It's not often that my evening begins with being serenaded by a full mariachi band on the street, but that's how it went down tonight.
I was in the Bottom, walking down 18th Street when I unexpectedly heard the blast of multiple horns and noticed guys in tight black pants and hats were gathered in the lot next to a Mexican place, playing for all they were worth.
On a Monday night.
So I stopped and played audience for a while (sadly, it was just me and that was a lot of people playing for no one) before clapping enthusiastically and heading into Julep.
I was in a restaurant practically every day last week and not a one told me that it was "Love by the Glass" week, which I only belatedly discovered tonight at Julep.
Apparently we now have an entire week devoted to trying Virginia wines by the glass, which is a great way to encourage customers to explore our wine industry, and not a soul seemed to know about it.
Well, Julep did and they were good enough to bring me up to speed on the missed opportunity of last week, so I tried to compensate by drinking the Autumn Hill Cabernet Franc tonight, not a difficult task considering how much I liked it.
Cab Franc is a grape that excels in the Commonwealth and Autumn Hill's was lovely.
Dinner was corn chowder with clams, creamy, sweet and full of chopped clams, followed by a salad of mixed field greens with lemon balsamic vinaigrette, bleu cheese, applewood-smoked bacon, cucumbers and...wait for it...sugared pecan-crusted hush puppies.
The sweet/salty contrast of the hush puppies with the bacon and cheese was classic. In my world, fried bread is always welcome but roll it in sweet nuts and there's nothing more I can want.
About this time, a trio came in to the restaurant and sat down next to me.
They asked for a dessert menu, but qualified it by saying that they already knew what they wanted, which was Bananas Foster.
This is always a popular dessert at Julep, as much for the table side (in this case, bar-side) spectacle of its preparation as for the sweet, syrupy banana taste.
The third guy got his own dessert, a chocolate Napoleon.
What was interesting was that they ordered the Blue Point Oysters to come out after their dessert course.
As the host said, "I have to say that that's the first time I've ever seen it done in that order."
Amen, brother, but who are we to judge?
The threesome were highly entertaining when not ignoring each other and playing games on their iPhones.
We had a discussion of early romances, and by that I mean, second grade crushes and 8th grade heartbreak.
One told of being 12 and walking two miles in the snow to deliver a necklace to his beloved the day after Christmas.
She came to the door, he presented it, she thanked him and closed the door in his frozen face.
He got two houses away before her mom started calling him back, insisting he come in for a grilled cheese and cocoa.
But the experience didn't sour him on love.
As he put it, "Ever since I noticed that girls and boys are different, I've been a hopeless romantic."
Or a sap, according to his current love.
What we all realized as we talked was that when people tell stories about young love, it always involves the beloved's full name, as in,
"Yea, fourth grade I was nuts about Angela McMurphy," or "Jeremy Fishburne wrote me a love note in Mrs. Gettle's class."
People who can't remember what they ate for dinner yesterday remember the full names of kids they pined for 20 years ago.
What's up with that anyway?
I'd decided to order the Chocolate Napoleon because it looked so good, but I'm ashamed to admit that I was bested tonight by a dessert and that's a rare occurrence.
This combination of squares of chocolate wafer separated by bittersweet chocolate custard mousse and topped with Chantilly creme was too large and rich even for a dessert pro like me.
For possibly the first time in my life, I had to take home half my dessert in a box.
I felt like a dessert failure and here the people next to me could segue seamlessly from dessert to bivalves.
I was lucky they continued talking to me.
Actually, I think my appeal was being a good audience for them (just ask the mariachi band; I'm attentive. I'm appreciative).
When they got up to leave, they thanked me profusely for letting them be my entertainment.
The truth is, if you perform for me, I will clap and even laugh...except at the corny stuff.
Fair warning to all.