The announcement was made last night: After 7 years, award-winning chef Joe Cicala was no longer the man in the kitchen at Le Virtù and Brigantessa. This follows an announcement on Tuesday by Angela Ranalli-Cicala that she was leaving her position “with a semi-heavy heart” and months of rumors and speculation about troubles behind the scenes at both restaurants.
Philadelphia ain’t exactly Miami Beach, but when the sun comes out, we’ve got no shortage of places to eat (and drink) outdoors. As a matter of fact, with the city’s recent beer garden obsession (like a million of them have opened in the past couple years) and projects like Morgan’s Pier (which opens for the season this week), there are now places where the ability to have a snack and a cold beer outside are the primary reason for them existing.
So with so many options available to you, how can you possibly choose? Don’t worry. We’ve assembled a list of new places and old favorites which have never let us down once the sun starts shining.
So here’s something you don’t get to eat every day: Stewed gourds.
Or rosewater ravioli. Or dessert made of mozzarella cheese.
But that’s exactly what you’re going to get if you show up to Le Virtu on February 23 for their (somewhat clumsily, but accurately, named) Pre-Columbian Medieval And Renaissance Dinner.
See, owner Francis Cratil is a man who loves history. The kind of guy who, with a little bit of time to kill, goes flipping through ancient cookbooks like Apicius (from the 4th or 5th century, full of marvelous and ridiculous rich-people foods from an Italy before the coming of the tomato) or Bartolomeo Scappi’s Opera dell’Arte del Cucinare (from the 16th century) looking for interesting historical tidbits like how Jewish communities in Italy were fattening goose livers for a kind of foie gras, or the first actual picture of a fork–which is found in Scappi’s book.
But he’s also a guy who owns a couple of excellent Italian restaurants, and a curious sort besides. So here’s how his thought process went…
Look, there’s a long story to this and there’s a short one. A complicated one and a simple one.
The short, simple version is this: On March 15, Le Virtù is hosting a dinner to benefit PAUWR (Popular Alliance for Undocumented Workers’ Rights), a group working toward gaining legal status for this group. Chef Joe Cicala and his sous chef, Poli Sanchez, will be working together to create a four-course “Sanctuary Supper” with a menu where each course includes both a Mexican and an Italian component. The dinner, including a wine pairing, starts at 6:30pm and will cost you $120 per person (not counting tax or tip), and all profits will go to PAUWR as part of a national fund-raising campaign to help them continue to fight in what is becoming an increasingly adversarial political environment.
You wanna help? Go eat dinner. That’s the simple version. But like so many things these days, the motivations behind it are complicated. Why Le Virtù is doing this dinner, how they got connected with PAUWR and why owner Francis Cratil Cretarola thinks that this kind of event at this time in history is so important? That’s the long story.
With the devastating earthquake that struck central Italy earlier this week, more than 600 restaurants have begun donating €2 euro towards earthquake relief for every plate of the region’s signature dish, Bucatini all’Amatriciana sold.
Closer to home, Francis Cratil Cretarola, Cathy Lee and Joe Cicala are likewise donating money to the relief effort for dishes sold. At Le Virtu, ordering Bucatini all’Amatriciana or Spaghetti alla Gricia (from Grisciano, also badly damaged) will send $3 for Italian earthquake relief. At Brigantessa, Pizza all’Amatriciana will also trigger a donation.
The bucatini for the pasta has been donated by Marcelli Formaggi, the cured guanciale has been donated by Salumificio Cicala and 1732 Meats. The specials will run from now until through the holidays.
Additionally, on Thursday, September 22nd, Le Virtu will host a fundraiser featuring products from Marcelli Formaggi, 1732 Meats, Salumificio Cicala, and others. The restaurant will serve a four-course dinner ($125/person) featuring dishes from Amatrice, Norcia, and Castelluccio, as well as southwestern Marche, all towns and regions that were badly affected by the earthquake. Cookbook author Domenica Marchetti will also be donating books for sale, with all profits being donated to earthquake relief.
This summer, both of Joe Cicala‘s Italian restaurants, Le Virtu and Brigantessa, will be celebrating “La Sagra del Peperoncino”–a week-long party dedicated to the love of the Calabrese hot pepper called diavolicchi or “little devil.”
Sure it’s fun to order just what you want off of a restaurant’s menu but sometimes the camaraderie of a shared feast is what you’re really hungering for. That’s when a large format meal at one of Philadelphia’s best restaurants is what you have in mind. So gather up some friends and make reservations for these family-style dinners.
Yup—Le Virtu has a new member of their family—a sheep named Antonella.
Antonella lives on an affiliated farm in Anversa Degli Abrizzi, Italy named La Porta dei Parchi. A lot of Le Virtu’s and Brigantessa’s cheeses come from the cousin of La Porta’s owner, so by adopting Antonella, Le Virtu is financially giving back to the farm.
Plus, you know, they’ve got their own sheep now. Kinda. In Italy. Which is kinda cool
Don’t hear that every day, do you?
Le Virtu [f8b8z]