Full Complement

Marigold, Philadelphia: “Sometimes you have to just let art … flow … over you”

IN The Big Chill, a group of friends come together for the funeral of another friend.  While today’s brunch at Marigold did not have a somber air, it did have a  similar reunion-esque vibe.  Among our gang was Wee, who’s been MIA for ages due to med school hooplah; Nicole, ensconced in West Philly but who can be teased out with quizo and dim sum; Megan, who I’d heard lots about but had yet to sit down over coffee with; and Paige, passing through but stilling for long enough to eat and laugh and catch up.

We also bumped into three other college acquaintances over the course of the meal, which just goes to show that Philly is a city that holds its people.  Kind of like Paris, or Cairo.  Sit anywhere on the Champs Élysées or at Tahrir Square (preferably not in the square itself, but adjacent–say, at the Egyptian Museum) for long enough, and you’re sure to see a parade of faces from your past.  It’s comforting to know that Philly is growing into one of those cities.

Today was another one of the city’s beautiful days: we woke with the hint of snow on the ground and the promise of more to come; I woke to a reminder of a friend’s production of The Tempest.  The trolley came almost on time (a positive sign for Septa).  All good things, and they just contributed to the general air of satisfaction.

I met Wee and Nicole outside Marigold, and we proceeded into the cozy inner vestibule to warm ourselves and start the adventure with laughter and reminisces.  Megan and Paige showed up a few minutes later and Wee taught them how to make stars out of rubber bands; and then we were ushered inside the restaurant proper to our window-side table.  With my back to the street and surrounded by glass, I felt both part of the scenery and an on-looker onto the world outside.

Because Paige was catching a train, we had to order fast and eat quicker.  We made our selections contingent on each other’s selections — which sounds a bit balmy, but which meant that once the food came, it rotated.  Nicole’s brioche french toast made its way to each of us; Wee passed his salmon around; Paige and Megan split the mini pumpkin muffins; I passed around forkfuls of surry sausage and mushroom crepe; Paige handed off her sandwich to anyone who wanted a bite.  Family-style, and very easy.  Conversation, coffee, and food passed from person to person, punctuated by laughter, happy sighs, and “remember whens?”

At the end, as we sat contentedly in our star-shaped 5-person formation, the general consensus was clear.  “What’s for dessert?”  Wee was satisfied, but had enjoyed his meal so much he wanted more. 

Marigold provides perfectly proportioned dishes–not too much, but just enough that you know you’ll be back.  The walls are a delicate yellow, bearing bright paintings and, in the vestibule, copper-pipe light fixtures.  It feels like a house, but like no home you’d ever known.  Nicole and Megan mused for a moment on whether or not they could turn their West Philly address into a brunch kitchen; they certainly have enough chairs for it.  But the thought of coming “home” to dishes, or waking up knowing you have to put on your brightest face and bring out the fresh coffee…Well, it was all a bit much.  Maybe one day, when we’re a little more established, a little more settled.

As for me?  I bid my goodbyes and went to see The Tempest.  Talking about theater is not my forte, but this was a haunting performance that stripped the text down and rebuilt it around three faces, three sets of hands, and three voices — and what “rough magic” they could cull from their own artistry.  (Shout out to the lighting, sound design, and set, too–magic.  Magic!)  And from there, to home; and once at home, I settled in for a quiet evening, watching the new snow fall in the city and letting the scent of fresh blackberry muffins rise in the oven behind me.

At its heart, isn’t that what a Sunday is for?


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.