IT'S no accident that Lady fell hard for the Tramp over a shared plate of linguine in the classic Disney movie.
The very act of nibbling pour deux can be enough to get a body in the mood for romance. Although Valentine's Day is one reason to canoodle with your favorite dining partner, chefs around town are hip to the aphrodisiac power of shared deliciousness any time of year.
"It's sexy to share," said Patrice Rames, chef/owner at Bistro St. Tropez in Center City. He offers a dessert duo meant for two, an airy Gran Marnier souffle and a chocolat chaud, or molten chocolate cake (see recipe). "Sharing food is very normal, hospitable, in Spain, Italy, France. In America, people can be very conscious of their space. It's a question of trust," he said.
Creating menu items to share, the antithesis of the small-plate trend, can have practical advantages for a kitchen, noted Derek Davis, chef/owner of Derek's in Manayunk, where rack of lamb for two is a popular dinner item. "Operationally, the chef is preparing one dish instead of two, so that streamlines the work in the kitchen."
At Le Virtu, the South Philly restaurant that focuses on the food and culture of Abruzzo, Italy, chef Jo Cicala offers maccheroni alla mugnaia, a single, uncut strand of pasta that stretches close to 60 feet for true "Lady and the Tramp"-style dining. Made with just flour and water, the pasta is gradually hand-pulled into a longer, thinner loop that can be extended to feed two to 12 people. Call in advance to request this one.
How about a meatball?
Lou Imbesi, chef at Catelli Duo, a chic osteria/wine bar tucked into the Voorhees Town Center, is a first-generation Italian American from Cherry Hill who grew up with meatballs on the table every Sunday. He's tweaked his family recipe over the years to its current veal and Kobe beef mix.
What's at the heart of all this goodness? For one thing, the housemade bread that softens the meat mix is soaked in veal stock for an added flavor punch. Perfectly seasoned with a hint of garlic, the meat surrounds a toothsome chunk of smoky scamorza cheese, a molten flavor pop that is beyond swoon-worthy. It was originally rolled in half-pound balls, but that proved too small.
"Our menu is designed for sharing, and it just didn't go far enough," he said. Thus the one-pound monster meatball was born, served with homemade tomato sauce.
Steak-house portions typically aren't billed for sharing, despite the hefty weights on some slabs of beef. There are exceptions, though. At the Palm, the 36-ounce, double-cut New York strip is cooked to order and sliced tableside for two - or three, if you're planning on having that kind of night.
Everything is ginormous at the Palm, including the family-style sides and Big Chocolate Layer Cake dessert, cut in a wedge that's bigger than a Smart Car.
At Citron and Rose, Michael Solomonov's new fine-dining kosher restaurant in Merion, steak for two is offered on a limited basis during dinner every Sunday through Thursday. Chef de cuisine Yehuda Sichel, a veteran of Society Hill's Zahav who grew up in a kosher home, accompanies the dry-aged rib eye for two with fresh horseradish chremsel (a fritter made with matzo meal, caramelized onions and garlic), tangy, pickled-green tomatoes and housemade steak sauce. The steak is presented at the table, then returned sliced, a mountain of meat so juicy and tender that you won't have any trouble making it disappear.
Graze on six, seven or eight cheeses at Aimee Olexy's Talula's Garden on Washington Square. Olexy has been turning out beautifully composed cheese plates since her days at Django, off South Street.
Chef Eli Kulp creates a daily feast for two at Fork. "Eating together, family-style from larger portions, is a more satisfying way to share food," said the chef, a veteran of New York eateries Torrisi Italian Specialties, Del Posto and La Fonda del Sol.
The feasts change depending on what's seasonal, but Kulp regularly features duck, treated Peking-style, sealed, hung on racks to age and lacquered with a mix of vinegar, sugar and baking powder. The legs are used for confit, meatballs and prosciutto, and the innards become sauce for the meatballs, or are cured and pickled.
Whether it's steak or souffle, sharing should come with a modicum of etiquette. Wait to be invited, use your own utensil and share in return, for starters. And while there may be a temptation to sit in your lover's lap after dinner and feed him chocolate mousse, that might be best left for more private environs. You can always pick up some strawberries and whipped cream on the way home.
Beth D'Addono has been writing about the Philadelphia and national restaurant scene for more than 17 years in local and national publications. Read more at unchainedtravel.com.