Why you Should Move to West Chester, PA #6: THE FOOD

Imagine NINJA MOUNTAIN, where all the most sage, venerable, and deadliest ninja masters go to practice their craft. Ninja mountain is not in the middle of the capital city, because the bustle and high rent of a capital city are only good for the showiest ninja masters, for the crowd-pleasers, for the ones trying to get their facemask on the cover of Ninja Magazine — not for those that are deeply committed to their art. On Ninja Mountain, the quiet bamboo groves are filled with the quiet whisper of DELICIOUS PASTRIES.

Wait, I got my metaphors tangled up there. My point is that West Chester, PA, is CHOCOLATE MOUNTAIN, because… wait, hang on a second, damn. Let me start over.

Chris Curtin at Eclat
World-class chocolatier Chris Curtin owns Eclát Chocolate on High street. It is a tiny shop with a case up front, a window filled with AMAZING cast chocolate, and a stainless-steel door that leads to the kitchen.

Chris started Eclát after studying in Old World master chocolate ninja kitchens, and makes amazing AMAZING chocolate. That’s an easy phrase to throw around, but check this out: Jeffrey Steingarten said that Chris makes “World’s greatest caramels“, in Vogue magazine. His flavors are INCREDIBLE: “Oh, mint? Yeah, that’s cool, let me just try th- DEAR GOD I UNDERSTAND NOW. UNTIL THIS MOMENT I HAVE NEVER EATEN A MINT CHOCOLATE.”

Eclat Box
Randy took the picture above while I was talking to Chris about molds, and the picture at right because he (Randy) is running a promotion over at Lose It or Lose It where if you sign up and make a commitment to lose weight, Randy will reward you with delicious Eclát chocolates. If you lived in West Chester, this world-class choclatier is, you know, right on the walk home!

But that’s the thing — West Chester is packed with amazing restaurants. For example, down at the end of Gay street, there’s Gilmore’s Restaurant, whose chef Peter Gilmore spent 22 years at Le Bec-Fin (“Why did Georges Perrier ever let this man leave?” wonders Zagat.) You can see lots of them at West Chester Dish, Mary Bigham’s West Chester restaurant website.

Assembling Tarts at the Strawberry Bakery
See, the thing is, there’s SO MUCH amazing food here on NINJA MOUNTAIN, that you can’t run a simple errand without stumbling on really amazing world-class food. This morning, Kate and I picked up a box of croissants at the Strawberry Bakery in Frazer. Lydia needed to use the bathroom, so Kate walked her back, and I spent a few minutes watching them assemble really AMAZING-looking fruit tarts, while owner Jean Pierre Bournazel negotiated with customers over the phone via his assistant, in the most amazing Central Casting French accent I have ever heard: “Tell zem… tell zem I could do a QWAAART-er of zat!”

I asked if I could blog the process: “Say, Jean Pierre, may I take a picture of the tarts?” “Yes! Of course! Zey even smile! SMILE FOR ZE CAMERA!”

Strawberry Bakery pastries
Jean Pierre opened the Strawberry Bakery in 2004, and teaches baking classes in his kitchen, through the Chester County Night School. Here’s a review of the class, in French. I see that there’s a Christmas Cookie class coming up on December 13th — is anyone interested in going?

Anyhow, the point I’m making is that, here in West Chester, PA, there’s a world-class chef, baker, or choclatier in every quiet bamboo grove. And not just Old Guard French, either — as the sizable Mexican population starts to open up their own businesses, there’s a crop of really amazing authentic Mexican restaurants coming along. YOU SHOULD SERIOUSLY LIVE HERE.

Previous reasons why you should move to West Chester:

Why you Should Move to West Chester, PA #6: THE FOOD

Matt and Kristen’s Wedding

On Saturday night, Kate’s brother Matt got married to the wonderful Kristen Seidle (you might remember her as the Tequila dance teacher at the Guerilla Drive-In) at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. We went in on Friday for the rehearsal, and stayed at the Loews for two nights so we would be in town for everything.

“Everything” turned out to be more than we expected — after seeing two roller-derby bumper stickers on the way in to the city, followed by a woman on the street corner wearing a “Donna Matrix” Jersey, we discovered that the Roller Derby Nationals were in town, right across the street at the convention center. On Saturday, while Kate and Barb went to get their hair done, Lydia and I walked over to watch skaters like “Heavy Flo” from the Rocky Mountain Roller Girls and “Violet Temper” from the Philadelphia Liberty Belles battle it out in what (I think) was a quarterfinal:

Roller derby is now an amateur, DIY sport, with rules an awful lot like Quidditch, and a great sense of humor — there’s a national registry of handles, so when you come up with your awesome nickname: “Correctional Felicity!”, you can be the only one. The convention center was filled with lots of smiling, enthusiastic rockabilly feminists in purple sequined socks, ripped fishnets, ace bandages, and Betty Page bangs (and just about anything else you can imagine; the teams and skaters are similar to each other only in their exuberant, kick-ass creativity.)

The roller girls were mixed on the convention-center escalators with mitre-carrying bishops from the Episcopal Diocese convention (Ballroom 2), and four-foot karatekas competing in the Amerikick tournament upstairs. These last were staggering under the weight of five-foot trophies. What a great visit to the Convention Center!

Now, for two weeks, Kate has been working carefully on Lydia’s black velvet flower-girl dress. First, she made a muslin, determining that the sizing needed to be adjusted here and here, and then spent a marathon few days at fellow Last Call Bags sewer Ericka’s house, cutting velvet, sewing linings, and stitching tulle. The end result was WONDERFUL:
Flower Girl Dress You can click the photo to see many more pictures of the dress on Flickr.

Lydia is normally very camera-shy, but when she put on this dress for the first time on Saturday afternoon, she just beamed, and would happily stand in front of any camera for any length of time, holding her bouquet and smiling from ear to ear.

Kate estimated that about forty hours’ worth of skilled labor went into creating this simple, small, dress, which just goes to show you that this stuff is not easy, I guess, and there’s a reason why good suits cost a lot of money.

I’m going to continue to gush, here. Everyone looked beautiful: here’s a picture of Kate, Lydia, and Barb (and Ariadne) before the ceremony:
Kate, Lydia, Barb, and Ariadne

Shortly after that picture was taken, I walked Barb up PAFA’s front stairs to her seat, Lydia walked Matt out to his place in front of the assembled group, and Kate performed a reading during the ceremony. Matt looked amazing in a bespoke Edwardian-cut suit that he had made for the wedding, and Kristen was absolutely stunning in HER gown. (I don’t have any pictures of the ceremony, but there were any number of stylish pant-suited photographers there, so I think my few iPhone attempts will soon be replaced.)

I realize that I may be going on like an Evelyn Waugh society writer here, but it was clearly catching: check out this portrait of George Washington over the bar that makes Bill Clinton’s look positively demure. There were LOTS of stylish folks wandering around under the art. Including a huge, action-packed twenty-by-thirty-foot painting of Death on the Pale Horse that was rescued from a burning building by volunteer firefighters who cut it from the smoldering frame.

PHEW and then there was dinner! And a toast, by me! And dancing! And that’s when we saw the BEST DANCER IN THE ROOM: Matt’s good friend Craig, who (says Matt) at age 22 decided to turn his self-described “inability to dance” into an asset, and MAN did he succeed. Look at this free-form awesomeness, which I personally think has enough raw, vital material for five new dance crazes, including “The Moose” and (as Michele Melcher called it) “The Shrimp”:

Please note that I am not being sarcastic or derisive. If we could bottle the awesome on display here, we could solve the world’s problems. This is the closest thing to an actual human version of the Snoopy dance that I ever hope to see.

Reading Terminal Market
And THEN the next day we went to the Reading Terminal Market for coffee, and then after THAT we went to the amazing Fante’s Kitchen Wares Shop in the Italian Market, which I had never been to before, and was a lot like NY Cake and Baking Supply was in NYC, except much MUCH nicer, and with “Mister G.” sitting there right behind the table so you can ask him what the liquer flavoring “caffe sport” or “strega” tastes like, and he smiles and says, in a thick Italian accent, “It tastes like… caffé, but… sporty”, which (and I am not trying to be sarcastic) manages to be somehow a completely accurate description of something that you would really very much like to own. Liquer Flavorings at Fante's Kitchen Supply
Oh, MAN, so then we got back in the car and came back out to West Chester, and I figured if I didn’t get this blog post done tonight it would NEVER get done, because how do you synthesize roller derby, homemade couture, a beautiful, elegant wedding, and the mind-blowingness of Philadelphia in one place? You don’t, I guess, you just put it all next to each other and see what happens. If you’d like to see more pictures, you can check out the photoset on Flickr.

Congratulations, Matt and Kristen, and thanks for a wonderful weekend! I am honored to be a part of such a fun and creative family!

Matt and Kristen’s Wedding