A Moveable Feast: La Panarda at Le Virtú.  40 Courses, 9 1/2 Hours of Abruzzo Via South Philly.

“There are a couple of heavy punches coming up,” Mark says, scanning a few stanzas ahead. “When I say we’re okay after that through the primo piatti forti (first of the strong plates), that’s still a lot of food.” We’re only entering the second opening stanza and we doubt that, unlike the amuse bouche that preceded them, we’ll see another stanza brought out on one plate for awhile.

Chicken brodo with poached pallotte and straciattella

Chicken brodo with poached pallotte and straciattella

The first dish of the following stanza offers a light, refreshing chicken broth flecked with oregano. Ethereal straciattella—a marriage of egg and cheese—spirals through a broth used to perfectly poach sublime spheres of sausage and cheese. Next, sausage and lentils convey the sense of an aberrantly warm winter day, as smoke from the fire in the courtyard continues to drift inside, the sharpness of pecorino playing upon the sage, the lentils as much as the sense of hickory plays upon us all. The farrotto n’ndocca n’docca showcases a nice light creaminess from sweet, fatty pork, the jumble of parts (tripe, snout, and ear) aided by a soft, offal tang and starch from the farro risotto—it’s a stew not too far removed from lightness of the chicken brodo. If the opener hinted at heaviness while soothing the palate, the pasta e fagiola completes the transition, with the dish realized not as a soup, but as a convergence of two pastas, beans, sausage, and the heaviest sauce of the night—which the sharper aspects of the Pecorino Terre Valse helps cut through to take you back to the lightness of the stanza’s first course.

Then I catch Cicala during another break in service, leaning against the partition in the walkway leading out of the room.

“Right now, it’s all about cooking the meat to order, getting them to temperature,” he says of the roast meats that are still a few stanzas away.

Chef Joe Cicala, Le Virtu, East Passyunk, restaurant

Chef Joe Cicala during an interlude in service.

He looks more relaxed, more at ease with the flow of things. “We had a little bit of a late start,” he says ahead of taking in the room, the chatter, before heading back into the kitchen.

I want to go by the fire, but have to enjoy the fresh air under an awning due to a light rain. Thankfully, the ensuing courses are just as refreshing.

The salad courses—“a breeze,” Mark assures me and Scott—awaken us as we go from the earthiness of beets, the sharpness of gorgonzola, and the watery crunch of celery in the first plate, to charred spring onions offset by a creamy burrata in the second. The final dish in this stanza, however, is one of the most refreshing of the entire meal: a goat and sheep’s milk hard cheese (pecorino canestrato) that stands up well to the acidity of pears, the pairing complemented by a drizzle of honey. While the acid and juice of the pears helps to cleanse the mouth and invigorate my taste buds, the interplay lights up regions of my brain sent into slumber by all that wine.

A honey, gorgonzola, and pecorino wakeup.

A honey, gorgonzola, and pecorino wakeup.

“If you don’t pasteurize it, all the flowers and grass that the sheep eat, they come through,” D’all’Olmo offers as I move about the restaurant with a newfound energy.

I catch the pastry chef, Ranalli, enjoying a cocktail at the bar during a well-deserved break. “All my stuff is either rising (some torcinelli) or freezing (her granita and her goat’s milk gelato),” she says.

3 responses to “A Moveable Feast: La Panarda at Le Virtú.  40 Courses, 9 1/2 Hours of Abruzzo Via South Philly.

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