Year One Anniversary, part III

August 8, 2010 § Leave a comment

Part III: The Food

At the beginning of July, I went to visit Shabad in Philadelphia just before she moved to Knoxville, Tennessee for graduate school. While I was there, we spent the entire weekend eating and she took me to some very lovely places for Italian food, authentic bagels shipped in daily from New York City, and people-walking-their-dogs watching, and I took her to the Philadelphia Chinatown because I wanted to try a bun from all four of the Chinese bakeries that have at least 4 stars on Yelp (and, “for good measure” I told myself and Shabad, I tried two of the 3.5 stars-rated Chinese bakeries on Yelp; the truth was that I absolutely love pineapple buns and scallion buns, and I just wanted more, more, more).

I loved all the places I visited with Shabad so much that I wanted to return and show Wayne these places as a way to celebrate our anniversary. He eagerly agreed because he spent a part of his childhood visiting parts of Philadelphia but he hadn’t visited in recent years. He was excited because he would get to try a legitimate Philadelphia cheesesteak and visit his dad’s favorite restaurant for Taiwanese food. I was excited because I would get a second chance to eat amazing Italian food with gracefully efficient and accurate service at a ridiculously inexpensive price: La Viola.  I truly love this restaurant. And a part of me loves Philadelphia now purely because of this one restaurant.

Wayne and I decided to spend the weekend in Philadelphia so that we had more time to explore Rittenhouse Square. All the places I wanted to show Wayne were close walking distance within Rittenhouse Square, and Chinatown is a quick walk away. Rittenhouse Square is also very charming with its historic buildings, ornate Victorian architecture, and red brick townhouses, and I loved walking around just to stare at the buildings. The area has the best shopping in the city so that I could take advantage of Pennsylvania’s no tax on shoes and clothing. Considering that I used to live in LA where the sales tax is 9.75%, no tax felt so liberating that I wanted to go on a shopping spree. In a way, it is as if the entire state of Pennsylvania gave me a 10% discount on Anthropologie!

Capogiro Gelato Artisans in Rittenhouse Square

Since our anniversary weekend was also Shabad’s last weekend in Philadelphia, I wanted to meet up with her so I could spend some more time with her and have her meet Wayne. I have slowly been introducing Wayne to “the Roommates”, my closest friends during USC, even though I only lived with three of the five girls– the reason why I have to slowly introduce Wayne to all five girls is because we’re all scattered among Los Angeles, Las Vegas, New York City, and, now, Knoxville. We met up with Shabad for gelato at Capogiro Gelato Artisans (Yelp review), a family owned and run gelateria with several cafe locations around Philadelphia. The gelato and sorbettos are made fresh daily in small batches to ensure quality, and the flavors vary by location and day. The gelato is smooth and creamy, and the flavor is deeply rich and intense. Besides the high quality of the gelato, what I found to be impressive was the multitude of flavors that ranged from popular common flavors to extremely creative flavors– some flavors I was a little dubious to try, for example Sea Salt. Popular common flavors– besides Stracciatella (equivalent to chocolate chip and vanilla), Vanilla, and Pistachio– I loved were Bacio (chocolate and hazelnut), Dulce de Leche, and Champagne Mango. Some creative flavors that were offered were Mojito, Mascarpone, Tahini, and Rosemary Honey Goat’s milk. The funny thing is that Capogiro is also a very good place to buy bagels because the bagels are delivered daily from H&H Bagels (Yelp review) in New York City but the spreads are homemade.

La Viola in Rittenhouse Square

For our anniversary dinner, I made reservations at La Viola, the restaurant that I loved so much that I planned an entire weekend trip around it, just so I could eat their Panne Alla Caruso (penne with bright green peas and chunks of pancetta in a velvet-y vodka sauce). What blows my mind is just how ridiculously reasonable (okay, fine, it’s the nice way of saying: Oh my God, it is so SO cheap) for the quality of the food and service. And the restaurant is BYOB so that offers a lot of freedom in terms of wine and it saves some money. Everything on the menu sounds incredibly enticing that I desperately wish I had the foresight to figure out how to stretch out my stomach so I could try everything, but Shabad assures me that she has tried pretty everything (over a period of two years, of course) on the menu and all the dishes are delicious.

The service was very efficient and fast. When Wayne and I were seated, immediately a server gave us crusty bread that was still very warm, almost hot, and a dipping sauce that is a mixture of extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and fresh herbs– unfortunately the only herb that I remember is rosemary. A minute later, another server came by to take our drink orders. We ordered the grilled calamari, mussels in white sauce, and the Panne Alla Caruso I had been dreaming about and lusting over since I first had it with Shabad two weeks prior. The servers were all very quick and we did not wait long for the appetizers to come out:

Grilled Calamari and Mussels

Both appetizers were very good. The squid was flavorful and not rubbery; it had a firm but soft texture. The mussels were good, but mussels are generally easy to prepare and hard to mess up. Wayne and I typically order mussels whenever we see them offered on a menu because we love seafood, particularly mussels, clams, and oysters– all bivalves should fear us. Unfortunately, the beards weren’t removed so eating the mussels was a little annoying because I had to remove the beards myself. There is no picture of the Panne Alla Caruso because the second the server placed the entree on the table for Wayne and I to split, I started eating immediately. I absolutely could not wait. It was similar to when I received the box of macarons, except the thought to take a picture did not occur to me until after I finished eating. And I’m pretty sure Wayne didn’t want to attempt to interrupt me to take a picture for fear that he might somehow get hurt when trying to come between me and my plate of Panne Alla Caruso.

Soon after we finished the Panne Alla Caruso, another server came by to ask if we wanted dessert. There is no set dessert menu; instead, the server will recite the desserts offered since the assortment of dessert changes daily. When I went to La Viola with Shabad, tiramisu was not offered and I was really disappointed because I had been craving tiramisu for several days. For our anniversary dinner, the dessert menu was different:

Server: Would you like to hear our dessert menu?
Me: Hm, sure.
Server: [takes a deep breathe to prepare for his recitation] Today, we have a homemade tirami–
Me: [jumps a little and says giddily] That! I want that! The tiramisu.
Server: [in some shock that he was interrupted while reciting and a little confused as to what to do next] …Er, would you like to hear the rest of the desserts?
Me: [still giddy] No. I definitely want the tiramisu.

The tiramisu was heavenly with its decadent custard and lady fingers richly flavored with espresso. It was exactly what I needed to satisfy my craving.

Some things to note that might be bothersome if I weren’t me. I am more than willing to sacrifice just about everything involved in the dining experience for good food and efficient service, so I don’t mind that the restaurant is cramped and a little loud. The tables are small and there’s a very good chance that on a busy night, I might be elbowing the stranger sitting at the next table when I’m trying to eat. Also because the place is small and there are a lot of patrons, it does get noisy. But I love this restaurant so much that it could be pouring rain and the only available seat is outside. I will happily eat outside while holding an umbrella in one hand and holding a fork to the Panne Alla Caruso in the other hand.



Capogiro Gelato Artisans in Rittenhouse Square
117 S 20th St
Philadelphia, PA 19103
(215) 636-9250

La Viola in Rittenhouse Square
253 South 16th St # A
Philadelphia, PA 19102-3350
(215) 735-8630


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