Friday, May 21, 2010

Birthday Bounty: Critics, Candles and Conversation

Reason #867 why I have the most random life on the planet: my conversation with a perfect stranger at River City Cellars today.

Me; Where do you live?
Him: Hyattsville, MD.

Me: No way. I grew up in New Carrollton.
Him: You went to Parkdale?

For the uninformed (okay, everybody reading this), those two places are a couple of miles apart. In the two decades I've lived in Richmond, no one has ever uttered the words "Hyattsville" or "Parkdale" to me. A person who grew up here couldn't possibly relate, but as a transplant, I just don't run into people who know of the planned community where I was raised (except possibly as a Metro stop), much less identify where I went to high school.

And to add to the haphazard nature of the conversation, I was talking to Todd Kliman, food and wine critic for Washingtonian magazine. He was doing a reading at RCC this evening to promote his book, The Wild Vine: A Forgotten Grape and the Untold Story of American Wine, about Virginia's own Norton grape. Talk about an event with my name on it!

As a wine lover with a preference for non-fiction, this reading/Norton tasting was my idea of a really good time. Kliman read a bit from the book, including a letter Daniel Norton had written, a letter which is housed at the Valentine Museum. Norton, the book's central character, was a Richmond doctor who bred the grape and whose personality came to life listening to that letter; I immediately bought the book.

After the tasting, I went over to ask the author to sign my copy and it was at that point that we got started on our shared heritage. In describing where he lived, because apparently Hyattsville has changed dramatically since I last saw it, he referenced DeMatha High School, a notable point of reference since my first boyfriend (and deflowerer) was a DeMatha graduate. Small freaking world, isn't it?

It was positively delightful to spend so much time talking about old neighborhoods and the types of people we grew up with. We discovered that we're both members of the FB group "Bitch, please! I grew up in PG County," and reminisced about how distinctly and positively we were shaped by that area and its demographic.

After a while, I felt guilty for taking up so much of the guest of honor's time, but not before he invited me up to join him on a restaurant critiquing endeavor or two. He's very specific about the kind of people he likes to have along when he's reviewing and somehow I made the cut. I can already guess that our problem is going to be paying attention to the food and not just jabbering on about shared memories and places.

We're also convinced that in all likelihood, there are almost no degrees of separation between us and with further conversation, we're bound to discover who we knew who might have slept together. We barely scratched the surface today and yet already found connections, and with a night or two in DC, I foresee all kinds of overlapping stories. Saying our goodbyes, Todd reminded me, "Call me within the next two weeks." You know, I think I will.

With such a fine start to my evening, I moved on to Acacia for a bit of dinner before music.When I arrived, the place was mobbed; a sixty-person rehearsal dinner was just finishing up. Luckily the hostess knows me and assured me that there would be a seat at the bar for me within moments and voila! There was. My timing had been impeccable.

As I slipped between the departing crowd, a man said to me, "You should have been at our party!" Actually, sir, I couldn't have timed it better than arriving just as Acacia was opening to the public. I'd never been there with only five other people in the entire restaurant; it was almost surreal. But of course, within fifteen minutes the place was nearly full.

The bartender recognized me from picking up my softshell lunches last week, here, and asked how we'd liked them and where we'd gone to eat them. I was flattered that she even remembered me and shared with her how much we'd enjoyed our al fresco lunch in Scuffletown Park.

It wasn't only me in celebratory mode tonight, either; a couple at the end of the bar was celebrating her recent birthday and the couple next to me their anniversary. Congratulations were exchanged all around. I began by wetting my whistle with the Man Vintners Chenin Blanc, tangy, tropical and from South Africa, a wine-growing region to which I'm partial.

Food-wise, I had the tuna crudo with shaved green garlic and the local asparagus and housemate mozzarella with lemon, caper and green olive oil. The tuna couldn't have been any rarer or fresher and the salad provided the perfect contrast of textures and flavors and that salty dressing made it all that much better. But then. when does Dale's food ever disappoint?

Dessert followed and I went for variety. The plate included a cactus berry sorbet of the prettiest pink color, a passionfruit panna cotta and a chocolate ganache. There was a lit birthday candle in my panna cotta when it arrived and I made the most of it by making a wish before I blew it out. This trio of sweet delights was further enhanced with the Chambers Rosewood Muscat, also of a lovey pink color, and the ideal accompaniment. Oral satisfaction achieved.

My final stop was at the Camel to hear local band (and personal favorite) Marionette play an excellent set, including some new material. I arrived early enough to spend some time chatting with the band beforehand. Guitarist Adam wanted to discuss The National's new album and career trajectory (Target for $7.99... really, guys?) and as the only person I know who is as rabid about the band as I am, it was especially satisfying to compare notes with him. And when he asked for some new music suggestions, I was more than happy to oblige (aren't I always?).

I think every one of my nerd quotas was met tonight: literary, conversation, wine, food and music. At this rate, I'm going to be walking on air by my birthday Sunday.

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