Saturday, October 31, 2009

Halloween Parade Veteran Fans Own Flames

The weather for Richmond's Halloween parade tonight was as warm and humid as that of a New Orleans' Mardi Gras parade.

At least according to several of the participants near me.

We were all in our black "burning building" costumes, complete with cardboard flames for our arms.

Our position in the parade was right behind the stovepipe hats but in front of the red, white and blue cars.

Lily, the master puppet-maker and parade organizer, told us to keep the fires burning, (which I made a point to do despite my arms feeling like lead after the first 45 minutes), although I did notice several other of the burning buildings being a bit lazy about their fires. Just saying.

We left Monroe Park just after 7 and headed into Oregon Hill where the anticipatory crowds awaited us.

This was my third parade in a year and still I'm not used to having photographers jump in front of me to take pictures every few steps.

I must not be a good candidate for being famous and stalked by the paparazzi.

Photographer Ashe Daniel was there, shooting for Brick, and we caught up; I also saw two other photogs I'd met at the recent James River Filmmakers' Forum, one of whom snapped my picture the second I pulled that hot costume off at parade's end.

The caption should read, "Ah, sweet relief!!"

After an hour and a quarter of parading, I needed a treat, so next up was Garnett's for chocolate pecan pie.

The corner spot afforded a little police drama during my dessert respite, with three cop cars screeching to the intersection to arrest someone.

The woman next to me at the counter sipping her to-go cup of water glanced over and nonchalantly commented, "Well, she won't be home 'til Monday."

And somehow, she looked like the type person who would know that.

And now I'm off to Gallery 5 for the Carnival of 5 Fires to have my fortune read, watch the fire performers and listen to the bands.

After all, we get an extra hour tonight to enjoy that big, beautiful moon and whatever it brings.

I'm ready.

Friday, October 30, 2009

This Is It?

My friend and I were looking for an appropriately scary way to kick off the Halloween weekend, when it hit us like a ton of bricks; we should see the new Michael Jackson documentary, "This Is It."

What could be more disturbing than a film about a dead pop star, showcasing his 50-year old emaciated body being put through its paces in rehearsal for the Big Comeback?

Sure, "The Exorcist" was playing at the Byrd, but that's so cliched.

To prepare for this night of horror, we started at my place with a bottle of the 2006 Domaine de Berane Cotes de Ventoux "Les Blaques," a big, peppery wine perfect for fortifying us for what lay ahead.

Since I never go to the movies on a Friday night, I had no idea how many people did.

But that's okay, we were armed with buttered popcorn and fear in our hearts; we were ready.

And then unexpectedly, it turned out to be far less horrifying than anticipated.

Oh, yes, MJ is very scary looking up close (that nose! those lips! that pallor!), but then he was 50 years old and had had as many cosmetic surgeries as Cher.

And given that the camera adds 20 pounds, he must have disappeared when he turned sideways in real life.

Someone should have given the guy a sandwich.

But the documentary showcased more of his talent than his scariness and turned out to be quite entertaining to watch.

I have to give the man credit; he knew his music backwards and forwards and how he expected it to sound.

And his voice was still surprisingly supple.

Since every song was intended to be a major production, there were a lot of shiny, moving things to amuse us for the duration.

Apparently I'll have to get my fright on elsewhere this Halloween weekend.

Scenes From An Evening

5:30. Phone rings.
"Why aren't you at your neighborhood bar?" the caller asks. Because I'm at home? It's the charming Nicholas, in town for rehearsal and a performance and assuring me I want to come meet him and his friend. Off I go to the B @ B to enjoy conversation with worthy conversational partners, including the astutely politically savvy friend. Highlight: Nicholas telling me, "You should put video on your blog. You ought to be on TV."

7:15. Chop Suey Books.
Authors Joanna Smith Rakoff ("A Fortunate Age") and Dylan Landis ("Normal People Don't Live Like This") read from their new works of fiction, one a novel and the other a short story collection and both quite compelling. I always appreciate hearing a writer's words in their own voice and these two were no exception. Both books grabbed the listener and put them right into the story. Highlight: An audience member breastfed during the reading, prompting Rakoff to share a time when she brought her infant to a reading in Soho and ended up having to breastfeed during the taped interview afterwards to quiet the baby. Her breast ended up on Japanese TV.

10:00. Six Burner.
Prabir Mehta (minus the Substitutes) and two musicians, Treesa (on violin) and Matt (on upright double bass), both from the Richmond Symphony, playing new material written for the occasion. The music was well crafted with a classical bent and full of hooks, as Prabir does so well. They finished with a superb rendition of "Eleanor Rigby." Highlight: Being told, "Don't stop wearing fishnets. You are working those fishnets," by a random attendee.

12:15. Catherine Street
Finally meeting the new neighbor whom I'd been told was as enthusiastic about J-Ward as I am. He was. His wife was already asleep, but I hope to meet her soon. Highlight: An unexpected and most enjoyable twenty-minute conversation at midnight with a person I didn't know when I began my day...and yet we had plenty to talk about.

Just another day in the life.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Gogol Bordello at The National

The moon was clear in the night sky, I had on funky tights, purchased in Berlin by a thoughtful friend, and the evening started early with good tequila.

All indications were for a fine night of gypsy punk.

J. and I were meeting at Gibson's for a pre-show cocktail, but she had a beer dinner to attend first. In the meantime, I chatted with a nearby bar sitter, who commented that not everyone would have the nerve to wear the tights I had on (although he did acknowledge that they looked like Berlin tights).

Phsaw, I said, nerve is one thing I do not have in short supply.

Friend finally arrived and ordered a Maker's Mark Manhattan to enjoy whilst I finished up my Tres Generations pour.

Then it was showtime.

We arrived at the National in time to enjoy part of Apostles of Hustle's interesting opening set.

I was especially pleased to find one of my favorite drummers/vocalists, Kevin (of Tulsa Drone and Marionette), tending bar; this is always a good thing because of the superb music talk and excellent pours it yields.

It was at this point that I made a convert out of my friend and she made the leap from whiskey to good tequila.

Smart woman.

What is there to say about Gogol Bordello?

Part gypsy music, part punk and pure energy is too simplistic and yet it says it all.

Or, to put it another way, two musicians had broken strings by the second song.

How about this: both the violin and accordion are played in minor keys?

And there were conga drums.

Need I go on?

The show was a non-stop dance-fest, except for the five people who remained rooted in place; we surmised that they were brain-dead and unable to respond to the allure of music created to entice the audience to respond.

The audience was a cross-section of RVA, with people representing every age, social group and musical preference; both the cool people and the complete geeks (including one in a holiday sweater...seriously) were in attendance.

Because when Gogol Bordello performs, they will come.

That much was clear.

Winning Winemaker Words

I'm always pleasantly surprised when I meet someone once and they remember me on our second meeting. But I'm dumbfounded when I meet someone once and they don't just remember me, they write me a lovely e-mail a few weeks later, referencing the evening we met, sharing information and anticipating our next meeting.

Such was the case when I just received an e-mail from Jean Francois Coquard of Tenuta Mazzolino, the winemaker I'd met at Enoteca Sogno's wine dinner back at the beginning of the month. I'd enjoyed his company at dinner (being the only single diner) and his wines were a delightful discovery for me, so naturally I'd blogged the occasion. He was full of appreciation for the attention, notably, he wrote, because I'd done it in such a "personal and friendly" way. Actually, I think personal and friendly just happens to be my style, but still, it was a gracious compliment, among others.

He was most excited about today's degorgement of their new Mazzolino Brut Rose, a sparkling rose made with Pinot Noir, after 18 months in bottles. I was most excited to be promised details of his Asian trip and his sincere hope that we would dine again when he returns to Richmond.

I can only hope to make such a good first impression with any interesting man I meet.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Keep On Truckin'

Seeing R. Crumb at Center Stage tonight was an exercise in pure enjoyment, a fact confirmed by every person I spoke to afterwards. The audience, a mix of those of us who remember Crumb from his humble beginnings to those who have discovered and worshipped him along the way, was reverently quiet in order to hear the man's every word during the hour and half he and Francoise Mouly (The New Yorker Art Editor) sat on stage conversing.

Using a large screen to display the history of Crumb's works, including the newest, a comix version of "The Book of Genesis," the old friends maintained a fascinating and casual discussion of comic art, work habits, altered perceptions and so much more. Among the highlights:

On attitude: "Life's not all beer and Skittles."

On music: "I only listen to CDs if I can't get the 78."

On maturation: "Oh, I was a sick puppy when I was young, but I got it out of my system. Now I'm nice."

On Fritz the Cat: "I tried to kill that character. I did."

On past drug experimentation: "Stay sober is my recommendation."

The man chuckled at his own humor, took a pratfall coming and going onstage and showed a self-deprecating wit that completely endeared him to the fawning audience.

The after-party at the Belvidere at Broad (which has an excellent display of some vintage Zap! comix cover art) filled quickly with Crumb attendees eager to continue the conversation about the man who denied being a genius. According to him, anyone could accomplish what he had, "assuming they could do the cross-hatching." He claimed he just did what he did with the talent that he had.

"And I got well-paid," R. Crumb concluded in his understated way.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Delightful Dinner at T.J.'s

I was a Restaurant Week virgin and damn proud of it. I lost that virginity tonight at the request of a friend who made a convincing argument to give it a try. So we ended up at TJ's to see what $25.09 would get us at the recently reopened restaurant...besides. of course, a $2.09 donation to the Central Virginia Food Bank.

There was no shortage of choices: three first course options, three second course and two dessert. I started with the loaded potato soup (bacon, blue cheese, scallions over creamy potato soup) and my friend had the P.E.I. mussels in tomato, garlic and coconut broth. I liked mine better, but hers was very good, too.

To our surprise, the server then arrived with a gift from the kitchen: a radicchio and frisee salad with duck confit, dressed in a lovely, nutty olive oil as the base of the vinaigrette. It would have been quite nice had we paid for it; as a bonus course, it was downright delicious.

For my entree, I chose the grass-fed beef meatloaf wrapped with bacon, over mashed sweet potatoes, with Brussels sprouts, bacon and port wine. Are you noticing how I managed to incorporate bacon into absolutely everything I ordered tonight? I'm no fool. The bacon infused the ground beef with a delicious flavor, and the portion was enormous. My friend had the herb-roasted pork rib eye with country grits, cider-braised cabbage and natural jus with golden raisins. The two pieces of pig were huge, thick cut and cooked perfectly.

To finish, I got the Nutella creme brulee and she got the roasted pumpkin bread pudding with ice cream. Neither of us had enough room left to make a dent in either one, but not because they weren't appealing. For the record, we did try; we'd just had so much food by then. And wine: my choice was the 2008 Crios de Susan Balbo Malbec from Argentina.

Perhaps because TJ's has only lately reopened, the place was barely half full when we arrived around 8:30. Our server said they are very much anticipating the rest of Restaurant Week as an opportunity to introduce their new menu to the public.

And, with the exception of the Loud Talker and her friends at the back table, my Restaurant Week experience wasn't nearly as dreadful as I had expected. As they say, bacon makes everything better.

Let There Be Light in the Hood

Too often, when I tell people I live in Jackson Ward, their first reaction is surprise. "Do you feel safe there, a woman living alone?" is a question I've been asked more times than I cared to answer. And the fact is, I do feel safe here. For one thing, there are always people around, on the sidewalk, on their porches, biking by. But the main reason I feel safe is how well lit this neighborhood is; in many cases, we have more street lighting than some places in the Fan. So, yes, I feel safe, I assure concerned people who ask.

Which made it really strange and more than a bit eerie just now when I left to walk the dog before departing for the evening; there wasn't a street light on as far as the eye could see. Many of my neighbors had their front porch lights on, but they helped only minimally. Without all those street lights, it was black out there. The sky is covered in clouds, which didn't help, either. The beagle and I made slow progress during our walk because of how dark it was and spoke with several neighbors who were as curious as I about the lights' absence.

It was only about 15 minutes later, as we approached my block that the dim glow of the street lights began to show itself. It was very faint at first, but by the time we got to my corner, all the lights were on and the neighborhood had its usual nighttime glow. Safe indeed.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Worth the Drive: 2 Amys

What kind of an idiot plans to go to D.C. for lunch on the day of the Marine Corps Marathon? That would be me, of course. But if I hadn't, I wouldn't have seen thousands of runners and walkers spanning the H.O.V. lanes and that was a sea of humanity to behold. I also wouldn't have heard the beautiful and protracted pealing of the National Cathedral's bells as I drove through Cleveland Park. And I wouldn't have seen my friend for the second time in a month, a rare treat for us.

But mainly I wouldn't have had the pleasure of a three-course lunch at 2 Amys (the Neapolitan pizzeria I've been eager to try for ages now) that delighted me and my pizza-loving friend from start to finish. We began with the Potato and Prosciutto Croquettes, creamy and salty inside and fried crunchy on the outside and I'll admit I ate more than he did.

We each ordered a pizza; his was the Margherita (tomato, mozzarella di bufala, basil) with pepperoni and mine was the No Amys (white pizza) with mozzarella and pepperoni. Great pizza starts with great dough and this was just excellent, thin and crisp with thicker edges and a wonderful flavor. The pepperoni was sliced to varying thicknesses and each piece curled up in the extreme heat of the oven to form a perfect little cup glazed with the meat's oil; that's how pepperoni should be, if you ask me.

Neither of us was able to finish more than half of our pizzas (that's what boxes are for), but that didn't prevent us from ordering one of the doughnuts (and holes) of the day; they're only made on Saturdays and Sundays and today's flavor was cinnamon and brown sugar. Good god, it was delicious...if you like fresh made doughnuts, that is. They keep them on a tray on the hostess table right up front (with a sign saying to keep your mitts off) as you come in just to tempt people like us. Well done.

The marathon made it challenging getting in and out of Washington today, but it was worth every detour and inconvenience for the Neapolitan pleasure of 2 Amys. Plus I've got a box with the other half of my pizza sitting in the frig, ready to be enjoyed at any time to revive the memories of that great lunch with the friend who always makes me laugh.

Marionette at Poe's Pub

Local band Marionette's sound is unlike any other band's in Richmond.

By way of example, I know of no other band for whom I'd attend an 11:30 show at Poe's Pub, which is exactly what I did tonight.

The reasons for this passion are myriad; they include the sheer amount of talent represented in these five musicians, the always-interesting videos projected behind the band for added visual stimulation, the multi-layered sound that defies categorization and the wide array of unusual instruments used by the band to achieve that sound.

It all adds up to something pretty amazing.

Tonight's set featured songs from the last EP as well as new material from the upcoming release.

I got a copy of that CD last month while lunching with guitarist Adam at Black Sheep and it's stellar...organic and a definite indication of how the band has grown.

The CD release show is expected to be next month and I can't suggest strongly enough that those new to the band check them out.

You'll walk away a Marionette convert, I would be willing to bet.

As a bonus, I met up with my friend Andrew (I made a convert out of him years ago) out with a charming friend, so I had terrific company.

The only downside of tonight's show?

It was at Poe's, so I reek of cigarette smoke.

And while I can't even imagine a Poe's Pub without the smoke haze, I'll admit I'm counting the days until December first when that becomes a reality.

In the meantime, I have the Marionette CD to keep me occupied musically.

I probably won't even notice the time flying by.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Chez Foushee 20th Anniversary Dinner Part Deux

I'd never been to Chez Foushee for anything but lunch; I know they do First Fridays dinners, but I always seem to have other plans.

When they announced their 20th anniversary dinner, a three-course meal for 1989 prices, it seemed like a golden opportunity to pay them a visit.

The dinner was scheduled for October 17th, but both seatings sold out immediately, so they extended it to tonight, hence the "Part Deux" reference.

I invited Beer Geek friend to join me, but he was going to be on the Left Coast, so I made a reservation for one.

Upon arrival, the host asked me my name, I responded and he greeted me like they'd been expecting me all evening.

It was very sweet.

I have to assume it was because I was their only reservation for one all evening.

I was led to a cozy table tucked in an alcove.

If I ever go here with a date, it's the table I would request (it reminded me of a table where I had an intimate meal in London several years ago).

The menu was very basic, but for $20 for three courses, who's going to complain?

They were offering several champagne cocktail specials, but I went with the Graham Beck Brut unadulterated, since it was an anniversary celebration.

The first course was non-negotiable: a mixed green salad with Roma tomatoes, organic carrots, herb-roasted croutons and pear vinaigrette.

Paired with a crusty roll and more butter than I needed, it was a fine start to the meal.

There were two entree choices: sliced seared fillet of beef with red wine reduction or jumbo lump crab cake with parsley Pernod sauce, both accompanied by roasted rosemary potatoes and buttered blanched asparagus.

I'd had red meat last night, so I chose crab tonight.

It was a good-sized crab cake, flavorful and perfectly cooked and the veggies complemented it well.

For dessert, there was lemon butter cake with Melba sauce, a timeless recipe Chez Foushee has been using for its entire 20-year existence and a classic, to be sure.

I've had it before at lunch and it is yummy, sort of like lemon chess pie.

 It tastes very Richmond to me.

But tonight I went with the obvious, the chocolate truffle torte with Chantilly cream, which I couldn't even finish.

I did manage to finish the rest of the Brut somehow, though.

I have to give a mention to the music, both the selection and the volume, because it was so well done that it elevated the entire experience for me.

First of all, it was louder than I've encountered at any other Richmond restaurant.

Not you-can't-hear-your-dinner-partner loud, but more like you were dining in a 1940s movie and they had a band with a girl singer playing throughout the evening kind of a volume.

The music itself was of a continental nature; there was lots of Latin music, especially bossa nova and salsa, French love songs, selections from the classic American songbook and it all contributed to a sophisticated kind of a dining vibe that, to my knowledge, isn't available anywhere here.

I absolutely loved it.

Included with the check was a souvenir of the occasion, a Chez Foushee key chain, in tasteful black and gold.

As I went to leave, the host again spoke to me by name, inquiring after my meal satisfaction and thanking me sincerely for joining them.

Sure, he could have just been marvelling at a solo Saturday night diner, but whatever the reason, it was charming and made for a lovely ending to my meal...and a twenty-dollar meal at that.

Bubbles, of course, were extra.

We Hold These Truths to Be Self-Evident

I put on my history geek hat this afternoon.

It was to accompany Holmes to the Virginia Historical Society to see a rare copy of the Declaration of Independence that blew through Richmond from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. today only.

It's one of only 26 known original print copies, created from Thomas Jefferson's original draft on the night of July 4, 1776 by a printer named John Dunlap.

The printed copies were then sent out to the 13 colonies, King George of England, natch, and to General George Washington for reading to the troops.

This particular copy was found in a flea market in Philly back in 1989, purchased for four bucks and subsequently sold for a cool million.

That's when TV producer Norman Lear offered an even cooler $8.1 million and bought the copy we saw today.

Since then it has toured the country for Joe Average types like us to ogle.

It was actually pretty cool, imagining that broadside (large poster) as part of the fuel that ignited the new nation.

This is why I'm a history geek.

My first impression upon seeing it, based on my publishing background, was what a pain in the arse it must have been to set all that tiny type.

Holmes' first reaction, being the financial type that he is, was how badly screwed on taxes must have been the guy who paid a million for it and sold it for eight.

Lunch at Ariana's in the Devil's Triangle followed.

My choice was a big old Italian sub and Holmes got the Philly Steak Deluxe (perhaps in deference to the Declaration's printing locale).

Neither of us could finish these overly large subs on large scale plates, but we did our best.

My Italian was stacked almost too thick to bite with meats and cheeses and Holmes' PSD dripped ooey-goodness with every bite.

Our window table afforded us a great view of the changing weather; we saw scary black skies to the north, horizontal rain during a period of bright sunshine and wind bending trees in half.

We also commented on the incongruity of outside patio diners across the street and walkers in shorts only a week after it was coat weather.

We saw assorted Zombies on their way to Carytown for the Zombie walk.

But mainly we saw a copy of the Declaration of Independence printed on July 4, 1776.

An astute reminder that we're still seeking to reach that goal of "all men are created equal" in 2009.

To Trash or Not to Trash

Note to self: do not stay up until well after 1 when you've signed up to participate in Neighborhood Cleanup Day, which starts at 8 freakin' a.m.

But I made that choice, so I reported for duty, ready and willing, to assist in cleaning and beautifying the Ward.

I am greeted with biscuits and fruit and neighbors, including one who once occupied my apartment before the building was renovated.

They hand me an industrial-sized trash bag and a picker-upper tool.

Scanning the clipboard for available assignments, I am told that the goal is to assign workers clean-up tasks for areas around where they live.

Everything near me is taken so they choose a random street.

And here's the irony: it's the one and only street in Jackson Ward I don't want to go near.

It's the one where I lived for several happy years before being dumped.

It's the one where my ex still resides.

It's the one full of memories, both great and devastating.

It's the last place I want to clean up trash.

But what could I say to these nice people making the assignment?

"Oh, no, I really couldn't. You see, the man who broke my heart lives on that street."

I don't think that's done.

So I take my bag and tool and head up to Broad Street to start the death march down the street as far as Brook Road.

Candid admission: I couldn't do his side of the street on his block.

I cleaned up the other side, but just couldn't make the leap to pick up trash in front of that house.

I hope the J-Ward trash gods will understand.

I used the rest of the morning to clean alleys and behind trash cans on nearby blocks.

Several people commented that there was far less debris this clean-up than in the past, so maybe we're making progress in raising people's awareness of not trashing the neighborhood.

And while I may have slacked a bit on my assignment, I did fill my industrial-sized bag nearly to capacity, so I like to think I did my part to the best of my ability.

J-Ward looks especially glorious today. And I helped.

Bouchon Delivers. 27 Finishes.

The weekend before Restaurant Hell Week is such a great time to go out; everyone is staying home in anticipation of next week's budget offerings. Not me and Holmes, though; we refuse to be part of the crowd that is laying low before amateur week begins. So when we made plans to rendezvous tonight, it was for the express purpose of introducing Holmes to a place new to him, namely Bouchon.

We began at my place with a bottle of the Cardinal Point Cabernet Franc Reserve 2006, the gold medal winner at this year's Virginia Governor's Cup and a worthy start to our evening. The music was chosen to please Holmes and his distinctive old-school taste, namely Graham Parker's "The Mona Lisa's Sister" and Shawn Colvin's "Cover Girl, " and they succeeded beautifully.

We proceeded to Bouchon to introduce Holmes to the new French spot in the Slip. We were greeted warmly by the owner upon arrival and settled into the best banquette in the place, with a view of everyone in the restaurant and, especially, the parade of street theater.When Holmes deferred to me, I chose the Cahors Clos de la Coutale 2007, a a malbec/merlot blend that continued the robust wine theme for the evening.

The meal began with the arugula, goat cheese rostido and extra virgin olive oil vinaigrette and was followed by the speck, creme fraiche and onion tart. It wasn't exactly a tart, more pizza-like, but damn close and the Parisian ham was to die for. Next up was a special of the evening, a beef daub with braised carrots and onions in a wine stock reduction with mac and cheese with truffle oil on top. Oh my god, what a wonderful combination of tastes this was! The meat and veggies were braised to perfection and the mac and cheese and truffle oil were the richest possible topping for this simple peasant dish. We ate and sopped and scraped and loved each bite and the wine accompanied us every step of the way.

Seeing as how there was still wine left, we felt obligated to order the chocolate marquise with meringue and candied orange peel to satisfy our sweet tooths. Fortuitously, the dessert concluded about the same time as the wine did, signaling that it was time to move on. We departed under a light mist of rain and headed back towards the Ward, where Holmes was parked and I live.

As it happened, Bistro 27 was still open as we cruised home, so we stopped in for a final brown drink and glass of wine whilst we chatted up the always-interesting staff. In other words, I got music recommendations from Dave, concert talk from Ken, Restaurant Hell menu week discussion with Carlos and banter and a hunk of dark, dark chocolate from Pedro. I'm not sure I could have asked for a more satisfying end to the evening, although once again, I seemed to find myself the last customer (albeit with Holmes) in the place. What's up with that?

Friday, October 23, 2009

What is it About Shorts?

I've come to a conclusion: shorts embolden people, especially those of the male persuasion.

I haven't done a scientific study or anything like that, but I think I have enough anecdotal evidence to support my hypothesis.

When the weather turned abruptly cold last week, out of necessity I switched to yoga pants for my daily walk.

But the last couple of days, the pants seemed a bit much, so I decide to go with shorts today instead.

I was a tad cool at first, but once I got going, I knew they were the right choice.

I decided to walk east rather than west, so I brought along my DPU bill to pay on the way.

As I walked by Abner Clay Park, a musician friend whom I see all the time came riding by on his bike, so I said good morning to him.

He didn't even look up immediately; instead his eyes went from my feet, right up the thighs to my hips and then he looked at my face and greeted me by name.

It was classic male stuff.

As I approached City Hall, a man came toward me smiling, so I said good morning.

"You have beautiful legs. Just beautiful! Good morning," he said.

I thanked him, wondering if he makes a habit of complimenting strangers.

Inside the payment office, the clerk called out,"Next," and I approached his station.

Noticing my attire, he asked if I was out for a run or walk and I said I was on my daily walk.

"Well you don't get legs like that without doing something right every day."

He gave me a big smile and handed me my receipt.

So here's my conclusion: shorts rule.

It hasn't been all that long since the weather made shorts-wearing difficult, but if today's responses to a person like me in shorts are any indication, they're already sorely missed.

No further scientific investigation necessary.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Music, Music Everywhere

"You won't hear a thing; you'll hear everything." I wish those were my words, but they belong to the Musicircus event creator, composer John Cage; the annual rva incarnation was held tonight at the Visual Arts Center. Last year's event was at the old Chop Suey Books and featured far fewer musicians; tonight's Musicircus had over 60 musicians, playing solo, in groups and in every combination in between and spread out over two floors, the entryway and the garden out back. A visitor couldn't walk more than a few steps without encountering more music. And that's exactly the point.

The beauty of the Musicircus is that you have to almost be on top of the performers to distinguish what they're playing. If you attempt to listen from a distance, you're bound to hear music from other sources; it can be disconcerting to be watching a banjo player and hearing Christmas carolers. Or watching a jazz trio and hearing the beats of a dj's mixes. Several musicians incorporated multi-media into their performances, providing additional visual stimulation. As the audience walks endlessly through the spaces, each was creating their own individual Musicircus experience, just as Cage intended.

Cage dictated that because the musicians are not paid, the event must be free to the public. How fortunate for Richmond that our own drum king Brian Jones has made this event an annual feast for the ears. I spoke with a half a dozen local musicians, both performers and attendees, tonight and every single one mentioned how lucky we are to have an annual Musicircus here. Don't I know it.

Shut the Wild Things Up

I decided to go see "Where the Wild Things Are," not because I was expecting anything great, but because so many people have seen it and wanted to talk about it, so I was curious enough to give it a shot.

I was wary from the start because of what Hollywood had done to "Shrek," a wonderfully dark book by William Steig, the prolific cartoonist for the New Yorker who turned to writing children's books late in life. I only needed to see a three-minute trailer for "Shrek" to know that the Hollywood treatment had stripped the true character of the book, so I opted out of seeing it.

For me, WTWTA, wasn't much better. To be fair, the wild things looked just like they did in the book, which was great. But they came across like characters in a bad sitcom, each vying to be the funniest or quirkiest or most endearing. And what run-on blabbers they were! In the book, they roared and gnashed their teeth, rolled their eyes and showed their claws; they did not whine or crack wise. I can't be the only one who tired of the wild things' personalities not shutting up.

But this movie was not made for me; it's obvious from the soundtrack who the target demographic is (and, make no mistake, I am a huge Karen O and Yeah, Yeah, Yeahs fan). But it was most definitely not made for fans of great children's books. Too bad Hollywood can't just let them be in print form where they shine brightest, as the authors intended.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Acacia and Whiskey Wednesday

I over-scheduled myself tonight, but it was completely inadvertent. I had a ticket for the Mellon lecture at VMFA (From Reason to Revolution), I was invited to a cocktail party, I had plans to meet a friend for the Acacia mini-wine dinner and while out walking the dog before all these events, the guys at the nearby group house had invited me to join them on their porch for Whiskey Wednesday (even the beagle was invited). How to decide what to do with so many options?

The first casualty was the Mellon lecture, despite the fact that it happens only once a year. I made it to the cocktail party at which I did my best to dazzle the guests, but had to leave after an hour and a quarter. As I was saying my goodbyes, one of the guys, Eric, asked if I was leaving to go to a hotter party. "Please. Do I look like the hotter party type? " I asked. "Actually, you do," the guy named Joe answered. Not certain, but I think he meant that as a compliment.

Nest up was Acacia Mid-town and I am so glad I made it there to meet up with my friend because Dale never disappoints. Our charming wine host, Carol Colby, guided us through an evening of sheer delights, imparting wine knowledge and shared stories; she mentioned some lovely personal goodies she'd heard about me from my past. We started with a pear, frisee, pecan and confit salmon with lingonberry vinaigrette paired with 2008 M. Chapoutier Cote-du-Rhone Belleruche Rose, a lovely combination. Perhaps most intriguingly, the label was also in Braille. Carol shared the story behind that unusual detail.

We followed that with braised beef ravioli and roasted pumpkin with blackberry port jus and the 2007 b Delas Freres Cotes-du-Ventoux; the combo was amazing. For the third course, my friend and I split the difference and each ordered a different offering. I got the Lamb Bourgongne, chestnuts, figs, roasted pearl onions and buttered house-made noodles paired with the 2006 Jean-Luc Colombo "Les Fees Brunes" Crozes Hermitage AOC. I could have died happy after this course, which tasted like fall on a plate with wine-to-die for as a pairing. She had the lite hickory smoked tuna, garlic, parsley risotto, Madeira sauce with the 2005 Jean-Luc Colombo Les Forots Cotes-du-Rhone. We switched plates and swooned accordingly.

Stuffed beyond belief, we nonetheless ordered dessert because my friend says that no one does desserts like Dale. Needing no convincing, I agreed to Chocolate Chicory Coffee cake with extra virgin olive oil ice cream. cocoa nibs and grated orange zest. She opted for french-press coffee, but I went with another glass of the Crozes Hermitage. Neither of us was disappointed with our choice.

By this time, we were again the final customers, so it was time to move on. As I walked the dog after arriving home, I checked the guys' porch for signs of Whiskey Wednesday, but I had apparently missed the fun. Fortunately, I had had plenty of my own in various other locations.

Welcome Back Lunch at Akida

Back in early January, I went to a going-away party for my friend Jameson, who was leaving with his girlfriend and a friend, planning on spending nine months traveling and wwoofing South America. Since I'd been laid off two weeks earlier, Jameson suggested I join the trip. I declined, citing a significant other and the expectation that I'd be employed again soon. Fast forward six weeks and the S.O. tells me he's "starting to dislike me" after six years; understandably, he was moving on. Fast forward nine months and I'm still looking for work. Clearly I should have gone.

Happily, Jameson was a superb e-correspondent so he wrote me all about their escapades working organic farms (including a Hare Krishna farm), opening a restaurant for locals who wanted "American" eats and all the fun they had discovering new cultures, customs and countries. I updated him on what was going on in rva and all the art, films and music shows he was missing; he wanted to know about everything in great detail, so I delivered.

Jameson finally got back last week and suggested lunch today at Akida, a favorite destination for him because he's a vegetarian. I'd never been, but I'd heard good things about the place from several sushi-loving friends. We both got lunch specials which come with miso soup, salad and rice for $9.95; his was tofu terriyaki and mine was the sashimi/sushi combo, six pieces of each. I had chosen to sit at the sushi bar so as to enjoy seeing my food being prepared while we started catching up. Everything was extremely fresh tasting and beautifully rolled. I can see why devotees of this place rave about it.

Afterwards, we strolled over to Scuffletown Park to bask in the afternoon sun and continue our conversation. Jameson is the creator of the Silent Music Revival, one of my absolute favorite free events in this town; he's also the drummer for Pedals on our Pirate Ships, so he wanted to talk about changes in the music, art and cultural scenes in his absence. There wasn't enough time to talk about everything we wanted to, but fortunately he's back for three months so we'll have more chances to talk up a storm in person again soon (instead of writing it out). Maybe this time he'll convince me to join the big adventure.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

At the Camel with Brian Jones

Tonight's performance at the Camel began around 9:45 and ended almost exactly two hours later. Drummer supreme Brian Jones and tenor saxophonist J.C. Kuhl led off their set with a fierce energy that didn't let up, except for Jones to occasionally wipe the sweat off his face. With only one other musician on stage, Jones had as much space to fill as he chose to and, of course he chose to fill it all. The man was practically a blur, using sticks, mallets, brushes, his hands and, on occasion, a moistened finger to elicit the varied sounds he sought. Highlights included "A Tiger, Some Grass and the Rain" and the delirious "Arnold Palmer," from the duo's last CD.

Jones and Kuhl were obviously overheated after that set and the door to the Camel was propped open and remained that way for the rest of the show, probably to prevent them from melting into puddles, given the energy they were putting forth.

After the break, the two were joined by trumpet player John D'Earth and bass player Russell Pharr for a mind-blowing set that showcased each in turn. The crowd favorite seemed to be "Sick Fuck" and it was an amazing piece of music, to be sure. Toward the end, Jones reminded the audience that tomorrow is Dizzy Gillespie's birthday and they played "Fine and Dandy," to much crowd appreciation and applause.

Leaving the place, a guy standing outside on the sidewalk wearing the most audacious hot pink sneakers, looked at me, gave me a thumbs up and said, "Now THAT was a goood show!"

"Yea it was," I had to agree wholeheartedly.

And I Don't Even Drink Coffee

When I started college, everyone predicted I'd never make it through without drinking coffee. I did. When I started working retail, I was assured I'd take up the coffee habit. I didn't. When I got a job in radio, the station manager was certain the pressure would require coffee. It didn't. I love the smell of the beans, the grounds and coffee brewing, but to this day, can't stomach the taste.

Growing up, my parents drank black coffee daily. In fact, they judged the boys my sisters and I brought home by what they put in their coffee. They'd never admit it, but you could see them raising an eyebrow at a guy who put cream or sugar in his coffee; better to eschew coffee completely than to desecrate it. So I've spent a lifetime not drinking coffee, ergo I'm not often in coffee shops.

Yet today, I was midway through my morning walk when I decided to drop into Garnett's to visit the charming Curt during the coffee shift and admire the morning baked goods. Curt was sipping strongly caffeinated Ethiopian coffee; I drank water. I intended to stay for 15 minutes and left over an hour later, making it officially the longest I've ever spent in a coffee shop, but the conversation was especially good.

Late morning and I get a call from a musician friend working on an event press release; he needs help with wording and editing and suggests I join him at Globehopper for some coffee and to assist him. I've been in Globehopper before (it's my friend Nicholas' favorite coffee shop) so I head down there to smell the coffee goodness and play writer/editor. When he discovers my distaste for coffee, he suggests hot tea, but I don't go that route, either.

Mid-afternoon and I'm walking the dog down Broad Street and the unexpected warmth of the day has filled the outside tables at Lift. I see friends there, stop to chat and spot someone else I know inside, so I duly walk into my third coffee shop of the day, this time with the beagle. It's got a good crowd and it's not even coffee happy hour until 3:00.

I know I'm an amateur, but are there always so many people in coffee shops all day long? Apparently so, just not usually non-coffee types like me.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Amici: Happy 18th!

A restaurant that's been around for almost two decades is doing a lot of things right, so a good friend and I decided to celebrate Amici's unusually long-lived success tonight. The restaurant is celebrating 18 years with a special 3-course menu and 25% off all bottles of wine, so they're definitely making it worth the customers' while to come in before the 26th when Restaurant Hell Week begins.

We chose to celebrate such a momentous anniversary with a bottle of Franciacorta Bellavista Cuvee Brut and, oh, what lovely bubbles these were. We began with Calimari e Zucchini Fritte, the perfect accompaniment, and moved on to salads: mine was spinach with mushrooms and pancetta and hers was arugula, pear and asiago. The bubbles kept pace. I chose ravioli with spinach and ricotta filling and she chose the special, penne with Gorgonzola and walnuts (and, yes, several of the pastas offered had protein: salmon, shrimp, meat sauce). Did we come anywhere close to finishing these pastas? No, but someone will have a lovely leftover lunch tomorrow. I finished with chocolate mousse, more because I wanted it in theory than because I had any room for it.

It was the first time for both of us at Amici since the extensive renovation and the new space is a huge improvement, handsome and sleek. We had a prime patio table in the corner facing Cary Street, despite a full room when I arrived. The advantage of a later dining schedule is the ability to get a choice table once the first round of diners turns over. Service was excellent and unhurried; good thing, too, because we had lots to discuss: 40 oz. drinkers, the books we're reading and. of course, blogs, specifically the kind absent in rva.

Amici provided an exceptional dining experience for us tonight; my only complaint would be that closing time came too soon. We ended up being the last customers of the night (seems to be happening to me a lot lately) and finally felt obligated to move on so the staff could leave. As it was, they had packed up the outdoor pumpkins and gourds, rolled in the sign and gathered at the bar to await our departure.

But at 18, they're old enough to understand the reasons for our lingering.

Comfort. Compliment. Cop.

The great thing about having friends in the restaurant business is that they're free during the day, much as I am. One such friend, also a Jackson Ward resident, had suggested having lunch together today and left the destination up to me, so I chose Comfort. I don't frequent Comfort much, mainly because the menu never changes and I like a little more variety than that. But this was lunch, I hadn't tried it and I was curious.

So friend met me here and we enjoyed a short but sunny five block walk; I was really enjoying the warmth of the day, but friend was suffering a bit due to the brightness...or perhaps the lateness of the prior evening. The restaurant wasn't too crowded, maybe 5 or 6 tables occupied, and after first being seated in the direct sun, were moved to a less painful table near the front.

I ordered the roasted turkey with Muenster cheese, apple slices and roasted apple mustard on a kaiser roll, with mashed potatoes for a side. If I'm getting real turkey, I want mashed potatoes nearby. Friend got the spicy ham sandwich with olive relish and macaroni and cheese for a side. Thus began the wait for our food. Tables arrived after us and got their meals and still we waited. I finally asked the waitress where our food was, much to the dismay of restaurant friend who said she'd only lie to me about its whereabouts.

After a while (okay, it had been close to 40 minutes since we'd ordered) our sandwiches arrived and friend dove right into his mac and cheese, even complimenting how good it was. My sandwich was thick with turkey and perfectly delicious (as were the mashed potatoes I demolished). Friend thought the olive relish was competing with the spicy ham on his, but since it was exactly as stated on the menu, he couldn't complain too much.

Leaving the restaurant, he headed east (to nap) and I went west. I got two blocks down when a man came up beside me and smiled.

Him: Can I say thank you? It's so nice to see a woman in a dress and stockings for a change. Doesn't happen much anymore.

Me: (not pointing out that it's actually a jean skirt and leggings) I know what you mean and I've heard it before. I'm just a dress person.

Him: Good for you for looking so nice. Have a great day.

Even the cop sitting in his van at the curb gave me a big smile when he heard that.

"Wish You Were Here"

That's all the postcard says on the back, besides my name and address, of course. The front of the postcard is a Picasso drawing of a nude woman lying belly-down on a bed, face turned toward the viewer; a man sits on the edge of the bed, one hand on her curvy bottom. Three flowers in a vase fill the lower right corner. Only the woman's skin and the flowers contain any color, the rest is pure line, as Picasso did so well. The postmark is Barcelona naturally.

Whilst unemployed, my love for travel has to be curtailed considerably (but not completely). Fortunately, good friends remember me on their travels with postcards, so, at present, there are five recently received postcards from hither and yon adorning my kitchen, all with that lovely sentiment, "Wish you were here" scrawled on them in various hands.

Wish I was there, too.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Tarrant's Does It Again

May I just state for the record that I am not enjoying this weather? I'm fine with gray and overcast, but cold and windy two weeks before Halloween just won't cut it. I spent the day reading the Post and baking cupcakes from scratch, just for the pleasure of having the oven on, I think...not that I expect it'll be tough to find willing recipients to hand them off to.

My friend Holly and I had plans to meet up tonight after her wine tasting event, so we decided on Tarrant's. She's fond of saying that she's loved everything she's ever had there and I'd promised my bartender friend just last weekend that I'd be in to visit soon. We went the sandwich route: I had the BLT with avocado wrap and she had the Tarragon chicken salad; we were both smart enough to get the home-made chips for our side. Man, there's nothing like potato chips fresh out of the fryer, still warm and covered in salt. I ate my as-is, but Holly went all out with a side of ranch dressing for dip. Oh, and my sandwich and hers were very good, continuing our streak of Tarrant's as a place we return to for the quality of the food.

The bartender has personal knowledge of my fondness for dessert and made a suggestion of one of tonight's specials: chocolate cannoli. I'm not usually a big cannoli person, but I don't often get offered a chocolate version, either. Holly agreed to share it with me, which is really saying something, since in all the times we've eaten together, she's never once had dessert. The filling of mascarpone and ricotta surrounded by that dark chocolate pastry was so rich I can honestly say I could never have done justice to this dessert all by myself. Luckily, Holly did her part and we even gave a bite to the bartender for his enthusiastic contributions to our conversation.

Gradually, the staff began to leave and we realized it was just us keeping the place open, and the door had been locked some time ago, so we said our good nights and walked out into the swirling dust of the Broad Street repaving project, replete and having had another excellent evening at Tarrant's. They know we'll be back.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Soup and Sound for the Soul

After last night's excellent adventure, I wanted to keep it close to home tonight, so I opted for neighborhood dining and music for my evening's entertainment. After all, a person's got to do something interesting on a Saturday night.

I went to the Belvidere, knowing it would likely be crowded still so soon after being reviewed and it was. The lovely surprise of it was how many familiar faces were there, including my next door neighbor ( yes, him, but we're politely friendly now: http://icouldgoonandon.blogspot.com/2009/04/oh-it-was-awkward.html ) and his date right up front. Luckily, my stool was free and only one away from Dodie, DJ extraordinaire and my favorite Ipanema bartender. His friend Aaron eventually joined him and we talked "Where the Wild Things Are" and Tom DeLonge, among other interesting tid-bits. The Gallery 5 crew, Bizhan, Amanda and baby Azadeh (fresh off having their picture in the New York Times travel section) spotted me and I joined them for some conversation and baby holding/feeding (new parents really appreciate such). And at the end of the bar was man-about-town Mr. Mader, he of the Richmond Ballet. All in all, an excellent cross-section of interesting rva types and plenty of great conversation for me.

The cold, damp weather made it a perfect night for soup and since I'd yet to try any of theirs, I decided to go for it after hearing that the day's feature was Roasted Red Pepper with Crab. Wise choice because what I got was a most generous serving of crab meat with enough roasted red pepper liquid around it to call it soup. I'm not exaggerating when I say that every single bite was chock-full of crab meat. This taste delight is not always on the menu, so if you see it, I'd strongly suggest ordering it...and then savoring it for as long as you can. I recommended it to a nearby bar sitter , but he and his date had just eaten at a wedding reception, so they weren't hungry. I must have been convincing, though, because they got some to go.

The CD release show for Jonathan Vassar and the Speckled Bird was at the Camel, so I snagged a seat in the front row of the rapidly filling room and settled in to enjoy their superb folk Americana song-making. I've probably seen them at least six or seven times by now and they always deliver an outstanding multi-instrument show. There were opening sets from Josh and then Chris (of Speckled Bird), previewing some of their songs to be included on the upcoming full-length CD. That was followed by a couple of songs from the last EP and then a performance of the new EP, "The Fire Next Time," in its entirety. They tried to end it there, but the enthusiastic crowd insisted on an encore. And while Jonathan said they were relieved it was over, I'm not so sure the audience was.

The New York Times travel article on Richmond included both Gallery 5 and the Camel as must-dos. And with good reason; they are quintessential examples of why this town is such a great place to live and play.

Snap Out of It!

When I became suddenly single eight months ago, a female friend and local legend kindly took it upon herself to tell me exactly what I was now up against. "Dating sucks," she warned me. "It's awful out there. I've given up." I didn't doubt she was right because she'd been back on the market for a while at that point and knew the score and I didn't, having been absent from it for 6+ years.

Of course, while she was not trying, a great guy found her and she's now happily, if a tad warily, dating him, appreciating how much he appreciates her and enjoying it all. I am thrilled for her because she deserves it and because it gives me hope that I'll have a similar experience eventually. I'm the serial monogamist type, so not much for whole the dating scene.

I started thinking about all this because I went to see "Moonstruck" at the Bowtie today, a movie I hadn't seen since it opened in theaters in 1987. The plot about a woman close to settling for a man she didn't love instead of waiting for the right one was full of romantic hopefulness, for which I'm a sucker these days. But it was a speech by the Nicolas Cage character that really (moon) struck me:

"Love don't make things nice. It ruins everything. It breaks your heart. It makes things a mess...We are here to ruin ourselves and to break our hearts and to love the wrong people and die. The storybooks are bullshit. Now I want you to come upstairs with me and get in my bed."

I'm not sure whether playwright John Patrick Shanley intended those words to encourage or discourage those still seeking true love. I can see taking them either way, but, for now, I'm going to allow myself to feel like anything is possible and I'm most likely to get lucky when I give up completely. My friend is proof of that.

Lust! for the Raveonettes & Ben's Chili Bowl

Anyone who knows my musical taste knows I'm especially fond of a certain sound, "music from a cave," as we affectionately refer to it. And a perfect example of that sound is the Raveonettes, so tonight Andrew and I headed to D.C. through the pea soup and drizzle to catch their show at the 9:30 Club.

Our first stop was Ben's Chili Bowl for eats (R.I.P. founder Ben Ali; two enormous funeral wreaths still stand outside the restaurant). I got the chili half-smoke (being a native and aware of its origins) and Andrew got the chili cheeseburger; we shared a giant order of perfectly cooked fries. Chili and onions dripped off my half-smoke with every bite, but that's what the plastic fork is for, after all. Overheard at the table nearest us, "I've never actually been here sober before." Given that Ben's is open until 4 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays, that statement wasn't too terribly surprising.

I had only discovered openers The Black Angels last week on a CD sampler Andrew had lent me, but I immediately appreciated their cave-like sound, so I was pleased to learn we'd be hearing them tonight. Their sound was full of echo, and right up my alley, except for the hole that developed in the drummer's snare, but he did a quick patch job with duct tape and soldiered on...until that gave way and he solicited the audience, "Anyone got a snare drum we can borrow?"

The main event, The Raveonettes, a Danish duo with the most amazing two-part harmonies, was impressive, to say the least. I love the sheer amount of noise they make, but it's the guitar leads that take it to another level. Then there's the sunny melodies coupled with invariably dark lyrics; on the new "Boys Who Rape (Should All Be Destroyed)," the upbeat simplicity of the melody belies the dark words. They used multiple drummers in some songs and switched instruments, two of my favorite band tricks, not to mention strobe lights galore, tons of reverb, and effects of all kinds. At one point, Sune told the audience, "There's been a lot of dancing here tonight. We like dancing. We dance when we go to shows." We witnessed dancing of all sorts, strange, frenetic and otherwise, but it was hard not to move, given the music.

A wall of sound and a chili half-smoke from Ben's; tell the truth, was your night half as excellent as all that? I don't see how.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Rainy Day Roundup

Whenever rva has more than one gray day in a row, everyone starts talking about what days like these are good for: watching movies, staying in bed, reading, cuddling, cooking have all been mentioned this week. Frankly, I like rainy days, always have. They don't much change my plans; I still do my four-mile walk, only with an umbrella and carry on with the business of life, albeit with extra layers for warmth.

Today I checked out the new Books, Bikes and Beyond Thrift store run by Ward and Shelley from Books on Wheels. I'd seen Ward last night at Fresh Ink and he'd reminded me to go by and see what they had to offer. I'm the anti-mall person who buys all her clothes (except undies) at thrift stores, so I was all about a new place and went over there to see what was what. Score! Snagged a beautiful Ann Taylor velvet camisole with wide lace trim on it for only two bucks; now I have something fetching and new (to me) to wear to the show tonight.

Walking the beagle the other night, we both spied a snow white bunny in the alley behind my house; I had to rein in the dog. It has to be someone's pet; we just don't have wild rabbits in J-Ward. I forgot all about it until we were walking the other side of the block today and there the poor thing was in someone's front yard, wet and shivering. I'm not quite sure who let this bunny out, so I guess I need to knock on a few doors and get the word out so he can be returned to the cozy confines of his home.

A friend introduced me to the singer Meghan Coffee today and if you're a fan of a certain kind of female voice, I'd suggest checking her out. She's in hibernation at the moment, so new music isn't immediately forthcoming, but there are a couple of CDs to tide a listener over until she's back to playing small rooms and, my favorite, house shows. I think she needs to come to Richmond and play my house.

What's not to like about a good rainy day?

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Garnett's: The Anti-Ipanema

What's bright and high-ceilinged, offers meat sandwiches of every kind and already has a homey vibe like it's been around for years? That would be the new Garnett's at Meadow and Park, named after owner Kendra Feather's grandmother. They open at 7 a.m. as a coffee shop with scones, muffins and coffee cake, shift to lunch at 11 and stay open until 10 during the week and 11 on Fridays and Saturdays. As I sat at the bar tonight eating way more than I should have, the crowd was part familiar faces and part neighborhood types eager to check out their local spot now that the lights are finally on.

Here's the only problem: the menu offers 21 sandwiches (including peanut butter for vegans) and there are so many delicious-sounding choices, narrowing it down may take you a while. I finally gave up and just chose one, knowing I'd be back to try the other nineteen. Turns out the Croque Monsieur I ordered (Black Forest ham and Gruyere cheese on grilled Italian bread with Mornay sauce) was so amazing looking that a guy who came in after me took one look at it, closed the menu and said, "I'll have that." For my side, I chose the Black-eyed Pea salad, as did the copy-cat on the stool next to me. It was wonderful. A guy at the other end of the bar loved his side of French red potato salad (mayo-less with mustard vinaigrette) so much he ordered another round of it instead of dessert.

And speaking of desserts, they are just as awesome at Garnett's as at Ipanema; Kendra has always served the sweet-tooth crowd very well and, for that, she has my enduring gratitude. I had the chocolate cake with chocolate ganache and raspberry, so there was much for me to like on that plate. I came home with a slice of the chocolate pie for tomorrow, after watching a girl eat a piece of it and close her eyes in pleasure after each bite . My next visit will conclude with the Hummingbird cake, a favorite of mine that's hard to find anymore.

It'll be another week or two until they have their ABC license for beer and wine, so until then, you'll have your choice of homemade mint lemonade, iced tea or Boylan's sodas.

On a side note, I began my evening at the Visual Arts Center for the latest installment of the Fresh Ink literary series. Josh Harmon, a finalist in VCU's First Novelist competition, read from his book, "Quinnehtukqut." Harmon's sense of place and the fiction he creates around it made for a very satisfying listen, even for someone like me, who rarely reads anything but non-fiction.

You may have missed Harmon, but you've got plenty of time to check out Garnett's for a very satisfying experience. And so you know, you can admire the jars of pickles that line the bar wall, but they're just for show.

Mid-Afternoon English Lesson (of sorts)

You have to hit Can-Can at exactly the right time: too early and there's no one to talk about and too late and the din is unbearable. My favorite English teacher and I arrived at just the right time to snag a nearby window table (no sense being on complete display) and full enough to find plenty of people to discuss.

He'd been on the wagon for a bit, so he was bound to get loopy on a couple of Paulaners. I chose the Vin de Pays du Gard Syrah, but they were down to their last half glass, so I augmented it with the Chateau Vaugelas Courbieres, so as to have another shot at the [Carignan] grape of the week. Frites were also in order.

On the table were various hot topics including blogs, employers, bartending, photography, models and music. He's an observer, much like me, so we had great fun comparing notes on body parts, good and bad. He snapped some photographs because that's what he does. Before we knew it, time was up, real life responsibilities set in and we had to move on.

But not before wine god Bob Talcott had his say with us. He said farewell to English Teacher and then commented on my hot pink rain jacket and pink tights, "You'd be hard to miss at night in that." I reminded him that I hope to be hard to miss any night, to which he agreed, "I don't doubt for a minute that's true." Considering that Bob and I are running into each other at least twice a week lately, it shouldn't be long before he he knows for sure.

For Love of the Grape

I may not look any different next time you see me, but just so you know, I m now an official member of the Wine Century Club. The process began last September at a Century Wine dinner at the European Market. The event was significant for several reasons; it introduced me to a talented woman with whom I've become very good friends and to Jason's superb and unbelievably affordable First Friday wine dinners ($25, four courses; you do the math) and it got me started keeping track of what grapes I was tasting.

We were given the application listing all the grapes that night as a starting point. Interestingly enough, only 3.5% of the people who get the application actually become members. Whether they lose interest, are too lazy to keep track or are overwhelmed at the concept, most people never follow through. My Wine Geek friend had told me as much back in June when I triumphantly mailed off my completed application; she assured me that I'd be the only person at that dinner to have bothered completing it.

Of course, the certificate of membership is nice, if relatively meaningless, but the effort put into acquiring it has led me to seek out grapes with which I'm not familiar to this day (Carignan just two days ago, for instance). And being the all-around geek that I am, I'm always interested in learning, so I'm patting myself on the back today for having moved to the head of the class.

Veni, Vino, Vici.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Six Burner Follows Poetry

"For so long I wanted my past back," read David Wojahn from his poem "Fetish Value" at tonight's Poetic Principles reading at the Virginia Museum. Wojahn, a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and a local VCU treasure, regaled the audience with his emotional and relevant style of writing.

One poem, directed at the President of the NRA, invoked both robbery victim Tyler Binstead and Dante's Circles of Hell. Another ranged from placenta soup (exactly what it sounds) to bongs, LPs and spliffs. Several poems were tributes to other poets. "Mix Tape to be Brought to Her in Rehab" was introduced by explaining the mix tape concept to the younger members of the audience and Wojahn saying,"The lore of making a mix tape was so ritualized. It happened in real time." An outstanding reader, Wojahn could make a poetry lover out of the most adamant poetry hater, not that there were any of those present tonight.

All that poetry was making me hungry, so I stopped at Six Burner for a bite to eat and some conversation. Dave was quick to suggest the Vilarnau Cava upon my arrival and after Wojahn's references to cheap champagne, I already had bubbles on the brain anyway. To accompany it, I ordered a plate of the house-made charcuterie with homemade pickles. The enormous serving contained duck ham, mortadella and pancetta (the meats were a perfect blend of fat and lean), pickled cuke slices and onions and grilled bread. I finished what I could and shared the rest with Josh. By this time, Josh and I were already knee-deep in conversation about the Debashish Bhattacharya Folk Fest performance. I predict that in years to come, this Folk Fest will be legendary for those shows. No one (T also witnessed it) can get over how impressive it was or how lucky we were to witness it. More cava followed, for discussion purposes, of course.

Just another rainy night in River City, where we're lucky enough to have poets like David Wojahn reading and house made charcuterie for enjoying...in the present, not the past.

Guys Say the Darnedest Things

So this guy makes me dinner and we're sitting outside afterwards enjoying a bottle of wine.

He leans in close like he's going to kiss me and, instead, says, "You know you're not pretty; your nose is too big. But you're nice and you're sexy as hell."

Let's just say we didn't kiss.

Or have another date, but there were other reasons for that.

That happened to me back in 2002, but it's still one of my favorite stories to share because it's hysterical.

I have no idea why he chose that moment, only inches from my face, to share his opinion, but he was certainly entitled to it.

So I was sharing that anecdote with a friend (a guy, of course) just a few weeks ago and he was appalled at the ignorance/arrogance of what the first guy had said.

He laughed about the stupidity of a guy being so blunt at such a moment.

The next thing out of his mouth was, "Your nose isn't too big. It's too pointy."

Well, thank you for clearing that up.

Not long ago, I was out with a guy friend I think can be pretty amusing when he's not wallowing in distaste for the human race.

He's made flattering remarks on occasion, although I'm not sure I'd call this one a compliment.

"Is it (pointing to my body) as well-preserved naked as it is in clothes?"

I'll give him points for a left-handed compliment, but it's still a pretty unusual way to score points...or is it?

I'd be honestly bothered if someone said I was stupid or bad company or dull. Opinions about my outside are just that: opinions and everyone is entitled to one.

I once dated a guy who said he didn't compliment me because it would make my head swell.

Fortunately for me, there are plenty of guys out there to make sure that doesn't happen.

And it can be pretty amusing even while it's keeping me in check.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Black Sheep Leads to Riot Grrls

I made tonight a walking night because today was the last warm day until at least Thursday so I wanted to take advantage of it, not being a fan of fall weather (unlike practically everyone else).

Seems like the last four or five times I'd been to the Black Sheep had been for lunch, so I sashayed over there for dinner and it turned out to be the perfect choice. Tes was waiting tables and Nate from Gull was eating with a visiting musician, so we got to discuss the Debashish Bhatacharya slide guitar performance we'd all three been mesmerized by Saturday at the Folk Fest; I was gratified to learn that they were both as awestruck as I'd been.

For dinner, I chose the General Tso's sweetbreads: quick fried sweetbreads in sweet sauce with spicy Sezchuan peppers, broccoli and white rice. For drinking: Les Heretiques 2008 Carignan, a bio-dynamic wine with an earthy taste and long finish (and yes, I know I should have gotten the Reisling given my dinner order, but I was curious about the grape and wanted to do the groovy bio-dynamic thing). For dessert: the chocolate creme brulee since I hadn't had it in ten whole days (no, really).

Stuffed and feeling pretty good about it, I headed over to Gallery 5 for the showing of "Don't Need You: The Herstory of Riot Grrrl" about the feminist movement of the early 90s that created a way for women to be part of the hardcore scene and not just "hangers" (girls who held the guys' jackets while they performed, moshed or just participated in punk shows). The documentary revealed how the mainstream media co-opted the term and misrepresented the movement in order to sell it to the public, causing the disenchantment and eventual dissolution of it.

The audience was much larger than typically comes to these monthly screenings and not completely female, either. The discussion afterwards showed that there is real curiosity among younger women about what they can do in today's climate to re-energize the movement. As well they should be; someone's got to move the banner forward. Bikini Kill, Bratmobile and Heavens to Betsy did their part. It seems likely we will form a collective to address some of these issues in rva; it'll be interesting to see what these young women do to further the cause of feminism.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Back to Stronghill Dining Co.

Imagine watching an effeminate 6'4" man with a paunch warble one of the most embarrassing, whiney-ass songs of the '70s: Anne Murray's "I Needed You." It was a really bad song when she sang it then and it hasn't aged well three decades later sitting in the smoke-filled environs of Penny Lane for karaoke. I understand that a big part of the entertainment value of karaoke is the people who sing badly, but I have to say, it's just as much the pathetically embarrassing song choices (really, Journey? Again?). Fortunately for me, the friend who took me there has a great voice and chose to sing songs that were post-grunge, so I could at least look forward to him taking the stage.

My vocally talented friend had extended an invitation to take me to dinner first, so I chose Stronghill Dinning Company since I'd not been there in months. The timing was perfect, because they're in between their summer and fall menus, so there were menu choices representing both seasons on it. I went with the Wedge with gobs of both blue cheese and bacon, and the Stronghill Sushi, quite good with poached lobster at its center. My friend got his strength up with the Stronghill Sampler (stuffed Roma tomatoes, fried goat cheese and cashew fried shrimp) and followed that with the duck. He's not the type to rave about food ("It's just food," he claims) but he ate everything, is all I'm saying.

The karaoke crowd clearly contained a whole lot of regulars, many of whom had "their" songs; it was duly noted when someone had the audacity to sing someone else's song. I don't sing, so me getting up there wasn't ever an option. Which is not to say that I don't have a whole lot of respect for those who do...especially those who can actually sing well, like my musical friend. Ah, talent; must be a lovely thing to possess.

Feed Me!

My favorite English teacher rescheduled our lunch date first thing this morning, which conveniently left me free to accept my neighbor's offer to make me lunch today.

He'd invited me last night as I was out walking the dog around 1130; I'd had to decline because of my pre-existing plans.

Serendipitously, now I was free, let him know that, and within minutes got an e-vite for "Monday Luncheon: Superb Viands of My Own Preparation. Noon."

How could I resist such an invitation?

His first question on arrival was if I liked bacon; I told him not to make me laugh.

The result was that we started with crackle-fried chicken skin, rendered until crispy and covered in salt.

Bliss.

Next up was a homemade minestrone stoup, thick and chunky with veggie goodness and ideal on the first day cool enough that I had to resort to wearing pants for my daily walk.

To balance all those healthy vegetables, he had also prepared some grilled meats: pig and cow, accompanied by mustards.

It was quite the delicious three-hour lunch and I still have plans with English teacher to look forward to later this week.

It's early in the week, but it's looking like my lunch luck is already rating an A+.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Balliceaux for Film

A Sunday supper should be a group event and mine tonight was just that. My photographer/bartender friend invited me to join him and three filmmakers plus companions for dinner at Balliceaux, followed by the James River Filmmakers Forum. We started early, 5:30, to ensure plenty of time for feasting and talking beforehand.

We began this eating extravaganza with a cheese course (four Virginia cheeses and one Wisconsin) and an enormous platter of mussels in lemongrass/lime/chilies and grape tomato broth. Next up it got ridiculous: forest mushroom asparagus tart over ratatouille for two, roasted whole free-range chicken with corn pudding, roasted leg of lamb with pan jus and roasted potatoes for four and backyard seafood boil with clams, mussels, shrimp and grilled corn for two. If it sounds like an obscene amount of food for eight people, let me assure you that it was. I'm not even going to recite all the sides that we were foolish enough to order. Everything, and I do mean everything, was absolutely delicious.

Stuffed beyond belief and with enough leftovers for another full feast, the group moved to what was the old Bogart's Back Room. It was a very cool place for the screenings, with sort of a retro rec-room feel, but infinitely hipper: some painted brick walls, some wood-paneled walls, seating groups with 50s chairs and lamps on end tables, a bar tucked into the corner. Even the screen reminded me of the ones Dads used to set up to show home movies to bored relatives. The last Forum was held at the Carver Healing Arts Center, which didn't have nearly the ambiance of Balliceaux's back room...or a bar with a mixologist to meet your every libation need.

The Filmmakers Forum showed six features including a director's montage, a documentary, two animated pieces and an experimental video meditation piece. A directors' panel followed to take questions from the audience about their films and there was some lively discussion of technique, the creative process and inspirations.

My friend has been to my apartment before, and said nice things about it, but tonight's comment may be my all-time favorite, "I love the energy in this room, with all the flowers." It's not every day a guy compliments your flowers. And so I finished the easy-does-it slide through my day after a night with too little sleep. Good night now.

Ending Every Sentence with a Proposition

When you get less than six hours sleep, you need to plan your day accordingly; no major intellectual or physical challenges; better to just slide through the day, even when it's a beautiful one like today.

Or at least that was how I justified starting my day with a romantic comedy. A film fan friend from northside rode over and we biked to the Bowtie Cinema to see that Doris Day/Rock Hudson classic, "Pillow Talk." 1959, holy crap, what a different world that was! Doris had matching gloves and hats and muffs for every ensemble. Rock romanced girls by taking them to dinner, then to a club for dancing and then for a drive; who puts that much effort into dating these days? Single girls in NYC had maids (the always hilarious character actor, Thelma Ritter) and some people had party lines because the city couldn't put in trunk lines fast enough to satisfy the demand for private telephone lines. My friend hadn't even heard of party lines, but then he's a few years younger and not as up on his cultural history.

One of the best scenes comes in a diner where a couple of customers are supposed to "punch" Tony Randall's character as he sits consoling Doris. Apparently, the actor actually hit Randall, knocking him unconscious and the shot was so good the director used it. I hate to admit it, but it was pretty cool to see a person hit for real and pass out. A girl like me (or a guy like my friend)doesn't often see such a thing in one's own life(or necessarily care to).

But, who am I trying to kid here? I was there for the romance, not the fisticuffs. As the Thelma Ritter character put it, "If there's anything worse than a woman living alone, it's a woman saying she likes it."

The View from the Cheap Seats

I made my first pilgrimage to Center Stage tonight for the Richmond Symphony's Hitchcock! A Symphonic Night at the Movies performance. Okay, so I only paid $17 for my ticket and was in the top balcony; given the large screen and perfect acoustics, it was still an excellent center seat. We were treated to clips from four films, all with pitch-perfect musical accompaniment: To Catch A Thief, Strangers on a Train, Dial M for Murder and North by Northwest as well as a trailer Hitch made for N x NW, full of home movie footage of himself and his family on various vacations. It alone was worth the price of admission.

As I walked down Grace Street to Center Stage, a homeless woman sitting on a bench asked what all the activity downtown was tonight and I told her (Symphony, Citizen Cope, Folk Fest). Moments later I was joined by Russell Wilson, pianist for the Symphony, who accompanied me down the street and into the venue; I hadn't seen Russell since I took his Jazz Appreciation class three years ago at VMFA. He asked about my post-show destination and I invited him to join me.

I had already planned to meet up with my charming friend Nicholas, bass clarinetist for the Symphony, afterwards at the Belvidere. He's gluten-intolerant, as I'd discovered when we'd eaten together in the past, and I wanted to surprise him with a local place that featured an unusually wide variety of gluten-free choices (I say local because he lives in Brooklyn now, but is down here for symphony performances regularly). I may be his favorite friend at the moment because of all the tasty possibilities he saw on that menu; he chose the Gouda burger on a GF roll and was deliriously happy with his choice.

Russell wasn't far behind in arriving (he had the turkey and white bean burger and pronounced it delicious; I haven't had it yet) and then we were joined by Leighton, she of the Historic Jackson Ward Association and Kim, our local school board member, and, like Nicholas and Russell, both passionate conversationalists. Owner Julie was right there in the fray, sharing her thoughts about how to make a difference in the neighborhood and the city. As the only black members of the symphony, naturally the talk turned to diversity, gentrification and RVA's reluctance to change. Bets were made, conversation swirled in a dozen directions, far too many pictures were taken and before we knew it, it was closing time.

And at this moment, 2:40 a.m., a guy is walking up and down my street, drunk and confused, yelling, "FUCK!" at the top of his lungs because he can't remember where he left his car.

Don't you just love a nice low-key cultured night at the Symphony? I know I do.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Found! A Man Who Thinks Like Me.

What's a good rva-ite to do on a dreary Saturday afternoon but head down to the Folk Fest? The crowds were perhaps a bit smaller than in the past, but in all likelihood that was just because of the on and off rain. As it should be, I ran into plenty of local musicians I knew, as well as assorted others I recognized from various places, since everyone in town seems to attend this event, Andrew excepted.

The Sophia Bilides Trio was playing Greek tavern music from the 30s and 40s; it wasn't tough to imagine being in a Greek bar sipping ouzo and listening to the songs of love and longing. The Samba Mapangala & Orchestre Virunga enthusiastically played East African Rumba, engaging the crowd, despite the showers that began when they did.

The absolute highlight was Debashish Bhattacharya and his younger brother Subhasis and the large crowd was well aware of the amazing performance we were witnessing. Debashish, on the chaturangui, a 22-string guitar he created and his brother, a master tabla player, blew the crowd away with their passion and speed. Their timing was so spot on, stopping and starting on a dime simultaneously, that the crowd couldn't help but burst into spontaneous applause throughout the show. They finished with Debashish on the slide ukulele and it brought the house down. I wouldn't have missed that performance for anything, nor, I'm sure, would most in the crowd. An unusually high percentage of musicians and music geeks were sitting under that canopy to witness such major talent.

I was already in complete fan adoration, but Debashish sealed the deal when, late in the performance, he told the crowd, "Music is a better religious activity than doing anything else."

Amen.

Friday, October 9, 2009

The Mother of All Cocktail Parties

It begins at 5:00 sharp. There are fifty "interesting" women invited to the house on Floyd Avenue. Wine and cheese are provided by Julia of River City Cellars, who is pouring a selection of five wines and wisecracking as she serves. The dining room table and sideboard are groaning under all the food and desserts.

The occasion is the 13th annual Thesmophoria, based on the Greek festival where women only gathered for three days to encourage fertility and celebrate their private customs. Men who tried to spy on the women's gathering were punished. The distinctive feature of the original celebration was the sacrifice of pigs. We did not do that tonight.

Instead, we spent hours toasting each other, drinking a great deal of excellent wine and gorging on cheeses and assorted delicacies prepared by the guests. There was even some card reading going on, for those brave enough to look into their past, present and future (the cards said I am quite content with my life; now there's a surprise). The goal was to socialize, perhaps even network, but mostly enjoy the company of nothing but our own fair sex And we're talking about women from 25 to 65 and every size and shape in between. Some of Richmond's most creative female types were there: actors, directors, artists, teachers, business owners, painters, writers, you name it.

For me, as only a second-year attendee, it was the perfect opportunity to share my single status with women who may know an interesting man they could introduce me to. I like to think that counts as networking.

Music Lovers' Discography

I had known Andrew superficially for quite some time before that fateful drive to Ashland where I finally tried to find some common ground; of course my first attempt was music. I don't know who was more surprised, me or him, to discover we were both huge Pete Yorn fans (though I'd seen him live more frequently). I started spouting off some of my favorite artists and he became more and more dumbfounded, but the one that pushed him over the edge was Clap Your Hands, Say Yeah. From that moment on, Andrew and I were friends in music.

Since that day several years ago, we have talked music literally every single time we see each other, which is frequently, and been to many, many shows together. No one but Andrew could have shared my excitement at seeing Plushgun at Alley Katz or Ted Leo at Gallery 5 and that's not even going into the countless shows we've seen together at the Camel, the National, the Canal Club, Capital Alehouse and Commercial Taphouse. It's great to have a music loving friend to share with.

Part of our sharing policy is the CD exchange, which we did today over lunch at one of our favorite places to meet, Bistro 27 (although I insisted he order something other than what he got last time , cause this guy can get into a food rut. Grilled Gouda; just saying.). Andrew is a music blogger (concretecircles.blogspot.com) so he gets a lot of sampler CDs which are a great way for us to discover up and coming artists. Today I traded four of my current favorites for five of his; we'll meet up next week to rate what we heard or question the musical sense of the other. After that, we've got another show to go to at the National (just watch us judge the crowd).

And to think we once thought we had nothing in common.

You Can Quote Me On That

My friend Slash Coleman interviewed me about the local artistic scene for a book he's writing about developing creative ambition, but I was still pleasantly surprised when I showed up in his blog, "Twenty One Hours," along with GWAR's Dave Brockie. That's just the kind of company I want to be keeping.

Check it out, if you're curious:

http://twentyonehour.blogspot.com/2009/10/artist-myth-2-you-have-to-live-in-la-or.html

Slash is a great resource for artists unsure how to market themselves and turn talent into a living, having succeeded at both himself.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Reviewing the Belvidere on Broad Review

Since the Bevidere at Broad got reviewed by the RTD today, of course I had to head up there tonight to enjoy my neighborhood haunt before it's inundated by the masses.

I'd read the review but had just a few bones to pick with it.

My primary issue was the timing of the review; as anyone in the business knows, a reviewer waits three months to review a new place.

The Belvidere opened July 29th and the reviewer was in the restaurant on September 25th; by even the most rudimentary calculations, that means the place had been open 8 weeks when she descended upon it.

Restaurant critic Tom Sietsema of the Washington Post not only insists upon a three-month window to allow a new restaurant to get its footing, but also requires three visits before a review is published.

Granted, this isn't a major market, but it still seems a tad unfair to review a restaurant so early on in its life.

My other gripe would be the crab cake comment, "could have used a touch more seasoning."

I grew up in Maryland and have been eating crab since I could hold a mallet; I am of the opinion that a crab cake should taste like crab, not like seasoning.

The Belvidere's crab cakes are, as the reviewer acknowledged, pure jumbo lump crab meat.

And for any true crab lover, that's what they should be; overt seasoning is for inferior crab meat.

Also, perhaps the reviewer was not aware of Chef Chris Hassen and his crack kitchen staff's intent with the Trio Appetizer, either.

It's intended to be eaten beginning with the mildest flavor (the crab cake), followed by the bruschetta's medium and fresh flavors paired with the strongest (the superb smoked salmon), much the way wine tastings go from lightest to heaviest bodied.

My dinner tonight at the Belvidere offered an opportunity to discuss the review with the kitchen and wait staff and other regular customers, all of whom are lamenting losing our neighborhood treasure to the soon-to-arrive hordes of the curious.

The consensus seemed to be that the review read better than a mere three stars, but at least it will introduce the unaware (like the reviewer whose foodie friends had not mentioned the place to her...what kind of foodies are these?) to a really fine addition to the downtown eating scene.

And that is most definitely a good thing.

And should you be looking for a scene, I left just as the Rumours soul dance party was beginning; the play list was a retro dream.

Yet another reason to check out the B @ B.

Just don't take my bar stool.

The Words Came Just Like a Hard Rain

The week had begun with a whirlwind of activity, so I purposely under-scheduled last evening so I could have a respite before everything that I have going on this weekend.

Naturally, it turned out completely differently than expected, which is always great fun.

Theater Goddess friend and I began at Six Burner; this is the week they've devoted to introducing new chef Phillip Denny and new manager David Martin to the public.

Since I've already enjoyed drinks and conversation with both, it wasn't so much meeting them as once again enjoying the fruits of their labor.

Actually, it was Boys' Night at 6B, with Dave, T and Josh working the place and each offers a different kind of conversational pleasure.

I hadn't talked to Josh since he'd seen "It Might Get Loud" and been to the U2 show, so that had to be addressed immediately.

Dave told me they'd been talking about me just the night before (my absence, no doubt).

T recommended an excellent wine and we drank at least our fair share.

Theater Goddess had never tasted pork belly and I couldn't let that unfortunate situation go on for another minute.

The irony was that she had to be home at a reasonable hour because her loving boyfriend was making her Beanie Weenies for dinner.

You read right; not many people start with pork belly and move on to beanie weenies...now that's eating from all over the pig.

I'd planned to attend the opening of Matthew Damien Ritchie's show at Cafe Guttenburg, so I stopped by the house to walk the dog, not sure how late I'd be out.

Neighbor was porch sitting, so I waved hello, we started chatting and since the temperature was dropping, we moved the conversation into my apartment.

Hours later, the opening was over and I'd missed it completely.

On the plus side, I had company when I finally got around to walking the dog much, much later.

Now I just need to get down there and see the Ritchie show I missed.

I'll let you know how it is.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

It's Not Me. It's You.

For better or for worse, I'm a pretty satisfied person.

Ask any of my friends and you'd be hard pressed to find even one who could recall me being in an angry or upset mood.

In fact, one of the most frequent things people have told me about my blog is that they like how I put such a positive spin on everything.

Which is not to say that I don't get annoyed sometimes, so for anyone wondering what peeves me, I dedicate this blog post to you.

And given all the flak I took last year for my restaurant peeves post, I'm keeping this one to more generic topics.

Talkers at concerts.

Why waste the money on a ticket if you're just going to talk loudly to your friends throughout the show? Some even have their back to the stage to talk and drink. Why not just stay home and listen to the CD instead of annoying those of us who actually want to hear the music? Losers.

Bikers going the wrong way on a one-way street.

Hey, I bike too, but the goal is to share the road with motorists, not flaunt the law. If we want cars to treat us respectfully, and we do, we have to play by the rules. Common goals, people.

Drivers who think warning signs don't apply to them.

On my way to Norfolk, I passed a sign warning of a vehicle on fire ahead and a right lane closure. Accordingly, I moved into the left lane. Five miles later, an identical warning sign. Still, people continued to drive the right lane, knowing full well that we were almost upon a right lane closure. The result of these drivers ignoring the sign was an enormous bottleneck that didn't have to happen. Warning signs apply to everyone, not just the drivers who choose to pay attention to them. I'm talking to you.

See, I can whine with the best of them.

Grizzly Bear at the Norva

After several sold out nights at the Austin City Limits Festival, Grizzly Bear played the Norva tonight, letting the audience know that it was their first show in Norfolk since they played the record store there almost three years ago. And what a show it was! How many bands can you name where all four members sing (thus allowing those beautiful Beach Boys-like harmonies)? Or where the bass player also plays the flute, clarinet and saxophone (looped and pitched down so low that you had to look to see what instrument he was playing)? It was all very cool.

The expected band t-shirts were represented: Modest Mouse, Dead Weather, the Shins. RVA was also represented; I talked to Zac Hyrciak (of ZR and the Jungle Beat) and a couple of girls standing in front of me, all who had driven down to see a show that we agreed should have played the National.

Openers Beach House, from Baltimore, had a good-sized crowd for their set, including some loud and fanatical fans of theirs just in front of me. They disappeared before Grizzly Bear took the stage, though. BH members Victoria and Alex played along with GB on a couple of songs, including the crowd-pleasing "Two Weeks;" her vocals and his keyboards augmented the song terrifically.

And speaking of "Two Weeks," when the song began, a guy suddenly appeared right next to me, singing along and taking non-stop pictures with his phone. I had secured a prime spot for myself: in front of a column where I couldn't be jostled (believe me, it's easy to get knocked into at a show when you're only 5'5"), off to the side, but near enough the front for an excellent view.

This guy leans over after the song ends to chat me up:

Him: What's your favorite song?
Me: I wouldn't want to pick just one.
Him: Oh, come on. Mine is "Two Weeks."
Me: Okay.
Another song starts and he begins to sway, his body hitting mine on every move. After a minute of this, he starts to slip his arm around my waist.
Me: (pushing his arm away) Stop that!
Him: Oh, sorry I'm sorry. Really, sorry.
Me: (scowl)
Him: How old are you?
Me: Older than you.
Him: I don't care.
Me: I want to hear the band, okay?

He stayed next to me for two more excruciating songs and every time he "accidentally" bumped into me, he apologized. I just refused to make eye contact and he finally gave up and left.

That nonsense aside, it was a really excellent show of beautiful voices and stellar musicianship. It was well worth the monotonous drive to Norfolk and back and that's saying something.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Recap: Wine Dinner at Enoteca Sogno

How many winemakers can I meet in eleven days? Two, apparently, and tonight it was the delightful Jean Francois Coquard from Tenuta Mazzolino at Enoteca Sogno's wine dinner. Youngest of six siblings, by the time he was old enough to make wine, all the older ones had claimed the family vineyards, so Jean moved to Italy to stake his claim. Tonight we enjoyed the fruits of his labor and they were excellent.

We started with a Chardonnay "Camara" with absolutely no oak, so it was fresh and fruity tasting and paired with smoked trout with apples and arugula. More than one person said it didn't even taste like chardonnay, it was that good. Next was Bonard "Mazzolino" Oltrepo Pavese, their native grape and highly tannic...until you sipped it with the Gorgonzola, salami and Tallegio with fig jam that accompanied it. Then it was pure heaven.

Next up was the Pinot Nero "Terrazze," the perfect match for the best minestrone with pancetta and Parmasean/Reggiano that anyone in the room had ever tasted. It was such a great dish for a fall night and the young wine matched it beautifully.

We finished with a 2004 Pinot Nero "Noir" Oltrepo Pavese that smelled so amazing that everyone spent the first ten minutes just inhaling all that beautiful aroma. Eventually, we started drinking it with a risotto with butternut squash and everyone wanted more of this wine. Even those not much a fan of Pinot Noir were blown away by it, and no one was surprised to learn that it was recently rated the top Italian Pinot Noir. It was the one to buy.

Jean was charming, sharing stories about his vineyard, his siblings (one brother makes wine in Wisconsin. Yes, Wisconsin), his hectic travel schedule (an upcoming trip to Singapore and Japan) and the details on how early his harvest came in this year (September 5th!) . He was downright hysterical describing his first Red Bull and first tofu sausage (the visual alone was priceless) and his French accent and phrasing made listening to him a real pleasure...as were his extraordinary wines. It was quite the combination.