Thursday, March 21, 2013

My First Artist's Date

It was during that freak blizzard last month -- well, one of the freak blizzards -- that I decided to start implementing the Artist's Date into my life. I took the day off work to do a daylong creative writing class, and a few tricks to creativity was taken straight from Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way. The idea of the Artist's Date is to go somewhere by yourself to take in the experience through your own personal filter. None of this experience can be influenced by your friends' opinions or undermined by conversation. That afternoon, in an old Chelsea building with a winter scene out the window, I made a promise to myself to go out to eat alone, fixate on flavors, and try not to be self conscious about my lonesome status.

My first Artist's Date happened to take place in Philadelphia, at a cute tapas-style spot by Rittenhouse Square called As a one-time resident of Philly about ten years ago (yikes), it was the perfect spot to spend time time in an old familiar place, viewing it through my adult-ish eyes. Ten years ago I was happy to escape campus for dinner at Johnny Rockets on South Street. This time I was set on finding a place conducive to solo dining. was a great choice. I got to sit at the bar overlooking the kitchen, away from the crowded bar with the Center City drinkers. The dishes were small, so I had the opportunity to try a few things. And since i was already going to be judged for sitting alone, and drinking wine alone, being judged for overindulging seemed like an afterthought.

I started with the scallops with butternut squash and apple cider. This was the start of a trend I noticed -- the persistent mix of sweet ingredients in savory dishes. Plus, beautiful plating. Scallops are a favorite of mine, and its fun to order them in creative places. They're such versatile little creatures.

It was probably around this time that the chef noticed my enthusiasm and sent over this pork dish with lentils. It was not on the menu. It had some kind of maple flavors and two beautiful sauces. After I gestured that I was grateful and very much enjoying the dish, he came by and started chatting with me about how they bought this pig from New Jersey and how they found it and what they were planning to do with it. It felt a little bit like I was in a scene from Portlandia. But I enjoyed the conversation. I didn't let that hamper anything. I didn't judge myself for it. Hey. Artist's Date.

Then the mother of the sweet/salty dishes -- a duck breast on top a freakin' CIDER DONUT. It sounds weird but it worked. It worked really well. I was excited about the generous portion of warm sliced duck breast, with a spiced syrup that brought the meat and pastry together. The chef came over to explain that he wanted to call it Duck 'n' Donut on the menu but was shot down. The name reminded me of Duck Donuts in the Outer Banks. That's when I knew for sure I really liked this place. And I liked the way this guy thinks.

Being done with my Artist's Dinner but feeling ready for my Artist's Dessert, I called over my new friend and asked if I wanted cheese or something sweet. I already had the donut, so did I really need another dessert? I wasn't sure, but I let him talk me into a perfect compromise, the goat cheesecake with Riesling sorbet. It was lighter than I expected. The sorbet melted as the chef and I talked about how Philly has changed in the past ten years and what the food scene is like now.Which places have closed down and which landmarks remain. I was feeling a strange sort of nostalgia. He asked if I'd consider moving back and I said no, I think I want to leave the city just like it is. Special and mostly untouched save for the occasional visit. 

I slipped out and went for a walk. I circled Rittenhouse Square and remembered how I was hellbent on finding an apartment there one day. I went into a Barnes and Noble and checked out the literary magazines I heard about in my creative writing class. I tried not to laugh out loud when I remembered that I applied for a job at the Starbucks upstairs from there. I headed back north and circled the Franklin Museum, the library, a beautiful church, my mind balanced on memories that may have been real or smushed with other memories. Then I checked back into my hotel suite and took in the air on my borrowed balcony.

Best Artist's Date yet.

135 South 18th Street
Philadelphia, PA