Birthdays were a lot different when I was little. Back in the day, I would start a countdown to the big event at least two months in advance and would start to harass my mom about my dinner and cake selections for the big day. The anticipation would really start to build about a week before, as cards arrived in the mail for me and reached great heights on the day before my birthday when my grandfather would always call to tell me that it was “The Eve of the Anniversary of my Birth.” On the day itself, I’d get to bring cupcakes to school to pass out to everyone in class (things got even better in high school, when I was able to convince my mom to call me out “sick” on my birthday a couple of times. I’m pretty sure my BFF played hooky with me, too) and just felt pretty darn special all day. My birthday was pretty much on par with Christmas.
Fast forward to my grown-up birthdays. I usually have to work. And, as I mentioned before, I was in a state of denial about my age for the past few years, as I tried to cling on to the last years of my 20s.
The silver lining is that as schedules get crazier and it becomes more difficult to coordinate getting family and friends together at the same time, the celebrations—and the opportunities to do fun stuff and eat good food—stretch out over a couple of weeks.
This year’s birthday celebration continued into the weekend, with movies (J. Edgar. I recommend) and dinner with my family at Village Belle, an Italian place in the Queen Village neighborhood. If you are familiar with the South Philly restaurant scene, it’s in the location that used to house Frederick’s, another Italian place that used to always put up a festive Christmas light display. I picked it mostly because my picky brother was joining us, and as he pretty much refuses to eat any other pasta shape except cappelini. When I looked at the menu online, cappelini was at the very top of the pasta section of the menu, I figured it was a safe bet.
The interior of the restaurant has been completely renovated since the Frederick’s days. There is a bar area right up front, and the main dining room has a retro sort of feel, with red leather booths and exposed brick. It wasn’t overly crowded when we arrived at 6:30 p.m., but things picked up a bit as the night went on.
We started off by sharing some appetizers: hummus with pita and veggies, calamari, and meatball sliders, which are one of the signature items at the restaurant. The hummus was a bit bland, but the calamari fared better—the tiny rings were not heavily breaded were not fried to the point of becoming rubber bands. The meatball sliders were the star of the show. They are a combination of beef, pork, and veal, and we all agreed that they were pretty darn close to the meatballs that we make in my family and that they were probably the best meatballs I’ve had at a restaurant. They are served on a hard, slightly sweet roll, but would be excellent just on their own over a dish of spaghetti.
We all ordered pasta, which was homemade and incredibly light. My brother and Chester both ordered the cappellini, which was served with a generous amount of seafood (salmon, clams, mussels, etc.) in a saffron broth, almost like a bouillabaisse. The cappellini was super thin, so I’m sure that made Michael happy. My aunt and I both had the chicken and mushroom cannelloni. I loved that this wasn’t smothered with cheese, so that the hearty flavors of the other ingredients really came through. Finally, my mom tried the crespelle, which are basically the Italian version of a crepe, filled with ricotta and pine nuts. If I ever visit Village Belle for brunch, that would be my pick for a dish.
Finally, what’s a birthday dinner without dessert? My mom and I shared the dark chocolate cake with cherries and my brother and aunt shared the pumpkin cheesecake. My brother whispered to the waiter that it was my birthday, so my cake looked festive, but luckily, there was no embarrassing singing.
As a final cute touch, our waiter brought a little leather guest book with the check for us to write a note in (my mom wrote it, so chances are no one will be able to make out the handwriting). I’ll be stealing that idea if I open a restaurant someday.
I would definitely head back for another meal at Village Belle. The atmosphere was casual and comfortable and the staff members were all extremely friendly and knowledgeable about the menu. I imagine it’s really nice in the warmer months, since there’s a little space with outdoor seating that looks out towards Penn’s Landing.
All in all, I had a great birthday weekend with Chester and my family. And, I’ve still got another celebration lined up with my BFF, when we go to New York over Thanksgiving Weekend. We’re looking forward to trying Craftbar, shopping, and most importantly, seeing Hugh Jackman in Concert with her. Maybe turning 29 isn’t so bad after all.