Wednesday, April 21, 2010

All About a Stranger at Acacia

When a good friend has to cancel on you for the night's festivities, it should ruin the whole evening, right? Our plan had been to got to the wine dinner at Acacia and then over to Gallery 5 to hear Mouthbreather play. But unfortunately, business took precedence over pleasure and she couldn't go with me.

Since we already had a reservation at the bar (please take note, yet another place that honors bar reservations), I decided to just go by myself and see what happened. It's not like I haven't done wine dinners by myself before, after all. Besides, it was a Spanish wine dinner and I wanted to drink Spanish wine tonight, even if it was just with the bartender. So off I went alone.

Arthur welcomed me graciously and gallantly didn't even point out my absent dinner partner. Learning that I wanted to partake of the wine dinner, it wasn't long before things were set in motion and the Cordorniu Pinot Brut was being poured for me. A lovely pink Cava, it was paired with local asparagus, house made Mozzarella, lemon caper and olive vinaigrette. About this time, a charming man appeared next to me to introduce himself and talk to me about wine.

I guessed that it was Clement Brown, the wine rep for the evening and I was correct. He wanted to tell me about the Cava but we wound up talking about so much more. First off, he referred to me as attractive, always a good way to get a customer's attention. Next he asked if I was in the wine business, but I quickly corrected that presumption. Before we could get to the good stuff, he was off to educate other winer/diners.

The first course was wonderful paired with the Cava. Arthur and I were discussing celebrating Earth day tomorrow and I pointed out what an earth-friendly dish this was, what with the local asparagus and house-made Mozzarella having such a low carbon footprint. Then Clement was back and conversation about his French roots and British schooling ensued. He asked how I was enjoying the Cava and I had to rave. We chatted about the brilliance of Acacia's mini-wine dinners with their oh-so-affordable $35 price tag and schedule-free timing.

Course #2 was warm pastrami smoked salmon with rye gnocchi and light fennel kraut paired with Mar de Frades Rias Baxas Albarino (or, as we like to say, hay and honeysuckle) and to die for. By now Clement was back and we'd moved on to the French Film Fest (we'd seen the same films this year) and the perils of being oldest children. There may have even been some discussion of Catholic guilt and birth control pills; it was truly a delightful conversation. And rye gnocchi. well, I want that again, preferably real soon.

There were two entree choices: lime-crusted rare tuna, fava bean mash, red pepper compote and spring pea cilantro sauce or pig on pig (as Acacia's menu called it, roasted pork loin wrapped with pork belly with celery root gratin and apple pecan pork sauce). When Arthur asked my preference, I asked him who could resist pig wrapped pig and he understood. Clement leaned over and said, "The wine for it is better, too." Chardonnay vs. Temperanillo is no choice, really.

Shortly before my pork feast arrived, Arthur began setting up the bar for the stool next to me and it wasn't long before Clement joined me for dinner. Considering that I was expecting a solo dining experience tonight, I was quite happy to have such an articulate and fascinating dinner partner. It didn't hurt that he explained taking up residence next to me by saying that it wasn't often he found someone so interesting. Compliments are a sure-fire way to get someone's attention.

Gentlemen, take note, if you want to impress a nerd, ask questions like, "What are you currently reading?" and "What are you looking for in a man?" Besides being great conversation starters, they show what an interesting guy you are. Meanwhile he was tucking into the tuna and I was enjoying the pig (three huge slices, by the way) but both of us were savoring the 2006 Vina Zaco Temperanillo Rioja and talking about the pleasures of well-chosen pairings. Chef Dale Reitzer had given him the menu and he'd been left to pick the pairings and I was happy to acknowledge what a terrific job he'd done.

After we compared our vastly different love lives (he's long-time happily married and I'm, well, still trying to attract the love of my life)), Clement suggested dessert and then asked if I was the dessert-eating type. Yes, I'm one of those females I had to admit, impressing him with my lack of sanctimonious abstention. He suggested one of his Sauternes with our sweets, a fine idea in my opinion.

Dessert consisted of prickly pear cactus sorbet, chocolate ganache and passion fruit flan, giving us all kinds of taste delights to accompany our Sauterne and discussion of the romance of Out of Africa. "Tell me a story," a line from the movie we agreed was about the most romantic thing to say to the opposite sex.

Dale came over to dish and talk about how the kitchen handles these events (from crazed to nonchalant all in the course of an hour or so) and the need to address the economic climate to keep diners coming back for these events. Judging by tonight's crowd, I'd say he's nailed the concept; even the pulsing club music adds something to the experience that other places just don't have.

Arthur and I were talking about tomorrow's Earth Day drink event at Julep, which naturally led to talking about my favorite spirit, tequila. He insisted I try El Tessoro before I left because, as a recent convert, it's his new tequila favorite and I had to admit it was a fine example of the good stuff. As my mom always used to say, there's no better way to end a good wine dinner than with tequila. Okay, she didn't day that but she should have.

And okay, I didn't expect to have such a good time without my gal pal, but as fate would have it, I enjoyed myself way too much with what started as a random encounter with a stranger who just so happened to be a good talker and full of interesting life experience.

You just never know who or what you're going to find unless you're out there to discover it. I've never liked adventure movies but I'm all about some exploring. So to speak.


  1. Sounds like a fascinating experience! You make Richmond sound so good... I am looking forward to be there soon.

  2. It IS a fascinating place. You'll surely find that out when you move here.

  3. dunno, it sounds like its better for you then for most people, you are always having fun wherever you go.

  4. Don't people make their own fun, James?