Monday, August 31, 2009

There's A New Mixologist in Town

The mixologist trend was bound to finally reach rva and not a minute too soon, either.

Understand that a mixologist is not the same as a bartender and speed is not the goal.

Rather, the creation of unique alcoholic beverages comprised of unusual ingredients and layers of flavor is.

Thus it was my great pleasure to spend the evening at Acacia Mid-town eating, drinking and talking mixology with Jacqueline, the new mixologist at Balliceaux (and a burgeoning artist).

After a year-long stint in DC working her mix magic, Jacqueline is back in Richmond full-time and creating drinks at that will reveal layers of complexity, even as they move you closer to inebriation (if you so choose).

These are not your daddy's mixed drinks.

So, yes, we talked drinking and eating and shared the downright delicious: rabbit croquettes, grouper and grits and two kinds of chocolate (come on, we each needed our own).

She raved about beef tongue and I countered with crispy fried pig's head.

We called it a draw.

But in the arena of cocktails, I bow to the wisdom of the mixologist.

Aren't you just a little bit curious?

On the Way Home

I went to Ipanema tonight for their monthly live music show and was treated to the incredibly beautiful music of Low Branches, a Roanoke trio.

Their sound consisted of a violin, a guitar or two (depending on the song), the occasional drum and xylophone and an exquisitely sweet female voice.

The crowd was one of the largest I've seen for these events and, with the exception of the drunk girls in the back, attentive and clearly impressed.

After the show, four of us sat outside for some intense discussion of politics, feminism, the Second amendment, deficit spending and changing gender roles.

It was the kind of conversation where everyone had important points to make and everyone else tolerated the opposing viewpoints.

Oh, and there was some fascinating talk about the music and Fan scenes pre-1990, so I heard a lot of great stories about local musicians and characters.

Did I know there used to be an Arby's where the Red Light Inn was?

I did not.

I took my friend home afterwards (she was car-less) and driving back towards the Ward through the Fan, I was all but alone on the streets

The cooler night air makes me think summer may be winding down...just a bit.

I hate to see it go.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Music at the Byrd

This afternoon I went to the Byrd for the screening of "Loosen My Tie," a documentary about local band David Shultz and the Skyline.

As you would expect in a music town, local musicians were abundant: Antonia (Jonathan Vassar and the Speckled Bird), Michael (Now Sleepyhead, Pedals on our Pirate Ships), Josh (Mermaid Skeletons) and Prabir (... & the Substitutes), among others.

I even saw the lovely blogger Tess (Parasol Party).

Everyone was there for Michael Hagan's film about the trials of making a living at music.

Hagan and Shultz were childhood friends and the film began as a class project in 2002 and evolved into the feature-length documentary we saw today.

The origins of the project meant that the audience got to see six years worth of touring and recording as well as the band's attendant changes.

It was the kind of film that would make fans out of even those convinced they're not fans of folk/acoustic rock.

It ended with the recording of their latest CD in Maine and the unknown of what the future will bring with the CD's release.

And while I've seen Shultz and the Skyline live at least a half dozen times, at the moment I am eagerly awaiting their CD release party at Gallery 5 on September 26th.

It was clear from what we saw that the band is stretching themselves on the new CD (their third) and what we heard sounded brilliant.

David's songwriting keeps getting better and better and the band sounded tighter than ever.

You'd be a fool to miss this show.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Bottom Sitting

Holmes and I went to Julep tonight to experience the new chef, Branden Levine, and new menu.

I'd met Branden weeks ago when he was still training under Eric and now I wanted to see what he'd done with the menu and food.

The new menu is less rustic than Eric's, but full of appealing options, like green tomato beignets with lemon/jalapeno aioli, duck confit spring rolls and grits with andouille sausage and tempura shrimp.

The dessert menu is still being overhauled and will debut in a week or so, so I put in my bid to Branden for some superior chocolate choices.

He agreed, as any smart chef would, that chocolate would/should hold a prominent place.

Holmes is back in Internet dating mode, fresh off a date last night and with another one scheduled for lunch tomorrow (although the woman informed him that lunch is not a "real date").

I envy him his dating bravado and enjoy hearing his stories, although I'm beginning to wonder how many normal women his age are out there looking for nice guys.

As he pointed out more than once, "Sometimes what you're looking for is right under your nose," which sounds to me like he's not likely to find success online, but what do I know about dating?

Absolutely nothing.

Waiter extraordinaire Ron came in, sat himself down next to me and was full of curiosity about a mutual friend with whom I'd had a couple of dates.

I shared and he shared and we both promised to keep it all to ourselves.

He did tell me about a couple of overly friendly women, one a customer and one somebody's ex, and their over-eager attempts to snog him at the restaurant.

Smart man, though, he threw them off balance by pretending to return their ardor and that ended that sort of friendliness.

This is what makes Ron the consummate professional: knowing how to handle every situation.

Walking the dog shortly before midnight, I ran into two of Richmond's finest patrolling my side street on foot.

Always glad to to have them in the neighborhood, I chatted them up and they played with my dog.

I can now go to be feeling safe and protected...and very, very full.

Prabir's Plan

You might assume that a local rock legend like Prabir (of Prabir and the Substitutes) is always a victor in the game of love.

Not so, he told me before his acoustic show last night when I asked about his latest conquests.

Even a pop prince gets his heart broken, it would seem.

But never fear, Prabir has a sure-fire plan for working through a broken heart and the way he told me, it goes something like this:

1. Drink too much
2. Make a list of all the things you want to accomplish in life
3. Start dating
4. Drink too much
5. Abruptly stop dating
6. Compile a list of all the sexual conquests you want to make (by type and activity, not by name).

I have a feeling I know what the next step is, but that was as far as he got in telling me the plan because that's as far as he's gotten in his recovery process.

These are words to live by, folks, from a rock god who knows the score.

You have to admire a man with so much musical talent and a plan.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Pork, Beans & A Proposal

I'm a regular at Six Burner because the food is so good and because the staff gives me such a hard time.

It's a combination I can't resist.

But now they've adopted one of my very favorite restaurant practices: offering two sizes of entree portions.

Too often, there's something I'd love to try on the entree menu, but I know I couldn't possibly do it justice.

Tuesday night I partook of the Bucatini Pasta, Pulled Pork Shoulder, Shitake Mushrooms and Pork Jus offering, although if what I got was the small version, I question who could finish the full-size one.

It was the kind of soul-satisfyingly good meal that you don't often find for $8. But don't take my word for it.

Yesterday I made the weekly pilgrimage to 821 for my black bean nachos, which is not particularly noteworthy except that I was alone in the restaurant.

Let me clarify: alone at 821.

When I arrived around 1145, there were 3 other tables.

By noon, it was me and the staff. I've been going there for over 10 years now and I've never been the only customer.

Heather waited on me and asked how I'd liked the Tulsa Drone show we'd both seen recently.

As for the shortage of patrons, we decided it had a lot to do with the first full week of school and it being the last day to add/drop classes.

She brought me up to speed on the renovations of the building next door that will eventually double their seating capacity when it finally opens, undoubtedly after December 1 so they can open as a smoke-free place.

It'll be the end of an era, for sure, though, when that little space closes for good.

By last night, you'd think I could have made do with a sandwich at home considering the platter o' nachos I'd inhaled earlier, but now that I have a restaurant 2 blocks away with a much better stocked and staffed kitchen, it's hard to get excited about eating here.

So I ambled up to the Belvidere at Broad and had just about decided on the Smoked Gouda Veggie Club with Bacon when the bartender asked if I wanted a recommendation and promptly suggested the Smoked Gouda Veggie Club with Bacon.

Well, that was easy.

The sandwich was wonderful: huge with 3 thick-cut slices of bread, roasted red peppers, sauteed onions, shitakes, tomatoes, cucumbers, greens, avocado puree, and loads of Gouda and bacon.

Naturally what followed was a discussion of his musical taste and as he ticked off favored bands and musicians, I passed judgement.

When he said "The Posies" I answered, "Frosting on the Beater" (my favorite Posies album), causing him to respond, "Will you marry me?"

I think the deal was sealed when the topic of phones came up later and he found out I don't have a cell; he hates them (but has one).

It's not every day I can go out for dinner and leave four hours later with a marriage proposal.

Now there's some incentive for eating out.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

1969 Kids vs. 2009 Kids

Not everyone reads The Atlantic Monthly (although I don't know why not) so I wanted to share some observations from the article "Long Time Gone," (about the 40th anniversary of Woodstock) in the current issue. Writer James Parker addresses both the actual event and the filming of the seminal documentary, Woodstock: 3 Days of Peace and Music. It's a fascinating piece for many reasons, including Parker's astute observations about the cultural shifts that have produced a generation of young people today who couldn't be more different from the kids of 1969.

The kids of Woodstock were either the first generation to taste true liberty or the last generation able to police itself-- we're still working that out.

Parker's assessment undoubtedly stems from the debacle of the the Woodstock 30th anniversary event in 1999, but there may be an underlying truth to it nonetheless. But it was the following observation which rang so true I had to reread it just to make certain I wasn't just interpreting it as I wanted to.

In an instant, the scope of the dietary disaster that has since overtaken us is revealed. No high-fructose corn syrup in 1969, baby: the men are as lean as jaguars, the women firm-fleshed and passionate-looking. And no protein shakes, either--none of the congested muscularity of your 21st-century gym jockey.

That observation is one I've made every time I see a documentary shot more than 15 years ago. When I first saw the classic Koyaanisqatsi, the slow-motion scenes of endless people exiting the subway in NYC, I remember being struck by the absence of fat people. Everyone looked so normally-sized; oh, sure, there was an occasional overweight person, but they were the exception, not the rule. Shoot that exact same scene today and the ratio of fat to normal would be completely reversed, without a doubt.

Parker's Woodstock piece is full of gems like the above, so whether you remember Woodstock or not, do yourself a favor and check it out at www.theatlantic.com/woodstock

Monday, August 24, 2009

Crazy People Have To Eat, Too

So this guy comes into 27 and sits down at the bar. Looks normal enough, but you make the call:

1. While reading his RTD, he comments out loud to himself. "Hey, that's funny!" and "Would you look at that?" and "I said that would happen."

2. When his mussels arrive, he proceeds to slurp them so loudly that a couple at a nearby table actually turned around to find the source of the god-awful sound.

3. The bartender asks if he's through when she sees the bowl is empty and he waves a hand toward the bowl, so she tries to remove it. "No, no, I WANT that!" he exclaims.

4. As the bartender is cutting fruit, he decides he needs her complete attention, so he snaps his fingers at her. When she doesn't immediately look up, he actually bangs his fork on his glass.

Excuse me, what?! As one of the waiters pointed out, that's the kind of behavior that may be acceptable at Olive Garden, but not at a real restaurant. I don't know who was happier to see him go, me or the staff.

Meanwhile, I had been the recipient of a gift from the uber-talented chef, Carlos, of ravioli in a cream sauce AND gnocchi in homemade marinara...and that was before my caprese arrived, with its big, beautiful August tomatoes and creamy mozzarella. Even better for me, it wasn't terribly busy, so Carlos sat down next to me while I ate and told me what he thought of his brunch visit to the new Boathouse at Rockett's Landing, then we discussed another new chef/menu we're both planning to check out this week, and he gave me the scoop on his upcoming events (pole dancing came up, but I think he's decided against it). I couldn't have asked for a better dining companion.

Back Porch Rain Reverie

I arrived home late last night just about the time the rain was shifting from a gentle patter to a pounding downpour.

While I probably should have gone straight to bed, instead I poured a glass of the 2006 Cardinal Point Cab Franc Reserve, a gold medal winner at this year's Governor's Cup and absolutely yummy.

Step two was planting myself in the rocking chair on my back porch to enjoy the weather.

I think I like porch-sitting in the rain for the same reason I like umbrella-walking in the rain.

Being in the dry center of all that wetness is somehow pleasurable and reassuring.

I guess that's how I spent over an hour happily lost inside my own head, occasionally being splattered by raindrops and watching the lightening show.

After an hour plus out there, the rain slackened and I reluctantly decided I should hit the sack.

It was, after all, 3:30 and although I'd have waited up for the sunrise at that point if I'd not been alone, my bed was starting to call to me.

I have to admit, though, my life may not be perfect, but sometimes it feels damn fine.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Of Crab, Cracks, Cocktails and Cops

Being the unabashed neighborhood supporter that I am, Plan A for Saturday night was to introduce my favorite restaurant owner to J-Ward's newest eatery, The Belvidere at Broad.

I'd eaten there just last weekend and enjoyed everything about the experience, so it was time to share.

As an added bonus, she brought her brother to add his understated charm to the evening .

When we arrived at 8, we had only to wait a few minutes to score three bar stools front and center.

Once again the lovely Julie, one of the owners, attentively welcomed us, even remembering my name.

I was flattered.

We made our wine selections and perused the menu.

The place was positively hopping, so we settled in for some imbibing, in no rush to eat.

Julie indicated that they were much busier than anticipated and that it might be a bit longer than usual for our food.

As we reminded her, it was prime time on Saturday night and, as the new place everyone was dying to try out, we weren't expecting the food to appear in record time.

Unfortunately we heard one guy whining about the delay.

Come on, fella, give a new place a break.

If you wanted fast food, perhaps you should go to a place with mediocre food.

None of us could resist the crab cakes and justifiably so because the lumps of jumbo back fin were huge (and I say that as a person who grew up in Maryland eating crab every chance I got, so I know of what I speak).

Lightly bound and oh-so well seasoned, these crab cakes were delicious in every possible way.

I had begun with a simple salad full of the usual suspects and tasting fresh and fine dressed in balsamic vinaigrette.

My friend commented that the menu reads far less compelling than the actual food, which was creative and extremely well executed.

Just as our food arrived, the couple sitting next to us leaned over and said to me, "Weren't you our neighbor?"

Turns out these were the people who lived across the street from me for 2 1/2 years, until I moved unexpectedly in March.

They'd recognized me immediately and wanted the scoop on my new place and to dish about my split.

It turned into an unexpectedly hilarious roast, with them over-sharing their opinions and then soliciting my attendance at their upcoming party.

It's so rewarding when the universe offers up an unexpected treat like that, so I enjoyed every minute of it.

Part B of our plan was heading to a speakeasy in the Bottom for cocktails and more conversation.

I already knew the mixologist and his fanatic attention to the smallest minutiae of mixing drinks, having discussed it all with him there before, but my friends were unprepared for how amazing their drinks were.

When one drinks a spirit on ice and sans mixer, as I do, the ice is key; mine each had just one slow-melting cube that never watered down the beauty of the alcohol.

Perfection.

Multiple cocktails later, we realized it was well after 1 and some of us had to work brunch the next day (obviously not me), so we reluctantly decided to get out of the Bottom before the mass exodus when the clubs closed.

Leaving the smokey environs of the speakeasy and walking out into the much cooler night air, we immediately felt the presence everywhere of cops and their cars blocking streets.

As we walked by one open-front bar, we heard some idiot with a mic making a snide comment about cops just as two men in blue walked by the place.

No matter. I think all three of us felt that it had been a practically perfect evening.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Thrash Before Noon

Admittedly, thrash/grindcore is not my favorite type of music, but that didn't stop me from joining the throngs at Fine Foods this morning at 11 to witness the fast, loud and ultimately kick your face sound of Magrudergrind. Actually, I can't think of a better place to experience a hard-hitting band like this than the great outdoors. There's not an inside venue that could contain that sound without making my ears bleed and do I really want that? No I don't, but this show represents my only participation in Best Friends Day, so I was happy to be there.

Needless to say the hordes of the great unwashed, hungover and pseudo-punk made for some outstanding people watching as they traipsed in and out of Fine Foods for cases of PBR to stuff in their bike bags. As the guy next to me said to me, "I hate the ones who only pretend to look like they're dirty."

Don't we all?

Fabulous Female Friday

My neighbor Liza and I have most of our conversations over dog-walking, since we both spend an inordinate amount of time exercising our devoted four-legged friends. We finally made the time to meet for lunch yesterday at Bistro 27 and took the extended time together to get to know each other better. I may have found a soul mate: Liza also refuses to carry a cell phone. That alone yielded 15 minutes of empathetic conversation. Who knew there was another such oddball in all of Richmond, much less practically across the street? We had a delicious lunch, as I always do there, with the added thrill of Dave the waiter (and my go-to music person there) serenading me with "Stop Playing Games with my Heart" as he led me to Liza.

Last night I was invited over the river to an all-female party of VCU theater grad students, professors and advisor types for eating, drinking and being merry. As the only non-drama type there, it was a good thing I'm an extrovert and can hold my own since this raucous group rolls high speed through an ever-changing conversational well. The hostess, my wonderful friend Glynn, is the ringleader and hostess extraordinaire and between her laugh-out-loud storytelling abilities and group leader tactics when it comes to generating probing topics, made this wine-soaked evening a blast.

Upon returning to the Ward, I found, not surprisingly, that the streets were crawling with people. It's Best Friends Day weekend after all, so you couldn't swing a dead cat without hitting a hipster or wanna be. The dog and I enjoyed plenty of random exchanges with untold groups as we traversed J-Ward. When I left the house this morning, I found 3 PBR cans in various states of emptiness adorning the curb in front of my house. I expect by Monday morning, there won't be a PBR left in a convenience store within 3 miles of here. I love this town.

Friday, August 21, 2009

I Love It When A Plan Doesn't Come Together

I deflowered another lobster roll virgin at the Black Sheep today. My friend Holly got tired of hearing me rave about this succulent sandwich, so we met for lunch so she could find out for herself why I've been raving (besides my usual rants, of course) about it. Problem was, I've had at least five lobster rolls in recent weeks and you can't eat one AND eat dessert, so I had the lovely Piggy Bank salad (spinach, mozzarella, peaches, nuts and Virginia ham) so that I could have room for a La Brea Tarpit (chocolate creme brulee). I took crap from my favorite waitress just last week when I finished my lobster roll and was unable to order dessert. "What do you mean, you're not having dessert?" Melissa demanded. "You always get chocolate!" And she wasn't even our waitress; she just noticed my omission.

The game plan for this evening was set: drinks with Former Co-Worker and then the opening at Metro Space Gallery... except that a certain overly nice Gemini restaurant owner sat down just as Co-Worker was leaving after two hours and we were off and running. Five hours, much wine, assorted apps and countless shared stories later, we came up for air. Fortunately, we were out on the patio by this time enjoying the night air and the parade of humanity on the sidewalk.

But best of all, we already had plans for Saturday night, so tonight's prelude was just a cosmic bonus. My plans gone awry yielded a delightful evening; to quote the poet Robert Burns:

The best laid schemes o' mice an' men
Gang aft agley.

Amen to that.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

A Summer of Trouble Night

Who wasn't hoping that yesterday's thunderstorms would produce buckets of rain for hours on end? Instead, it cooled down and got breezy for about half an hour and then that was that.

Even so, it was enough of an improvement in the temperature for me to decide to walk over to 821 for my weekly plate of nachos (I even get them for brunch, to the disgust of one of my brunching pals) and random conversation ("Do you know a city in Arkansas that starts with O?" and "What's the problem with booty shorts?"). It's gotten to the point where I don't even need to order; the wait staff just presumes nachos when they see me. Walking back, Monroe Park was overrun with students and the freshmen weren't hard to spot; they were the only ones carrying umbrellas. So cute. They'll learn soon enough.

Next up was music at Gallery 5: The Naked Light/Tallest Trees present Captain Safety and the Summer of Trouble, A Psychedelic Pop Variety Show (with locals the Great White Jenkins and Liza Kate). I have to say I was loving Tallest Trees' psychedelic poppiness; they had three keyboardists, a drummer and multiple vocalists. My only complaint was that their set was too short. When they finished, the all switched instruments (something for which I'm a sucker) and transformed themselves into The Naked Light, a band with 2 guitarists, a bass player, and a drummer. Except sometimes one of them would put down their instrument and play a keyboard or a trumpet. This Nashville foursome were really good, although not quite as much to my taste as Tallest Trees, but definitely worth seeing.

Leaving the show, it appeared that a few more raindrops had fallen and the temperature was up again. The perfect excuse to knock on a friend's door on the walk home, enjoy some wine and tell them what a great show they missed.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Crispy Fried Pig's Head

Highlights from the past 24 hours:

Make all the snide comments you want about eating pig's head, but you'd be a fool to do so until you tasted it, which I did last night at Six Burner.

It was lovely: crunchy outside with an incredibly rich inside and a taste that defies being labeled as anything's head.

Thank you, Lee, for this delicious surprise, followed by all the great food talk.

Finding another extroverted Gemini to wile away a Monday evening with.

I may just have found my band bitch (her words, not mine).

Brooks Winery 2007 Pinot Noir, a perfect example of Willamette Valley Pinot Noir, suggested by Tracey at Six Burner because it's the winery at which she'll be working the harvest very soon.

She and her partner leave next week for Oregon and after the harvest, the great unknown.

We said our goodbyes tonight and I will miss our weekly chats about life, love and RVA. but I am beyond excited for her.

An afternoon spent eating crabs and more crabs on a screened-in porch on the Northern Neck, with the Rappahanock River as a backdrop.

If that isn't the epitome of a lazy summer afternoon, I don't know what is.

A Tuesday evening enjoying a friend with whom I can share anything...and do.

Topics covered tonight: A/C, birthday cards and checks, absence of wooing, perfect bread, men with expressive hand gestures, Pollack, deKooning, CV joints and reading blogs.

Who misses the opposite sex with this kind of goodness going on?

Okay, in theory anyway, I do, but until that's a possibility, I am grateful for excellent conversation, vibrant pinot noir and getting to enjoy crispy friend pig's head.

You know you wish you could taste it.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Dating Update: Epic Fail

I gave dating a shot and I've already given up on it.

Two first dates in June and two second dates in July.

But when they asked for third dates, I felt obligated to acknowledge to them that I wasn't really up to dating after all.

In Dr. Phil parlance, I'm not emotionally available, but that's not something within my control, so I just have to accept it until I feel ready for more.

Besides, it just isn't fair to go out with guys who might become genuinely interested in me.

And while you'd think that telling them this would discourage their interest, not so much (one kindly offered to be my rebound boy, which would not have been fair to him).

So, despite having learned the lesson that it's far better to head this kind of thing off at the pass rather than having to deal with it later, I still felt bad last night at shutting down what seemed like a really nice guy.

I went to the National to see White Rabbits (who were beyond awesome with their energy, their switching of instruments and the sheer amount of sound that six musicians can produce. Oh, yes, and I love it when a band has multiple drummers.) and Fiery Furnaces (not everyone's cup of tea, as evidenced by the small crowd, but intriguing) and found myself approached by a guy also at the show alone.

He introduced himself and we got to talking music and the economy and upcoming shows.

It was nice to have someone to share the experience with, until near the end when he asked about getting together again soon.

I was straight up honest about being recently out of a long-term relationship and just not over it yet.

He was polite and understanding about it, but clearly disappointed, which made me feel rude and a little unkind.

On the other hand, why waste two dates and his time?

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Actual Conversation

I'm leaving Lift to walk home and a guy starts biking parallel to me as I walk.

Him: Morning. Nice day to be walking a dog.
Me: Yea, he's loving this weather.
Him: Good day to look for work.
Me: For me, every day's a good day to look for work.
Him: I was in prison, so I'm serious about finding work now.
Me: Um, okay.
Him: Do you have men who you talk to, you know, who call you up?
Me: Uh, sure?
Him: I'd like to be one of those guys who talks to you. My name's James.
Me: Have a good one. (Here I make a sharp right down the alley as he keeps going)

Okay, so I'm a bad person for pre-judging James. If you have a suggestion for how I could have better handled that conversation, I'm all ears.

The Belvidere at Broad

A new neighborhood restaurant is always cause for exploration, so last night I invited Beer Geek Friend over to share some wine (yes, he goes both ways) and do some reconnaissance. We enjoyed a bottle of Antonelli 2008 Grechetto Colli Martani DOC, courtesy of River City Cellars' Italian Summer Sippin' tasting a week or so ago, and had to agree with Peter of RCC about its fruity and floral notes, but weren't quite as clear about it having a sense of structure and grip that would be the envy of many red wines. Still, it went down easily and was a fine start to the warm evening.

We then set out on the arduous two-block walk to check out The Belvidere at Broad, barely allowing us enough time to compare notes on insomnia. Mine is a fairly new phenomenon, having started back in February after life smacked me in the head with a two by four, but he's had it for years. Even so, he could offer no assistance about how to deal with the frustration of waking up at 3 or 4 a.m. to obsess.

The Belvidere was hopping when we arrived around 715ish, but we managed to snag a booth in the back. Three of the eight wines by the glass were from Washington state (!) and $30 was the highest priced bottle (a Gruner Vetliner). The menu was interesting, with an emphasis on organic, so naturally I ordered a burger and Friend got salmon. Both dishes satisfied and my side of broccoli rabe was especially tasty. Between the large burger and the cab I was drinking, there was no room for dessert, which prompted our waitress to insist that I return and try the dessert menu. Friend is watching his weight, so he settled for ordering another beer. (Note to locals: PBR on tap).

One of the owners introduced herself and talked about their hopes for making a difference on that block of Broad (near the Rite Aid) and in the west end of Jackson Ward in general. Turns out she loves the neighborhood as much as I do (she's a neighbor of mine, too) so we had loads to talk about. She told us about what a mess the space was when they began and, looking around, it was clear that everything in the restaurant was new.

Got home, we finished the wine, Friend left and then the dog and I headed over to Abner Clay Park, which was hosting the Down Home Family Reunion, for the last part of Jr. Walker's All Star Band's set (yes, Jr.'s been dead for years, but two of the originals added members and carried on). They were doing classic Motown (Stop! In the Name of Love, Dancin' in the Streets, et al.) and the large crowd was way into it. The dog and I got comfy and finished our evening laying in the grass listening to music. And this is why I love my life.

Friday, August 14, 2009

It Was Way Better Than Alright

It's not often Capital Ale House brings in a major act, but I would definitely consider the Dar Williams show last night to be such a show. Judging by the long line at the door by 630, it was obvious that plenty of Dar fans wanted a shot at the best possible seats.

Holmes and I had arrived even earlier, not realizing that the doors didn't open until 7, but we made do at the bar until they started taking tickets. Unfortunately, most people were on the will-call list, which required names being checked off and it took forever. The guy at the door practically kissed us when he saw we had actual tickets and let us right in; he also acknowledged that they were unprepared for the hordes of people. Last time I saw Dar, it was at the Landmark, so I can't figure how they didn't anticipate an onslaught at a much smaller venue.

Two musicians accompanied Dar and the crowd was treated to a range of older and newer material. As my friend Andrew had forewarned me, the audience was indeed full of LGBT people, no doubt attributable to her frequent musings on gender roles and self-discovery. Holmes was impressed with her guitar playing and commented on her ethereal voice; this is notable mainly because he had never heard of her when I first suggested he join me for the show.

As a singer-songwriter who's been around for almost 20 years now, there's still a lot to enjoy about a Dar Williams' performance. Hats off to Capital Ale House for providing such an intimate setting in which to enjoy that kind of talent.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Local Chef Heads West, Young Man

One of my favorite local chefs, Eric Cohen of Julep, is cooking here no more. He will be moving to San Francisco Monday and I am sorry for a lot of reasons. First he was probably the most underrated chef in town. His take on new Southern was always a pleasure, whether it was the baby back ribs (had them again last night), that yummy corn and roasted leek oyster stew or the smoked trout, I always appreciated the quality of his food.

But mainly it's that Eric and his main squeeze Melissa are friends and I have enjoyed wine and conversation with them, including my birthday. This will be much more difficult once we are on opposite coasts. On the plus side, they have already invited me to come out and stay with them and what kind of idiot would refuse a free place to stay in San Francisco? Plus I expect it'll be great fun to do some food exploring with Eric as a guide there. As for Melissa, well, she always said that the more time she and I spent together, the greater likelihood that we'd be arrested. True that.

So I ate Eric's creations at Julep last night and savored every bite; then spent the rest of the evening drinking and talking with my soon-to-be transplanted friends. I know Eric will succeed wherever he ends up, but I will miss long evenings talking with these guys. But I do envy them their excellent adventure to come.

WAR. What is It Good For?

Absolutely nothing.

Which is exactly why you should head on over to the Virginia Historical Society for their 3-part show on Vietnam. Soul Soldiers: African Americans and the Vietnam Era; Marking Time: Voyage to Vietnam; and Vietnam War POWs all provide a fascinating look at a war that shaped a generation and a much-needed black perspective on it all.

Start with the film of present-day interviews with Vietnam vets reflecting on how they got to Vietnam and what they experienced. Then be sure to notice those same men's uniforms, boots, canteens, draft orders, pictures and letters home displayed throughout. One guy was caught in a stolen car back in the 60s and given a choice of jail or the military and opted for the latter. That's a draft board of a different era, for sure.

Some of the journals and letters home were heartbreaking, evoking the fear of very young men (most were around 19) as they headed into an unknown future. The bunk graffiti of the men aboard the huge ships that took them to Vietnam mixed poignancy with bravado. Some of them were going to kill the Cong and others just wanted to remember the girlfriends and families they left behind. Almost all included their hometown along with their names on the canvas bunks above them.

Because music was such an integral part of the war experience, the exhibit includes multiple headphone setups and many songs that evoke the era (Edwin Starr's "War," Marvin Gaye's "What's Goin' On" and many others). I'd forgotten just how many recording artists acknowledged their anti-war feelings in song. I learned that after Hendrix's electrifying version of the Star Spangled Banner at Woodstock, his music was banned by the military. Truly, it was a very different world back then.

The best reasons to make sure you see these exhibits is because they are so interesting in a personal sort of way. Should you need extra incentive, the VHS is foregoing admission charges through the end of August, so it won't cost you anything. And whether you have vague memories of that tumultuous time (as I did) or weren't even born yet, (like my companion), you're sure to come away with a new understanding of the Vietnam experience.

Never Too Old to Get Bent

We have a new yoga studio at 312 Brook Road in Jackson Ward called Like Water. What's with the name? As far as I can figure, it probably has something to do with the way my body was reduced to a mass of malleable sweat half way into the class. Not lady-like perspiration, but streaming sweat that made the yoga mat slick and my stick-straight hair start to curl.

A friend had recommended the place; yesterday two other friends were gong to their first class there and persuaded me to join them. Never mind that they were twenty-somethings with far more flexible bodies. Once I got in that uncooled studio and start pretzeling my body, it surprised me what configurations I was able to take on.

As for the mental benefits, between keeping up and sweating buckets, let's just say my mind was clear of any distractions. I left feeling like I had a done a good thing for my body and head (and, as a bonus, supported a local business). Classes are offered at various levels, they're only five bucks and you don't pre-register, you just show up, so it couldn't be easier...or cheaper.

I'm the least coordinated person in Richmond and if I could do yoga, there's not a soul alive who couldn't. You never know when all this new-found flexibility is going to come in handy, either.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Vintage TV Baby

"It takes both hands to hold a Whopper!" Do you remember this TV commercial campaign from the 60s and 70s? I didn't, not that it mattered at last night's Monday Night Moving Pictures show at Gallery 5. The film program featured 11 films from three local filmmakers (Celie Dailey, Chad Middleton and Jordan Bruner) and included everything from naked go-go style dancers, male and female, to parachuting grapes to a balloon heart over Stuart Circle.

The collage of old commercials was a fascinating cultural snapshot. Burger King ads aside, I also didn't remember Aurora toilet tissue. The Chevy ads were hysterically earnest (why would you NOT want a new Vega, Chevelle or Monte Carlo...especially for less than $3500?). Some ads I did recall: Certs is two...two...two mints in one was a familiar refrain. Rolaids consuming up to 47 times its weight in excess stomach acid, as endorsed by a school principal who clearly had a lot of stress (you should have seen those kids fighting on the playground!). And the woman who got offered twice as much Brand X detergent if she'd just give up her Tide; but her husband was a painter and she needed that Tide to get his dirty overalls clean, so she was having none of it.

But I digress, because the vintage commercial film was only one high point of the evening. Music was provided after the films by Cubscout and the Rhinoceros, The Native Young and finally Hot Lava's poppy surf rock. You have to like a Monday night with so much to offer for five bucks.

New Restaurants for my Neighborhood

Jackson Ward
The Belvidere at Broad, located at Henry and Broad is already open starting at 5 Tuesdays through Saturdays. A friend praised the food but thought the lighting was too bright. I'm going later this week, so I'll see for myself. On the other hand, the Belvidere is 2 blocks from my house, so it's likely going to get a lot of my default business if it's any good at all.

Carver
Artistry: Food, Music and Art in the 800 block of West Broad Street, just west of Belvidere. No posted menu yet, but a place with food, music and art only 4 blocks from home can only be a good thing. I'm curious to see how big a role the food will play...and what kind of music they bring in. It could be a killer combination and help build on the momentum that started with Black Sheep.

Monroe Ward
Kenn-Tico, labeled a Cuban Bar and Grill, at Second and Grace Streets, seems to still be in the renovation stages, but a new restaurant on that partially burned-out block is cause enough for celebration. Let's face it, once the worker bees vacate, that's an easy area to park in at night and for those of us in the neighborhood, it's one more ethnic option within walking distance.

Dinner anyone?

Monday, August 10, 2009

Things Heated Up Nicely

Yesterday was so incredibly hot, especially in a second-floor apartment with no air conditioning. A thoughtful friend came over with a bottle of chilled Sauvignon Blanc (Palo Alto Reserve from Chile) which we drank under the fan before heading out to the air-conditioned comfort of Verbena, a place neither of us had visited in over a year.

We had hoped to eat upstairs but that plan was thwarted when we were informed that the upstairs air conditioning was not working...which meant that even the downstairs was warmer than it should have been. Not ungodly warm like my apartment, but we were two booths from the kitchen and my bare legs were stuck to the booth with sweat in no time at all.

I continued the Sauvignon Blanc theme, jumping continents to South Africa and friend enjoyed Albarino ("hay and honeysuckle," mmm) but the heat tempered our appetites, so we kept it to appetizers: clams with andouille sausage and crab cakes. The chocolate pate was softer than most, but given the heat, not surprisingly, and really quite lovely.

One of the waitresses, whom I'd known for years but whose personal life had intersected with my past, chose not to say hello, displaying awkward avoidance (guilt? embarrassment?). Funny, she should have no reason not to speak to me; instead, she just looked hot and uncomfortable working that floor.

But then, it's August, so it's supposed to be hot; that's what summer in the south is all about, right?

Sunday, August 9, 2009

I'm Trying Out this Perpetual Motion Thing

I feel like the last time I took a breath was yesterday about noon and it's been non-stop ever since. First I went to the Jonny Z Fest over on Shields where I ran into loads of people I knew, either selling their wares or volunteering for art's sake. It was hot as hell and totally worth it. There's so much artistic talent in Richmond and I love seeing so much of it on display. Plus I had the chance to discuss the My Bloody Valentine show with half a dozen concert-goers.

Next up was the reopening of Geometry Park, now re-christened Paradise Park. Colorful paint made a huge difference to this oasis, which I thought always had a hard-edged industrial vibe. The kids' hand prints, leaf prints and mural added a lot to the charm of the new park and the extensive shade was much appreciated. Does anyone not have memories of hanging out here for one reason or another?

Then I took a couple of lobster roll virgins to Black Sheep to be de-flowered. Yes, they were impressed with the hunks of succulent lobster on buttered rolls and now it's their job to help me spread the word. Best of all, it was after 2 by the time we lunched, so the the Black Sheep crowds were gone.

Dinner was at Julep and included plenty of ambiance because of the fact that none of the street lights came on last night. As I sat in the restaurant eating and drinking, it was kind of eerie to observe the growing darkness outside, unaided by any artificial city light. It did make locating my black car more challenging than usual, even with the able assistance of the waiter Ben.

Today began with two friends and a bottle of Horton Sparkling Viognier and ended at Tarrant's with mimosas and lotsa food. One of my friends is moving to San Francisco in a week, so she felt obligated to have an east coast crab cake while she still could. She also provided a hilarious story about a mutual acquaintance which I had never heard before (actually only the participants knew of it) and it was the kind of amazing, "you did what?" story that you think only happens in movies. Melting wax from Michael's is all I'm going to say.

I was all set to take a deep breath when I looked at the clock and realized a friend will be stopping by for wine before we go out...in an hour and a half. Perhaps I should get cleaned up and ready to keep going.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

What You Missed at First Fridays

I had to start at ADA Gallery to see the Morgan Herrin piece because I had been lucky enough to see the beautiful female form he did last year that ended up being sold to Lance Armstrong. The new work was also beautifully sculpted in wood, with the head, breasts and legs of a woman emerging from a relief globe. I'm not sure whether his greater strength is depicting the female form or turning wood into something so smooth and fine. In either case, it was a don't miss piece last night, despite not officially being on view (thanks, Rachel).

Next up was Ghostprint Gallery where street artist Josh McPhee had assembled a collection of street art and posters. The show was beyond amazing; almost 200 examples of socially conscious art, political statements and flyers. Ghostprint had done a show of street art over a year ago and I had bought one of Josh McPhee's prints then ("The City is Ours"), so I knew this was an artist who would gather an outstanding assemblage and he delivered magnificently. If you missed First Fridays, you need to make a point to go see this show right away. It's that good.

Went to Thanky Space's final show and it was a little bittersweet. The designated one-year project begun last September by Victoria and Travis is nearing its end and Victoria told me she is most satisfied with what they learned and what they accomplished with the endeavor. In just the past year, Thanky became known for off-beat exhibits that were always worth seeking out and those of us art lovers who appreciated their eye for the different will miss their presence as part of the FF line-up.

Ended up in the courtyard at Adams for Heather's last gathering of the season in this magical space. She's been offering a variety of arts for the past 4 FF's and last night's included music and projected images and, of course, her usual grilled hot dogs and assorted beverages. In past months, there have also been art exhibits and artisans selling their crafts. This unique space, with its brick wall mural of mountains and up-lit trees is like a secret cave for those who know about it or are lucky enough to stumble into it. If you missed it, you'll have to wait until next year to see if Heather starts it up again.

The only downside of the entire night was Thea at Ghostprint telling me that her evening had started with a visit from the Fire Code people, checking for capacity and exits. Do these people really have nothing better to do than sabotage the most successful art event and draw for downtown that this city has managed to create? Surely their time and the city's money could be better spent on abandoned buildings and unsafe houses. We need this harassment of the arts community to end.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Older Hipster Crowd Represents

The crowd at Gallery 5 last night for the Tulsa Drone/Suzukiton/Ancient Sky/Heliotropes show was treated to a musical smorgasbord.

I mean everything from the psychedelic and jazz-infused to full-on metal/hardcore and ending with the experimental ambient goodness that is Tulsa Drone.

I am a big fan of drummer Kevin Cornell from Marionette, but I'd never heard him as part of Tulsa Drone.

Last night offered the chance to correct that oversight...and talk to Kevin about Marionette's new EP, of which I was gifted with an advance copy.

It's excellent stuff and I'm eagerly awaiting their CD release party next month.

Tulsa Drone is one of those local bands who don't play a lot of shows, so you have to catch them when you can.

And, as I found out, they'll be well worth it.

I was also impressed with Ancient Sky (a band with two Richmonders who ended up in Brooklyn in its line-up) playing bluesy Americana rock with elements of jazz and gospel thrown in for good measure.

It was interesting stuff and I didn't feel like I'd heard it all before.

I mentioned to my photographer friend that the crowd was not one I'd seen before at G5.

Patiently, he explained that it was the older hipster crowd who used to go to lots of shows, only now they have to get babysitters so they don't go out much.

But apparently even older hipsters aren't willing to pass up a rare Tulsa Drone show, so there they were, out in force.

Use it or lose it, I always say.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Of Sarcasm, Guns, Distortion and Tomatoes

So the problem with writing a blog is that when you you don't write for a few days (okay, a week), certain people begin to give you crap about your absence (or even link to your hopelessly dated blog).

I'd like to say I've been too busy at my new job, except that I still don't have one.

On the bright side, I have plenty of time to get out.

I did a three-day weekend at the beach visiting my sister and her husband and four of their single male friends..

They don't seem to have any female friends and I'm okay with that.

I usually make this trek, but two of the guys were new to me this year (and I'm single for a change), so it ended up being a lot more fun than ever before.

Let's just say one of them was smart, funny, sarcastic, surprised me with a box of hand-picked chocolates and was willing to take a long walk on the beach at midnight.

As I told him, well done.

Went to the final performance of Hamlet at Agecroft and watched the spit fly from the front row again.

When Joe Carlson took that flying leap across the stage, the entire audience gasped in amazement...which almost distracted those of us of the female persuasion from those gorgeous arms of his.

Silversun Pickups at the National Tuesday night turned out to be quite a good show and particularly appropriate, coming so soon after My Bloody Valentine, from whom they clearly draw influence.

It was a good week in Richmond for us distortion lovers.

I had to go see "500 Days of Summer" at Movieland because I need reinforcement that love sucks and you never get what you want.

Wait, what?

No, I knew this movie's realistic depiction of love gone wrong would be well done and it was.

Just a bit too close to home perhaps.

Did I mention the excellent soundtrack? The Temper Trap is very high on my play list at the moment.

And, finally, Lee Gregory's tomato tart last night was one of the most tantalizing uses of local tomatoes of all kinds I've put in my mouth in a long time (and only the first of three delicious courses).

It's a colossal understatement to say that he will be missed come September.

As a bonus, I ran into the birthday boy, Jeff, out celebrating his 37th with the little woman.

It's always interesting to see where local chefs eat when they go out.

If I keep up with my blog better, will you guys quit dropping hints looking for juicy updates in my hum-drum life?