak just for the novelty of eating one in Philadelphia.  If you do that, have some modicum of self respect and keep a few things in mind: for one, the name basically describes what you should get on it.  Cheese and steak. Onions are acceptable, but for the love of god leave off the green peppers that everyone outside of Philadelphia seems to insist on adding.  Also, it’s just a cheesesteak: there is no other version in another city that you need to differentiate, so it’s not a Philadelphia cheesesteak, a Philly cheesesteak, or a Philly.  There is only one; there is only cheesesteak. Finally, avoid the tourist traps of Pat’s and Geno’s, aka Cheesesteak Vegas. Their signs and lights and rules for ordering are obnoxious.

Philadelphia is such a great food city, with a lot great food that is inherently Philadelphian, so I’m not sure how the city was saddled with the cheesesteak.  If you’re going to come to visit and you want some real Philly food, I beg of you: skip the scrap meat and plastic cheese.

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A sad-ass cheesesteak

Great Chefs Event 2018

On Saturday, just after noon, almost 1,000 people gathered at the URBN headquarters in Philadelphia’s Navy Yard to support Alex’s Lemonade Stand and feast on food from some of the best chefs in America.  The Great Chefs Event, in its 13th year now, experienced some changes this time around but still retains its title as the best food event in Philadelphia.

The three most notable changes were switching the event from a Tuesday evening to a Saturday afternoon, allowing children, and not selling tickets to the afterparty (which was restricted to only chefs, sponsors, and volunteers).

Not being on a Tuesday night and not being at the afterparty until 2am drastically improved the way I felt the day after the event, so I don’t have much to complain about there.  Allowing children, however, made navigating a bit of a trial.  While I understand allowing children at a fundraiser for childhood cancer, I also think the same lady with a two-person stroller was moving slowly in front of me the entire event.

One of the nicer changes, though, was the addition of an outdoor beer garden full of local breweries.  Victory, 2SP, Dogfish Head, Twin Lakes, Second District, Stoudt’s, and of course Sly Fox with their Alex’s Lemonade beer were all easily accessible and the never-crowded space was the perfect foil to the bustling inside.  And while it did get a little warm in the early afternoon, it’s hard to complain about that when it seems the rain in Philadelphia this year hasn’t stopped since March (and didn’t start until after the event had ended).

Back on the inside, though, was the same wonderful time as always.  Food vendors—and quite the line-up of which—lined the halls and the main room of the beautiful URBN space.  Michael Cimarusti was the first in line as guests entered the hall with a lobster mortadella sandwich—the perfect size for starting the day, but something I would have had trouble fitting later in the afternoon.  Also present were celebrity chefs Chris Cosentino, Jonathan Waxman, and Bruce Kalman of recent Top Chef fame. And despite my known stance on cheesesteaks, Cosentino’s tripe cheesesteak, nicknamed the “Stomach Grinder,” was one of my favorite dishes of the night.

Other favorites were Yehuda Sichel’s Montreal-style short rib sandwich, representing Philadelphia’s Abe Fisher with as delicate a piece of meat as I’ve had, held together by two pillowy-soft pieces of bread: you wouldn’t have needed teeth to eat this.  Another top pick was Gavin Fine’s seared sea scallops with ginger-soy butter, watercress, tobiko vinaigrette, and fried shallots.  Despite Jackson Hole, WY not necessarily being known as a top seafood destination, Gavin clearly knew what to do with this perfectly seared mollusks.  Finally, Vinny Dotolo and Jon Shook’s cavatelli with fennel sausage and cavolo nero, despite being quite the heady dish near the end of our eating, was absolutely delicious.

About two hours into the eating was a short presentation, as there is every year, from Jim and Liz Scott, the parents of the titular Alex from Alex’s Lemonade Stand, with an update on their fundraising and some personal stories.  They also had a current childhood cancer survivor tell his story before the real fundraising of the day got down to business: a charity auction for some big-ticket items.  The largest of them was Marc Vetri and Greg Vernick coming to your house and cooking for a dinner party of 12, which sold for a whopping $10,000.  The five large auction items raised over $50,000 for the foundation on their own.

The annual event should be attended by anyone who can make it: you are able to support Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation, eat amazing food, rub elbows with some of the top chefs in the country, and hang out in URBN’s beautiful space.  There are myriad silent auction items and raffles.  The list goes on for all the great things that happen here over the space of four hours on a Saturday afternoon, and I suggest you check it out for yourself.

If you were unable to attend the event but would still like to support Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation, you can click here.  There is also a Great Chefs Event in Chicago on August 13, and L.A. Loves Alex’s Lemonade in Los Angeles on September 9.

La Panarda: A Tale of 40 Courses Over Nine Hours

At the end of January, my friend Ray and I continued our month of indulgence and finally ticked La Panarda off of our bucket list: an epic nine-hour feast with a menu of 42 courses at Philadelphia restaurant Le Virtu.  Though, saying 42 “items” would probably be more accurate, as the menu was broken down into nine “courses” that grouped like-minded dishes.

There were also nine different Abruzzo wines (four white, a rose, and four red), which were paired with each of the courses, and topped off as necessary.  Needless to say, I really could have used a nap about six hours into the meal, but I powered on.

We were told to wear “comfortable and expandable” clothing – I went with my Canadiens hockey jersey, which actually started a lot of conversations, in addition to being roomy enough for me to eat for nine hours.

If you would like to read more about La Panarda and the history behind it, I would suggest Drew Lazor’s piece in Saveur Magazine about it. If you would like to read about the absolute indulgence I feel I had been training my whole life for, please continue.

As a fair warning, the light started to wane near the end – compounded with hours of wine and people being less patient as the night went on, some of the pictures become a little less practiced near the end. But for the most part, everyone at our part of the table was very open to waiting until everyone had snapped their pictures before taking anything.

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Ray and I arrived about 15 minutes early, just as they were opening the restaurant and letting us take our seats.  We picked seats at the end of a table, against a wall and close to the door to Le Virtu’s outside porch area.  Not only did it afford us great lighting for photos, but we had a quick way out of the table as well as a wall to lean back on when the going got tough. Owner Francis Cratil Cretarola and his brother Fred, the manager, immediately commented on my Habs jersey, as they’re both hockey fans.

At the table in front of us was a bowl of mushroom sott’olio, a variety of cooked mushrooms in oil.  We nervously eyed them as we waited for the rest of the guests to arrive, for our welcome champagne to be poured, and for Francis to give his welcome talk. The best piece of advice he gave us was the line, “The race is not always to the swift.”

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The first item that was actually delivered to our table was the Salumi and Formaggi meat and cheese board, which contained pancetta, coppa, guanciale, ‘nduja, mortadella, and mangalitsa cacciatorini for the meat, three types of pecorino (canestrato, muffato, and brigantaccio – with the muffato bring slightly softer, stinkier, and more delicious), as well as a 36-month aged parmigiano that was delightful.  Also on the board was pepperonata, eggplant, carrots, pickled onions, and grilled bread.

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Once we were nearing the end of the board, with people hesitantly picking at what was left.  The first course, and already the mental strategy had to kick in: Ray and I are the type of guys who will pick at food as long as it’s in front of us, and we’ll finish shared plates if no one else wants them.  But today, we had to stay strong and not overdo it.  We’d have to have tastes, and then leave the rest until the next course.

Then, they brought out another board.  “Ohh, what’s this?” we asked.  “More of the same.”

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More picking, and then came the oliva ascolana, little fried balls filled with green olive and shredded meat.

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The opening course also included palotta cac e ove, which are basically vegetarian meatballs made with bread and cheese.  They were just as good as any “regular” meatball.

Thus ended the “Sfizi” and “Salumi and Formaggi” courses, and thankfully ended the piles of meat and cheese still sitting on the table.  Next came the “Crudi” course, starting with Ikijime fluke with olive, fennel, and citrus.  There were also some peppers on top that helped spice things up a bit.

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It was about this time that we could look outside on the porch and see the chefs preparing the roasted suckling pig in their box outside – another of the perks of sitting near the window.

As we were watching the pig be prepared, another dish was brought to the table, this time a bowl of bay scallops with Calabrese chili and mustard oil. This was a standout, and would become one of the dishes I had to take multiple servings of.

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Following the scallops was a top-notch tuna with porcini powder, celery root, and pomegranate seeds.  I knew it was early, and I knew I had to pace myself, but I also knew I had to have more than one piece. It was so good.

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Next in our parade of food was the peppercorn crusted venison carpaccio with arugula, grana, and lemon. Some people complained about the arugula for some reason, but I loved it and as such had no problem with it.

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Finally, rounding out the “Crudi” section and quickly becoming what everyone thought of as the dish of the night was the charred wagyu with sunchoke, black garlic, and capers. This may have been the only bowl that was sent back completely empty.  We couldn’t stop raving about it, and couldn’t stop eating it.  If you ever see this on the menu at Le Virtu, do not hesitate.

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After this cluster of dishes, we had our first break.  People got up, walked around, hung out in the courtyard outside for a bit.  We chatted, stretched out legs, and just generally relaxed.  Our plates were changed, our wine was refilled, and preparations for the next course were begun.  When it was time to go back in, the owner rang a little dinner bell and we all headed back to our seats to continue the feast.

Up next on the docket was “Antipasti” – and crazy to think that we had gone through 15 dishes already and hadn’t even made it to the appetizers. First up was a heavy and rich fegato – a duck liver mousse with Amarena cherry and fennel puree. At this point, it was the heaviest thing we had eaten all day, and would remain so until the pasta courses.

Following the mousse was a much lighter grilled baby octopus with Umbrian chickpeas and chicory. The idea of chickpeas didn’t thrill me from a trying-not-to-fill-up perspective, but it was still worth eating.

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Alongside this was a house-made Calabrese sausage with broccoli rabe, chili, and agrumato. I don’t know how many times I can get away with just saying “this was delicious.”

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Up next were some “real” meatballs – Mangalitsa pork meatballs with marinara and ricotta salata.  It was nice to have them as a counterpoint to the palotte we’d had, and I almost wish we could have had them side-by-side to compare.

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Rounding out the Antipasti was arrosticini with rosemary, garlic, and preserved lemon.  It was a bit of a surprise, because in my mind I was thinking arancini, and so expected another little fried ball rather than the skewered and grilled pork that we got.

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After this course was another break, and from here on out everyone seemed to be in full agreement that after every course or grouping, we’d need to wander outside and stretch our legs, walk around, or get fresh air.

When we came back, we had the prospect of the “Primi” course – pasta – staring us down. As much as I absolutely love carbs and all things noodle, this was the course that made me nervous, and could easily derail the entire meal if you weren’t careful. As I’d read in the Saveur article ahead of time, if you can make it past the pasta course, you’re home free.

I wouldn’t say it’s as easy as that, but it is a large hump in the middle of the meal.  We started with probably the best dish of the group, cavatelli with mushroom ragu, egg yolk, and grana padana.  The egg yolk was fashioned into a firm kind of custard, and I could’ve eaten the entire plate of this stuff if I hadn’t still had 23 dishes ahead of me.

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Alongside the cavatelli, we were treated to gnocchi with sweet shrimp, piennolo tomato, Calabrese chili, and basil. Thanks to a meal at the French Laundry a few years ago, all gnocchi is basically garbage to me, but this was still good.  And sucking out shrimp heads is always a delight – which is why I went through four of them.

Once those two were done, we were served crespelle with sheep’s milk ricotta and artichoke ragu. These were like little Abruzzo crepes filled with cheese, which makes them infinitely more delicious than regular crepes.

After the crespelles was chitarra with lamb ragu alla Silvana at Villa Vetiche and pecorino.  It looks like normal spaghetti, but was cooked so perfectly al dente I had to take a second helping.  I’ve eaten lots of pasta – at expensive Italian restaurants and all over Italy, but I had never had al dente pasta like this.  It was a real eye-opener.

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The final course of the pastas was the mugnaia with peperoncino, aglio e olio. This comes out as a single six-foot long thick noodle, which makes it a little difficult to eat family-style, but we made do.

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Another break – this one the longest of them all – and we came back in for some heavy hitters in the “Pesce” courses.  We returned to find a large pot on the table and bowls in front of us for a seafood stew: brodetto vastese with monkfish, sea robins, shrimp, tilefish, clams, mussels, and saffron.

Along with the stew was stuffed calimari with ‘nduja, caper, and raisin. These were delicious, but spicy.  As in, eat too much of the sauce and start coughing spicy.  This, of course, I know from experience.

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Next up was scungilli with button mushrooms, veal jus, parsley salsa verde, and grilled bread. Scungilli is a kind of mollusk that when cooked came out very similar to snails, but is much more fun to say.  Scungilli.  Skoon-jee-lee.

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Rounding out the fish course was a platter of fritto misto: whole fried branzino, tentacles, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, greens, and aioli. One of our tablemates said this was his favorite thing that Le Virtu did.  It was good, but we’d already had plenty that I’d preferred.

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Another break, and then we were back in for the course I had probably been looking forward to most: “Frattaglie (offal) e Fermentati (fermenteds).” Ray and I love this stuff, and a lot of these dishes were no different. I think it may have been about this time that we had our first espresso to keep us going.

We started with honeycomb tripe with Reid’s corn polenta and parmigiana, which turned out much better than I’d hoped and shot to the top part of my experience thus far.  It was a bit chewy, but not unpleasantly so, and certainly not as stringy as the stuff I’d had in pho that, for the most part, turned me off of tripe.

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Following the tripe was probably the oddest dish of the night, made even more so because it was served cold.  It was neonata di sardelle: fermented baby eels on black garlic bread. As horrifying as it sounds, it was just as delicious.

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Next up were spiedini: grilled duck hearts with Agrodolce. These duck hearts would have a lot to live up to – the version at Zahav is one of my favorite dishes – but these were cooked perfectly and tasted almost as good.

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After the hearts was another one of the best dishes of the night, animelle: glazed veal heart sweetbreads. These were topped with a chili sauce that made them taste like chicken nuggest with sriracha multiplied to the 1,000th power.  I could eat a bucket of these things.

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The final offal dish turned out to be my least favorite dish of the night.  I love delicious and interesting innards, but when you get too much of the pasty, mouth-coating kidney flavor in something, it just ruins it for me.  This was the mazzarelle teramane: lamb, goat, and pork offal in a grape leaf. I’m not even sure what kind of pieces and parts were in there, but the one flavor dominated the entire roll.  Thankfully, Ray and I split one so I only had half.

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Now we were nearing the end.  Only two more sections of the menu to go.  We were still feeling good, and not nearly as full or as drunk as we thought we would as we neared the 6.5-7 hour mark.  We were really more sleepy than full after all of that, and I took a cue from a helpful gentleman outside.

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By this point, some people had even abandoned the meal and left early.  I couldn’t imagine paying all that money and not sticking around to have some more drinks and maybe a bite of everything, even if you were full.  And I certainly can’t imagine leaving after seeing the pig being taken in.

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Which happened to the the beginning of the next course, “Carni arrosto (from Four Story Hill Farms).” This was maialino (suckling pig) with fennel pollen and potato. The skin wasn’t quite done enough to chew on, but the rest of the meat was delightful.

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Along with the pork came roasted chicken, which was not on the original menu. While this probably would have been delicious on any other night, chicken was a little boring after everything else we’d had. Accompanying it was a delicious crock of beans, because we needed more filler at this point.

Following the chicken was probably my favorite meat course, also accompanied by a crock of beans, in the salt baby lamb in a China box (which is what they cooked the pig in).

Following the lamb was roasted milk-fed avian poularde with red wine prunes. I usually like my duck rare, but this was extremely rare and I wasn’t very into it.  I’m sure it was delicious, but the nearly raw bird texture turned me off.

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Finally, the final savory dish and one of the most delicious of the night, was the 50-day dry-aged PA pasture-raised cote de beouf. This beef was seasoned perfectly and cooked perfectly.  I’m not usually one to get hyped up over beef (there’s so much more out there.  I mean, look at everything that came before this!) but this was well worth the wait and a worthy cap to the meal before dessert.

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One more break, and then we were ready for dessert. While there was unfortunately no dessert wine (which I’m a sucker for), Ray and I each ordered an espresso and a limoncello to help us chug along through the “Dolci” course.  This began with a biscotti plate: polenta, pine nut, raspberry, biscotti, red wine, pizzelle torrone.

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The cookies were nice, but the chocolate olive oil cake with pistachio and cannoli cream that came next was much better.  And, as I’ve mentioned before, I generally hate chocolate.  As it turns out, though, my love of olive oil cake trumps that.

The penultimate dessert, a cannoli with pistachio and chocolate chip, was one of the highlights of the night.  The cream was the lightest, fluffiest cannoli cream I’d ever had, and Ray and I both agreed it was the best cannoli either of us had ever eaten – and Ray is a baker. Who makes cannoli.  I’ve never had much of a sweet tooth, but I’d eat one of these every day.

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Finally, the last item: buttermilk panna cotta with brown butter cake, cranberry and apple. It wasn’t as firm as you would expect from panna cotta – it was more of a pudding – but man was it good.  I probably would have preferred to end the night with the cannoli, but this was just as nice a way to finish.

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In the end, the meal was as much physical as it was mental, but we never ended up as drunk or as full as we thought we would.  We paced ourselves well, and we made it through relatively unscarred (though I did drag a bit at work the following day).

The food was wonderful – over 40 or so dishes, there is bound to be something you don’t like.  But to only find two or three plates that I didn’t prefer, I feel, is really something astounding.  Especially with as many dishes that would just flat out delicious.  And it was a great tour of the cuisine of Abruzze, besides, which was something I didn’t have much experience with.  Plus we got a gift bag, which is always cool.

We had a great all-around experience, and it quickly changed from “this is a once-in-a-lifetime meal” to “what are we going to wear next year?”  Whatever we decide on, I hope you’re there to see it.