Philadelphia: Serenity, Art and Fine Food

Some weekends I find the city unbearable. What with the traffic, the tourists, the noise and the anonymity, I don’t feel like I can stand it anymore. I want to escape from New York to a place where I can find some quiet, immerse myself in a different atmosphere, and not run into my fellow New Yorkers. Just an hour and a half away, you can walk down Philadelphia’s Chestnut Street and relax in Independence Park. If you love impromptu décor and the loose threads of Bohemia, then try discovering the area north of Chestnut, which has an East Village vibe without the crowds and traffic. There are plenty of nice spots to sit and enjoy a quiet coffee in the morning while you figure your trajectory down Washington Square. Be sure to stop by contemporary galleries like Locks Gallery too. You can improvise your way to the majestic Town Hall and the mysterious Masonic Temple downtown, and there are many beautiful fountains in Philadelphia — you can hop from one to another until you reach Benjamin Franklin Parkway to enjoy a long hike. This exploration soon reveals itself to be a small adventure as you slowly amble to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, passing by the Rodin Museum and the Barnes Foundation. It is like walking down the Invalides in Paris: you feel yourself finally breathing and can rediscover a mile down in the distance the simple joy of a horizon.

The Philadelphia Museum of Art is a stunning neo-classical building in the style of an antique Greek temple, with actual figures painted in bright colors inside the pediment. Don’t miss the rich collections of European and American arts inside, including key pieces by influential French dada artist Marcel Duchamp.

History in Philadelphia is a given. That’s where it all started. For many, an excursion to Philadelphia is a pilgrimage to the roots of the nation with Independence Hall as the sanctuary where the heart of the nation gave its first beat.

A perfect place to stay near by between the park and Society Hill is the Omni Hotel on Chestnut Street. The rooms are spacious with plenty of natural light. The bathroom is contemporary, chic and grand with a marble floor, wide sink and modern equipment. From my window, I had a view of Independence Park. After a long day strolling down the lively Philly streets, go down to the hotel spa for a swim, a Jacuzzi dip or a massage. Back in your room, order a bottle of Chablis, a platter of cheese and cold cuts, and relax before heading out east on Chestnut street to find many food venues. In the morning, enjoy breakfast in the Alazia restaurant. A family style restaurant with great professional service, Alazia offers traditional American breakfast with a lot of classics.

For the last night in Philadelphia, I went to discover The Ten Arts Bistro and Lounge. A grand place for a special evening, it is situated in the Ritz Carlton. If you think Philadelphia has nothing that New York does not have, think again after you taste this exquisite cuisine by fine chef Matthew Hiebsch. Unassuming but precise and exquisite, his delivery of five tasting dishes was a rare treat that made my last evening in Philadelphia memorable.

To start I had a fabulous cocktail made of gin, crushed raspberries, club soda and egg white. The waiter said it did not have a name so remember the ingredients… It was fabulous. The first “amuse gueule” was Hamachi Crudo, red plum, toasted almond with scallion. Then Gazpacho was served. Usually I am not a big fan of it but this unique combination of watermelon, buttermilk, basil, Peekytoe crab was a totally different affair. To accompany it, I had a Whitehaven New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. Incredible!

Then came warm freshly made Ricotta, garnished with a chilled salad of Jersey peach, plum, sweet corn, and heirloom tomato and finished with extra virgin olive oil and sea salt. To compliment it, I enjoyed a Pico Del Montgo Tempranillo, a Spanish wine from 2011. The third dish was line-caught Sword fish poached in a chorizo and saffron infused olive oil, with four varieties of heirloom tomatoes in a stew on sourdough grilled toast. An Avalon 2012 Cabernet accompanied it very smoothly with just a hint of a bite.

Then came Veal Blanquette with white tomato, black summer truffle, thin pieces of garlic root and roasted pearl onion. For dessert, I had a blueberry pie in light crispy dough, not too sweet and full of flavor, just like the French like it with a glass of Prosecco.

This experience was all the more enjoyable because the dining room was spacious and airy. A former bank, high pillars afforded a sense of grandeur and a rotunda works like a discreet skylight above. This dinner finished off a wonderful excursion in Philadelphia, just an hour and a half away from the madding Manhattan crowd. Restored and refreshed after a fantastic stay, I started my week off in New York in very good spirits.

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