Highs, Lows,
and Rules for

Moving Out of the Dorms
I arrived at the University of Pennsylvania in 1964 wanting to be an architect or city planner. Several things altered my path. The first two years I lived in the dorms and ate dorm food. In my junior year I moved to a tiny house in Center City Philadelphia—with my first kitchen. Guided by Julia Child and the Time-Life series of international cookbooks, I began cooking, and I loved it. Meanwhile, the late-’60s was an era of great social turmoil. I was heavily influenced by iconoclast Jane Jacobs’ writings, especially her book Death and Life of Great American Cities. Jacobs wrote of the role played by the neighborhood store—a place otherwise anonymous people would cross paths and become friends and neighbors. As I learned to cook, I thought more about how food could bring people together. It has occurred to me since then that I’ve had far more influence on the life of Philadelphia as a restaurateur and caterer than I ever would have had as an architect or city planner.

A Frog is Born
On the evening of April 4, 1973, my little Frog was born. It would be years before I’d actually place a sign on the building. Instead, we were “the place on 16th Street with all the plants in the front window.” Highlights of Frog’s opening-night menu included onion soup, calf’s liver with mustard sauce and rack of lamb lifted from La Panetière. Our paella and cannelloni recipes came from a Time-Life book. My mother made a batch of her stuffed cabbage. The wine list included bottles of Mateus and Mouton Cadet, plus several selections by the glass—a Philadelphia first. On other nights we offered quiche, brochette of beef and Thai chicken curry, a blend of spices and French béchamel. It was the birth of what became known as fusion. By today’s standards, it wasn’t much. But served by energetic kids anxious to please, the food at Frog, and the restaurant itself, was something new, a soldier on the front lines of a restaurant revolution. Versions of Frog would appear in cities across America.

A Frog is Born Again
Our storefront Frog of hanging plants and mismatched chairs was wearing thin as tastes changed from the bluejeans of the ’70s to the designer jeans of the ’80s. In addition, our evolving culinary ambition had long since outgrown its tiny kitchen. Around the corner was a slightly derelict four-story townhouse of great potential. I bought it. Our goal was to grow our 97-seat restaurant into 150 seats. Figuring out how to create a tastefully welcoming ambience in a grander setting was going to be a challenge. To situate a bar complete with a baby grand piano below grade, we had to lower the level of the basement a foot by shoring up the foundation and removing tons of dirt. The ground level housed the entry, two dining rooms and the dishwasher. Up a flight of stairs were a larger dining room and the kitchen. At the top level were a small private dining room and an office. Walls and niches were filled with edgy and museum-worthy paintings and crafts. We commissioned handmade ceramic vases for each table and filled them with orchids. When we opened in 1984, Ed Bronstein’s contemporary design with Asian overtones and rich colors helped to establish a new vernacular, which landed Frog on the cover of Restaurant Design magazine. In the new Frog’s kitchen was Philadelphia’s first hardwood charcoal grill. Some customers preferred the old Frog’s ambience, but everyone appreciated the new Frog’s food. Years later, in a 25th anniversary issue, Philadelphia magazine named Frog the best restaurant of the previous 25 years.

City Bites
Philadelphia in the mid-’80s was socially conservative and risk-averse. A large failed restaurant called City Lights offered growth at a discount. With careful marshaling of resources, I could afford a new venture, which I dubbed City Bites. Never having experienced failure, I believed that if I built it, they would come. Some months before, I’d read a magazine article about “Attitude,” an emerging consciousness with edgy and deconstructionist overtones that mashed retro and modern with a sense of humor. It struck a chord. City Bites became an Attitude showcase. Ed Bronstein conceived of a space with chain-link fence, parachute fabric, and individualized dining areas. Next to floor-to-ceiling windows we set triangular tables for two facing out. We found exuberant art in New York’s East Village, including a Jenny Holzer moving message board. (In a few years Holzer would represent the United States at the Venice Biennale.)

Interior Design magazine featured the space on its cover.  Custom soundtracks juxtaposed pop classics with show tunes and spliced jazz with Woody Allen monologues.  A big bar offered a nightly romp of live local rock.  City Bites was all over the place and way ahead of the curve.  Some Philadelphians loved it and most couldn’t figure it out.  Within a few years City Bites stripped me of all the money I’d made from years of work and put the entire organization at risk.


Mar|Apr 2010 contents
Gazette Home

Quakers in the Kitchen

Rules for Being
a Good Host

Be ready on time.

No whining.

Provide a warm welcome and make your guests feel at ease.

Don’t apologize for anything.

Be appreciative of any gifts.

Arrange any flowers brought by a guest and give them a place of honor, even if they can’t be the centerpiece.

Serve wine brought as a gift unless it’s absolutely not right for the meal.

Accept modest assistance.

Send your guests off with a little wrapped chocolate for the road.
Rules for Being
a Good Guest

Arrive on time or a few minutes late, but never early.

Bring a modest gift that’s in proportion to the event -- never something that would embarrass your host.

Be gracious in accepting your host’s gift of hospitality.

Compliment your host, but don’t be obsequious.

Offer to assist.

Don’t overstay your welcome.


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  ©2010 The Pennsylvania Gazette
Last modified 2/23/10