Drink · Full Complement · Lunch

Farmicia, Philadelphia: La Dolce Vita

I AM reminded, quite often, that I am incredibly privileged in the friends that I have. KB and I were talking of safety nets today–financial, familial, etc–and, as I dunked my feet in the pedicurist’s bath, I realized that my biggest safety net (and I am the kind of person who can rationalize anything into being a convincing personal panacea) is my friends, collective: You.

Not to go completely maudlin on you, but who do we turn to in moments of personal crisis, introspection, self-pity, joy, anger, uncontrollable misery, discovery? When we’re away from home and need a taste of the familiar, to whom do we reach out? One of the firm, natural human inclinations is the impulse to strike up conversations and friendships, be they in bookstores or airplane aisles or even online. (Need I bring up my amazing 75-year-old man-lethal grandmother again? The woman is example enough to give anyone faith in the human connection.)

It was only right, then, that when confronted with the prospect of seeing both Regina Spektor and Ani diFranco in concert at the Mann Center, I should be immediately and unquestionably determined to see them with New York Emily. First of all, Emily was the one to convince me to like Regina Spektor. Em and I had talked of introducing her brother to Ani before he started his freshman year of college so that he’d be adequately versed in female singer-songwriters (an essential part of anyone’s contemporary music education). And during our own senior year, we’d seen Norah Jones perform at the Mann Center. (We’d seen that concert, though, in the company of D and Lissie, who–at the time of this concert–was seeing Feist in New York City.) It was like going full circle to be at the same venue and to see these two artists perform, both of whom had touched our friendship at very different and very crucial points–one during its formation, and one during its cementing. To come back again was a reaffirmation, just as it was a delight and a complete joy to see the Mann Center lit up with the amazing talents of the two electric women before us.

And the delight continued. In the morning, still aglow from the wonder of Regina’s superbly executed musicality and Ani’s powerful guitar and lyrics, we made our way through the Thursday traffic to meet D, back from her trip to the Southwest, at Old City’s own Farmicia.

Farmicia‘s website proclaims that:

Farmicia is the conception of Kevin Klause (formerly of the White Dog Cafe), James Barrett and Wendy Smith Born (owners of Metropolitan Bakery), who share a vision…that captures the pleasures of simply crafted food and beverages served in a relaxed yet lively environment. The emphasis is on great tasting food and beverages crafted from local, organic, and artisanal producers.

Indeed, the restaurant ably weds tasty, interesting fare with a casual elegance stripped from a daydream of the rustic Italian countryside (and oh, Lissie, how I missed you). We sat outdoors, where South 3rd street had been transformed from a Philadephia thoroughfare to a peaceful, almost haven-like respite from a mad, fast-paced world. As we slathered our slabs of Tuscan bread and slices of rosemary-olive loaf with herbed butter, we caught up on the past few months: D’s travels, Em’s plans, my settling. As the sun continued to rise behind us and we deliberated over the menu, I fully expected to turn my head and catch sight of one of Ruth Orkin’s heroines, clutching her purse and summer jacket, threading through the midday street crowd.

Farmicia has two seating options: outdoors & indoors (that’s a lie; there are further options indoors, including at the bar). I’m so glad that we chose to sit outdoors, where the combination of the simply-presented menu and the dark, rustic furniture lulled us into a truly romantic experience. There is a confidence to Farmicia not unlike that which can be found in old films and old Victrola records. It is a confidence born of an ease in the body that has been stamped out by our preoccupation with tabloids and weight loss and muscle tone.

Think Marcello Mastroianni. Farmicia (the outdoor version) has that same devil-may-care, unfettered, unshakable confidence in itself. Even the menu selections have an old world grace to them. Presented on a long, unembellished piece of fine paper, they bask in the knowledge that they do not have to explain themselves, nor do they need to adorn themselves with fancy garnishes or tongue-numbing culinary descriptions. They are what they are, and that is enough.

Our waiter had to come back to us three times, and even then we had to beg his help in deciphering the menu. The choices–deceptively simple, like Sphinxes–kept eluding us. Finally, we settled on the Trio of Cheeses for our appetizer (with a Bleu Cheese, a Vermont Cheddar, Sheep’s Milk Cheese, a selection of toasts, and a scoop of fruit chutney). Em went for the Angus Cheeseburger, D for the Nova Salmon and Egg Salad Sandwich, and I for the Grilled Goat Cheese on Sourdough Bread Sandwich.

But we weren’t done there. One of the charms of Farmicia is that it offers an interest take on teas: whatever tea you order is not complete without an Elixir Tonic. While Em eschewed the teas and opted for a latte, D and I both leaped at the chance to try the interesting concoctions. While D quickly made her selection (green tea with a honey-lemon-herb elixir), it took me a while longer. With the help of our waiter, I decided on the English Breakfast tea with an elixir of raspberry, plum, and herbs.

The elixirs are presented in small glasses (Ikea’s very own), perfect for pouring into a tea-pot or siphoning into a steaming cup of tea. D and I were each left with a bit of elixir after we had finished our teas, and we poured water into the small glasses and drank the sweet elixir down, choosing that as dessert rather than opting for a third course.

I have always believed that the culinary adventure is a romantic one–that where food resides, so does passion. At Farmicia, I was able to see my fondest theory in practice, and on two very distinct levels. On the street, the romance is earthy, built on sweat and steam; it is afternoons with the sun on your back and the murmur of desire beating in the flat of your wrist. Indoors, where the lighting is dimmed and the airflow controlled, the romance is atmospheric and created; it has been specially crafted to breed conversation and long glances. Indoors, it is a romance of patience, of waiting and longing and planning; outside, where the elements swirl around you and the aroma of the Tuscan bread rises to mingle with the steam from your elixir-enriched tea, it is an unpredictable romance, one that is impatient and demanding, and wild with its own power.

I am no fool. I will always prefer the outdoor, uncontrollable, vastly earthier experience. And should anyone wish to brave Farmicia and experience that passion along with me again, all you need to do is ask.



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