Thursday, December 31, 2009

Breakfast of Champions ca. 1950

For my final breakfast of 2009, I stepped back in time and ate at the Westwood Fountain on Patterson Avenue just past Libbie.

This old school pharmacy counter could have been ripped from the pages of the 1950s, including some of the customers.

There were plenty of vintage tables, but we ate at the counter to get the full view of the grill cooks doing their nonstop dance.

Like the clientele, the prices are retro, so my friend went all out with a Belgian waffle, two eggs, one fried, one scrambled, bacon, grits and hashed browns.

I was only a tad more circumspect with a bacon, egg and cheese omelet with baked apples and wheat toast.

After we ordered, we noticed the cooks making things like burgers and steak and cheese subs and realized we could have ordered lunch, even though it was 9:30 in the morning.

Clearly, some people were beginning their day that way.

I can't rave that the food was out of this world, just that it was plentiful and satisfying.

The newspapers, RTD and USA today that is, were spread all over the counter for community reading and

Pinky, our waitress (was there ever a Pinky who wasn't a waitress?), was delightful. She's planning to get silly drunk tonight we learned.

We were in and out in about 45 minutes. You know why?

Because that's how things have worked at lunch counters for years: cheap and fast and filling.

At least circa 1950.

My Favorite Music of 2009

I'm finally posting my Best Music of 2009 list, complete with justifications and occasional long-winded back stories. Five of the bands on my list I also saw live in 2009 (and three of them prior to that) and several others are on my wish list for seeing live in 2010. So here goes:

Fanfarlo: Reservoir because I think this album is flawless start to finish. There's not a weak song on it and it's an amazing debut for a band with the ability to play any and every instrument. I will always feel fortunate to have seen them with only 100 other devoted fans at the tiny Iota.

Passion Pit: Manners because no one reinvents 70s dance music so well. Also, for its back story; any band whose starting point is a guy writing a collection of songs for his girlfriend for Valentine's Day is a guy I want to listen to. A real shame that more people weren't at this show.

Neko Case: Middle Cyclone because she's Neko Case. Because she deigns to sing for us. Because she's had a hard time with her love life. Just because of that voice. I saw her twice this year, if that tells you anything.

The Decemberists: Hazards of Love because who else wrote a rock opera on this most intimate of subjects in 2009? Because even though seeing them in early 2007 was a far more transcendental experience than this year's show, they have a gift that no one else does.

Grizzly Bear: Vekatimest because of their unique acoustic sound and to-die-for vocal harmonies. Their combination of psychedelic, pop and folk is incredibly alluring to me, especially live, even if Norva crowds are obnoxious.

Yo La Tengo: Popular Songs because a band that can remain this creative after 25 years together is doing a whole lot right. Yes, you could call them shoegaze or noise pop and definitely experimental, but they never cease to impress me. And their live show in C-ville last year with its listening room environment is forever etched in my head.

Muse: Uprising because they make an amazing amount of sound for just three skinny Brits. Their symphonic (bombastic even) sound is unlike anything else I regularly listen to. I saw them back in 2007 at W & M and lamented that they were only the opening band.

Animal Collective: Merriweather Post Pavilion because someone needs to move the neo-psychedelic banner forward and these guys are just the ones to do it. Listening to this album is an exercise in pure sound and endless texture, no drug enhancement needed.

Great Lake Swimmers: Lost Channels because I love this whole folk resurgence going on now. GLS make pretty music and I mean that in the most complimentary way. Their incredible harmonies are the stuff of lost love and hope.

The XX: The Xx because of its spare sound, haunting male and female vocalists and because it's night time music. Listening to this album is like having an audio dream. I'd like to take it out of my CD player and give it a rest, but I can't bring myself to do it.

My only entry in the Best EP category is Bon Iver's Blood Bank and I include it for sentimental reasons. When I first discovered Bon Iver last year, it was the full-length "For Emma, Forever Ago" which took on a whole new meaning for me after the personal trauma of my life early this year.

Musician Justin Vernon created that album as a way of dealing with the breakup of his band, his relationship and being sick with mononucleosis.

Since I had been laid off, dumped and hospitalized for pneumonia, I could seriously relate to his pain.

He created heartfelt music in order to stay sane and I'm still trying to figure out what I can create to do the same. Blood Bank is his most beautiful song to date, hence the EP's inclusion here.

I know my list would not match another human being's on the planet and I'm okay with that. I took a lot of pleasure from these albums in 2009 and, god knows, I needed it.

Music and love are the essentials of life and since one was absent from mine, the other took on an even greater importance.

So thank you to these musicians for giving me part of what I needed in 2009.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Escaping the Cold at Cafe Gutenburg

Cruising 17th Street, I spotted a prime parking space opening up right in front of Lulu's.

Two guys were standing out front watching me park and one of them was coatless in tonight's 30 degree weather, so I couldn't help but tease him about it.

His response was, "I have an invisible skin shield. You know, you can't park there if you're not coming in here."

I explained that I was meeting a friend at Cafe Gutenburg and what did he care where I went?

Seems he was the bartender at Lulu's; first he complimented my pink scarf and then insisted that I stop by after dinner.

You know, personal invitations are always an effective way to lure customers.

Wednesdays are Wine Down Wednesdays at Cafe Gutenburg, with select glasses half off.

Thus it was that I ordered the 2007 L'enclos des Bories Minervois, a syrah/grenache blend, tasting of currants and black pepper (and surprisingly tannic) and a mere four bucks.

Perhaps the wine deals accounted for the steadily increasing crowd we experienced tonight.

My friend arrived with the gift of a calendar showcasing twelve of the best photographs from his 2009 travels.

He's a hobby photographer with a great eye and he'd chosen some beautiful pictures which I will happily admire for the rest of the year.

He then regaled me with stories of his recent trip to Florida to visit his brother and his wife, people who actually enjoy canned peas and instant mashed potatoes.

Few people can describe food failures with quite the verve my friend can.

After our waitress' third stop by the table for our order, we accommodated.

He got the Local Mushroom Burger and I had the Smoked Salmon Blini with petit herbed salad, capers and creme fraiche with a side of buttered baby vegetables.

It's not every day you even see blini on a menu and these were were plentiful and delicious smeared with their plate mates.

The veggies were comprised of baby carrots and green beans doused in enough butter to prevent me from feeling virtuous about eating them.

But, of course, I wasn't going for virtuous.

Dessert was an overly large serving of Gelati Celesti chocolate ice cream which I did make a point of sharing with my friend.

As I pointed out to him, though, there's nothing like going to the Bottom for West End ice cream and besides, what kind of idiot orders ice cream when it's this cold outside?

Some questions have no answers.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Of Romance (not mine) and a Roaring Fire

How is it that I can be friends with someone for over ten years and yet never have gone to the movies with her?

We corrected that tonight by going to the Westhampton to see "The Young Victoria," touted as one of those historical costume dramas that women favor and men avoid, but really more of a heart-wrenching love story suited to romantic types of either sex.

My friend said her main squeeze wouldn't have wanted to see it and I certainly don't have such a person to even ask, so we got our buttered popcorn and Milk Duds and settled in for high romance.

From what I know of Queen Victoria, the film stuck pretty close to the truth, as it should have considering what a wonderful story her romantic life was in her youth.

As the longest-reigning British monarch, Victoria became queen at age 18 and shortly thereafter married the love of her life. Even after he died prematurely at 42, she insisted that his clothes continue to be laid out for him every day.

She also wore black for the rest of her life, but then, I once had a boyfriend who accused me of the same thing.

Hey, don't they say that black is slimming or flattering or some such thing?

Afterwards, we headed across the street to Cafe Caturra for the warmth of fireplace and wine.

After tasting several, we settled on a bottle of the Milbrandt Cabernet from Washington's Columbia Valley.

We were fortunate enough to snag two leather wingback chairs by the roaring fire and settled in to compare notes on Christmas, come-to-Jesus talks with a guy and how to occupy a day off (a subject on which I'm an expert at his point).

Naturally, there was plenty of discussion on the topic of romance or the lack thereof (sadly in this case, I was once again the resident expert).

The movie brought up an interesting point: is there truly such a thing as the love of one's life?

And if there is, does it become easier to overlook other differences in the relationship for the sake of being with a person with whom one feels that connection?

That's a rhetorical question, by the way.

Do I seem lucky enough to have the answer to that?

Joining the Third Wave at Garnett's

Still on my quest to taste every sandwich at Garnett's, I lunched there today but purposely waited until after what I thought to be the lunch rush, arriving somewhere in the vicinity of 1:30. When I entered, there was exactly one seat available in the entire place: that would have been for me I presumed.

I usually try to get to Garnett's by noon to avoid the rush, but that plan would have accomplished nothing since I was told that the place started filling up at 10:30 and every seat was taken by 11:15. That was round one. By the time I arrived, they were on round three. Of course, Garnett's got a glowing review from Style last week, so that may have alerted some newbies to their affordable, unique and very tasty menu and homey vibe.

Today's sandwich try-out was the Scuffletown Chicken Salad on Ciabatta with a side of French potato salad. This chicken salad was a lot like my mother's with big, irregular chunks of white meat chicken lightly dressed with mayo and a hint of sweetness from pickle. It's probably the best chicken salad I've had in rva and I have no doubt that Mom would give it the thumbs up.

Sitting on my right at the bar was a man who lives on his mother's family's farm in Tappahannock, which immediately interested me because my folks live on the other side of the bridge in Tappahannock. So he not only knew of their small town and its oystering/crabbing history, but he could guess where they moved from (the D.C. area) and how thoroughly they enjoy the change of locale (greatly). I could meet 100 people and it would be unlikely that even one would know of the tiny town of Morattico, so it was a kick to discuss the area with him. Yet another example of just how small the world is.

Today's visit was notable because it was the very first time I've not had one of the fabulous and frugal desserts at Garnett's. I admit I was sorely tempted by the Chocolate Hazelnut cake, but I just didn't have room. Next time for sure, even if I have to linger for round four.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Living the Great Life at Gallery 5

On the Monday night after Christmas weekend, live music was just the thing to do to for something completely different from the past few days.

And approaching Gallery 5 tonight, hearing the windows rattling from the band playing within, I looked forward to a most un-holiday like evening.

The music was much more enjoyable to hear from within than from without, but still loud, so I was surprised to see a guy sitting in a chair, head against the radiator cover and napping hard when I got there.

He woke up once, checked his phone and went back to sleep.

Black Wine from New Jersey was playing to a rapt crowd when I walked in.

Their punk influences ensured that most songs clocked in at around two and a half minutes of pure energy, which made their choice of a song to cover completely out of the blue: "Windy" by the Association.

They did quite a decent job with it, though, speeding it up a bit and hardening it a little around the edges while keeping the harmonies (the female drummer helped a lot in this respect).

The headliner and reason for my outing tonight was Lemuria from Buffalo, about whom I'd heard good things.

Their website is lemuriapop.com, if that tells you anything.

With an indie power pop sound augmented with dual vocalists of both sexes and catchy guitars, they played an energetic set that was a pleasure to hear.

The band cites the Lemonheads and Superchunk as influences, so fans of 90s indie pop (okay, me) were bound to get into them.

Their choice of a cover song was "Grand Canyon" by the Magnetic Fields and their version really good.

I ran into a local restaurant owner in between sets, giving me a conversational partner for the rest of the evening.

After buying me wine, he proposed a toast to me having "the greatest life."

I protested that I have far less money than most people, but he insisted that I have far more fun that most and that's what's really more important.

He also wanted to know how I always know where to be for the most fun on any given evening and if I could text him with that information.

Of course, what I consider fun isn't necessarily anyone else's cup of tea, but the texting part aside (as if), it was a fine compliment anyway.

The show was over by 11, allowing attendees to get home to a reasonable bedtime on a school night, a benefit that has no relevance to my "great" life.

I write that with tongue planted firmly in check, just so you know.

Restaurants That are Not the Usual Suspects

Sunday's Washington Post Travel section had not one, but two articles about eating in RVA. I am always happy to see word of our fair city in the larger press, but I'm beginning to wonder about the sources for their destinations.

The first, "In Richmond, fine dining is in the details" was written by Post food critic Tom Sietsema, a man whose writing I read often and always enjoy, and chronicled his eating journey through our little town. Go ahead, I bet you can guess at least three, if not four, of the places where he chowed down.

Duh. Millies, Can Can, Acacia and Mezzanine (because of its relative newness and Style's Restaurant of the Year award apparently) made the cut. His only other stop was Buzz and Ned's Real Barbecue where he was underwhelmed. He also found Millie's lacking, despite having had a good lunch there several years ago. The others he enjoyed.

The second article, "For food shops, it's a capital city" was mainly about Belmont Butchery, but also gave a nod to 821, Comfort, Sally Belle's, Kuba Kuba, Yellow Umbrella Seafood and the brand new Spoonfed (formerly Stonewall Market). The writer raved about Belmont Butchery with good reason, although Tanya Cauthen is quoted as saying that when she needs additonal counter help, she calls on local chefs from Balliceaux and Pomegranate. I question how a place as new as Balliceaux got lumped in with the defunct Pomegranate.

My question is this: can a piece about eating in RVA be written without mention of Can Can, Acacia, Millies, Comfort, or Kuba Kuba? And, let's be real here, even 821 and Sally Belle's are semi-regulars when the topic is our restaurant scene. I'm not saying these aren't good places to eat, but who doesn't know that by now? Clearly even the out-of-towners are aware of these places, so why can't we see an article about eating through Richmond mention some of the less obvious eateries we have to offer?

Yellow Umbrella was an unexpected surprise to see given a nod, as was the barely opened Spoonfed, but it was an article about markets after all. But a truly good story about what's worth checking out during a visit to RVA should inform the reader about the places not mentioned over and over in the travel press. Or, at the very least, whomever is supplying the suggestions to these out-of-town writers should give them the scoop on the places the locals know are our best -kept secrets.

If anyone should need a good source in the future, I'm happy to provide a list of less obvious places worth a bite or sip, as , I'm sure, would any regular diner in Richmond. Or are we trying to keep these places to ourselves?

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Eating on the Cheap at TJ's

One of my favorite friends suggested grabbing a bite at TJ's tonight and, really, what could be a better way to spend the last night of the long Christmas weekend than with a fellow food and wine lover I hadn't seen in a couple of weeks?

We got an early start, arriving at the Jefferson around 6 ready to talk and eat.

Neither of us had anticipated the large number of people lounging around the lobby and eating and drinking at Lemaire and TJ's tonight.

We began upstairs at Lemaire, sharing a quartino of Dolcetto d'Alba DOC Ada Nada from Piedmont while noshing on a tray of excellent olives and peanuts.

Heading downstairs, we discovered that TJ's had not a single open table in its dining room, but we were happy to eat in the bar area just off the rotunda.

We settled into a two-top and eagerly opened our menus.

The menu was a revelation; everything listed under appetizers and salads was priced at either $6 or $7, making TJ's one of the most affordable places to eat well that I know of.

I began with the seasonal soup, a cannellini bean with ham and Parmesan pureed into a thick and creamy consistency; it was a large bowl and extremely filling.

I followed that with Cornbread and Surry Sausage-Stuffed Quail with Granny Smith apples, Swiss chard and Herbed Gnocchi in Balsamic Jus.

If you think this sounds like a full meal for $13, you'd be correct.

The stuffing and quail were perfectly delicious and an ample serving to boot.

My friend had the Frisee and Granny Smith apple salad with Duck Confit after the Garlic-Roasted Burgundy Escargots over Parmesan Risotto, mushrooms, shallots and parsley.

The risotto was perfectly cooked and seasoned (and somebody else did all that stirring).

She upped the ante with a soul-satisfying side of the Swiss Chard with poached Bing Cherries.

Her meal topped out at a whopping $17 and she found it to be more than enough.

We continued to share quartinos, first a Pinot Noir, followed by a Temperanillo.

We're both big fans of the quartino, allowing as it does a generous enough pour to share.

We like to enjoy a variety of wines during a meal and the quartino allows moving from grape to grape economically throughout a meal.

What could be better?

Service was friendly and attentive and we were not rushed as we meandered through course after course and lingered over wine afterwards.

 TJ's was clearly the destination of choice for a whole lot of people tonight and it was clear by the end of our meal why.

An inexpensive meal in a grand setting is an appealing way to finish a holiday weekend, whether it has been a joyous or bittersweet one.

I'm hoping next year's will be more the former than the latter.

I Whined Leading to More Wine at The Belvidere

I went out tonight for selfish reasons and ended up doing a favor for wine drinkers who frequent the Belvidere at Broad. My neighborhood joint was mostly full when I arrived a bit after 8, but I conveniently found myself seated next to a man with extensive wine knowledge (he works as a server at a certain Shockoe Slip eatery) and we immediately slipped into a wine chat while considering the list. When the owner asked if I wanted my usual, I politely balked.

The B @ B is already known for its extensive rotating beer list, but they have had the same by-the-glass list since opening. I just wasn't in the mood for the same old thing tonight and the owner was kind enough to suggest I pick a wine off the bottle list and she'd pour it by the glass for me. Thus, the serendipity of being seated next to a guy who knew his wine inside and out and was delighted to peruse the list with me until we mutually decided that the Michele Chiarlo "Le Orme" Barbera D'Asti was what I wanted opened.

The wine was wonderful, velvety and elegant. Not long afterwards, a local (defined as living within a five-block radius of the place) came in and was greeted with, "HI, Larry! I have something new for you to try!" Which would have been fine, except that Larry was a beer drinker. I have never been greeted with that enthusiastic statement, despite multiple visits, which led to a discussion amongst the owners about the need for adding more, or at the very least, rotating wines to their by-the-glass list.

I teased the owner about her ability to offer new beers to regular customers constantly and she responded empathetically, saying, "You're right! For you, it's always, Hey there! Want more of the same old thing?"

After much discussion and further tasting, The Belvidere's wine list now includes two more selections by the glass: Jean-Luc Colombo Les Abeilles Cote du Rhone Rouge, an organic wine, and my new favorite, the Colores de Sol Malbec. Fear not, creatures of habit, the Pinot Noir, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon are still on the list, but they now have company and we regular wine drinkers are all the happier for it.

I had no business whining about the wine list but my mouth spoke before my brain could stop it. I'd feel more guilty about it except that I think I did a favor for wine sops in rva tonight. Feel free to thank me if you see me at the bar.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

It's (Not) A Wonderful Life

I didn't get what I really wanted for Christmas, despite a whole lot of hoping and wishing (I'm not the praying sort). I didn't expect to, but it would have salvaged the year if I had. Perhaps I should have written a letter to Santa and spelled it out.

Dashed hopes aside, I've been going to the Byrd for "It's a Wonderful Life" on Christmas Eve for over a decade now. I think it's a great way to spend that evening and at this point, I practically know the dialogue by heart. But this year, it got to me like it never had before and tears fell pretty much throughout the entire movie; it was not the best way to experience it. And, on top of that, I realized going in to the theater that I'd lost my wallet. Sigh.

Christmas Day I drove to the Northern Neck to see the 'rents without a driver's license (obviously) and in the pouring rain. It's usually not a bad drive, but the weather and my mood were not cooperating. One of my presents was a gift certificate to Victoria's Secret, but given the state of my love life, it seemed frivolous and unnecessary. I thanked them sincerely anyway.

Shopping at VS today, I was surprised to see so many couples in the store choosing lingerie together. I suppose if you're going to wear pretty underthings , you may as well get your partner's input on what they like, right? One of the couples even had their kids with them as she held up thongs and demi-bras for his approval. It was kind of unsettling or maybe I was just resentful that no one will be seeing my new pretties. I know, I know, my attitude sucks.

The best thing about this Christmas is that it means 2009 is almost over and, as the worst year I've ever had to live through, that can't come soon enough. And for those without X-ray vision glasses, I'll be wearing some of the loveliest lingerie I may have ever owned in 2010. If only my attitude could be half as lovely in the new year.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Eve Morning Observations

It's not often I get to do my Christmas Eve (or Christmas day) walk in the snow. In fact, I can't remember a time I ever have, although I've only been walking for ten years. The streets were fairly quiet, as I anticipated, but several things gave me pause.

The line at Sallie Belle's on Grace Street was a dozen deep by 9:30 and they don't even open until 10. They close at 3, and I'm almost tempted to wander by in the 2:00 hour just to see the crazed last-minute customers. I have to assume that their traditional baked goods must be essential to some people's holiday festivities.

Although the south-facing streets are in decent condition to walk, the north-facing ones are still quite covered in snow. I saw a large cactus plant, maybe two feet high sticking out of a snow mound. All I could see were the tips of the cactus leaves and needles with a crust of snow. Did Mother Nature intend for this to happen? I also got a smile out of a "Keep Off the Grass" sign nearly covered in snow. If there's grass underneath, it was nowhere in sight.

Unfortunately I had to go to Kroger, where pandemonium reigned. A stranger said to me, "I can't believe we were stupid enough to leave this for today!" I'm with you on that, honey; what was I thinking? The aisles were a traffic jam of people, many of them clearly not pros at grocery shopping and impeding the progress of the rest of us. Lots of customers wore Santa hats and everyone was unusually friendly and pleasant, though, so while it was challenging to get in and out, there was a certain festive air to it all.

I already know what a difficult holiday this is going to be, given the hole in my life, so I'm not expecting a great one. I'm just hoping not to dissolve into a complete maudlin mess while making my way through the rest of it.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

His Big Fat Birthday Dinner at Zeus

The problem with having a birthday just before Christmas is how easily it can get lost in the holiday shuffle.

My Capricorn friend avoided any chance of that by throwing himself a birthday dinner tonight at Zeus and inviting fourteen of his favorite people to eat, drink and be merry to celebrate another year above ground.

Four hours and $1000 later, he had succeeded magnificently.

We began with field greens with candied nuts, goat cheese and apples, followed by fried oysters with a spicy remoulade.

Platters of both arrived unbidden and were devoured. I then had the crab cakes, but the tenderloin meat loaf with bacon mashed potatoes was also a big hit with several at my table. The shrimp and grits with Tasso ham got raves.

Everything I tasted was birthday-worthy and the endless bottles of Zeus Rouge certainly enhanced the mood.

Among the random things I learned from various party-goers tonight included the fact that there are always a lot of two-dollar bills at racetracks.

There's such a thing as too many pickles if you have to schlep them home from Florida yourself.

I've been missing the outstanding Tuesday specials at Gertrude's in Baltimore by only having been for Sunday brunch.

Not everyone can eat large quantities of candied, sugared nuts (I can).

As you can see, the evening had both educational and entertainment components if you were paying attention (I was).

Since it was a birthday celebration, nearly everyone got dessert (caramel bread pudding, apple crisp with ice cream, key lime pie and molten chocolate cake).

The birthday boy ordered only a spoon and spent the dessert course rotating seats for tasting purposes.

The waitress brought out a lit birthday candle so we could sing to him, but the candle was in her hand, not in any type of cake or dessert item (pictures were taken to document this and then retaken when the first ones were dark).

As our numbers dwindled, two other couples in the restaurant attached themselves to our group for conversational purposes, undoubtedly tired of having put up with us carrying on for hours.

One couple had long-time local roots, so they and Birthday Boy could reminisce about things that happened here long before I arrived in RVA. Kelly's Burgers? Um, okay.

The other couple was celebrating her birthday, too (and were also treated to the candle-in-hand presentation) in what looked like a most romantic way.

One of our party asked how long they'd been a couple and they said they'd been together for eleven years before marrying four years ago.

When asked how that was going, she prosaically said, "Now it's all about the kids." He looked at her and refuted it entirely. "I'm still completely fascinated by her."

What I wouldn't give...

I'll Judge Yours If You Judge Mine

It's that time of year when music geeks are furiously trying to decide what to put on their Best of 2009 lists.

Shoot, I've been compiling a list since early summer, adding to it occasionally and crossing others off when something even more impressive comes along.

We music geeks take our lists seriously (and it didn't hurt that I had nothing better to do).

Yesterday I got a tentative list from my music geek friend Andrew and it's a whopping 25 CD scroll!

I understand why; it is difficult to winnow down a year's worth of good music to just ten or even a dozen CDs.

Also, he included local bands on his list and I purposely did not, preferring to make that a completely separate list for my own purposes.

I found it fascinating to read his list because as much as we discuss music, which is every single time we see each other and via e-mail, I was still surprised at some of what was on his list.

He was the one who gave me Great Northern's "Remind Me Where the Light Is" and never really mentioned it much again.

When we were driving home from the Raveonettes show in DC, I played that CD non-stop for the entire trip back and he didn't say a word.

Oh, wait, he might have been sleeping.

And speaking of the Raveonettes, "In and Out of Control" will most definitely be on my list but I didn't expect to see it on his.

This CD has far less of a recorded-in-a-cave sound, which pleases him because he's less of a cave-lover than I am, but I had no idea it was Top 25 list material for him.

Maybe I'm making a cave convert out of him (next up: The Twilight Sad?).

And Guggenheim Grotto?

I got this CD a solid year ago and rushed off to Charlottesville to see them by myself last winter without any idea that he was a fan.

It was an intimate and amazing show, but why the hell did I go alone, I'm wondering?

Next time I'll ask.

I started pushing Passion Pit's "Manners" on all my friends hard late last spring, even more so once their show at the National was announced for June.

Their very 70s-based dance music for non-dance music lovers is one of my favorites and still in regular rotation, but I hadn't realized how highly it rated with Andrew.

And Neko Case, of course.

I saw her twice this year (only once with Andrew), and the cover art of "Middle Cyclone" is probably the best CD cover of the past five years, IMHO.

Every time I listen to her sing, I want to cry or have an in-depth conversation with her about men.

That voice, that attitude!

I see that after much internal deliberation, Andrew included The Decemberist's "Hazards of Love" and I know this caused him much soul-searching because he hated putting something on his list that was on every other critic's best of list.

Sometimes, my friend, there's a reason why everyone acknowledges a CD.

No surprise that Plushguns' "Pins and Panzers" was one of Andrew's favorites.

When we discovered them in 2008, we were both terribly impressed with what a guy in his Brooklyn bedroom could make for sound.

But that show at Alley Katz, complete with glow sticks, sealed the deal.

We're undoubtedly among the few putting this CD on our end-of-year lists, but only because not enough people have experienced it.

Their loss.

I could go through the rest of my friend's list, but perhaps I'd better finish up my own instead.

He probably wants to judge mine as much as he wanted me to peruse his.

And then, like two lawyers battling a case, we'll have the epic Best of 2009 List discussion.

It could go on for days.

Food Coma Commentary

Thank goodness we're almost to the 25th because I went to my third Christmas party in a week tonight and I can't keep this up forever. Actually, I don't mind the dressing up part in the least. And I enjoy meeting new people and having unexpected conversations. And as for the gratuitous drinking, well, there are bigger crosses to bear. And staying up late on a school night, well that really has no relevance whatsoever to my life. But the eating! These holiday soirees can put you in a food coma if you're not paying attention.

Tonight's festivities included a white bean, onion and herb spread, assorted cheese and crackers, meatballs, a Jarlsburg/Gruyere cheese fondue, crudites and dip, pork tenderloin in a shallot butter sauce with a cooked apple sauce, sauteed squash/zucchini medley and an obscenely rich mac and cheese. For dessert, there were radar bars, lemon chess squares and chocolate fondue with mini bananas and croissant chunks for dipping. I think I had 2 1/2 plates of food, but the Food Police may have noted more. All I know is no amount of wine could compete with so much of a food base.

The general conversation somehow took a turn to the subject of things I personally don't do. Specifically mentioned were the facts that I don't wear jewelry. And that I don't wear jeans. And I don't have a cell phone. As inevitably happens when that last topic comes up, someone immediately said to me, "Congratulations!" and actually sounded sincere. Within minutes, though, a friend said, "I'm buying you a cell phone for Christmas." Do you know how many times someone has said that to me? So I was simultaneously applauded and pitied for my lack of 24/7 communication availability; no one seems to understand what a deliberate choice it is for me.

One woman, whom I had met just a few months ago, asked if there was an update on my job or love status. No, I said, everything was pretty much the same. I may have made a self-deprecating remark or two about the state of my affairs and she started to get visibly upset. "That makes me want to cry," she said.

Which made me laugh out loud because what earthly good would it do to stay upset about the turmoil that has defined 2009 for me? Sure, I'd change it all if I could, but none of it seems to be in my hands. Okay, I wouldn't change the no jeans, jewelry and cell phone parts.

And the self-deprecation is just part of the package, I'm afraid. But the rest could certainly use an overhaul.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Festive and Nonchalant at Lemaire

What with it nearly the big day, my friend suggested we meet for a festive drink and I can think of no place in rva more holiday-adorned than the Jefferson. We met in the Rotunda to ogle the big tree, the folk art Santa figures, the elaborate wreaths and the sheer quantity of poinsettias around the base of every single palm tree. It's easy to imagine how this sparkling setting wows out-of-towners considering how bowled over a couple of long-time residents like us were.

Then it was a sweep up the grand staircase to the downscaled Lemaire. Our bartender, a Long Island boy who had to learn to use "sir" and "ma'am" when he moved south, greased the wheels for a fine evening. We began with quartinos of Old Vine Garnacha Las Rocas de Alejandro Catalayud 2006 and Malbec Lonko Patagonia 2005 and moved on to Tempura Green Asparagus with coarse sea salt and Parmesan and roasted garlic aioli and Brandy Peppercorn-Dusted Beef tartare with shaved Parmesan, micro arugula and horseradish sauce.

Dessert was Chocolate Grand Marnier terrine with vanilla bean ice cream and a dusting of cinnamon. Hard as it is for me to acknowledge this, the vanilla ice cream may have been even better than the chocolate terrine. I can't believe I just wrote that.

We saw lots of pretty people, including arts patron Pam Reynolds, looking chic as always, and several bored and entitled-looking young couples barely speaking to each other. Next to us was an older couple traveling from Maryland to Florida; the Jefferson was as far as they'd gotten in their travels today. They didn't seem to mind the early stop and overnight stay at the Jefferson in the least. Or perhaps it was always the goal

And lest you doubt that Lemaire is noticeably more casual than it used to be, on a visit to the Ladies' Room, I encountered a Jefferson employee folding towels in there. The employee was a man. But rather than make apologies or back out of the room, he merely indicated the larger of the two stalls to me, finished up his folding and discretely exited. Now that's the kind of nonchalance you would have never seen at the old Lemaire.

A Thank You Note for The Rub

My plans for the Winter Solstice were to spend it with a friend who had suggested a surprise outing together. I had no idea where we'd be going, only that we'd finish with a late lunch at Thai Diner. He said I could try to guess, but I'm not the guessing type, so I cleared my schedule and anticipated the afternoon.

So with no idea of what was in store, I got into his car and headed off into the unknown. He didn't keep me in suspense for long, though; we were going to have massages and it was his Christmas gift to me. As someone who has had a truly awful year, I knew I had enough tension in my body to keep a masseuse busy until her hands gave out so I was beyond thrilled. I have to say that a surprise gift of a massage was about the most wonderful thing that I could have heard at that moment.

He had set it up so that we would to have our massages in the same room, but with a partition dividing it for privacy (we're friends after all, so we don't get naked in front of each other). Upon arrival, it turned out that a pregnant woman had co-opted the divided room, so we used discretionary disrobing techniques and averted eyes to prevent any glimpses of friend flesh. And then I just melted into the table as my body got the once -over.

My favorite gift has always been words. I like nothing better than than a letter or e-mail when someone wants to give me a present. But today's gift of a massage on a body with a year's worth of stress and a broken heart may have been the kindest thing done for me in many moons.

I'm glad that today being the shortest day means that from here on out, the days will start getting longer. I'm even more grateful that I have such a thoughtful friend who knew exactly what I needed (without a word from me) and generously gave it to me.

And wouldn't you know, after feeling completely certain that no one would ever see this morning's big snow-induced bruise, the masseuse not only saw it, she commented that it wasn't too bad...yet.

Bruised Where the Sun Don't Shine

The snow didn't stop me from my daily walk the past two days, although I did modify my route and stay in J-Ward.

The main streets were fairly clear and there was very little vehicular traffic, so that's where I walked for the most part.

Today I decided to venture over to my usual VCU/Fan route to see what was happening over there.

The good news was VCU had cleared all their sidewalks, making for easy walking.

The bad news was that most of the other sidewalks were a crusty, icy mess (we won't even talk about the state of Hell Block's sidewalks).

The trade-off was the abundance of snow men I saw once I got beyond VCU. Just Saturday, I was lamenting the absence of snow sculpture and here was Grace Street just full of them.

Snowmen of every design were perched in yard after yard; one wore a bandanna, another a baseball cap, one had a crown of leaves and one seemed to be wearing a jock strap. Another was headless.

One snow figure had a tail and ears, so I don't think it was a snowman at all.

After all that treacherous walking, I was glad to be nearly home when I paused at the intersection at the end of my block for an approaching car.

The guy gave me a big smile and I turned toward my house, at which point my legs went over my head and I landed on the side of my right thigh.

As I sit here typing this, I can feel an enormous bruise forming right where my hip meets my thigh.

Oh, it's going to be a beaut.

I suppose there's the consolation that absolutely no one besides me will see it.

Wait, what am I saying? That's absolutely no consolation at all.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

My "Beautiful" Brunch at Ipanema

Judging by the number of people whose Facebook status said "has cabin fever" this morning, combined with the sunny day, I'm willing to bet that Ipanema wasn't the only restaurant doing a brisk brunch business today. Personally, I never got close to cabin fever status but then I've been out a lot this snowy weekend.

It was my first time doing brunch at Ipanema, although it certainly will not be my last. I got the Frittata made with Gouda, caramelized onions, thyme and tomato with a side of sweet potato hash. So, yes, Andrew, it's the Grilled Gouda sandwich with eggs instead of bread and it sure was delicious, especially with a big mimosa to wash it down. For dessert, I had the almond cake with both light and dark chocolate frosting (I have no qualms about ending brunch with dessert).

Brunch was made even better by finding today's New York Times available on the bar. My Washington Post didn't get delivered today, but I checked Kroger and a 7-11 and neither of them received their Posts either, so it wasn't just me. It's still a loss for me since it's part of my Sunday ritual, as much as I have rituals these days.

But the highlight of brunch was the bartender who continuously referred to me, not by name, but by Beautiful, as in, "Need anything, Beautiful?" and "How're you doing over there, Beautiful?" Liz, if you keep that up, I'll end up dreaming about you again.

Rumination on Reality

Although the bright blue sky and brilliant sun on my walk this morning should have lifted my spirits, instead I was lost in thought about how anything is really not possible. In a perfect world, maybe, but in this one, no.

If it were, you could walk up to someone you see in the street and just say whatever you wanted to say, with no concern for propriety and no fear of their reaction. It happens in books and it happens in movies, but it's not the kind of thing we risk in real life.

So conversations don't happen and opportunities are missed out of fear. Blue sky and sunshine aside, it's such a shame that this is how the world works.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Few, The Brave at Avenue 805

The last time I had dinner at Avenue 805 was the night after the last big snowstorm in March. The same friend had chosen the same restaurant for that night out, too. I suggested he call first tonight to make sure they were open or, at the very least, alert them that we were coming.

It ended up being more of an alert, because they were open, but really just because they knew we were coming. There were probably a half dozen patrons tonight, but many of the regulars were at the Pope's party, so that eliminated much of the hyper-local walking trade. And, oh my, you should have seen some of the creative parking going on along Monument Avenue for the party!

But nothing was going to stop B.S.F. and I from eating and drinking for several hours while the snow continued to fall outside. We drank a bottle of the Post House Bluish Black, a South African blend containing Shiraz, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and one of my all-time favorite grapes, Pinotage (for its earthy qualities as well as fond memories).

I had a bowl of the white bean/bacon/sun-dried tomato soup, which was broth based and a good start to warming up after the trip over. Next up, I ordered the mussels in white sauce with a magnificent hunk of oiled foccacia while my friend enjoyed the Duck Ragout. We finished by sharing the chocolate mousse.

The owners hadn't been home since Thursday night because of the weather, so we didn't order more wine. Three and a half hours was probably more of their time than we should have taken, but, as is usually the case with a bar snow crowd, everyone was affable and enjoying the snowed- in mentality, so we lingered until about 10. By then, all the snow-shoveling my friend had done today had left him plumb tuckered out. That or he was still tired from last night's shenanigans, so we soldiered on and out into the dark wetness, well fed and wined.

We were guessing that tonight's small crowd (Republic looked fairly slow, too) means the masses will be in full cabin-fever mode by tomorrow morning and brunches all over town will be swarming with escapees.

Hell, I got out tonight and I'll be right out there tomorrow with the fray, brunching away. How better to enjoy a good snow weekend?

The Deer and The Hangover

I got invited to brunch and a movie today by neighbors who were worried sick that a person without a TV could not survive a snowy afternoon inside.

I didn't have the heart to tell them that I'd be just fine amusing myself otherwise, so I baked some cookies (Chocolate Chocolate Chip) to take as a return gesture and once again set off on foot through Jackson Ward.

Brunch was more breakfast for them and lunch for me, but the star of either meal was definitely the spicy deer sausage, served with an egg dish, assorted breads and mimosas.

My friend knows a guy who kills things on weekends and then brings them back to a talented friend who turns the carcasses into tasty things.

I'm a huge fan of spicy sausage of any kind and this deer version was absolutely delicious.

I might have made more of a meal of it than I needed to, but how often am I served deer sausage? My point exactly.

Afterwards, we settled in with hot chocolate, made from nothing more than grated dark chocolate, milk and a pinch of salt, to watch "The Hangover."

I'd heard from several friends that it was hysterical and while I certainly wouldn't go that far, it had some amusing moments and it wasn't like I had something else pressing to do.

My cookies were a big hit with my friends who polished off the entire dozen during the movie.

Plus I know they felt better having saved me from a lone snowy afternoon.

Returning to my TV-less apartment, I was greeted by the wonderful scent of fresh-baked cookies and a piney Christmas tree, followed by a beagle eager to go back out in the snow again.

How do I manage without a TV?

And Not A Snow Penis in Sight

Rather than my usual four miles to the Boulevard and back, I decided to walk J-Ward end to end instead this morning and see what was happening. I quickly discovered that the sidewalks were way too much trouble and that the tire ruts in the street make for the easiest walking progress.

Right off, I ran into a neighbor, the owner of three dogs he regularly walks, but out with only one, the basset hound, today. When I asked after the other two, he said they had no interest in going out in this mess. That was interesting to me because my beagle loves the snow and clearly some dogs do not. I wonder what teh difference is?

Walking east on Marshall, a guy smoking on his front porch said good morning, followed by, "You sure are faithful about walking." The funny thing is, I don't do my walk on Marshall Street and I didn't recognize the guy and yet he knows I'm a regular walker. Jackson Ward, where everyone knows everyone's business. It's kind of quaint.

I paused to chat with a neighbor shoveling his walkway and commented on the lack of people out and about, especially compared to the big March snowfall we had earlier this year. He seemed to think that there's novelty in a spring snow, but a December snow is just a reason to dig in and hibernate. Now there's a distinction of which I was not aware.

Back in March, there were loads of people out on the streets reveling in the snow. I remember seeing snow men and, perhaps even more eye-catching, several snow penises in the Ward. I didn't see a single snow sculpture out there today. Come on, people, let's pick up our game.

Friday, December 18, 2009

A Cozy Evening of Live Music in a Snowstorm

"Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow--the Listening Room is ON for tonight. Come on over and enjoy a cozy evening of lovely music and hot cider."

Despite counting on spending my evening at the Listening Room, I was prepared for this show to be cancelled tonight like everything else, so that message was good news. I headed over to the Michaux House and while the crowd was smaller than last month, plenty of people braved the snow to hear Luke Saunders, Jack Meets the Giant and Zac Hryciak and the Jungle Beat.

Ginger cookies, hot cider and coffee rewarded attendees upon arrival, followed by 2+ hours of acoustic music. Setting the holiday mood, Luke Saunders began with a banjo-accompanied rendition of "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel," followed by several songs about heartbreak (my kind of songs). Even as he was asking the audience if they could tell that he'd never done this before, more people continued to arrive. Snow delays I expect.

Jack Meets the Giant started by doing the holiday classic "Please Come Home" and then telling us he had 20-25 minutes to make us his best friends. The duo recently finished a record with a full band, so we were hearing stripped down versions of everything ("This is the most acoustic this song will ever be," we were told). The lead singer had such an interesting voice, which was further enhanced by his back-up singer (and occasional back-up whistler).

Zac, Zac, Zac. I've seen him and the Jungle Beat a fair number of times since I first saw them open for Mermaid Skeleton's CD release show at the Poe Museum a year and a half ago. The beauty of this band is the level of musicianship. The drumming practically defines their sound and gives you an idea where the name of the group came from. With a violinist and upright bass player in addition to Zac's guitar, there is so much string action working with and against those drums. It's the band's quirky sound that sets them apart musically and Zac's gorgeous voice and heartfelt songwriting don't hurt, either.

Leaving the show around 11, Franklin Street was hushed except for a lone snow plow. The accumulation was significant in the three hours I'd been inside. It's so beautiful, though, outlining fences, capping fire hydrants and weighing down the branches of bushes and shrubs. I was actually surprised not to see more people in the streets and outside in general.

It didn't stop me and the beagle from taking a brisk walk in it when I got home. He has always liked walking in the snow and his old age has apparently not dimmed that. We strolled the neighborhood, enjoying the quiet and hoping to see another dog walker to share the experience with but no luck.

We'll try again tomorrow.

A Winey, Snowy Interlude

Once it started coming down, it came down thick and fast. I actually needed a device to clear snow off my car and it was barely 6:00. I was headed to Carytown and River City Cellars for tonight's wine tasting, Staff Favorites. The road was pretty slushy but completely manageable.

I wasn't in the least surprised at all the people at RCC. And why not; isn't a wine tasting a lovely way to start off a snowy weekend? Lots of people were buying wine and cheese, presumably to enjoy during the Blizzard of '09.

Tonight's wines were all amazing: Boulay 2008 Sancerre Blanc, Tissot 2007 Arbois Chardonnay, Raquillet 2007 Mercurey Rouge "Vieilles Vignes," and Verbena 2007 Rosso di Montalcino. The staff certainly knew what they were talking about. It was difficult choosing just one.

A little girl came in with her family and she had snow caked on her mittens. She couldn't stop admiring them. Someone had a picture of the line at Pleasant's to buy sleds. It looked like Black Friday.

But wine and kids, aren't they what snow is all about?

Bring It On. I'll Be Busy.

A forecast of four to ten inches of snow in Richmond causes some people to act so oddly that it provides entertainment value for those of us not as inclined to get our panties in a wad over some winter precipitation.

When I walked by the Kroger at 10:30 this morning, it was mobbed.

And by mobbed, I mean like day-before-Thanksgiving mobbed.

Kroger is undoubtedly having a banner sales day.

When I arrived home from running errands around 1, my landlord had already been by and scattered oodles of a noxious ice-melting pellet mixture all over my steps.

And porch. And sidewalk. And walkway. I think I'm good now.

Walking the dog, I spoke with a couple of neighbors just coming home from work.

Both told me they are in for the weekend, as in, not leaving the house for any reason. Right.

I, on the other hand, accepted a friend's invitation to eat dinner somewhere together tomorrow night.

He lives a mere two miles from me and we figure that between his house and mine, we will be able to find an open restaurant tomorrow evening, even if we both have to walk to meet.

But we will meet.

I also got an e-mail from another friend wanting to meet for brunch late Sunday morning.

Did I hem and haw about planning to meet in the aftermath of the Great December snowfall?

I did not. We made our plans without a second thought about the forecasted weather.

Please excuse my lack of concern for the impending doom of snowfall.

As a guy from Connecticut visiting RVA told me last night, Richmonders are so cute about snow.

Cute is not what I aim for.

The Mixtape Master

Back in the 90s, I met and befriended a local club DJ, whose skill at mixing music was awe-inspiring.

He didn't have a car, so he'd ride his bike to gigs with a crate of records bungee-corded on the back of it.

He was a music junkie, always going back to DC to score new and obscure stuff he couldn't find in rva. Needless to say, I don't often meet someone as rabid about music as I am, so I wanted to know him better.

After seeing him for several weeks at one place or another, he suggested we meet up at the Virginia Museum on a Thursday night since that's when the museum stayed open in the evening.

As it turned out, I had to stay late at the radio station where I worked and missed meeting him.

I didn't even have a way to contact him to let him know I couldn't make it. What I didn't know at the time was that he'd made me a mixtape he'd intended to give me that night.

It was a masterpiece entitled "Naive Melodies/Waiting" and the title referred to his anticipation of our first outing together.

Full of classic 80s and early 90s indie pop, it was superbly chosen and mixed.

By the time we rescheduled our outing, he'd made me a second mixtape, this one called, "STOOD UP!" and full of jittery and angry music.

I got the message.

Other mixtapes followed, with names like "A Cup of Coffee and a Slice of Time" and "Groovy Tunes," which had one side of "Harmless Pop" and another of "Popless Harm."

One called "Delusions of Grandeur" didn't even list song titles or artists, just the instructions to listen and enjoy because titles were irrelevant.

I listened to those mixtapes for years because they were so well done. It got to the point where I could anticipate the next song because I knew the tape so well.

Finally I realized that I was going to wear out the tape itself and enlisted a friend to put them on CD for me so I could enjoy them in perpetuity.

My friend and I eventually lost touch, although I occasionally heard him on a late-night shift on several local commercial radio stations.

Not long after I'd heard he'd moved back to DC, he showed up weekly on WRIR doing Monday's Breakfast Blend.

What a treat! It's almost like having a new mixtape made for me every week because our tastes are so similar and I'm just so fond of his musical selections.

I listen when I'm up early enough, but I always make a point to look at his playlist for sentimental reasons.

Invariably, I see song after song from one of my many mixtapes that are still making it on to his show: the B52's "Follow Your Bliss," The Posies' "Mrs. Green," Marshall Crenshaw's "Cynical Girl" and anything by Paul Weller.

There's also plenty of new stuff which I'm also listening to, but it's these mixtape reminders that give me a retro thrill.

Over the years, no less than a dozen friends have made mixtapes for me; some were terrific and some were nice gestures, but uninspired.

Creating a really good mixtape is more difficult than it sounds and yet, I've still got this guy's collection of 1993/94 mixtapes in regular rotation.

No one but a mixtape master can inspire that kind of long-term musical devotion.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Partying in the Ward. Carbing Up at Bouchon

'Tis the holiday season when more and more nights involve multiple events, which has been the case for me the last two nights. I'm not complaining; staying busy distracts me from over-thinking my life 24/7.

The Jackson Ward Neighborhood Association was having their annual Christmas soiree and no less than four neighbors had asked if I'd be attending. In three-plus years, I'd never been, which made for an excellent reason to finally check it out. Last year they had a band, but this year it was going to be DJ Cox and who wouldn't enjoy seeing their neighbors shake their groove things?

The party was at Club 533 on the far side of J-Ward from me and the food was provided by neighborhood caterers Sweetie Pie and Hidden Treasure. I'm guessing the association bought the booze (our association dues at work; I like that!). It was fun to see neighbors dressed for a holiday party; for some that meant fancy clothes and for others, a Santa hat did the job.

I sat down to eat with the staff of the Black History Museum (my geekdom knows no holidays)and my favorite neighbor Larry. I will be able to say that it was tonight that I discovered firsthand what a party animal my mild-mannered neighbor really is. And I can now personally attest to his superior dancing skills, something I would have never suspected despite three years of knowing him. The music was classic R & B, for the most part, and a real crowd-pleaser; nothing says happy holidays like a crowded dance floor by 6:30.

Next I headed east to Bouchon in the Slip. I've eaten there a couple of times previously, but tonight's meet-up was for the bar experience. Working my way through a full house, I met my friend at the bar in the back and was immediately impressed with the bar menu. There were plenty of interesting choices, most costing a mere $4 and the more substantial ones $12. My friend is a carb-lover and Bouchon is a carb-lover's paradise.

We each started with a bowl of the Sausage and Bean Stew, from a traditional 700-year old recipe. Three thick diagonals of sausage floated across the stew; it was the kind of dish that warms you from within. She then got the truffle mac and cheese (which comes with an anything- but-boring mixed green salad, probably intended to slightly slow the hardening of our arteries as we ate the mac) and I got the Spec Tart (from the regular menu), which I knew from a previous visit was divine. French pig, caramelized onion and creme fraiche = chewy, flavorful and satisfying.

We were sorely tempted by the sight of the slider, but refrained. But I'm not sure you should eat at a French bistro without investigating their pommes frites and they did not disappoint, being twice-fried and salted to perfection. And that kind of salty calls for sweet, so lastly, I ordered the Profiteroles with ice cream and chocolate sauce.

We met another bar-sitter, a newbie to rva after only six months, who was lamenting not knowing what goes on in this town. Did he ever run into the right person to help him with that! He requested some recommendations for the weekend and I supplied them. There I go, boosting again; somebody should just tamp me down.

I'm not sure if the word has gotten out about what a great deal Bouchon's bar menu is, but as another regular pointed out, it's an economical and incredibly tasty way to enjoy a white-tablecloth meal for a fraction of the cost. Being at the bar, which is located at the back of the restaurant, allowed us to enjoy the energy of the room while feeling like we were in a cozy out-of-the-way nook...the ideal place to carb up.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Acacia: Wine, Legs and Cheeks

Why is it that when I have no plans I hear from no one and when I do have plans, inevitably a friend suggests we get together? Is that Murphy's law of social inadequacy or something? I had plans to meet a friend for drinks at Ipanema and then meet someone else for the wine dinner at Acacia, so naturally two other friends called and asked for my company this evening.

The Ipanema stop was with a friend I haven't seen since September, so we had months to catch up on. Weddings, concerts, restaurants, we both had a lot of stories to share. Once again, I had to listen to the "why don't you have a cell phone?" rant, which is to be expected from this particular friend, addicted as he is to his Crackberry. We shared the Zucchini Fritters, which were perfectly fried and nicely seasoned while enjoying happy hour wine, possibly the best wine deal in all of rva. What I learned is that Twitter is already passe' and that my next platform of choice should be Foursquare. Duly noted, and given my extensive social calendar, I will probably do quite well on it.

The Wine/Beer dinner at Acacia offered attendees the choice of wine or beer pairings, although far fewer people chose the beer pairings apparently. We began with Frog Legs in Garlic Butter inside Crispy Potato and by "inside," it meant a Slinky-shaped crisp potato tunnel surrounding the sauce-covered legs. It was paired with 2008 Bastgen Riesling Blauschiefer, with the acidity of the wine cutting the richness of the dish beautifully.

Up next was a Seared Salmon Pave, Warm Haricot Vert Salad in Brown Butter Almond Parsley Sauce and the 2008 La Zerba Gaui Tassarola. I commented that the salad and sauce were even better than the salmon and my friend agreed.

Last up was the Beef Cheeks Braised with cocoa nibs on Lemon Risotto and the 2006 A. Jaume Lirac Rouge Clos de Sixte. Quite full from the first two courses, it didn't stop me from appreciating how this dish was a masterful pairing of the rich beef and the lemony risotto, each contrasting the other perfectly.

Our dinner reservation was for 9:00 and there was still quite a crowd when we arrived. No doubt it is because of the unusually low wine dinner price of $35 and that there is no set seating time, as was obvious with our later dinner. The wine representative, in this case Emily Papach of Kysela Pere et Fils, moved table to table to enlighten guests about the pairings. Without a set schedule for the wine dinner, guests were free to wine and dine at their own pace and not on the schedule of the kitchen. This concept clearly holds a great deal of appeal given the nearly full house.

Very full and sipping wine afterwards, my friend decided to play matchmaker for me. She stopped only when she saw my "heart jumping out of my dress," as she put it. Even as I calmed down, I had to admit that the rush of adrenaline was a powerful way to end our evening.

What Did You Expect in Jackson Ward?

The beagle and I were out front a little after midnight when I heard a guy from halfway down the next block talking agitatedly on his phone. Of course, I only got to hear one side of the conversation, but it wasn't hard to get the gist of it.

Him:"I can't even believe you're still there. I couldn't stand it another minute."
He listens.
Him: "Cause I didn't want to be there. Why do you?"
He listens,
Him: "I'm almost to fucking Clay and Henry!"
He listens.
Him: "You've got an exam at 8 a.m.! Who cares about those people?"
He listens.
Him: "You didn't tell me the party was going to be nothing but scenesters."
He listens.
Him: "I've never seen so many fucking piercings in my life."
He listens.
Him: "I'm almost to Belvidere now."
He listens.
Him: "Fuck you."

From the shadows, the dog and I watched Hat Boy make his way down the street and safely out of J-Ward. I don't think he'll be back anytime soon and, for that, we are thankful.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Cute Boys and Christmas Cookies

When you get invited to a Christmas cookie exchange by a gay couple, it all but guarantees two things: that they will try to outdo each other with unusual and creative cookies (they did) and that it won't really matter what I wear since not a soul in the room will be lusting after me (they weren't). For this, I actually went west of Libbie (but not very far west), causing a friend to express surprise about my willingness to cross onto foreign soil. It was a great party, though, with beautiful decorations, a tasteful holiday soundtrack and full of of interesting people looking to chat.

There were probably at least two dozen people there at any one time, all clustered around the cookies, grazing, comparing and drinking. The libations for the festivities were gingerbread eggnog (even eggnog haters were liking it) and Peppermint Schnapps with a swirl of chocolate, usually squirted directly into the mouth following the shot. And, of course, milk for the traditionalists and beer and wine for the less daring.

I had fun watching people taste test their way around the cookie table because most people had a system: they only allowed themselves one of each kind or let themselves eat anything they wanted except their own or only try the ones that were unfamiliar. There was an iced pumpkin cookie that was like nothing else there and the ginger snaps were made with regular ginger and crystallized ginger, adding a whole deeper flavor. The chocolate-iced peanut butter brownies, made by a novice baker, were very popular. The array was astonishing: snickerdoodles, sugar cookies, peppermint cookies, snowdrops; the list is long.

At one point, two guests boasted that they'd already had three cookies each . Shoot, by then, I was at least 5 or 6 in, so I could scoff at their amateurish status. As I advised one guy after he threw up his hands and said, "That's my last one," you never want to say that out loud, because without fail, you will eat another. And he did.

Among the more colorful conversations was one about Richmond magazine preferring to photograph established drag queens rather than trainees (it says so much about their demographic, don't you think?). Another amusing one concerned a great aunt mistaking Boy Butter for actual butter on an English muffin before a last-minute save. A person just doesn't get these kind of conversations at straight parties.

But then, one doesn't usually get such a tempting and impressive selection of homemade cookies in one place, either...and not a one made with boy butter.

Lunch in DC: Proof

Why drive all the way to Washington for lunch? To eat somewhere good I've never eaten before. To be entertained by a handsome man in a suit. To be reminded how different people are in my hometown than they are in my adopted city. To receive a gift of home-baked chocolate cupcakes. To laugh out loud at statements like, "Hey, I don't want her to blow up."

And then there's the little delights of driving up 95. The golden arches-yellow van, painted with "McCruelty. I'm hatin' it," and featuring a red and black Ronald with fangs and a dagger. It was a PETA van, but you had to really look to see the tiny little PETA emblem.

My restaurant of choice today was Proof in Penn Quarter because I'd read great things about the Proof Lunch. I was sorely tested by the Wagyu Steak and Cheese Sub or the Grilled Shenandoah Lamb Burger, but I already knew I had to have a salad because of my plans later this evening. And while my choice, Grilled Hanger Steak Salad with roasted corn, avocado, bacon and blue cheese over chopped Romaine, was technically a salad, it had so much thick-cut bacon in it that it really didn't need the hanger steak and doubtfully qualified as healthy or low-calorie. And since Proof has a superb cheese selection (not to mention house-made charcuterie), I had to pick a salad that featured the Bleu des Causses, a semi-soft creamy and lush blue that smeared itself all over my greens. I do <3 stinky cheese, after all.

My Biggest Fan had one of the specials, a Chinese Pork barbecue sandwich which he devoured... always a good sign. I considered the Chocolate Five Spice Cake, but instead chose the Sticky Toffee Pudding Cake with vanilla ice cream and a butterscotch sauce with spiced rum and a crumble of pistachios. The subtle undertones of the spiced rum was what distinguished this wonderfully old-fashioned desert.

Afterwards, we strolled the holiday artisan market set up next to the National Portrait Gallery, which included many jewelry artists, which appeals to me not at all since I never wear jewelry. But I did notice it had a very different feel than an artisan market in rva would have, so that made it interesting; I didn't see a single tattoo or piercing on any of the artists. How is this possible, the transplanted Richmonder wondered?

M.B.F. gave me way too much credit for making the drive up again, but it's such a pleasure to have someone to share a meal with in the city, especially since I get up there less often for weekend getaways these days.

Besides, not only does he crack me up, he tells me he thinks I'm pretty funny, too. I'm more than willing to drive a few hours to hear that.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Testing Out the Bar at Balliceaux

Waitress to bartender, glancing at me and commenting on Christmas music, "I don't want to hear, like, Frank Zappa's version of God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen." I felt her pain.

That was at Balliceaux tonight where I was pleasantly surprised to find a nearly full house on arrival. When I told the hostess I wanted to eat at the bar, she put her arm around me gratefully and practically led me there. Both times I'd been, I'd eaten at a table with a friend.No sense wasting even a two-top on a solo diner and she obviously appreciated that.

I do like the uniqueness of Balliceaux's menu choices. As I was perusing it, the pastry chef called out my name; I know him from several restaurants ago. He told me about his dessert-making and insisted that I try one and let him know what I thought. Oh sure, like I have to be asked to order dessert. He inquired as to what I was planning to eat for dinner and said any of my choices were among the best on the menu. Of course, that could just mean we have similar taste, but I allowed myself to feel flattered nonetheless.

First off, I had the Seafood Stew with rockfish, oysters, bacon and fennel; the bartender told me it was the best of the three soups only after he served it to me. I liked that it wasn't obscenely rich but had loads of flavor. I may have enjoyed the abundance of rock fish even more than the oysters.

Despite the bartender's warning that it was large, I ordered the Butter Lettuce Salad with fried Brussels Sprouts, pickled shallots and blackberries in rosemary vinaigrette. This was an unusual and excellent combination of flavors, the highlight being the fried crunch of the Brussels Sprouts leaves and the incredibly sweet and ripe blackberries. At this time of year, they are undoubtedly from south of the equator and yet they tasted like something you'd pick on a hot summer day in the south.

I was dying to try the Lamb Sausage Shortstack, but I knew if I did it would prohibit any possibility of dessert and, well, I had given my word to the pastry chef. My wine of choice this evening had been the Trentadue Old Patch Red for its black cherry and black pepper qualities, so instead I ordered another glass of that whilst deciding on a dessert.

My choice of sweet was the Mocha Torte with pine nut gelato, sprinkled with cinnamon sugar. The torte itself was a two-layer affair with a lighter chocolate cream between layers and a dark chocolate icing on top. Don't knock pine nut ice gelato until you've tried it. Delicious.

Just as I began my torte, a woman sat down at the bar and we recognized each other, having met at Garnett's the night they opened. Small town this is, as the bartender pointed out. We were shortly joined by Jennie from The Sweetest Thing Bakery, my favorite cupcake baker in rva. She and a friend completed our foursome at the bar, making for some exceptional shared conversations about my tights, old dogs and the inevitability of seeing the same core group of people out and about in this town. Point proven at a four-seat bar tonight.

At the end of the bar where I sat was a piece of wooden folk art with a painted figure and the words, "Peace on Earth" carved onto it. Mindlessly studying it before the other bar guests arrived, I was thinking how that simple sentiment summed up everything I could hope for this holiday season.

Well, that and a happy ending. That's all I want for Christmas.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

All By Myself (Yet Again)

It's a good Sunday night in Richmond when two of my favorite events are happening and at staggered times so I can make it to both.

The starting point was the Firehouse Theater for Project Resolution and the monthly showing of local filmmakers' latest projects, followed by audience critique and discussion. One filmmaker showing was John Romeo, whom I'd met a couple of years ago, when he told me about his Internet show, Romeo Theater. His film tonight was "Salvage," a well-done look at one man's life as he recovers from the heartbreak of being dumped.

As a bonus, local film-making legend Lucas Krost was in the audience. His RVA 48-Hour Film fest offering, "Feels Like Drowning" was chosen to go to Cannes last year, so hearing his input on the various films shown was fascinating. And that's really the pleasure of P-Res; you never know what might be shown or who might show up.

Afterwards, I dropped my car at home and walked over to Gallery 5 for the Silent Music Revival. The film was "Menilmontant" from 1926 and the band was Fin Fang Foom from Chapel Hill. Their post-rock sound emphasized the violent and turbulent aspects of the film, whereas last year, locals Jonathan Vasser and the Speckled Bird had performed to the same film and their folky Americana sound had favored the sweeter and more touching elements of the movie.

And, really, that's the beauty of the Silent Music revival. The film is always a silent film gem, but it's the band's interpretation of an accompaniment that suggest the interpretation of it to the audience.

Walking home with another regular attendee, we agreed that the SMR is one of the best free monthly events going. He's been attending even longer than I have and that's saying something. We also noted the beginning traces of the major fog that is supposed to roll in tonight and linger into early morning; it made for a nice night for a stroll. The smell of wood-burning fires from
chimneys only made it better.

I also noted that tonight marked my third straight night of live music and everyone knows that makes me a very happy camper, all things considered.

Cozy Can-Can Conversation

I'm not exactly sure when all this rain began. I know it wasn't raining when I left for Gallery 5 around 10:15 last night but the first thing I noticed upon leaving the show around 1:15 was the sound of pelting rain/ice balls hitting the sidewalk and porches as I walked home, so I'm guessing somewhere in the midnight range. Today's continuing wetness might have kept some people in, but I wasn't one of them.

I had plans to meet an old Floyd Avenue neighbor at Can-Can this afternoon, where today's downpour hadn't stopped flocks of people from heading to Carytown. The restaurant was doing a bustling business when I arrived mid-afternoon, making for a cozy atmosphere to escape the rain and enjoy some conversation and a beverage.

I couldn't resist ordering a hot chocolate, not because I'd had it there before, but because a French brasserie ought to make a good one. The bartender's first question (small or large?) was a good indication of things to come. Why get a small amount of chocolate when you can get a large? The plus-sized coffee cup arrived looking like a dessert from the chocolate gods.

Made from chocolate ganache (dark chocolate and heavy cream) and covered in whipped cream, this cup of heaven may as well have been a dessert. Thick and creamy, decadently rich and chocolaty, it was the best rainy day drink I could have imagined, much less ordered. And with such a large serving, I was able to savor it for a good long while. By the time I got near the end of the cup, the chocolate concentration was so heavy as to be syrup-like. Oh my.

My former neighbor is about as big an rva booster as I am, and I thoroughly enjoyed our chat about all the great stuff that goes on in this town. We compared notes about shows we'd both seen at the National as well as some of our dorkier, but no less interesting, outings. And, of course, he updated me on my former 'hood, where he still lives.

I don't think I've had a cup of hot chocolate in a decade and I now realize what an oversight on my part that was. As we head into the colder months, I may have to introduce a friend or two to my latest liquid find. Should they find it a bit rich for their taste, I could probably finish it off for them without any problem.

Farewell Prabir & the Substitutes

The Ghost of Pop materialized at Gallery 5 tonight, a cold December night. For the fifth year, an assemblage of musicians gathered to celebrate the best in RVA popdom, except that this year there was a difference. It was the final show for Prabir and the Substitutes, those carriers of the local pop banner and masters of the hipster haircuts. Let's just say they went out in a blaze of glory.

As the band themselves expressed, it was a bittersweet performance, ending a successful four-year collaboration. Prabir lightened things a bit by reading an e-mail from a long-time Harrisonburg fan who copped to being so drunk and stoned at a show at the Dog House that he took a dump in the trashcan in the back. At the time, Rob the bass player had commented that, "this place smells like shit." Once and for all, that mystery has been solved.

The band played everything from the first song they ever wrote together right up to their instant recent classic, "Everybody's Got Someone to Fuck But Me.". By the fourth song, David Shultz and the Skyline were on stage, singing, throwing balloons, shooting Silly String and popping confetti onto the band. The tone for the evening was set.

Prabir read one other e-mail, from the band Dr. Dog, thanking him for having brought them to RVA and bemoaning the breakup. Again with the bittersweet, but it was tough to avoid given that the band's first and final shows were at Gallery 5.

The final song brought about the slam-bang finish the rapt audience was hoping for; the keyboard was ignited, guitars were lit and smashed, all as the band wound down. With the flames lighting up the stage, the band started hugging and getting sentimental with one other, as well they should after such a superb run. Undoubtedly, local music fans will look forward to seeing what these guys do next.

And, note to Prabir: I should be the one singing "Everybody's Got Someone."

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Maybe This Christmas

I already knew that this was going to be a weird holiday season for me, for reasons big and small. It'll be my first Christmas since all the seismic personal changes that happened to me in 2009. As a result, I'm not looking forward to my usual holiday traditions because I know they'll just serve as reminders of what I'm missing in my life these days (the same thing that happened during my annual fortnight at the beach this summer). But what's a girl to do?

So, feeling half holiday and half hopeless, I went to get my Christmas tree today. Last year I discovered a tree lot on Chamberlayne Avenue with a good selection and decent prices, so I went back this year. Actually, just being surrounded by all those trees and inhaling that wonderful pine and fir scent lifted my holiday spirits some. A couple of the guys working the lot offered to assist me, but they were both smokers carrying a tobacco cloud around themselves and that didn't seem too appealing, so I declined. If they were smart, they'd use the profits from tree sales to invest in some nicotine patches; cigarettes and rapidly drying out trees don't seem like the best combination.

The good news is I found a well-shaped White Pine that is already perfuming my apartment; now I just need to decorate it before I have friends over next week. Another plus is that since recovering from pneumonia, I no longer concern myself with what I eat or how much I drink, so overindulging at holiday parties and drinking too much dark rum-soaked eggnog will be new pleasures for me. And fortunately I was never big into the gift thing, so I won't feel any loss there.

No, what I'll most likely feel this holiday season is all the same emotions I've been dealing with most of this year, except with a pine scent, a festive soundtrack and more to drink. Maybe this is why some people hate the holidays. But not me; I'm going to do my best to have a holly, jolly Christmas. Just don't scratch my holiday surface too deeply or you might discover the truth.

Fanfarlo at the Iota Club: Amazing

My dear Fanfarlo, despite having enthusiastically introduced you to no less than five music-loving friends, no one fell hard for you like I did. I don't pretend to understand it, but it's their loss. I became your devoted servant in June when you offered up your phenomenal first album "Reservoir" for $1.00 until July 4th. I downloaded it, couldn't find a bad or weak song and put it on repeat for an embarrassing amount of time. So you can imagine my excitement when I learned only last weekend that you'd be playing the Iota Club tonight.

As for you, Iota, what's with the no advance ticket sales? If I'd driven the two hours to Arlington only to be turned away at the door, I think I would have cried or thrown a bit of a temper tantrum. Instead, I just arrived early, ate (flank steak over mixed greens with pears, candied walnuts and gorgonzola) and drank (Kluge Estate Simply Red) at the cafe and got my hand stamped before the line outside fully formed. The club was small; according to the bartender, it holds, "like a hundred people" although I also heard a guy behind me say he was officially number 184 and then they started turning people away. I was four people from the stage, so I thought its size was perfect.

Openers Freelance Whales with their dreamy pop and multitude of instruments were clearly chosen to complement Fanfarlo, playing, among others, harmonium, glockenspiel and banjo. Their use of multiple vocals, male and female, set the tone for the evening.

And then there was Fanfarlo, in beautiful voice and playing mandolins, clarinets, trumpets and, not to be outdone, glockenspiel. Their songs build rhythmically, symphonically and with enough melancholy for the entire audience to wallow in. And it was an audience who knew most of the words.

And those lyrics! After downloading the CD, I used their songs lyrics for blog post titles for months (among the many: Awake and Barely on My Feet, The Here and Now is Coming Round, Waiting for the Signal, Up on the Roof Again, Can You Hear the Beat, It's How I'll Know- It's Where I'll Go) just because the songs had earwormed themselves into my head and I needed to share. Of course, no one reading my blog would have ever recognized Fanfarlo lyrics in blog titles, except me.

I found a talkative music lover to share the show with. He lives two blocks from the Iota and hadn't even heard of the band before he saw their name on the schedule. He went online to check them out, was completely sold and there he was at the show, amazed that I'd known of them since June.

I had mentioned this show to a couple of people, hoping to find someone to accompany me; no one was interested. At the show tonight, my new music-lover friend agreed that, down the road, when the masses have caught on to Fanfarlo, this early career show for 100+ people will be the envy of all our music geek friends.

Too bad for them. They were asked.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Highs & Lows: Of Butterbeans & Carols

Perhaps you've gathered from my blog that I'm not much into organized religion...or perhaps you haven't. In either case, let's just say I'm not. Which is not to imply that I totally disdain certain holidays (I don't) but that I may experience some things differently than other people do. The sounds of the season are a perfect example.

I've always enjoyed Christmas music for the most part. Not played all day long and not the embarrassing stuff, but some classic and some newer reinterpreted holiday music is fine. But for some reason, this year I am finding myself offended by hearing religious Christmas songs everywhere I go. A friend and I were in Barnes & Noble the other day when "O Come All Ye Faithful" came on. I know it's an old Christmas carol, but do I really want to hear a song about Jesus or Christ or anything pertaining to a specific religion while I'm looking for magazines? No, actually I don't.

Tonight I was meeting M.H.F. at Rowland for dinner and there, too, I heard Christian carols. Jingle Bells? Okay. I'll be Home for Christmas? Sure. Hark, the Herald Angels Sing? Not so much.

Luckily, Pandora soon made an appearance (although the starting point was Jack Johnson, for whom I have a particular distaste, but many of the singer-songwriter types who followed were stellar). I was relieved to hear the religious songs replaced with music that had no references to saviors or glory. If that makes me a heathen, well, then my grandmother was right (although I still think she was wrong about pink eyeshadow).

I started my meal with the Butterbean Cake with cucumber, grape tomato, feta, avocado, salsa and spicy cilantro oil. I have had this unusual and delicious appetizer before, but not since a dark night in February, so I really savored having it after so long a time. I love my butterbeans and this cake is unlike anything else done with them around here.

Dinner was surf and turf, that is to say I got the Country Style Pork Ribs with BBQ glaze and butternut hash and M.H.F. got the fish special, flounder stuffed with crab meat. There was a lot of sharing going on so that we could both enjoy such diverse dishes. Both were too big to finish, especially for anyone ordering the Chocolate Hazelnut Torte. Wait, didn't I just have chocolate pie for lunch? Why, yes, I did, but that had been ten hours ago.

I'm not begrudging anyone their Christmas carols at home or a party, but let's not share them with shoppers and diners. I feel certain that we'd never allow the sacred music of other religions to be played in general public spaces (well, there's Adam Sandler's Chanukkah song, but that's hardly about the Jews running out of oil).

But a little Vince Guaraldi never hurt (or offended) anybody.

Happy Birthday, Andrew!

Today was Andrew's birthday, so we made plans to have lunch together, and his choice was Garnett's, which suited me just fine.

I come from a family where birthdays were a big deal so I'm happy to help my friends celebrate their big days in any way I can.

I hadn't sent him a Facebook Happy Birthday message and I'm glad I hadn't.

The first thing he mentioned was that he'd gotten happy birthdays from all kinds of people he never sees or hasn't seen in years (you know, the meaningless kind of birthday wishes).

I did arrive with a card, a funny one, which I had doctored with thought balloons thinking inappropriate and sex-focused thoughts, which satisfyingly made him laugh out loud.

His next question was, "Where are my birthday cookies?"

Seems that since I'd made him cookies the past two birthdays, he was expecting them this year, too.

But we've got a cookie extravaganza coming up Tuesday, he and I and twenty others, so I told him he'd have to wait for his cookies.

That and I've been dead busy every day and night this week.

He had the Louisville Hot Brown on my recommendation and I tried today's special, a turkey and bacon club with Swiss on whole wheat.

It was nicely done because, unlike most club sandwiches, it had only two pieces of bread and while they were thick cut, it was still less bread filler, which I appreciated.

Birthdays require dessert so we shared the Chocolate Pecan Pie, a dessert that always invokes a closed-eye swoon response from anyone (including myself) whom I've ever seen eating it and with good reason.

Warm and gooey and definitely birthday-worthy, it was every bit as good as the last three (or is it four?) times I've had it.

And it's a mere four bucks, just so you know.

Andrew started his birthday celebration at midnight last night at Balliceaux with further plans to celebrate tonight.

We're on the same page with that because I like to drag out my birthday for as long as I possibly can.

Andrew's even got someone cute and charming to drag it out with, so if he's smart, he'll make it an entire birthday weekend extravaganza.

I know I would given half a chance.

Just watch me come next May.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Recession Dinner at Bin 22

There are many things one can do to assuage loss; eating and drinking have got to be two of the most common. That may explain how my recently laid-off friend and I found ourselves at Bin 22 this evening for their cheap date night. We even held hands while we placed our order to convince our waitress we were in the mood for a romantic dinner for two; okay, we cracked up all the while, but we made the attempt.

I'm sure you know the deal; for $40 you get a bottle of wine (Entrada Cabernet Sauvignon), a choice of soup or salad (we took the mixed green salad), pasta (we had the penne with chunky house made tomato sauce, basil , Pecorino and thick-sliced Belmont Butchery pork sausage. Oh, my god, such amazing pig!) and, for dessert, the ice cream sandwich made with brownies. The meal was truly lovely from start to finish, but that sausage was to die for and we found our Argentinian wine to be exactly what our red wine-starved hearts were calling for.

As a veteran of laid off longevity, it was my mission to convince my recently unemployed friend that life will go on despite her current feelings to the contrary. She's still working through anger and fear of the future, two obstacles I worked through months ago. She's got plenty of marketable skills, so I have high hopes for her re-employment, but she's understandably a bit less confident.

On top of all that, there are, of course, male issues so I offered my take on that side of her life, as she did mine. I'm a great example of "come on, how much worse can things get?" so reminding her to keep a stiff upper lip was second nature. On the plus side, discussing the mess that our lives are provided the evening's entertainment and there's a lot to be said for laughing in the face of adversity while Elvis Costello plays in the background.

Not to mention, a great deal of a meal for those of us on laid-off budgets. Bin 22 provided a hearty dinner we could afford without feeling like we were settling for the sake of saving. I would think even the employed could get into that.

Bedroom as Art

I'm always been intrigued by how the twentieth century brought about a public discussion of what constitutes art.

Marcel Duchamp's "ready-mades" pretty much established that art takes many everyday forms; his display of a urinal he dubbed "Fountain" forever changed the popular perception of art.

The VMFA has acquired an 1880s bedroom which might well fit into that expanded definition of art.

The elaborate Worsham-Rockefeller bedroom contains seventy objects, including a massive chandelier, a rug that repeats the pattern of the ceiling. a Turkish niche for seating and the repeated use of ebonized wood.

It is the bedroom of a long bygone era.

It is the kind of detail-filled room that would take some time to fully take in.

At today's lecture at the VMFA, the focus was on the remarkable woman whose rags to riches story began in RVA, namely Arabella Worsham.

Her slow rise after the Civil War from a fatherless child to the owner of the magnificent Italianate house on W. 54th Street in NYC and the accompanying high-profile relationships, would have been fascinating even if she had not taken on the creation of a house interior that was, without a doubt, a work of art.

The lecture explored how the VMFA came to receive the bedroom from the Museum of the City of New York.

Because Arabella was originally a Richmond girl, there was a compelling reason to move the bedroom here once the MOTCONY could no longer accommodate it.

Fortunately, when the negotiations began, VMFA's renovation was not so far along that they couldn't plan for inclusion of the bedroom.

When the VMFA reopens (finally!) in May, one of the new masterpieces on view will be the Worsham-Rockefeller bedroom.

Neither Duchamp nor I would question its merit as art.

Whose Legs Are Those Anyhow?

I understand that we don't see ourselves as others do. \\

Intellectually, I get that a two-dimensional image in a mirror bears limited resemblance to a three-dimensional image in space.

And yet my reaction when I saw the results of my recent profile shoot with my very talented photographer friend, Thomas was, do I know those legs?

I am especially familiar with this syndrome because of all the years I worked as an audio and video producer.

Inevitably, people would react with horror when they first heard/saw their voice/self recorded; part of my job was to reassure them.

So I should have known better.

I looked at the photo he sent me with limited recognition.

Oh, sure, the Berlin tights are mine; who else would wear them?

But those calves?

I had no idea.

And that vague hint of athleticism which I know for a fact doesn't exist in real life?

Not really there.

Seems I need an entire mental adjustment about what I'm walking around on.

I do think it's a great picture (and if you want to ogle more of his awesome artistry, go to: http://blog.punchphoto.com/).

I'll just have to deal with my acceptance issues.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

A Bit Spotty at Six Burner

My head has been in turmoil lately and it's manifested itself with a lovely teenage-like break-out or, as my Scottish friend would say, "A bit spotty, aren't we?" Well, yes, as a matter of fact I am (of course, as another friend pointed out, it could just be the absence of a sex life). I figured it would help to share what's been on my mind and solicit an opinion from a good friend and expert in the "WTF?" school of life.

So while a good portion of RVA was apparently staying warm and dry at home, we met up at Six Burner to clear up my face. I'd warned her that my emotional state had both great and tragic roots, a statement to which she concurred after hearing it all. Given the circumstances, it was fortuitous that it was half-priced wine night (French Malbec, that's all you need to know).

We shared the black plums, arugula, goat cheese, candied spicy cashews with balsamic vinaigrette salad and were treated to not baby arugula, but big, bold, peppery leaves that asserted their flavor beautifully, but not delicately. Then, too, I could have eaten a bowl of those sweet and spicy cashews if they'd been offered to me.

What balances the healthiness of greens and fruit but house made charcuterie? We had salami toscano and gentile, prosciutto and lardo. Sliced thinly, but with that wonderful combination of fat and salt that caused us to swoon with every bite, we reveled in our meat treat. As my saga unfolded, I was gratified to hear that my take on things wasn't skewed at all and while it probably won't clear up my skin anytime soon, I now at least feel like I've released some of the tension I was feeling by having an empathetic ear.

The final necessary piece of the puzzle tonight was the red velvet cupcake with hazelnut and chocolate sauce. Tonight's version was particularly statuesque due to the cupcake being a bit shorter than usual; as a result, mine was actually two cupcakes, each split in two for four layers of red velvetness.

I could almost feel my equilibrium being restored after sharing such good victuals and conversation with the Queen of WTF? What happens with my face remains to be seen.

Getting Intimate and Fresh at Momotaro Sushi

A friend of mine is a big sushi fan and always interested in trying new places, so he frequently calls me up when he wants a dining partner. Last night, our destination was Momotaro Sushi at the end of Carytown after a couple of his friends had recommended it highly to him. I hadn't even realized the place was there, tucked into a tiny space just before the Boulevard. It was Monday night, so there was only one other couple in there, but the atmospheric music set the tone the minute we walked in.

Cliched as it is, we started with the steamed dumplings, which were small, but well done. I went on to the Garden of the Sea, an array of thin- sliced shrimp, crab and salmon over seaweed salad and lettuce with a Japanese vinaigrette. It was a a lot like having sushi made with seaweed instead of rice, delicate and fresh. My friend went with the Nigiri Starter: a chef's choice of tuna, tilapia, salmon, crab, tamago with a half dozen spicy tuna rolls. I'd have to say it was the freshest tasting Japanese food I've had in Richmond; the fish was of such a high quality.

And speaking of fish, why are there so often fish tanks in places like this? Do I want to watch brightly colored fish swimming around as I devour their brethren? Not really. Other than that, though, the place had a nice ambiance and the bamboo shade between us and the sushi chef provided a nice sense of privacy as we ate and talked.

We lingered for a while over green tea and sake, discussing some mutual friends and their recent lapses in judgment. He's also got another friend in the process of destroying his own life, a depressing saga to hear updated. As bad as things have been for me, I am frequently reminded that many people have dug themselves a far deeper hole than I can even imagine.

Momotaro may be at the end of Carytown, but it's at the top of my list of sushi places I'd recommend to friends. It could be that good things coming in small packages business.