Beliefnet
Rod Dreher

franklin_cropped.jpgAs mentioned earlier, we have our niece Hannah staying with us this week, up visiting from Louisiana. She’s my sister Ruthie’s 17-year-old daughter, and this is her first visit to Philadelphia. As I write this on Saturday morning, she and Julie are on their way to New York for the day. It has been such a pleasure to have her here, and to show her the city. Yesterday I took the day off, and we all went to the old city to see the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall (which we didn’t get to go into, because it took too long to get tickets), and the glorious Franklin Fountain ice cream joint (see photo). If you’re visiting Philly this summer, by all means make Franklin Fountain part of your tour. After ice cream, we walked over to nearby Elfreth’s Alley , the oldest continuously inhabited street in the US. And then it was up to Betsy Ross’s house, where we were surprised to see Bets buried next to the pretzel and Popsicle stand (really). A few minutes later, we were at Ben Franklin’s grave, but had to cut our downtown tour short to get home in time to get ready for dinner.
A few months ago, I sent Hannah a copy of the book that was my favorite when I was her age, Ernest Hemingway’s “A Moveable Feast,” his memoir of his life in Paris in the 1920s. To my delight, she loves the book, and now wants to know everything about Paris. When she was in Louisiana, we told her we’d take her out for a nice dinner at any restaurant she wanted to visit once she arrived. She found a place called Parc, on Rittenhouse Square. It’s a high-end French brasserie. So we made reservations for last night, and off we went.
It could not possibly have been more perfect. Really and truly. The atmosphere was as Parisian as you can possibly hope for outside of the real thing. And the food was terrific. Hannah tasted her first kir royale, while I began with a Sazerac, an old New Orleans cocktail I’d long been curious about, but never had the opportunity to try. Parc’s is made of rye whiskey, absinthe and bitters, and it’s delicious. I ordered a half-dozen oysters as an appetizer. East Coast oysters are very different from what we’re used to in south Louisiana. They’re much smaller, but also brinier and more intense. Hannah had never eaten an oyster, but she was game to try new things, so she slurped one down in the Uncle Rod manner: throwing your head back and slurping the magnificent creature and its brine down. I don’t think she cared much for it, but I was tickled by her culinary pluck. She loved the cheese plate, too, especially the Camembert.
Julie and I had the bouilliabaisse special, with halibut, monkfish, sea bass, clams, mussels and shrimp. It was flat-out the best version of this standard I’ve ever eaten, and the rouille that accompanied with it was a garlicky knockout. Hannah, who has become a Julia Child fan, ordered the beef bourguignon, and pronounced it “the best meal I’ve ever had in my life.” It really was very fine food, and we were so delighted to be sharing it with her. She started talking guilelessly about how she was starting to realize how important beauty was in life, and you might well imagine how that made me feel. I told her to make sure she marries a man who can appreciate a place like this, and who will take her to it. Julie jumped in, saying, “But make sure he’s also a man who will be just as comfortable at Mammy and Pawpaw’s table” — my parents — “as he is in a restaurant like this.” Exactly right.
For dessert, we ordered the profiteroles, and Hannah asked for a Vietnamese coffee, which is strong dark coffee mixed with sweetened condensed milk. I had a dram of very fine kirschwasser, pure and clean and intense, and the perfect digestif to end a grand evening. Said Hannah, “Oh, Uncle Rod, I don’t want it to end. I feel like the city is calling me.” Oh, to be 17 and just starting out again… .
What a privilege to have been able to give our niece these experiences, and to share with her the things we’ve come to love. While she and Julie are in New York, I’m going to go out and collect for her some treats to take home on Monday, including a Camembert. Any 17-year-old who loves good cheese is on the right path in life, if you ask me.
UPDATE: Here’s a photo of Julie and Hannah outside of Parc last night, after our meal. The face of bliss:
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UPDATE.2: This just in from NYC. It’s a photo of Hannah, at 17, in front of Cones, a West Village gelateria she last visited when she was six, and came with my mom to visit Julie and me in Manhattan. The laminated New York Post story on the shop front behind her is a piece I did about gelato, and this shop; the little girl pictured in the story is Hannah at six. This is her first visit to Cones since then. When Julie told the guy behind the counter that the young woman standing in front of him was the little girl in the story, he gave them free ice cream and called to his co-workers to come out and meet her. A scene developed; tourists wanted to take pictures of her, and meet the little ice cream girl, all grown up. What a trip! They’re having a blast.
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