My main complaint with Avalon has always been the ungodly smoke level. Truth be told, the drink prices are excellent and the food is surprisingly good, but gasping through the smoke fog to enjoy eating and drinking has always been problematic. But it's post-December first, so it's a whole new world (cue Disney soundtrack). So it was that I agreed to meet a long-time friend to celebrate his birthday eve at Avalon, something I would have avoided just a short time ago.
Absent smoke aside, the first thing I noticed was the missing hum of the constantly-droning exhaust fans which used to run non-stop to keep up with the smoke volume. The second thing I noted was fewer patrons; don't judge me, but I'm fine with both changes.
To my complete delight, Avalon offered a Pinotage by the glass, which is almost unheard of. The Fantail Pinotage from South Africa was an unexpected pleasure this evening; perhaps that explains the repeated glasses I enjoyed. Of course, the suggested pairing is oxtail and that wasn't available, but I'll take this earthy wine any day I can find it.
My friend of 15 years is smart and funny and almost as big a geek as I am. As a result, we have obscure conversations on subjects that no one else would care about. Card catalogs? Discussed. The Atlanta Pop Festival and mescaline? In depth. Me reaching a year of celibacy as of tomorrow? Woefully acknowledged. The volume of a Kings of Leon show? Both been there (he in New Orleans in 2006, me in Chicago 2007). The urge to edit the writing of others? Overwhelming for both of us.
Our hunger finally got the best of us and we got a double order of the seared foie gras. I don't know how well it complemented his Cote du Rhone, but it married my Pinotage beautifully. After all, it's not like I'm going to find Springbok on a Richmond menu.
I don't quite know what to make of the new and improved Avalon. I certainly don't miss the smoky environs, but the colorful crowd it attracted is conspicuous in its absence. On the other hand, they had a more than decent crowd on a Wednesday night, so perhaps non-smokers have just replaced smokers for the prime bar stool real estate.
Personally, I'll be back for the Pinotage. It's just that I may have to wade through a clutch of outdoor smokers to get to it. And I will.