Philly weekend (2/3): Van Gogh and food bliss

Van Gogh came to the Philadelphia Museum of Art. We soon followed.

The museum was busy on the holiday weekend, but we made our way through several lines, through a good exhibit of Zoe Strauss photos…

… into “Van Gogh Up Close.” Not only did the exhibit bring you close to his paintings physically, but it focused tightly on a time in his life when he, too, showed great focus. Falling apart mentally, he went to live in the countryside, sometimes in a loose asylum. In the small part of the world he could see there, occasionally from inside barred windows, he found worlds inside worlds. Undergrowth became a forest. The forest became Other. Bales of wheat became dancers. Rain became canvas.

Walking through the exhibit was bliss. We were each given audio-tour tapes, and the sensation was strange at first. But words quickly grew minimal and, when they arrived, helpful. Being a foot or two from these paintings — such a raw view of the great artist’s mind — was clear and stunning. A third dimension, the paint daubs, jumped at your senses. I have seen many art exhibits. None were as strong yet fragile as this.

For a breath, we went outside to the famous plaza and Rocky steps.

The weather was cold, but the Van Gogh made the chill feel crisp, vital.

Yeah, I ran up the steps and jumped around. Was there ever a doubt?

When we went to dinner, we somehow ended up sitting beneath this painting. The afternoon’s dancing bales of wheat had found dancers.

The meal was the best I’ve had recently and among my favorites ever.

Lori found Talula’s Garden in a hotel magazine. We nearly missed our reservation, and the resulting running around could have thrown off the night for good. But the food and a waiter who loved to cook and talk about food put the night back on course in a subtle yet amazing style. We started with a cheese plate called, “Bring on the Funk — Six that’ll Tear the Roof Off.” And they did. Then came the rest of the meal:

A torchon of Hudson foie gras, spiced quince, apple hazelnut compote, sea salt, and brioche. A potato gnocchi, buffalo milk taleggio, charred brussel sprouts, and sweet saba vinegar. Roasted mushrooms galore, fine herbs, shallots, and butter. Then came the entrees. Seared sweet scallops, caramelized cauliflower, golden raisins, crisp capers, crumbled pine nuts. A Florida pink snapper, grapefruit, fennel, fingerlings, herbs, warm baby lettuces. And a dessert. Dark chocolate cremeaux, bruleed orange chibouste and tangerine supreme. Yes. There was also wine.

We took no pictures of food because we didn’t think to stop eating. I couldn’t pick a favorite. My favorite would be everything listed above.

If you live in Philadelphia, eat there soon. Do your winter great good.

Then we were off to the Trocadero Theatre to see the touring stars of Portlandia, Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein. The line to see the pair stretched three corners around the block, longest one bouncer said he had ever seen there. We had tickets, though, and soon made it inside.

Different shows have different reactions to the show, but we liked it. A friendly, mellow Philadelphia crowd was a bizarre and rare public treat.

Eleanor Friedberger, whom I last saw eight years ago when the Fiery Furnaces opened for Wilco in Baltimore and confused the heck out of many in attendance, played a few songs to close. Two from her own stuff were good. The last, a lyrics-challenged Dancing in the Dark take, was unnecessary. But, still, somehow in the messy city, bliss ruled.

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