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Food

During my sophomore year in college, I decided to take an English course about food. In the English 245 course, we considered textual and visual representation of food in print and digital media by minorities—racial, ethnic, linguistic, religious, and sexual. While our focus remained on the United States and mostly English-language texts, the authors will claim roots in West Africa, Central America, East Asia, the Middle East, and Eastern Europe. Readings included cookbooks, menus, self-help, Instagram posts, and films, as well as food memoirs, novels, short stories, and poems. For a fuller experience of the subject, we approached food on a more sensory level, through actual preparation and consumption and/or less conventional means such as online tastings and invention of recipes for imaginary dishes. One piece I wrote for this class was about one of my favorite restaurants in New York city. 

16 February 2023

PETRARCA CUCINA E VINO

Located in the heart of downtown Manhattan is TriBeCa. Tribeca is known for its manufacturing buildings that were transformed into apartments and loft spaces. Trendy shops and restaurants line the cobblestone streets. The red-brick New York Mercantile Exchange building, built in 1884, is one example of a historic commercial structure. Weekends are peaceful, though families visit Washington Market Park and Hudson River Park. Every spring, the Tribeca Film Festival is held there every spring. On the corner of White and 6th Avenue, sits Petrarca Cucina E Vino, better known as Petarca. The two toned, red paint and brick building with black accents really stands out. Since 2007, New Yorkers have been able to enjoy the restaurant's authentic Italian cuisine and wine bar. It is inspired by the owner, Leo’s hometown, Arquà Petrarca, in northeast Italy, which is largely regarded as the most beautiful village in Italy. Arquà Petrarca was named after Francesco Petrarca, commonly anglicized as Petrarch. 

The town was originally composed of eleven streets that are typically paved as two-way streets. It is where cypress trees line the sand-colored cobblestone hilly streets. It is where the blush-red rooftop stone buildings still stand. Leo wanted to bring home and family with him to the United States; therefore, something that one might not know at first glance is that Petrarca is a family owned restaurant. The owners are Antoinette Veneto and Leonardo Pulito, along with their sons, Emilio and Ivano, who are the managers. At first glance, Petrarca seems to be a basic Italian restaurant that sits on the corner, but little does one know that it’s a family-owned business that curated a clientele that became extended family. 

The restaurant is a large rectangle that sits on the corner of White and 6th Avenue. As you walk in, you see seventeen tables in the restaurant. The tables are closer together than a typical restaurant to emphasize the feeling of togetherness and family with additional seating at the bar. With about eight bar stools, you can order a drink while you wait for an acquaintance or a friend. The floor is a polished cement which brings a coolness to the overall warmth of the space with the red hues, and dark colors from the wine bottle. The best table is by the window with the booth seats. The table is a dark marble with a wood perimeter, paired with cherry-red plastic chairs. The color red is consistent throughout the space in the chairs, food, and decor. The color red is seen in the Italian flag which symbolizes love and generosity and recognizes the blood shed during the nation's formation. The booths are wrapped in authentic smoke-gray colored leather to emphasize the feeling of old world Italy, but simultaneously conforms to the contemporary TriBeCa look. At first glance, a customer might think you need a reservation, or one can’t just go in for drinks. But due to the strong sense of community that’s actually not the case. Even the lights are strategically placed on the ceiling to emphasize the warm and welcoming environment of the space. 

Lighting plays a crucial aspect in the restaurant’s environment. Ambient lighting sets the mood for the entire establishment while enabling easy and comfortable movement for both guests and staff throughout the space. At upmarket restaurants, special occasion meals, and lounge or bar sections, a softly lit setting creates an intimate atmosphere. The lighting is dim (on purpose) to create the feeling of intimacy while also highlighting the decor seen throughout the space. The lighting brings an overall warmth to the space that makes the restaurant more inviting. The lighting creates the feeling of home. The only sources of light are coming from the candles, lighting behind the bar, and backlit shelves. On the walls, there are shelves, and on the shelves, are glass containers.  

At a glance, a customer might just see shelves. But on those shelves are very important objects. On the bottom shelf the content of the glass canister varies from peaches to onions, the jars have been there for over two decades and the liquid is a deep-rust color. On the second shelf there are vintage tomato sauce cans displayed side by side. On the third to top shelf, there is a display of wine bottles side by side. All of the jars indicate to the customers that all the ingredients used in the dishes have been used for generations in the family. The jars are the restaurant’s main type of decor emphasizing its authenticity and the value it places on family and tradition. There is music playing in the background, but since the restaurant is always so crowded, I can barely hear the music when I eat at Petrarca. You’ll hear the occasional boisterous laugh coming from a New Yorker and the accent coming from an Italian native. The restaurant is never quiet; friends and family are always talking and reminiscing with one another.     

The servers are dressed in a black button up, black trousers, and shiny black dress shoes. At first glance, a customer might just identify the servers because they’re all wearing the same thing. However, the servers are actually demonstrating a form of professionalism with a touch of elegance. When you visit the restaurant, you will interact with three rounds of servers. The first server will offer any beverages. Customers can glance at the drink menu or if they’re regulars, they already know what they want to drink. The second server is the one that actually takes your order, they know the specials like the back of their hand. If you order essentially any dish, they will ask you if you want extra parmesan sprinkled on top. When the servers bring you a bottle of wine, they tell you which region the beverage is from. At a glance, you might not think about this, but the servers are an essential part of your experience at the restaurant, because they are who you interact with the most. The waiters at Petrarca foster a comfortable and familial environment by the way they interact with their customers. They are the first to welcome you when you enter the restaurant. The server assists customers throughout the dining experience, and “offers guests the menu, explains the special, answers questions about the dishes, and takes orders” (indeed) Not only is the service at Petrarca excellent but the food is fantastic. 

There has never been an occasion where I walked out of the restaurant and regretted what I ordered. The menu is both in Italian and English. This emphasizes the origin of the restaurant and is accessible to those who don’t read Italian. The color of the menu is black and red, which are colors repeated throughout the restaurant decor. There is a depiction of Francesco Petrarca, commonly known as Petrarch at the top left corner. He is the restaurant’s logo. The name of the restaurant is at the top of the menu. The menu has three main sections: for food, for cheese, and desserts. Each subcategory is capitalized i.e, PIZZA to make the menu clearer. Each dish is listed in Italian and then translated into English. The food portion of the menu is split up into categories: pizza, antipasti, insalte, pasta, pesce, and carne. At the far-right column are where the prices of each dish are listed. The cheese part of the menu lists the cheese selections for the evening. Within that section are three subsections that list: soft, molt, and hard cheeses. The last part of the menu is for desserts, dessert wine, and digestivi. The menu is well-organized and easy to read. 

Once I’ve perused the menu and decided what I wanted to order, we call the waiter over. The food always comes in an orderly fashion and is aesthetically presented. The plates are clean and a porcelain white. The presentation of the food conveys to customers about the importance of cleanliness. Clients will always remember their first time eating their dish. It’s important that what they see on the plate appeals to all senses before they consume it. Then we arrive at everyone’s favorite part of dinner, the desert. My mom and I share the tiramisu. The service throughout the night makes your food experience enjoyable and seamless from the first course to the last. Customers are constantly walking in and out of the doors until the restaurant closes at ten p.m., many of whom Leo knows by name. 

On the surface, Petrarca is a contemporary restaurant, but you wouldn’t know at first glance that this is a traditional business where most of the loyal customers have become like family. I learned that the restaurant has a personal history and connection to the owner’s background. The restaurant business is challenging and complex and not just about the aesthetics of the space. With the deep hues and textures throughout the space, preserved ingredients, and italian wine. Petarca has a close-knit clientele that consists of family, friends, and regulars. Every Friday or Saturday night is when Petrarca bustles with customers. Food is very much an important part of my life and the lives of many New Yorkers. Restaurants are more than just food, it’s about the atmosphere, its servers, the boss, and the regulars.   

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