Monday, November 10, 2008

Three Museums, a Wedding, and a Chilean Sea Bass

This weekend, we went to my niece's wedding in Philadelphia. It was a joyful, beautiful, lavish affair. The rehearsal dinner was at Amada, an excellent tapas restaurant. We stuffed ourselves with serrano ham, crab wrapped in roasted peppers, garlicky shrimp, and perfectly dressed green salad.

The vows were exchanged in a jewel of a Victorian Gothic church in Little Italy. The groom's cousin sang a heart-rending Ave Maria. I read from Paul's letter to the Philippians, 4:4-9, apropos for both weddings and post-election high hopes.

The reception at the Loew's Hotel featured a four-course dinner, a 10-piece R&B band, thousands of white orchids towering over the tables, and a buffet loaded with Viennese desserts and tiny ice cream meringue sandwiches — in case the chocolate wedding cake wasn't enough.

The bride was incandescent in Michael Pool beaded satin, the groom played a set with band, and the dancing hardly stopped. The parents of the newlyweds tore up the floor.

My family looked civilized and almost aristocratic in tuxes and sparkly dresses. My cranky Republican brother cracked a smile occasionally, although he refused to get down and boogie.

At dinner, I found a new object of adoration. I recently decided to stop being a picky eater, and have been sampling oysters, mussels, squid, shrimp, octopus, and other fishy things I previously scorned. After hearing the foodies at my table rave about Chilean sea bass being well worth $30 a pound, I decided to skip the Black Angus filet mignon and try it.

Oh, my god. Who knew fish could taste like that? Who cares if it's really Patagonian toothfish? It was sublime: rich, sweet, light, satisfying, and healthy at the same time. Its crabcake-and-roasted-tomato topping blew it out of the water. So to speak.

Good fish makes me feel like I'm near the ocean. My first oyster startled me: it tasted exactly like the sea. Sitting in a gown in a ballroom on 12th and Market Streets, I was simultaneously splashing barefoot in the waves on Long Beach Island.

I need to find a rich person to invite us out for dinner. Now.

There was an after-party in the penthouse, with a DJ and a candy bar in the bridal colors of black, silver, white, and green (licorice, M&Ms, nonpareils, jelly beans....) and a sort of soft-pretzel buffet. But we were too exhausted to linger.

My non-wedding goal for the weekend was visiting three museums for the first time. The Mutter Museum, with its "disturbingly informative" collection of medical specimens, models, and instruments, was fascinating and a bit sickening — and my husband was thoroughly creeped out. I'll have to go back alone. The Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, in a landmark Gothic Revival building by Frank Furness, is full of old favorites from my Swarthmore art history classes. And my husband had business at the Penn Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. It has a fine collection, some cool Victorian architecture, and friendly staff. I heard the Romanian accent of a guard and realized we'd worked at the MFA at the same time. We had a great time catching up and telling stories.

The day of the wedding, we had breakfast at the Reading Terminal Market. We began with a big slice of marble layer cake, served by a friendly Amish girl. Then we split an apple-cherry-walnut bagel. And wandered, wild-eyed, overwhelmed by the array of local produce and meat; imported Italian groceries; and best of all — Amish pickles, preserves, baked goods, meats, dairy, ice cream, and pretzels. And so much more.

The only thing we couldn't find, oddly enough, was a good cheesesteak. The renowned Rick's in the Market closed years ago, we were told (after two Philly natives insisted we go there and only there).

Boston really needs a food market like this. Philly's serious attention to take-out puts us to shame. Any place that can offer more than six different kinds of chocolate- and candy-covered pretzels deserves our respect. Let's import some Amish farm families right away. Let's put the cows back on the Common, and see if our vaunted local ice cream shops can beat theirs.

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