Saturday, April 12, 2008

Philadelphia: Marathon, La Viola, and... Wawa!!

I have discovered the greatest string cheese on earth.

Seriously. I know string cheese isn't usually a food that ascends to "greatness"; frankly, I would never even think of searching for great string cheese. I haven't even eaten string cheese in a long time. But I tell you: while I was visiting my friend at Penn this weekend, he took me to Wawa, and by fortuitous, delightful chance, I selected a mozzarella string cheese. And it was so, so, SO delicious: creamy, buttery, and VERY stringy-- not gummy at all, the way some string cheese can be. This all seems somewhat ridiculous, but I was there for under 48 hours and I had four Wawa string cheeses. It was that good.

While I was in Philly, we did eat things other than string cheese (although, if I had had my choice...). We grabbed dinner at Marathon Grill the first night. Marathon was a fairly comprehensive fast-casual style place-- a little nicer than TGI Friday's, say. They earned major points for having a "control freak salad" option, where you can customize a salad of your own creation by choosing greens, toppings, and dressing. Needless to say, I went with that: baby spinach with grilled eggplant, beets, asparagus, and carrots. The grilled eggplant was good and cut in big pieces; the asparagus was grilled and tasty but there were only a few spears draped over the top of the salad. The beets were surprisingly delicious (they were actually baby beets, which I enjoy). The only negative was the fact that carrots weren't shavings but chunks of carrot about the size of marbles, which is probably the least appetizing way to present a raw carrot in a salad. Overall, I'd say Marathon got the job done.

The next night (after strolling around Reading Terminal market for several hours in the afternoon-- an AWESOME food place, definitely recommended if you have the time and are in the area), we wound up at La Viola, a little Italian restaurant on 16th street. We made reservations for 7PM and arrived right on the dot to find a packed (and tiny) restaurant with no empty tables. We waited outside, as it was a lovely night and there was absolutely no room inside, and the minutes ticked by. About 10 or 15 minutes later, the hostess asked us whether we wanted to sit inside or outside. Almost in unison, we replied "First available," and while we were wondering why should would even ask us our preference while the restaurant was clearly getting slammed, we witnessed a couple of busboys bringing out a THIRD row of tables to the sidewalk to increase their outdoor seating capacity. Now, I love al fresco dining as much as the next guy, but this third row of tables was about 3 feet away from the gutter, meaning you'd might as well be sitting in the middle of the road. After a few quick words with the hostess, she agreed to seat us inside at a table that had just opened up, and our dinner was underway.

We looked over the menu, decided, and had placed our order within about 5 minutes of sitting. They brought out a bread basket: a warm loaf, clearly just cooked. VERY delicious (I say this only because I packed away about an entire loaf over the coarse of the dinner). We dipped the bread in the accompanying olive oil/vinegar/pepper concoction and settled in.

Turns out we didn't need to (settle in, that is)-- our appetizers arrived about 4 minutes later. My salad, a trecolori salad with parmesan, was pretty standard, although the dressing was delicious. My friend enjoyed his caesar salad and finished it quickly. While I was working on finishing the cheese on my salad (pairing with with the delicious, delicious bread), they whisked both our plates away. To their credit, a waiter came by almost immediately to apologize for rushing us through the appetizers, which was a nice gesture, except for the fact that AS HE WAS STANDING THERE-- literally-- the runner arrived with my friend's entree (elapsed time between appetizer and entree: approximately 1 minutes). Oh well. He polished off his Marco Polo chicken, which had spinach and cheese melted on top, while I ate his side of peapods. And then we were done. We were out of the restaurant in about a half hour, give or take. Phew. My head is spinning even thinking about it. So overall the food was pretty good although not spectacular (the bread was definitely the highlight), and the service was somewhat alarming. I wouldn't go back, but then again, I live in New York and probably won't have the opportunity to!

We capped off both nights with ice cream concoctions at Scoop de Ville, a Coldstone-esque type of place where they basically pulverize your toppings into your ice cream. It was delicious both times.

It was a fun little trip all in all, but I'm glad to be back in NYC and will have more to report shortly!

Correction from last post: my mentor and I did not, in fact, get Just Salad on Wednesday, as we ordered on Seamless and were told it would take EIGHTY MINUTES to deliver. Seriously. I even called up Just Salad to confirm that wasn't a ridiculous misprint, and I got a very snippy confirmation. So we canceled our order and went to Green Symphony, on 43rd near 8th avenue, for some delightful vegetarian-ish food. I ordered a toss-your-own salad, which was delightful. Everything worked out, but I wanted to clarify the record: Just Salad is officially on probation due to ridiculousness.

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