Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Beautiful Ugly, aka Friday in Philly

Beautiful: A Friday off, just to enjoy one's own town. Lunch at Osteria and an afternoon at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Beautiful: The sun streaming in through the windows at Osteria. And the elevation of the least interesting sounding dish on a menu, in this case "marinated vegetable antipasto," to an art form, a symphony of complementary and contrasting flavors. The porchetta tonnato was subtle in comparison yet equally lovely.

Beautiful ugly: I took it, so perhaps I'm biased, but I'm pretty happy with the composition in this photo of our lunch wine. On the down side, Tomasso Bussola's 2005 Valpolicella Classico did nothing to change my general displeasure with Valpo of late. Adequate as a pizza wine, I suppose, but otherwise flat, short and uninteresting, maybe even a tad heat-wacked.

Beautiful ugly: A joy to look at? Perhaps not, but then beauty, as the cliché goes, is in the eye of the beholder. The beauty couldn't be denied in the gullet, however. Osteria is well deserving of their rep for turning out some of the best pizza in town, from the simple perfection of the margherita to the robust, rustic decadence of the Lombarda (which is apparently their most popular pie).

Beautiful: A good restaurant that doesn't give up the ghost when it comes to dessert. Everything at Osteria is done in house, including their cannoli with torrone semifreddo and their "piccolo pasticceria," a delightful assortment of Italianate petit-fours. I'd happily take a box of that pistachio brittle to go.

Beautiful ugly: I'm still undecided on the "wine wall" at Osteria. It looks decent. The feel is rustic, in keeping with the spirit of the menu (rustic in content if not in price). And it complements the bar it abuts. However, the celebration of mostly high-end, luxury wines is a touch out of step with the relaxed intent of the restaurant. Perhaps it's just a visual manifestation of the casual vs. costly conundrum that Osteria presents. Don't let the prices scare you away from the experience.

Ugly: The current facade (this shot is of the rear entrance) of the PMA. I'm not sure the huge banner is any less of an eyesore than the scaffolding it's designed to hide. On the up-side, it does provide plenty of space for self-promotion.

Beautiful: Turn around, take a short walk down the hill and past the museum's construction zone. You'll find sure signs of the arrival of Spring.

Ugly: The crowds at the Kahlo exhibit (sorry, no photos allowed in the museum). Even with ticketed entrance, the attendees were packed in like sardines. All but a few of Kahlo's paintings are modest in scale. The photos, included in the exhibit to provide historical and biographical context to her works, even smaller. Patience is a must, and even then it was tough to get close enough for a good view of many of the pieces. It made me pine for the exhibition entitled "Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, and Twentieth-Century Mexican Art" held at New York's El Museu del Barrio in 2002. More paintings, less people.

Beautiful: The paintings themselves. In spite of the crowds, I found myself drawn into Kahlo's mixture of surrealism and naive realism. The autobiographical, symbolic and cultural elements of her major works are intensely compelling.

Beautiful ugly: The inspiration for this posting, Frida Kahlo's self-titled self-portrait, "Very Ugly." The eye of the beholder speaks, through her brush and through her works. There's undeniable beauty in Kahlo's face, in her spirit and in her art. And undeniable ugliness in the pain, misfortune and tempestuous relationships that followed her throughout her short life. Don't let the crowds keep you away from the experience.


Do Bianchi said...

Gotta make it down there one of these days to check it out with you... nice...

Edward said...


Sounds like an almost perfect day. Food, wine, art, and company (surely you did not eat all that food by yourself).

I fondly recall seeing Kahlo's paintings as a spotty teenager (20 or more years ago) and recall being similarly affected by the power of the emotion in her paintings.

David McDuff said...

I'd welcome the visit, Jeremy. And I'm long overdue for a journey to NYC.

It was a lovely day, Edward, shared with my wife (lunch, that is) and a few friends we met up with at various points. It's cool that you were exposed to Kahlo at such an early age and that you came away with a meaningful impression.

Dr. Joseph D said...

Dr. Joseph D said...

Reacting to brother McDuff's review of Osteria, I laud his characteristic thoroughness, not to say prolixity. I especially enjoyed his "ugly-beautiful" leitmotif" and how unWagnerianly he ran with it. Having recently dined at Philly's new venerable "inn," I concur for the most part with his judgements. I vividly remember what I had: an excellent octopus starter, savory gnocchi with an ox-tail ragu and finally rabbit. But as two other colleagues pointed out, as extraordinary as the experience is there (even the espresso is authentic for once), one leaves feeling that one should focus more on the antipasti and primi rather than the secondo which should define the term "pièce de résistance." and create the necessary crescendo. Nevertheless, as a proud Philadelphian, I can say that one enters Osteria excited as the building itself has a buzzy New-York feel both in and out.
Finally, I'll reserve final judgement on Frida Kahlo until I've officialy attended the exhibit, but aesthetically I'll part company here with critic-at-large McDuff. He'd call me hidebound Italian, but given the restaurant theme, something from "rinascimentale" would have been preferable.
Dr. Joe D
Dr. Joe D

SBerko9118 said...

I am interested in going to see the Kahlo exhibit soon. I was wondering if anyone knows how far the museum is from the Amtrak station (I am coming from NYC) and if tickets are hard to get. The museum's website if very confusing. Thanks for any help.

David McDuff said...

Hello Sberko,

The PMA is walkable from Philly's 30th Street Station or, in the alternative, should be a quick and relatively inexpensive cab ride.

As for tickets to the exhibit, we booked a couple of weeks ahead of time and had no problem with securing the date and time we wanted. Of course, I expect weekends are busier than weekdays and that things will get tight as the exhibit winds down.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your post and your response to my question. I took my daughter to see the Kahlo exhibit yesterday--it was a beautiful day and we enjoyed the exhibit. It was primary day and there were a lot of people out campaigning as well which made it interesting. Thanks again.

David McDuff said...

Hello again, Sberko/Anon. I'm glad to have been of help and to hear that you enjoyed the Kahlo exhibit. Aside from voting on the way to work in the morning, I missed most of the election day hoopla. There was plenty of campaigning going on over the last week or two, though.

I hope you had a chance to explore Philly a bit while you were here.

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