May 05, 2015

Fabulous four-day weekend in Philly, including TWO visits to V-Street

View of City Hall from our 17th floor room at the Ritz Carlton in Philadelphia.

During the weekend of April 23 I attended a very significant high school reunion in Philadelphia. I think I'm officially old. Initially, I hadn't planned to attend, but somehow I ended up creating and maintaining a Facebook page and a class blog, and that, along with added pressure from a good friend, fortunately led me to the right decision. It was fantastic! The reunion was a three-day affair, but we couldn't get there until early Friday evening, so we missed the first activity, a Friday visit to the school. My classmates were generally depressed to see how school budget cuts had impacted our beloved school, an all-girls academic public school magnet program — no librarian, no nurse, no counselors, no extended music programs or assemblies, etc. It's sad to see how schools all around our country are struggling.

Our Friday night plans included dinner with two high school friends, my friend's husband and my husband. Originally we wanted to go to Vedge, but could only get a reservation for four at 9 p.m. I was worried that after traveling all day, 9 p.m. was pushing my limits, and besides, we needed a table for five, so we let our reservation go. We went to V-Street, the more informal (and cheaper) sister restaurant to Vedge, instead. They don't take reservations, so K and I walked over and got on the waiting list, and we were seated before my friends even arrived. It was too dark to take photos, but trust me, the food was gorgeous and fabulous (as you will see later). The food, which is served as "small plates," is 100% plant-based, and eating gluten-free, if that's an issue for you, is seamless. After dinner, sated and happy, K and I returned to our beautiful (discounted!) room at the Ritz, the site of the reunion luncheon the next day.

Spouses were invited to all reunion events except the main luncheon, so K headed off on the train to visit his mother, and I was left to take a selfie of me in my dress-up clothes, as best I could, before heading to the reunion. (There seems to be a large mirror behind the tub, doesn't there? Fortunately, there wasn't a mirror in the shower.)

The Ritz Carlton is an elegant and, shall I say, 'ritzy' hotel, but that doesn't mean 'vegan' is in their vocabulary. My vegan, gf lunch had been ordered and cleared with the chef far ahead of the event, but oh well. First they brought me a large wad of chicken, then they brought me farro, and finally the chef came out and assured me he would make something appropriate. I was friendly and pleasant, not wanting to cause trouble, but you know, the affair cost $100 per person. Anyway, as most people were finishing, a very large plate with a tiny but extremely pretty serving of steamed vegetables garnished with radish slices and cilantro, was brought out. It was the equivalent of a small side order. I ate it happily, thinking that our aim for an early dinner would work out as planned. Fortunately, I had such a good time at the luncheon that the food wasn't much of a concern. I was too involved in the afternoon's activities to think about food. Reflecting back, though, I always find myself a little surprised at the size of the vegan/vegetarian meal compared to the 'regular' meal. Do people think vegans require less food than omnivores?

By the time I returned to our room around 5 p.m., K was already back, and we started planning our dinner outing — I was a little hungry. We had been so enthralled with V-Street the previous night, that we wanted to return and try all different things, so we walked over there, and were warmly welcomed back by the very friendly staff. There was a wait for a table, but the window counter was open, and we grabbed two seats there, and proceeded to order from the menu of small plates. At 5:30, there was still plenty of light coming through the large window by which to photograph the food.

From the 'sticks' list, we got shishito robatayaki, shaved daikon, togarashi.
The green veggies are grilled peppers and scallions. Smoky and amazing.

From the 'market' list we ordered Peruvian fries, aji amarillo, cilantro, olive, peanut. We had eaten this the night before, but if you have ever had it, you'd know why we ordered it again. I don't know exactly how to describe it except for divinely rich but well-balanced potato heaven.

From the 'plates' list, we chose Korean fried tempeh tacos, gochujang, radish kimchee, corn tortillas. When I took my first bite I let out a little scream of appreciation, which was overheard by our server, who smiled in understanding. The tempeh was melt-in-the-mouth tender with a crispy edge, and the taco as a whole was scrumptious. I've never tasted anything quite like it.

The last dish we ordered was from the 'bowls' list — Singapore noodles, char sui tofu, broccoli, peanuts, lime sambal. It was quieter than the previous plates, but no less satisfying and delicious. The dishes seemed a lot smaller the night before when we were sharing among five people. With just two of us, we couldn't finish the four things we ordered — we were both stuffed and smiling. I think V Street is my new favorite Philly restaurant.

After dinner we walked to a cocktail gathering, the third reunion activity, in a most fantastic historic row home owned and lived in by one of my classmates. It had at least four floors, and had been fully restored to it's 19th century glory. I was imagining living there, and just as I was beginning to wonder how I'd ever be able to run up and down so many steep stairs on a daily basis, I learned it also had an elevator! But of course. The hosts had provided a beautiful spread of food and beverages, but we were too full to even think about food.

After the house party, there was a small after-party at the hotel, and I didn't return to my room until midnight.

Early the next morning we walked to the Reading Terminal Market. Although I grew up in Philadelphia, believe it or not I'd never been to the historic Reading Market. Glad that's taken care of.

After walking through the Market, we strolled over to our next event — brunch with siblings and spouses at P. S. & Co. There was an official reunion brunch taking place at another location but we have family in Philly, and wouldn't want to visit there without seeing them, so we opted to have our own brunch.

Pure Sweets is a rustic, cute cafe serving an all plant-based, gluten-free , organic menu. We shared some yummy scones while waiting for our food to arrive. I had a daily special bowl with chickpeas, rice and kale. Lots of kale. It was supposed to be warm, and it was warmish, but the kale was basically raw. It was tasty and filling, but the kale wasn't cooked or massaged, so it was pretty tough. I liked it — with reservations. My husband had a pad thai bowl which looked a lot like mine but with noodles instead of rice and edamame instead of chickpeas. He liked it a lot. The most popular dish at the table was pancakes, and we accidentally got an extra order. I ate one and it was excellent.

The last reunion event was a tour of the National Museum of American Jewish History, and we hiked over to the museum as fast as we could so as not to be late. The tour was fascinating, although by this time I was feeling the effects of a three-hour time difference and a general lack of sleep. When we finally parted with our group, after a refreshing stop in the museum cafe, I reflected on the reunion experience, which had far exceeded my expectations. I can hardly describe my gleeful reaction to our reunion weekend, and the deficit I felt after having to say goodbye.

We headed out of the city to spend Monday and Tuesday with K's mom, and as we traveled up Broad St., I spied the remnants of the historic Divine Lorraine Hotel, looking less than divine with its graffiti and missing windows. At one time the luxurious Lorraine Apartments, built between 1892 and 1894, was the home of Philadelphia's well-to-do. At 10 stories, it was one of the first high rise buildings in the city. In 1948, it was purchased by Father Devine and turned into Philly's first racially integrated hotel, with some interesting requirements for staying there. In 2006 the hotel was sold to a developer, who was supposed to turn it into condos and restaurants. Instead, the developer gutted the building, sold the stripped materials, and never completed the restoration, leaving the building open to squatters and vandals. It is now just an abandoned shell. (More about Father Devine here.)

We spent the next two days visiting with Ken's mom. We took her to the movies, and out for lunch and dinner. Of note was the lunch we all enjoyed at The Allways Café, a small, unassuming café in a strip mall in Huntington Valley. I had the hot kale with red peppers, chickpeas, quinoa, avocado and mango in a house coconut curry sauce, and except for being incredibly salty, it was really delicious. It was also huge, and the box of leftovers I took back to our (not the Ritz) hotel fed us both for breakfast the next day.

My husband had a Thai peanut salad, and although it was enormous, he ate the whole thing, claiming it was mostly lettuce. Ha.

I really meant to share a story I told at the reunion, but the post has gone on long enough, and the story will have to wait for another time. Have you been to any high school reunions? Were they fun?