Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Back and At It

After a couple of days in the peaceful environs of the Northern Neck, I have to admit that I couldn't get back to the urban landscape quickly enough.

Fortuitously, I had double-booked myself for tonight so I'd be able to catch up on multiple fronts upon my return.

My primary plans were with a girlfriend I hadn't seen (except for a brief lunch) in eons.

And while lunches are fine, too much time had passed and too much had occurred in both our personal lives to cover a fraction of it in a lunch hour, or even two.

Drawn-out drinks and dishing were in order.

So tonight ended up being the mother of all catch-ups, full of probing questions, anecdotes, surprises and tales of tears.

Man, I love my guy friends, but sometimes it's just got to be two X chromosomes to really give it all up.

All that over-sharing was made much easier by meeting at Six Burner for half-price wine by the glass night.

The pleasures of drinking around the wine list really cannot be overstated, especially at $4 a glass.

To keep up our strength for telling all, we had the arugula salad, roasted beets, goat cheese, pistachios and balsamic vinaigrette because the arugula is so terrific lately.

Everyone I know who is growing it (and kale) right now is raving about the flavor.

Peppery and plentiful, it smelled as good as it tasted and looked.

For sheer decadence, we had to have the snail risotto with garlic (loads!), parsley and Parmesan.

The portion size was perfect for such an incredibly rich dish and, as my friend noted, the only sound we could make while savoring it was, "Mmmm," with eyes closed.

Positively heavenly.

During the chocolate mousse course, we finally deviated from men and the laws of attraction to a slightly broader subject matter, including WW II movies, her conversion to listening to new music (thanks to me, I might add proudly), and our varying sleep requirements (did I ever really go to bed at 10:00? Wow, what lifetime was that?).

It was a much-needed evening with a friend who doesn't hesitate to ask the hard questions ("Would you ever get married again?") and to whom I always answer honestly.

With her, there is no such thing as TMI (at least so far).

Hours later, stop #2 was to meet a trio of friends at Rowland Fine Dining, providing the perfect opportunity to share with Chef Virginia my recent assist in introducing some new fans to her establishment, here. 

She was tickled to hear that her butterbean cakes and, in fact, the whole meal, had so impressed the interesting group of guys (and one guy's dad) I'd sent her way.

The occasion for meeting up with this threesome was to celebrate the 10-month anniversary of the couple portion of the group and to have some girl talk with Virginia and the other female of the three.

We're an interesting group because the couple has been an item for not quite a year now and my girlfriend has been dating "practice men" (her term) since June and has just in the past two months begun what looks to be a most promising relationship.

 I've been back on the menu for less than a month, so we're all coming at this from varying, but still fairly recent, vantage points.

Corny as it sounds, you could say we're all being cheerleaders for each other's personal relationship successes of late, both large and small.

And who would have guessed that I'd even be part of that conversation?

Don't look at me. I'm as surprised as everyone else apparently is.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Of Memories and Offerings

I set out to be a good daughter and ended up with a trip down memory lane, followed by another turn as the sacrificial offering.

No one but parents can provide those two experiences over the course of a mere twelve hours.

With the holiday season looming large, my parents had asked for my assistance in getting Christmas stuff down from the third floor of their over-sized waterfront Northern Neck house (it should be noted that they raised six daughters in a 1300-square foot suburban rancher and only moved to spacious digs once we were out of the house, but that's okay).

I spent the day schlepping box after box of stuff down two sets of steps so they can begin over-decorating their house.

What I hadn't expected was all the detritus of those years in suburbia to still be filling the top floor of this house.

I opened the shades up there for the gorgeous and panoramic views while we worked and suddenly light was shed on all kinds of long-forgotten reminders of childhood.

Like so many post-war houses, ours had been "improved" by adding a bar to the basement rec-room.

Much to my surprise, the adornments of that bar still live on in a room upstairs with a beautiful eyeful of the widest stretch of the Rappahannock River.

The gray knitted poodle cover made for a bottle of booze? It's up there.

The tilting stand that holds the 16" bottle of Galliano? Dusty, but present.

The bobble-head Redskin figure that all the teen-aged boyfriends commented on? Check.

But it wasn't just bar stuff they inexplicably kept.

By the time the cultural revolution had trickled down to suburbia, my mother was in her crafty phase.

Hanging upstairs was a colorful, framed needlepoint piece she'd done proclaiming, "God Bless Our Pad."

Maybe it was a preemptive thing since we weren't church-goers.

Still, really?

In any case, I stumbled across more forgotten family treasures than I had any need to, so I had to tease them unmercifully about hanging on to such crap.

My mom assures me that it's my dad who's the pack rat; she said she's even threatened to call the fire department for an inspection just to make him deal with it.

Apparently there are many ways to say I love you after decades together.

After that kind of day, it was good to know that we'd be heading out to dinner at the historic Lancaster Tavern, built in 1790.

I was a tad surprised to learn that it wouldn't be a family affair, though, because they'd invited a neighbor along to "even up the numbers."

That and I have no doubt that they're still seriously worried about me being an old maid.

The neighbor came over for drinks first and I shared with him some of the surprise finds I'd made today, much to my mother's mortification.

No doubt it was more than she wanted a neighbor to know, but considering I had a stranger to entertain, I was going with some recent material.

Anyway, he seemed to find it funny.

We were amazed to discover a nearly full restaurant at the Tavern considering it was a Monday night. I know Chef Adam Ginsberg has been getting some good press for his "traditional comfort foods in untraditional ways" but it made for a far more festive ambiance to be surrounded by a full house.

I had the grilled bone-in pork chop with buerre de pomme and traditional green beans, long-cooked with salt pork but not to the point of mushiness and with the unexpected addition of bits of red pepper.

Given the water's proximity and the season, tonight's special was rockfish with crab meat Hollandaise, ordered by the male contingent (and rated very highly).

The fish was cooked perfectly, exactly the way the fisherman would have wanted it done.

The formerly-crafty one had the hot crab dip (the fact is, they're still awash in crab here) and the soup du jour, a hearty beef noodle with peas.

It was almost a stew and bone-warming good, especially with the hot-out-of-the-oven crusty bread.

Despite my presumption that my parents had an agenda in inviting a fourth, the conversation flowed and we enjoyed a most entertaining evening.

I even got the offer of a tour of the 18th-century county jail and clerk's office just across the street, should I decide to offer myself up again to the company of my parents' neighbor.

I am a nerd for history, so you never know.

But as I reminded my parents before they went off to bed, I may be their love child and the reason they got (happily) married, but they're going to have to let the old maid thing go.

Chances are, I'll get it right sooner or later...and without any assistance.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Thus Do All Women

This post is going to make a good friend very happy and more than a little amazed. But I'll get to that shortly.

As much as I wanted to make the Three Stooges Festival at Movieland this morning, I didn't wake up until 11:20 (it started at 11), so that wasn't happening.

Good thing the friend I'd invited to join me had told me at 1:56 last night that he couldn't go ("I'm not the Stoogey type"), so I didn't have to feel guilty about standing him up.

Out on my walk, one of my VCU regulars saw me, looked at his watch (12:35) and noted, "A little late for you today, isn't it?"

Good thing he's not keeping track.

"Late night," I explained.

"Ohhhh, out partying were we?" Or you could just call it a Saturday night, friend.

Besides, I had no time to discuss my schedule because I had to be back in time to get cleaned up and to Center Stage for Virginia Opera's production of Mozart's Cosi Fan Tutte (and, no, we don't all do thus, Wolfie).

I had the pleasure of sitting next to a former Virginia first lady and president of Virginia Opera's Central Virginia Board of Governors.

We compared notes on the acoustic improvements at the Carpenter Theater and she filled me in on the upcoming renovations at the Landmark Theater.

It was a beautiful production, the young actors strong of voice and with loads of charisma and the story of women having their fidelity tested by their men naturally full of saucy dialogue and disguised identities.

A reference to "making love like ferrets" got a big laugh as did a scene where the "doctor" pulled out a giant pair of scissors to treat the males laying on the floor, pretending to be poisoned.

She snapped the scissors open and closed and their legs snapped shut a split second later.

During intermission, I discovered that James, he of the nerdy pastimes that so closely mirror mine, was sitting directly behind me.

He'd been running late and didn't have time to change clothes, so when buying a ticket at the last minute he'd been offered a student discount based solely on his appearance.

Nice trick if you can pull it off.

My seatmate had gone off to see about raising the theater's temperature during the break; both of us had about frozen during the first act (I used my coat as a blanket).

Not surprisingly, she'd succeeded in having the temperature raised five degrees so the second act was a much more temperate one.

It pays to know people...and sit by people who know people.

The charm of Cosi Fan Tutte is the dated and yet timeless look at the roles of the sexes.

When the women are trying to decide whether or not to betray their men with the impostors, the more convinced one pleads, "A woman's chance for happiness is so rare, we must grab it where we can."

Luckily, it's not quite so rare these days, if sometimes more delayed than some of us would like.

But James cracked me up after the finale, leaning down to say, "See you at the next misogynist opera here."

You can count on it, James.

Here's the problem with an opera matinee, though.

You arrive in sunny mid-afternoon and by the time the three-hour-plus production has come to a satisfactory conclusion, it's nighttime.

It was dark, I was cold and my stomach was growling.

So I drove to 8 1/2 for a white pizza with onions, waited for half an hour for it, brought it home and poured a glass of Domaine Bila-Haut Cotes du Roussillon Viallges 2008, a tannic blend of Grenache, Syrah and Craignane perfect for thickening my blood.

It was 7:00.

I had writing assignments due, laundry to fold, e-mails to answer and the Sunday Washington Post to read, so I did not go out tonight.

So to you, Andrew, I dedicate this evening.

You said you were waiting for the day when I just stayed in and, at long last, it has arrived.

And now the necessaries are finished, so I will spend the rest of the evening with the Post, repeated listenings of some new Violens music and perhaps more of that lovely Bila-Haut.

But just so you know Andrew, it's all in your honor.

Thus do all women...when they feel like it.

Did I Thank You Already?

Old friends, new friends, good food, interesting music, and all in a mere six hours. I

 think this has happened before, but with a few twists this time.

I got things rolling at my neighborhood joint, Bistro 27, and, after a warm welcome upon arrival, was reminded that it had been too long since I'd been in.

It was sort of a good cop/bad cop greeting, but totally deserved.

As a matter of fact, there had been a couple of modifications to the room since my last visit; curving saloon-style doors now lead to the hall where the restrooms are and the glass panels that used to divide the room are now gone, significantly opening up the space.

Okay, maybe it had been a while. Where does the time go?

The visiting friend from NYC whom I'd seen at Amuse last night was there, so he moved over next to me so we could do some real catching up.

He's now working at that venerable kosher Jewish institution, Second Avenue Deli.

Naturally I asked about the brisket (his favorite, too), which he described as, "Bread, meat, bread, that's it. And $15!"

He was ordering dessert and suggested we share a chocolate mousse, and although I'd not yet eaten, what could be more to my taste than a first course of dessert?

We savored it slowly while he told me his plans for his love life (still young enough to think planning is possible) and about the inconvenience of sleeping through his bus/subway stops after a long night of carousing.

Because I eat at 27 so much, there isn't much on the menu I haven't had, but after Friend recommended the ahi tuna salad (thinly sliced like carpaccio, under a bed of arugula with Kalamata olives and orange segments and dressed in red wine vinaigrette), I was sold.

Bring it on.

The sweet/salty combination of flavors over all the perfectly dressed tuna and peppery arugula was divine and it wasn't long before the couple behind me admired mine and ordered their own.

When I asked for my check, bartender Ron asked me where I was going next since I wasn't lingering.

I told him Ipanema for music and one of the trio next to me said, "Music tonight? Good for you!"

Obviously this guy didn't know me or he'd have known that this was hardly praise-worthy news for someone like me.

Ipanema was going for something different tonight, with swing/blues band Kurt Crandall and True Story as well as debuting their new cocktail menu.

I met friends there for an evening unlike the usual Ipanema experience.

There were a lot of new faces in the crowd (one guy with a warm-up jacket, cap and a porn 'stache looked like something straight out of the '70s) and fewer champagne of bottled beer drinkers, it should be noted.

Bartender Brandon's new signature cocktails had clever names (Jinx Remover with tequila and Stars and Sons with Hendrick's), but the ones we tasted were the Velouria (gin and Chambord over boysenberry syrup with champagne) and the Two-Headed Boy (rye, Grand Marnier, Orange Curacao, apple and brown sugar simple syrup).

Yummy indeed.

Kurt Crandall played a variety of harmonicas and sang in a voice a friend said should have been coming out of an old blind man and was backed by an excellent group of musicians: Ivan Appelrouth on guitar, Teddy Phelps on upright and electric bass and the inimitable Johnny Hott on drums (introduced by Crandall to the crowd as "one of the founding fathers").

They played a variety of classic blues by the likes of Smiley Lewis, T Bone Walker and Muddy Waters ("I Just Wanna Make Love to You").

As a matter of fact, just about every song, classic or original was about sex, not that I noticed.

My friend said "We may have to leave early" pointing at her main squeeze after yet another sex song.

Original material showed a decided sense of humor.

Introducing "Marinara Mambo," Crandall said it was written in Kansas City as a result of a large pepperoni pizza and two consenting adults.

"I Won't Quibble with a Nibble, but Biting Ain't No Good" seemed to have some history behind it and "Self-Serving Woman" was dedicated all the selfish lovers in the room.

I assume they knew who they were.

Favorite lyric (courtesy of Muddy Waters): "Ah, you know everybody tell me, you 'bout the most elevating woman in town."

Among the various musicians in the room was sax player Roger Carroll, whose foot never stopped tapping while part of the audience.

Eventually he went out to his car and brought in his instrument so that he could play along for a handful of songs.

After the first set, the bass and guitar players came over to the bar near where I was sitting.

The bass player Ted looked at me and said, "Thank you," to which I responded, "For what?"

Grinning, he said, "For those fishnets. I've been admiring them all night."

I explained that they were just a signature item for me, but took the unexpected compliment anyway.

The crowd thinned somewhat during the break (including my friends), but the musicians asked me if I was going to stay, so stay I did.

There were several other good shows going on tonight, but by then it was going on 1, and I was enjoying what I was hearing.

And who knows what the compliments might be like at the other places?

Just before the band's last song, the guy sitting next to me leaned over and asked what the name of the band was.

I'd noticed that he and his friends had been in and out of Ipanema all evening, so I was surprised he was showing so much interest now.

I told him what he wanted to know and he promptly pulled out his Moleskin and made a note of it.

I hope he wrote "Note to self: stay and listen to music I like."

Probably not.

And then they left just as the band was starting their last song. Go figure.

But this couple did provide the best overheard exchange of the evening.

She finished texting and he asked what was up. "2K. He's just asking me to have sex with him for a lot of money."

Him: "Again?"

Her: "He never gives up."

What world is this?

That left just me and one couple at the far end of the bar and they had been making goo-goo eyes at each other for the past hour, oblivious to the music.

Since I was the only real audience at that point, Ted brought his bass over and began playing it directly in front of me.

Before long, Kurt and his harmonica were wailing on the barstool to my immediate right.

Ivan, behind Kurt, started playing his guitar behind his head and Johnny brought his brushes and snare drum over and sat on the bench at my feet.

It was my first command performance and I have to say that I liked having four talented and enthusiastic musicians playing within two feet of me...and for me exclusively.

I'm quite sure this wouldn't have happened to me at any other show tonight and I personally know people in three of the bands that were performing.

I gave them a standing ovation and the bass player looked at me and said, "Did I thank you already?"

I told him he had, but that he could feel free to do so again.

The guitar player asked if he could walk me to my car to save me dealing with the mean (Grace) streets and since I'd never once, despite the thousand-plus shows I've been to, had such an offer (okay there was the guitarist from Twin Tigers, but that was an offer of a different color entirely), I took him up on it.

New dish, new band, new drinks, and a couple of firsts.

Not bad for an evening's play.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

I'll Take History Over Football

No, I don't really care about football, but before you write me off as a girly girl, I understand the game, can follow and even appreciate it on occasion and was raised in a family of season ticket-holders, so I've been to my fair share of NFL games (and shivered my way through three hours on the 50-yard line).

I just can't be bothered anymore.

But today would have been the annual Armstrong-Walker Football Classic, a long-time Richmond tradition I'd heard about from several old-timers in my neighborhood (yet another perk of living in such a diverse 'hood).

The two schools began the tradition in 1938 and it ended in 1978 with Walker's closing.

Last year the event was revived with two semi-pro teams playing as a fundraiser at VUU. Noble, but not quite the same.

The rivalry between these two once-exclusively black schools was apparently legendary and the Classic and its attendant events a cultural phenomena that used to draw 25,000+ fans to the traditional Saturday after Thanksgiving game and festivities.

So while I had no interest in attending today's game, it seemed like an ideal time to check out the Pride Over Prejudice: Armstrong and Maggie L. Walker High Schools in Their Time exhibit at the Black History Museum.

But not until after a trip to Roy's Big Burger where, once again, everyone eating in their cars was male. I just don't get it. Girls like cheeseburgers, too; I know it..

But I digress.

I'm a sucker for historical exhibits full of photographs and artifacts and this one, given its local angle, had plenty of both.

Armstrong opened first as an all-black school but quickly became overcrowded, necessitating double shifts for students for five years.

Walker was built in 1938 to alleviate the overcrowding and was more of a vocational school whereas Armstrong was more academically-oriented.

And by vocational, I mean these kids were being taught all the best trades of the day: shoe-repairing, tailoring, masonry, barbering as well as the usual beauty shop and cooking skills.

Significantly, Walker was also the first Virginia school to have an African-American principal and faculty.

Photographs from Armstrong's yearbook showed a smiling group of Cafeteria Staff Custodians and another of them passing out 35-cent hot lunches to students in line.

Students in Armstrong's cooking classes all wore the traditional toque blanche.

They took classes in Negro History long before African-American studies was even a blip on the horizon.

It was interesting to see the progression of the students' and faculty's hair and clothing style as the cultural revolution of the 60s showed itself in their evolving looks.

Afros got bigger and bigger (including L. Doug Wilder's) and demure skirts and blouses gave way to girls in bell-bottoms and guys in fringed vests and platform shoes.

Early photos from school dances (some at the Mosque) showed the girls in full-length formals with tiaras, while later ones showed a guy in tight jeans doing a split in the middle of the dance floor.

The times they were a-changing.

The exhibit is well worth seeing for the slice-of-life look at Richmond teenagers as well as the peek into how the faculty of these two black schools mitigated the effects of "separate but equal" and the prejudice still so much a part of this city's culture right up through the 70s.

And as long as you're there, don't miss the permanent exhibit on my beloved Jackson Ward.

Be sure to take note that the decorative ironwork along Clay Street's Italianate houses is the largest concentration of ironwork in the state (and some of the finest in the country).

Since I live only a few blocks down Clay Street in one of those Italianate houses with the decorative ironwork, feel free to wave as you leave the museum.

And you can know that, in spirit anyway, I'm welcoming you to RVA's best (and most architecturally intact) neighborhood, J-Ward.

Come back soon.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Friday's Mod Blow Up

It was back to the VMFA for me tonight, except this time to meet a favorite couple at Amuse, followed by the Friday Film series.

Given the holiday weekend, we met early to ensure getting seats at the bar, just in case.

It was a good thing, too, because tonight was bartender Tommy's last night before he moves over the the special events catering side of the restaurant.

I was sorry to hear that because his cheerful attitude and easy-going nature have always made him a big part of my enjoyment of Amuse.

No one else can say, "Well, hello darling. I was hoping you'd come see me," with a smile quite so wide and sound that sincere.

And it turns out that we were wise to be early because Amuse had done a record lunch today, serving more covers than any lunch since they've opened.

It must have been the place to entertain the fam and out-of-towners to impress and (groan) amuse.

We got our wine and discussed the situation in North Korea before looking at the menu.

First one of the servers, a friend, stopped by to chat with me (and show me his burst blood vessel discreetly hidden behind nerd glasses) and moments later, another friend who now lives in NYC, surprised me with his presence ("Meet me later at 27," he suggested).

When I finally got back to my couple date, I took some ribbing about knowing everyone (four people; big deal!) and we went ahead and ordered so we'd make our movie on time.

Luckily it was a three-minute walk away.

I had the cherrystone clams with Yukon potatoes in a saffron broth and used Amuse's excellent bread to sop up every drop of that golden liquid.

Tommy said he'd already guessed that that would be what I'd order given my fondness for the mussel and Tasso ham dish that is no longer on the menu.

This is why I'll miss having a bartender who knows my tastes so well.

Friends got the scallops with curry aioli and the cheese plate with Coppa, so they were as happy with their meal as I was.

Before we knew it, the time had come to get mod.

Tonight's feature was the provocative 1966 film "Blow Up" about a photographer in swinging London who accidentally photographs a murderer, pulling him out of his self-indulgent and self-centered world.

It didn't, however, stop him from having a fun fight with two wanna-be models who naturally ended up nude, squealing in delight and with their long hair flying.

Ah, the swinging sixties.

Before the film WCVE's jazz DJ Peter Solomon and I had talked for a bit; as he's pointed out on many occasions, we turn up at a lot of the same events.

This time, however, he was the speaker before the movie.

The soundtrack was by a 26-year old Herbie Hancock and Solomon was speaking to this topic.

As he pointed out, Hancock's music was only used in the service of the film, like when a record was put on, so it isn't considered terribly representative of the genius of a man who'd just come off five years of being in Miles Davis' band.

In fact, "Blow Up" was almost a silent film with long periods with no dialog and very little music.

It was striking for how often there was only ambient sound, if any sound at all. I can't imagine that absence of sound being done today, given the short attention span of a typical American audience.

"Blow Up" was a clear exploration of mid-century alienation and detachment, with little to no human emotion as part of everyday life.

Modern man losing out to progress and technology, if you will.

In the pre-film lecture, we heard that the director Michelangelo Antonioni didn't even think about his audience when making the film.

His expectation was that the (1966) audience would meet him half way, and based on him winning the Grand Prix at Cannes, he must have been right.

Like any film of another era, I most enjoyed the period details.

Girls were called "birds" and wore geometric minis with colorful tights (hey, wait a minute...).

The Yardbirds played in a basement club to a blase crowd and Jeff Beck smashed his guitar.

Everyone smoked pot at very smokey parties.

All the birds were bra-less.

It was the 60s, after all.

After my turn as an impromptu photographer at last night's party, I was able to pick up some handy tips from the film about getting more out of my subjects next time.

Maybe I'll take a cue from the photographer in "Blow Up" and get them on the floor and straddle them while saying suggestive things.

My guess is they'll be laughing so hard at me that I'm bound to get pictures worth blowing up all over Facebook.

That or no one will ever let me touch their camera again.

Oh, well.

Everything once.

More Than a Meal

It may have been my favorite Thanksgiving day ever, mainly because it strayed from the norm and I got to enjoy so much more than just the big meal.

But of course the big meal is important and I was having a half dozen people over, so I made the stuffing and got the bird in the oven and then headed to the VMFA with friends for an afternoon of "Corot to Cezanne: French Drawings from the Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon."

With 75 works showing, there was plenty to see by mostly familiar names and, in most cases, stylistically quite similar to each artist's more developed or painterly works.

The pleasure was in getting up close and personal with each gem.

Vuillard's emphasis on the patterning of walls was just as striking in these pieces as in his oils and Raoul Dufy's trademark washes of color just as identifiable.

The largest work, Picasso's "Jester on Horseback" was done in oil on composition board, but still conveyed a strong sense of line.

Van Gogh's two pieces showed the undeniable influence of Japanese woodcuts and Degas' drawings were, not surprisingly, of jockeys and horses.

I was a bit surprised at the number of people besides us who'd decided to gallery walk on a Thanksgiving afternoon.

One woman walked up to a security person and said, "Thank you for being here so we could see art on this holiday."

That very thought had occurred to me but I hadn't vocalized it.

After such a satisfying afternoon, it was a pleasure to come home to the smell of a roasting turkey and await my additional guests.

I enlisted a couple of friends to peel potatoes and the Deer Run Farm carrots I'd gotten at the Renegade Byrd House Market (along with their spaghetti squash and beans) and before long, the rest of the group had arrived.

I read once that the problem with having Thanksgiving at someone's house other than your family's is that the stuffing is never right, but all of my guests seemed satisfied with mine.

That, or the wine was flowing well enough that no one noticed it wasn't just like home.

My guests lingered until around 8:30, at which point I changed clothes and headed to Ipanema for a Triple D party (drinks, dessert and dancing).

I can't say that I've ever had Thanksgiving night plans, but it was really the perfect way to spend the evening.

The hostess had made a party tape for the ages, spanning everything from "Temptation Eyes" to "Young Turks" to "Rapper's Delight" and "P.Y.T." with Britney Spears, Prince and John Cougar Mellencamp in between.

Awesome beyond belief and oh-so-danceable.

Desserts ranged from s'more pie to sweet potato pie, to hummingbird cake to chocolate cream pie and easily a half dozen more.

And yes there was pumpkin cheesecake for the semi-traditionalists.

I had a great time playing photographer with my friend's boyfriend's camera.

Moving around the dance floor, behind the bar and even standing on the bench, I was able to capture all kinds of things.

Kissing couples, a guy doing his best male stripper imitation holding a ceiling pipe, a whitest guy dance-off, you name it, I shot it.

No doubt there will be a lot of incriminating moments caught on pixels when those pictures are viewed tomorrow.

And since I didn't become the shutterbug until well into the party, I'm afraid I'll see a few cringe-worthy shots of myself.

Not that I'm worried in the least about any documentation of tonight.

As I told my friend on leaving, this had to be my best Thanksgiving day ever.

How did it take me so long to figure out that art, music and dancing are what I should be thankful for on this day?

Incriminating pictures notwithstanding.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

FILO and Funk

All I can say is thank goodness I have friends who stay in town for Thanksgiving so they can go out with me on Thanksgiving Eve when RVA is all but deserted.

Our adventure began at Bonvenu, and we were the first customers to arrive around 7ish.

The three of us staked out one end of the bar and saved a chair for the latecomer.

Knowing her inability to be punctual, we also went ahead and ordered wine.

Described as "aromas of red berries followed by notes of bell peppers," the 2007 Saint-Vincent Baron Bordeaux had a nice, long finish and gave us something with which to kick off our pre-holiday evening.

Just in case the tardy one was further delayed, we asked for the Fried Oysters Rockefeller over smoked bacon creamed spinach with lemon cream sauce and the sausage plate, featuring spicy andouille sausage, boudin blanc and sweet Italian sausage, served with Vermont white cheddar, mini buttermilk biscuits and fig jam.

I loved the variation on Oysters Rockefeller, deconstructed as it was, and all three of us found satisfaction in the sausage varieties.

I spread the little biscuits with jam to provide the sweet complement to my salty sausage.

Meanwhile, a woman came in for dinner, explaining that she was waiting for her husband to arrive. They had met at The Track eleven years ago and transferred their dinner dates to Bonvenu once it replaced that venerable institution.

Actually, I had a memorable first date at The Track, but it didn't result in an eleven-year relationship.

We had demolished that course and were finishing up the wine when a second bottle was ordered and our friend finally put in an appearance.

She was sorry to have missed the sausage, but we explained that people need sustenance waiting 50 minutes for a friend to show.

Just saying.

The music was interesting and, because it was the bartender's iPod, reflected quite the variety in music.

It's not often you hear The Archies on the same mix as Gorillaz (although an argument could be made for the comic/cartoon band connection).

When I teased her about how so much of her music was way older than she was, she skipped to Broken Bells and Andrew Bird to defend herself.

Hey, I'm not here to judge, just to comment (go ahead, Andrew, say it).

For dinner I had the French onion soup baked with garlic croutons (no kissing tonight) and Provolone, a satisfying and warm course after the oysters and sausage.

It was the first time I'd seen the one friend since deciding to take on the dating world, but unlike others with whom I'd shared this momentous and slow-arriving decision, he barely reacted.

No high-fiving, no "Finally!" comments, no nothing.

It was only after the tardy one prodded him to comment about the big news that he expressed his opinion.

Making an analogy about himself and his slow return to dating, he told me, "Eventually you have to stop howling at the moon."

Eventually I do.

We had just ordered dessert (one chocolate torte with ice cream, one chocolate pate with whipped cream, four forks) when in walked the Native Virginian, the man who had met me not long ago and tried to sweep me off my feet by inviting me to 1) Dublin and 2) church.

I will say it was a novel approach at attempting to woo a stranger.

When the third bottle of wine was empty and the chocolate plates licked clean, we realized we'd been the first customers in and the last out; just calls us FILOs.

At that point, we said goodnight to the attempted wooer and beat feet to Cary Street Cafe for music.

Playing tonight were the New Belgians, a collective of Richmond musicians (including Scott Clark, probably my favorite local jazz drummer) playing a funky, soulful, jazzy pastiche that hearkens back to a 70s groove.

Brass, thumping bass, lots of percussion, guitars (sometimes even lap steel) and occasional vocals had the crowd dancing around the stage; I saw several guys walk in the front door, pause momentarily and immediately begin bopping their heads to the music.

Sucked in upon entry they were.

In the middle of one song, an annoying and shrill sound began to compete with the music, but clearly not in time to it.

Apparently the smoke machine had set off the smoke detector; the door guy tried fanning it but finally realized that the smoke machine would just have to go. Bummer.

What's neo-70s funk without smokey effects?

It's damn good music on a night when there could easily have been no music at all given the scarcity of people still in town.

They were calling tonight their "Boom Thanksgiving" show.

Note to those not there tonight: band was booming.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Epiphanies Are Us

It was a slow night for finding fun in River City and, believe me, I looked.

Even tomorrow night has more going on than tonight did. But I managed, through perseverance and dumb luck, to find enough to keep me occupied.

VCU's Fishbowl Gallery was presenting "Interaction 37," an exhibit of painting (of which there was only one) and printmaking work by sixteen graduating seniors.

The work was striking for its modernity.

There were lithographs, laser-cut prints, Epson prints, screen prints and, yes, even digital prints.

And, while I hate to admit it, my personal "best in show" would have gone to a digital print.

Patrick Quinn's "Negro Art" was created by stacking transparencies, photocopies, scraps and other studio debris and then scanning the pile to create the final flat composition.

The assorted debris comprised a visually satisfying graphic arrangement with the words "Negro Art" written horizontally near the bottom and the words "The Art of Africa" written vertically on the opposite side.

I spent as much time admiring this one piece as I did looking at all the others combined.

I only wish I could have justified spending the money so I could look at it every day.

Stopping briefly at home, I got a message from musician and man-about-town Prabir asking what was going on tonight.

Wine and then not much, I told him regretfully.

What was he up to?

His only plans were to go running and break up with a girl, so he suggested meeting later to assess our evenings.

Why not?

Every Tuesday The Empress does a four-course wine tasting with small plate pairings and tonight's theme was Thanksgiving pairings.

The crowd was smaller than the last one of these I'd attended, no doubt due to traveling and the holiday, but no less enjoyable.

We began with parsnip mashed potatoes with black pepper butter and Dry Creek Chenin Blanc. T

he rich butter was a lovely complement to the wine.

Course #2 was perfectly braised kale with cranberry chutney and the most divine Cantina Zaccagnini, a Montepulciano d'Aruzzo.

Its dry, aromatic qualities made it very food-friendly.

Herb grilled turkey with maple-roasted carrots came with hot sake-spiked apple cider.

The turkey had an unexpectedly spicy crust and although I'm not much of a cider person, the combination worked well.

We finished with a baked Alaska (homemade carrot cake topped by brandy-poached apples and ice cream all in a meringue coating which was then torched).

With it, we had the Empress Hot Tottie, made with Kluge Cru, a fortified (20%!) apperitif wine, sake and lemon juice.

All of a sudden, I'm drinking sake. And mixed drinks.

What's happening here?

These Tuesday tastings, with their mere $15 price tag, are great fun and always well-thought out food and wine-wise.

Next time I'll bring a friend, although the eavesdropping was quite good tonight (what happens at the Empress stays at the Empress) so I never lacked for entertainment.

I'd told a friend I would meet her at Ipanema to try out some of their new cocktails, but I was late and she was gone by the time I arrived.

But only recently gone.

As the bartender put it so succinctly, "Her drink spot is still wet."

Now that's a recent departure.

But I'd missed my second chance at a mixed drink; probably just as well.

Prabir and I had agreed on the Nile for meeting because of its walkability to J-Ward, but I would also add, because of its excellent music and chill vibe.

We shared the highlights of our day, leading to some interesting realizations and causing Prabir to dub this the "Karen/Prabir Epiphany Night.com"

He decreed that it was not just enough to have the epiphanies, but that acting on them was also a requirement.

Sounds like a lot of work to me.

It wasn't long before the rest of the crowd cleared out and the charming bartender joined our discussion of the sexes.

After a bit, a heart-bruised artist who's doing a mural for the Nile made it four and our discussion group was complete.

On the table were such topics as why men choose women on a purely visual basis, the relevance (or lack thereof) of marriage and the advantages of dating girls over the age of 28.

Oh, yes, and the wisdom of not dating members of the opposite sex first encountered in bars.

Someone should have been taking notes.

It's probably worth noting that not one of the four of us is in an actual relationship, so in all likelihood, we knew not of what we spoke, despite several hours of speaking anyway.

Eventually Prabir remembered his early morning meeting and we said our farewells to the other men-folk.

Turns out I was mistaken; there was more than enough to do tonight.

I just had to move around to find it all.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Two Courses, Two Parks

Knowing that the temperature will drop by twenty degrees tomorrow was all the motivation I needed to find an excuse to be outside today.

So when a friend suggested lunch, I responded by suggesting a fun lunch. When he asked what that meant, I said it meant eating outside, so we headed to Church Hill and Alamo BBQ.

Since my last visit, here, new items had been added to the menu, including blackened tilapia tacos which sounded good to me. My friend got the brisket, which I already knew was terrific.

Part of the pleasure of Alamo dining is its al fresco ambiance, but with winter supposedly on the way, the potential for cold could present some dining problems sooner rather than later.

While we were ordering, my friend mentioned that they would soon need walls and a space heater and, lo and behold, we were told that they're expected to be installed later this week. Alamo all winter!

Once our names were called, we took our big brown bag and walked up to Jefferson Park to find a bench overlooking Church Hill's bustling streets.

We watched a mom and two boys walk towards us and all of a sudden the older boy (9 or 10 probably) drop and roll all the way down the long, steep hill. Ah, the highs of childhood.

My tacos were bursting with black beans and corn, the tilapia blackened with just enough heat. I tried some of Friend's jalapeno mac and cheese, an interesting blend of creamy and hot.

The funny part is that jalapenos make him hiccup, so he was doing his best to pick out half of them, hoping to reduce his hiccuping by half without completely giving up the little bits of hot green goodness.

My friend wanted the details on my recent dating exploits and I tried to glean male-mind information from him. I'm way out of practice on this and I'm having a hard time figuring out what means what and why.

He was no help at all. When I asked him why these guys jump to the conclusion that I'm so awesome, he says, "Because you are." Whatever. No help whatsoever.

On that useless note, we left and drove over to Mezza's for some Gelati Celesti; our thinking was, how many more days are left in 2010 where ice cream will seem like a good idea?

I had the chocolate decadence (but not in a cone, because they were out of cones. I asked about the ones sitting on the ice cream case and was told that they were old. Like months old? No, maybe a year old. Okay, no thanks then).

My friend got the chocolate peanut butter over a scoop of chocolate chip cookie dough and we took our scoops over to the little park behind Crossroads Coffee. The last time I'd been there, a guy was playing bongos for the crowd, I told him.

No bongos today, my friend observed. There was a little white dog walking precariously along the top of the rail fence. I feared for a fall, but another girl whipped out her phone and started snapping pictures of him doing it. I'd like to think she wasn't hoping for a disaster photo, but you never know.

I'd also like to hope for more 75-degree days, but that's just not realistic. Not that reality has ever been my strong suit.

Keep It Coming

Surely it must mean that this is going to be a great day when a warm breeze comes through the window, blowing my hair and waking me up. It's an unexpected pleasure on a November morning.

It gets even better when I open my front door to get my Washington Post and discover next to it a gift: a mixtape (okay, a CD, but I will always use that term to mean a hand-selected compilation) slipped through my mail slot while I was asleep. Some guys sure know how to impress a girl first thing in the morning.

Out walking on Grace Street, a guy comes out of the VCU library annex and does a full body scan. "These college girls got nothing on you," he says, smiling like he knows me. Note to self: wearing shorts on a November morning seems to be a sure-fire way to get complimented.

This day just keeps getting better.

Love is a mixtape~ Rob Sheffield

I am not in love, but I am open to persuasion~ Joan Armatrading

Monday, November 22, 2010

Getting Comfort in the 'Hood

Sometimes you haven't been to a restaurant in a really long time and then when you finally go, you can't quite remember why you had stopped going in the first place.

I'm talking about Comfort, a mere five blocks from my apartment, and yet I haven't been there for dinner in eons.

Pity, too, because I ran into an artistic music buddy with graphite all over his hands, met a charming man who knows what he's talking about when it comes to men and got reacquainted with a bartender who remembered me from a music discussion in another bar.

Why exactly did I stop frequenting Comfort?

I arrived before my perennially late friend and my backside had barely grazed my bar stool when a friend motioned me over from the other side of the bar. "Come sit with me!"

It was Austin, my talented furniture-making friend and fellow Marionette/Beach House fan.

Knowing my friend wouldn't show up anytime soon, I accepted his offer to sit down and visit for a while.

He was drinking the Crispin Cider and insisted I taste its 6.9 % goodness.

He said it wasn't as good as the Honey Crisp hot cider with shots of rum and brandy, but how could it be without those additions?

Still, it was very fall-like.

The late one finally showed up and planted herself between me and a nearby bar sitter.

We ordered a bottle of 2008 Verona Romeo and Juliet White (garanega and sauvginon blanc blend) and I went back to Austin while she took on the newcomer.

It was her first time to Comfort, so she took a while with the menu, but I went ahead and ordered the soup (pork and corn) and the Surry sausage.

Our bartender Sean had already brought me out a taste cup of the soup, and I'd been impressed enough with all the pig and veggies to order it.

Foolishly, I'd ordered a bowl instead of a cup and wound up with an enormous bowl of pig soup competing with my pig in casings.

Friend finally decided on the pulled pork barbecue, mac and cheese, green beans and squash casserole.

I shared my sausage with Austin because the serving was so generous and because sausage with such perfectly crisp skin needs to be shared and savored with a friend.

It was after our devouring that Austin finally had to leave and we turned our full attention to the newcomer.

Ready or not, he rose to the challenge.

And he was delightful.

Confident, opinionated and extroverted, he was the perfect foil for two females looking for talkative company.

We covered it all; the definition of men, the best way to impress the opposite sex and the irrelevance of age.

If ever we'd met our conversational match, he was all that and a bag of chips.

The music was enjoyable if repetitive, so after the second time I heard Spoon's "Don't You Evah" I was compelled to ask Sean the source of the music (iTunes), which jarred his memory about where we'd first met (the B @ B after the Silversun Pickups show we'd both attended) and led to a discussion of music and neighborhood bars, not to mention another bottle of Romeo and Juliet.

While my friend was sharing the details of her recent relationship with our new compadre, I ordered the chocolate mousse for a diversion, since I had no intention of sharing anything about my own dating adventures (which are necessarily already cutting into my blogging frequency since kissing and telling is not my thing).

Sorry, I'm too busy getting my chocolate fix to spill the beans just now.

After three and a half hours, we were the sole occupants of the room and I realized it was perhaps time to vacate the premises before "Don't You Evah" came on again.

I'm thinking I shouldn't have evah written off a restaurant capable of providing such pleasurable company and abundance of pig.

That I can blog about.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

All Kinds of Hot at Gallery 5

Hot words! Hot music! Hot movie! Hot dogs! That, in a nutshell, was my evening. The beauty was in the wackiness of it all.

Gallery 5, Chop Suey and the James River Film Society were hosting an evening of diverse (and free) entertainment and as Ward's e-mail so eloquently put it, "Why would you not come?" With no good answer for that, I had to go.

As luck would have it, I even had company. There are few people who go to as many lectures, book talks and other absolutely nerdy stuff as I do, but James does.

In fact, he gets a huge kick out of knowing about an event that I don't (it's only happened once, but I know he still revels in it). So neither of us was surprised to run into each other at such an unusual program.

Things were casual with veggies, cheese and crackers set out for munching, free popcorn for the taking and a couple of friendly dogs making the rounds of the room. Just another night at Gallery 5.

The evening began with music by Bearkat, a genre-spanning band fronted by Katy Pearson. She had just released an EP all about the devastation of a breakup and it showed in every heartbreaking song. A band member referred to them as "dark and bitter" and she replied, "like I like my chocolate."

She and the rest of her band were multi-instrumentalists, so there was a fair amount of trading off. You have to appreciate a band with a tuba and a toy piano and then there was an instrument new to me, the banjulele, part banjo, part ukulele ("I was hoping it would stay in tune like a ukulele").

The board she stood on had a tambourine on it so she could stomp and play tambourine without using her busy hands.

During one song, the guitarist was hitting such a high note that one of the dogs ran up on stage and began barking. What was music to our ears was obviously distressful to his, but pretty funny to the crowd. He left the stage when the note stopped but went off to warn the other dog about it, chasing and barking.

Tonight's reading was by Mike White, reading from his new book Impossibly Funky: A Cashiers du Cinemart Collection. The story he read was about Jean Claude van Damme and his questionable movie career and acting abilities. His pithy commentary about the actor's roles was spot on.

We were treated to a trailer of 1979's Disco Godfather about the club DJ who fought a war against PCP ("Move and I'll shoot your Afro off!"). Mainly the trailer showed a lot of people in polyester dancing to a pulsing disco beat while the DJ shouted encouragement ("Put some weight on it," whatever that means to dancers). Hysterical.

After that kind of nostalgia, I needed sustenance, so i stepped outside where Captain Slappy's Gourmet Hot dogs was fired up. One glance at the menu told me what I needed: the bacon-wrapped 100% all-beef dog.

Asked if I wanted fries or tater tots with that, I declined, citing my pig wrapped beef as sufficiently unhealthy. The guy said that his uncle had a theory that if you eat enough really bad stuff together, they cancel each other out. "And he's a doctor," the guy bragged. Well that changes everything.

I took my deep-fried bacon-wrapped dog back inside to enjoy while watching Mike White's film Who Do You Think You're Fooling? a full motion montage highlighting the uncanny similarities between the 1989 Hong Kong movie City on Fire and Tarantino's 1992 film Reservoir Dogs.

Entire scenes were lifted from one to the other, presumably because Tarantino assumed no one would notice. Once White's film went on the film festival circuit, it must have become hard not to notice but by then Tarantino's career was off and running. Steal and make it big!

Music followed from Skizz Cyzyk of Baltimore. With just a ukulele, his clever songs and a heartfelt delivery, he charmed the audience. More than once he mentioned how much in love he still is with his love of sixteen years; he sang the first song he wrote for her as a Valentine's Day gift when he was too poor to buy her a gift.

He also played a song she had requested him to, Radiohead's "Creep." You haven't lived until you've heard that song played to a ukulele with the tempo slowed down considerably. It's truly creepy (and I mean that as a compliment).

Tonight's main feature was 1974's Cockfighter starring Warren Oates and Harry Dean Stanton. And, oh, it was so 1974! The hair, the men's suits, the bralessness, the jeans, Stanton's two-tone platform shoes. Truly something to behold.

Another thing that stood out was that in the sunny outdoor scenes of the crowd watching the fights, almost no one had sunglasses or hats on to shield them from the sun. One woman had a newspaper shading her eyes and one used her hand and the rest of them squinted and baked in the sun. 1974 must have been before we worried about skin cancer. Ah, kinder, gentler times.

The film was unique in that Oates' character didn't speak until the last line of the movie (Told he drank too much and talked too much, he decided to shut up until he achieved his cockfighting goal), requiring the actor to convey everything wordlessly.

It was the scenes of the cockfighting, actually staged for the filming, that were tough to watch, so after a while, I didn't. I noticed the girl in front of me shutting her eyes during those scenes, too.

On the other hand, I'd never seen a cockfight, so now I at least have an idea how it goes down. This is why James and I do nerdy things: to learn.

As one guy summed it up on the way out, "Dogs barking and cocks fighting." Add in the bacon-wrapped hotdog and that's a helluva Sunday night.

Watch Me Open Doors

Alert the media: I got taken to the Joanna Newsom show. An invitation was extended, I accepted and for the first time in almost two years, someone took me to hear music.

Of course the only person who would invite someone to a Joanna Newsom show is a serious fan because no one goes to her shows except the devoted.You have to want to hear a harpist/pianist with a little girl voice; it's not the kind of thing one randomly decides to check out on a lark.

The problem for the Broad Street restaurants tonight was that is was also opening weekend for White Christmas at the Empire Theater. Between the National-goers and the theater types, Tarrant's was pretty much mobbed when we got there.

Fortuitously, a couple of bar stools opened up as if by magic and the hostess introduced us to, "Danny, the best bartender. He'll take care of you." If Danny and I weren't already such good friends, I'd never have given him so much crap about being "introduced" to him like that.

Because the show was going to be a seated one, we wanted to eat and get going and Danny expedited that. Well, we were also starving, so that might have moved things along a tad, too.

My companion had the Reuben, which he raved about, and I had one of tonight's specials, a vegetable tart (asparagus, onion, mushrooms, olives, tomato, goat cheese on a thick crust). It was just the thing with a glass of South African Faraway Farms Chenin Blanc.

Walking out to leave behind three women and a child, the little girl stopped in awe and said, "Ooh, it's cool at night in the city. It lights up!" Between the headlights, stoplights and store lights, I imagine it must have been pretty impressive for a suburban child. One can only hope they bring her back downtown often.

Once at the National, I was surprised and pleased to see signs everywhere saying that this was a "Quiet Show" and asking people to refrain from talking or using cell phones or they would be asked to leave. In my perfect world, this would be the policy at every show I attend.

We found many chairs already taken, but happily settled into two not far from the stage. There was an overwhelming sense of expectation in the room of rabid fans.

When Newsom took the stage, fans broke the rule right off the bat, though. I actually heard a couple of sighs and more than a few squeals as she sat down behind her harp. I don't think any if them could help themselves; they were just genuine reactions of adoration.

In a ruffly purple dress and with a braid almost down to her waist, Newsom and her band (2 violinists/vocalists, a drummer, a trombonist who played mouth harp and a guitar/mandolin/banjo player) proceeded to played two hours of beautiful, offbeat music.

During her between-songs banter, a fan yelled out, "I drove 300 miles to see you!" and she asked him where he'd come from. "Pittsburgh," he yelled back from the balcony. "We like Pittsburgh," she answered congenially. Do we?

"I came a mile!" a guy humorously then offered. Hey, I'd come half a mile but I wasn't bragging about it, now was I?

The song "Peach, Plum, Pear" made a lot of the audience very, very happy and resulted in a standing ovation. Newsom came back for one piece solo with her harp and then the band returned for one last epic song.

Another standing ovation and it was all over. And while the spell should have been broken, most of the audience was walking on air as they left. Favorite lyric: What a woman does is open doors.

Outside I ran into Herschel ("Of course I'd be here if you're here. We're soulmates!" he reminded me), the only familiar face all evening. But that was fine because I had a companion for a change. Random conversations weren't necessary because I had built-in company with whom I could enjoy the show.

I think I could get used to this being asked thing.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Music for the Missed

I had no idea that the VMFA had been showing movies to the public since 1948 when I walked into tonight's screening of Louis Malle's Pretty Baby, part of November's movie theme, "photoplay."

Interestingly enough, the film had a couple of tie-ins to the current Sally Mann exhibit. In the film, the photographer Bellocq (played by Keith Carradine) uses a camera very similar to that which Mann uses.

And when the film first came out, there were many who felt that it crossed into the arena of child pornography, much like the derision directed at Mann's early 1990s photographs of her nude children.

But the cinematography of the 1978 movie was spectacular; it came across like a sepia-toned photograph out of the era portrayed, 1917 New Orleans. Susan Sarandon was very young and beautiful (especially nude) and Brooke Shields truly looked like a 12-year old and not a 16-year old playing younger.

The images of adult life as seen through the eyes of a child was unquestionably sad, but only in an historical sort of way; yes, child prostitution is appalling, but it was commonplace in 1917. Fact.

In the post-screening discussion, audience members agreed that such a film could never be made today in this country due to political correctness. Something similar would almost have to be made by a European, just like it was in 1978.

I left the museum with images of sultry candlelit meals on screened-in porches and headed to the candlelit confines of Sprout for a very special music show.

Tonight was a tribute to the late Nathan Joyce, a talented local musician with ties to many of the musicians currently performing in Richmond. The show hadn't quite begun when I arrived, so I took a stool at the bar and ordered some cheese hushpuppies and a root beer.

As musicians and friends came in, I had plenty of people to talk to. After a bit, the bartender brought over a glass of wine and asked, "Do you drink wine?" Why, yes I do. It was a mis-pour so he randomly donated it to me.

My friend Isaac had escaped his hosting job early enough to join me at the bar, so now I had wine and great company. He was one of the musicians playing in the show tonight, but for the moment, he just wanted a lager and a blather and so he had both.

I'm ashamed to say that we talked through the first two bands before moving into the back room for Now Sleepyhead's set. These guys are a favorite of mine and haven't played a show in over a year, so tonight's set was a pretty big deal. They had new material and were in fine voice (and French horn). I only hope they plan to start playing more again.

Between sets, a horror film Nathan and a friend had made was shown and it got great laughs from the audience for its spurting blood and deadpan dialog. It was a touching way to bring Nathan into the room visually tonight.

Isaac played next, two songs solo and two songs as part of his band Double Rainbows. Best put, he/they kicked ass and took numbers. He's got such a great voice plus he's an incredibly literate songwriter; the combination had the crowd enthralled and impressed. There was a lot of buzz after their set.

Ophelia, playing as a duo, followed and I already knew what a treat we were in for because Jonathan had told me their set list at the Listening Room Tuesday night: three REM covers.

Tonight he explained to the audience that he and Nathan were both huge REM fans and that Nathan was the only other person he ever knew other than himself who knew all the words to "It's the End of the World as We Know It (and I Feel Fine)," cementing their friendship.

Jonathan and David began by saying "We need Isaac for this," and then played "Driver 8" and "Don't Go back to Rockville" before launching a crowd singalong to "End of the World." I admit it, I was singing right along (badly, but singing). That's some classic stuff right there; who doesn't have REM somewhere in their past?

Lobo Marino closed the show, appropriate because lead singer Jameson had organized the evening's tribute. They played one song that Jameson and Nathan had written together ("the hit, Animal Hands") and treated us to a new piece off their upcoming album. Their energetic set was the perfect finish to a stellar evening of music.

I tried complimenting Isaac on his amazing set before I left, but he admitted he didn't take flattery well. Nevertheless, as I stood outside Sprout talking to half of Now Sleepyhead about the show, he knocked on the window and made the heart sign on his chest.

Just a guess, but I think that meant that he liked my words. Fair enough, because I was even more impressed with his. And he can sing his, unlike me.

Hopefully Nathan heard all the music in his honor tonight because it was a hell of a show.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Anti-Nouveau Beaujolais Thursday

Here's one more way the French have it over us. We make a holiday of the fourth Thursday to overeat and watch football. They make a holiday of the third Thursday and drink new wine. Can you say "way more fun"?

Today's event at Barrel Thief was a two-fer: the wine shop was doing a 2010 Beaujolais Cru tasting and the guys at SausageCraft were there doing an anti-Nouveau Beaujolais tasting. How great was it having gamay and pig competing for my attention? Luckily I had plenty for both.

The purpose of the tasting was to experience something other than the usual supermarket swill which has become synonymous with Beaujolais Nouveau. To that end, they were sampling Beaujolais Nouveaus from each of the ten Crus of the region.

The crowd was comprised of lots of wine geeks, one from a wine shop in Williamsburg even, and wine-lovers like yours truly. Flying the company colors and sipping away were the Boathouse, Ellwood Thompson and Secco.

The couple next to me provided a lot of entertainment value, mostly him and his corny jokes, so I had company from the start. My friend was late arriving, so I tasted the first five wines while waiting for him (only because the manager told me to start without him and I always do what I'm told).

Finally he arrived and we could taste together. To allow him time to catch up on his tasting, I strolled over to the SausageCraft table where Brad was cooking up pork belly sausage made with Beaujolais and made just today. New wine, new sausage, it was a relationship for the ages.

The sausage was full-flavored with just a trace of herbs and wine. Cooked up hot and smelling so good it made it tough to focus on the wine at times, it was the clear star of the evening. No one could agree on which wine was best, but everyone was raving about the incredible sausage.

And, not that I know anything about wine (other than I like to drink it), but my votes for best go to the Domaine Cheveau 2008 Saint Amour (from the smallest and most rare of the ten Cru villages) and the Jean-Paul Thevenet 2009 Morgon, a wine so to my taste that I took one sip and said to my friend, "Taste this now."

As we were walking out, I picked up my pace because I was running behind to meet friends. "Triple-booked tonight?" he asked. "Just double," I told him. But still late. What if my date thought I stood them up? I wouldn't be able to live with myself.

Stop #2 was the Belvidere to meet one of my very favorite couples for a catch-up session. Unbelievably, we hadn't seen each other since Folk Fest because of their crazy work schedules. Imagine, people who put work ahead of play; I like them anyway.

I ordered the house-smoked salmon, always perfectly executed at the Belvidere and, because I knew I couldn't top the Morgon, a Don Julio for sipping. Now we could talk.

This is a couple who eats out as much as I do, so we ran through a comparative chat about places we'd all been since our last rendezvous. Even when we don't eat together, we seem to share the same opinion of how a restaurant is doing. We talked about their plans to spirit me to the West End soon (and not against my will it should be noted).

They too asked me about my big news and I shared how that was going. They're polite enough that they didn't make any snide remarks about my slow-moving progress like some friends I could mention (you know who you are).

We ended with a discussion of how so many people they know at work go through the motions of Thanksgiving only because they feel it's expected of them, not because they enjoy any of it.

See, that's my point exactly. Wouldn't it be whole lot easier to get behind a wine drinking Thursday holiday and avoid all that dysfunctional family holiday stuff entirely?

My only problem would be giving up the stuffing, but only because it has sausage in it.

When it comes right down to it, it's always about the sausage, isn't it?

Rhetorical question, mind you.

Going for Guilty Pleasures

Sometimes doing research in your area of interest seems like a guilty pleasure. Should you really feel that way? If you like something and want to know more about it, it's as worthy a use of your time as anything else.

There, in that one day Gemini horoscope, is the rationalization for my entire life, or at least for me following my curiosity wherever it takes me. So after a morning of writing up my interview with non-jam band Railroad Earth, here, I was free to satisfy my curiosity at Studio 23 Gallery, recently moved from Plant Zero to Main Street and with, what else, music (well, sort of).

Their new studio is bigger and better than the old digs; the coolest part is that it boasts a blackboard to-do list on the inside of the front door. There's a way to keep an artist's chore list in plain sight.

I was meeting some guys to check out Studio 23's third annual show of art inspired by the mixtape, "Mixtape 3-D." I actually had a mix tape in the first show back in 2008, but this new show was more about the case than the music.

In fact, only three of the pieces even had playlists, which was a surprise to all three of us (and both of them had participated in the 2008 show, too, so they knew from mixtapes).

One that did was two sided, consisting of "Songs to Drink By" (naturally Tom Waits was on there) and "Songs to Recover By," containing the most random song on any mixtape made this century, "Brandi (You're a Fine Girl)" by Looking Glass. It actually made my jaw drop in amazement when I saw it.

Another mixtape was directed at how to be hipster, with a playlist of all the indie favorites (Mumford and Sons, Temper Trap, et al) as well as a list of rules for hipster compliance.

Most rang true (don't bathe often; ride your bike everywhere), but I'd be inclined to take issue with the one stipulating that hipsters never dance because they're too cool. Has this guy been to a dance party at 534 or the Nile? Hell, even Ipanema's big anniversary bash was full of dancing hipsters.

Probably my favorite piece was the cross section of the tape case with the actual tape pulled out and arranged above and below in a most artistic manner. Another one was opened up and painted to look like a bronze sculpture.

Some submissions were less literal, not even employing the case or tape. All were clearly made by true fans of the art form.

But being a Gemini, I really wish I knew what music was playing in their heads while they created their masterpieces.

Morning at McLean's

I'll be thru town around 8 a.m. Thursday.
Let's have breakfast...

Although the message doesn't say so, it came from my Williamsburg friend and when he says "thru," he means he's heading north. Like any of our meals before he leaves the Old Dominion, he always insists on eating Southern, here.

Knowing that, the logical place to go for breakfast was the new and improved McLean's. But first I had to disabuse him of the notion that I'd be up by 8. Once we renegotiated to a more reasonable 9, the plan was in place.

I was never a regular at the old McLean's, but it was pretty obvious walking in that the booths and tables must have come from the old location. It felt a lot like the new 821 where the walls and bar look fresh and new and everything inside still has its character.

No, I didn't get brains with my eggs; I got salt herring with them, sausage patties (not a link girl) and of course, biscuits (one with butter spread (!) and one with strawberry jam).

I'm used to eating within ten minutes of rolling out of bed, and it had been about half an hour at that point, so I inhaled my breakfast and then watched my traveling friend savor his (two eggs over easy, sausage patties, grits and coffee; they were out of the cornbread he wanted).

Meanwhile we talked about the Rosewell mansion which is down in his neck of the woods. He even advised me on the most enjoyable way to get there (he's the guy who taught me the pleasures of Route 5) for my road trip.

And now, sufficiently satisfied, he will drive to New Jersey with a belly filled with a proper Southern meal and I (with my salt herring-filled belly) can start my day much more enthusiastically for not having had to get up at at the god-forsaken hour of 7:45.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

As Long As I Don't Have to Actually Knit

If I want to be surrounded by men, all I have to do is go to a lecture at the Virginia Center for Architecture. Not that that's why I went tonight. Or not entirely anyway.

Actually the topic was what drew me to the Branch House tonight. "A Ruin Revealed: Rosewell" was about the 18th century Gloucester County mansion that I had never even heard of before the opening of the "American Ruins" photography exhibition currently at the VCA.

Oh, sure, I knew about the Barboursville ruins (always a pleasant side trip after some wine tasting), but Rosewell not so much. Clearly a lesson was in order.

Architectural historian Mark Wenger provided the history as well as future plans for this three-story brick mansion with the three and a half foot thick brick walls. This house that Thomas Jefferson frequently visited (even writing a rough draft of the Declaration of Independence there).

A house with 450,000 bricks in it. One that took three miles of forest to procure the lumber for the floorboards alone. Because it took a decade to be built, owner Mann Page was dead five years before its completion, drat the luck.

It was a fire in 1916 that destroyed all but the east wall, parts of the other walls, the four chimneys and the wine cellar. Wenger said efforts are underway to stabilize what's left for the sake of further research and for future generations.

As far as I'm concerned, I now have to see Rosewell. I want to stand on the banks of the York River and admire the surviving wine cellar and imagine the grand parties the house once hosted. Fortunately, the ruins are still open to the public...for now. Road trip?

At the reception afterwards (after being warned to keep the red wine in the social room for fear of spillage), I had the pleasure of being approached by several attendees, all of whom asked what my interest in the lecture was (was this a quiz?). Sheer nerdiness? Curiosity about history? I didn't have any easy answers, but I got lots of great conversation from strangers.

A stop at Black Sheep on the way home for dessert and wine, and to chat up a friend I hadn't seen in a while was in order. I timed it right so things were winding down.

I took a seat next to two girls trying to finish their battleships and somehow we ended up in conversation when they asked for a dessert menu and I shared mine before their server could return with one.

Not wanting to influence their dessert choice, I waited till they'd ordered and my LaBrea tarpit (chocolate creme brulee) arrived before offering them bites of mine, insisting they take an animal cracker and scoop out some chocolate for each of them to taste.

They loved it, just like I knew they would and from then on we were fast friends. They said my dessert acumen meant they should ask about my favorite restaurants.

That led to a discussion of all kinds of eating out, covering even Fredericksbug since they'd gone to school at Mary Washington (which also led to a wonderful discussion of the satisfaction of driving Route 301; they were kindred souls on that subject).

By the time they got up to leave, my friend had finished her shift so she sat down to eat and catch up. The radio was set to slacker.com, so the music was terrific (The XX, Smashing Pumpkins, Andrew Bird) and just the right volume now that all the customers were gone. We talked about customers with unrealistic expectations of small restaurants and how to address that.

She brought up RVA's love affair with brunch ("People will wait an hour and half and then order scrambled eggs and a biscuit. I don't get it."). We tried to understand why Richmonders are averse to community eating and California and Europe are not. And who decides to proclaim that a restaurant kid-friendly?

By the time my Guintrady Cote du Rhone Grenache blend was gone, we had talked and talked but hadn't solved all the issues on the table.

"We need to have a knitting circle with restaurant people and just talk about this stuff," she said. "You have to be there."

But I'm not a restaurant person, I told her. "Oh yes you are," she objected.

Will there be chocolate and wine?

Ha! Hot Dog Heaven

I should have been suspicious when I got the e-mail this morning:

I have an errand I need to do in the West End. Would you consider having lunch with me there at one of my favorite places?

I should have been suspicious when I met him at his office and was gifted with a beautiful pair of leather driving gloves that fit like, well, a glove. (Full disclosure: He'd ordered them for himself, they were way too small so he'd returned them; the vendor said they'd been "crinkled" in transit and wouldn't accept them so he'd had to order himself another pair) He immediately thought of me because doesn't everyone with a ten-year old Altima need driving gloves? Even so, the timing...

The point is that this is an old friend, one who knows me very well and would never ask me to the West End unless he had a good reason...or a sense of humor and he had both.

So off we went to run his errand which amounted to dropping off a flat tire at Costco's tire center to be fixed. He then pulled out from in front of the automotive department and into a parking space.

Rummaging through his toll money, he pulled out three dollar coins and a quarter. "Hungry?" he grinned. "Cheapest, best lunch in town."

But I got the last laugh. First, he presumed that it was my first trip to Costco, but a girlfriend had already given me my one and only Costco experience. Second, I love a good hot dog, so I wasn't the least bit disappointed at the prospect of a Hebrew National for lunch.

I must exude the air of a person who doesn't dig dogs. Not so. Just this summer while at the beach, I'd spotted Hebrew Nationals on a bar menu, but when I went to order one, the kitchen was closed. The friend who was with me that night was dumbfounded. "You like hot dogs?"

The next day the same friend went to the store to get HBs for lunch. I enjoyed two dogs with mustard, relish and onions while sitting on the porch swing staring at the ocean and thought nothing more of it.

Months later when the subject of hot dogs came up at a party, my friend was quick to tell our group, "You should see how fast Karen can eat two hot dogs!" I hadn't realized my eating speed had been noted or even that my speed was out of the ordinary. Doesn't everyone devour their dogs?

As I did today after loading it up with mustard, onions and sauerkraut. I was especially enamored of the onion dispenser's crank mechanism, allowing me the satisfaction of chopping my onions in a unique-to-me manner. I'm a big fan of the new experience, not to mention a fan of lunch for two with drinks for $3.15.

And, yes, I finished my hot dog long before my manly friend did. The joke was on him.

Jewish Anniversary Sex

Eat Jewish food
Sleep in a Christian bed
Wear Muslim clothing

That was only one of the many lessons I learned at the Encyclopedia of Jewish Food dinner that I attended at the JCC tonight, but then I had a lot to learn on the topic, being an Irish (lapsed) Catholic and all.

And no, for change, I wasn't solo; my date was one of my blog readers who'd contacted me and suggested that we meet up and enjoy the dinner and lecture together. Write a blog! Meet new people!

Between the charming company, trying new foods and (because I am a nerd) the interesting stuff I learned in the lecture/cooking demonstration, I had a terrific time.

Dinner began with the Romanian vegetable stew Guvetch and, given the Romanian propensity to put garlic in everything, I loved this dish. The woman on the other side of me picked out her cooked carrots (she only likes them raw) and I so wanted to fish them out of her bowland eat them, but thought better of it.

As we were eating the stew, author Gil Marks began a demonstration of making Keftes (Sepahardic leek patties), telling the audience that "the best implement in the kitchen is the human hand." My Southern grandmother would have agreed with him.

Next up was Fesenjan (Persian chicken with pomegranates and walnuts), fidellos tostados (Sepahardic toasted noodles) and the Keftes de Prasa that Marks had just shown us how to make. I was particularly fond of the onion, pomegranate and walnut mixture in the chicken's broth.

My non-Jewishness became glaringly apparent when the event's photographer came around to take a picture of our table. Someone suggested we have it taken bar mitzvah-style and still I sat in my seat.

Only when told did I understand that I needed to get up and stand behind the people on the other side of the table. Let's hope the picture doesn't reveal my cluelessness.

As we were nibbling Middle Eastern filled cookies (the iced anise was delicious), Marks went on to talk about the Americanization of Jewish food.

Once Jews began making some of their foodstuffs for sale, their best customers, he said, were the pioneers headed west and looking for well-preserved, long-lasting foods. Matzohs in covered wagons; who knew?

I had warned my date that I had a commitment immediately after the dinner lecture, so I said my goodbye and headed to the Listening Room's one-year anniversary performance. As one of the 95 people who came to the very first LR show, I was not going to miss tonight's music.

The LR is put on by the Foundry, a collective of musicians and artists who make it all happen every month. Appropriately, three members of that group were also tonight's first band, Jonathan Vassar and the Speckled Bird.

Despite having seen them perform many, many times over the past three years, tonight's show was something special. It came across as especially emotional and even songs I've heard before had been fine-tuned and seemed to hold fresh nuances.

And oh yes, Antonia did her legendary vox saw and even husband Jonathan acknowledged that he has no idea how she makes that amazing sound ("I tried once in the shower and it sounded like a dying rabbit.")

Favorite lyric: Think of me. I know that you know who I am.

Psalmships from Philly was next and singer/songwriter Josh told us that his band hadn't been able to make it. It didn't matter; his four-string guitar playing and distinctive voice delivered a noteworthy set.

He praised RVA, saying, "I don't really know what's going on in Richmond, but if Jonathan Vassar and Horsehead are any indication, you need to block the gates." I loved hearing that an out-of-towner recognized what a great scene we have here.

Favorite lyric: You can't get here fast enough. I will swim to you."

Horsehead played last and I had seen them do an acoustic set at Six Burner a while back, although they acknowledged that they're an electric band. They were very polished, very tight musically and the crowd really liked them.

They deviated from their set list only once, to play a new song about stalking...told from the stalker's perspective. "Hate me if you will," the lead singer said admitting that it was the first such song he knew of. He's undoubtedly right about that, but the audience found humor in the song.

Lead guitarist Kevin was a pleasure to watch from my front row seat; his talented musicianship and beautiful harmonies were the set's highlight for me.

I might add that both he and the bass player had a dimple, a surprisingly high dimple ratio for a four-piece band (I notice this kind of thing only because I have dimples myself).

Tonight's show ran unusually long for the Listening Room (not that anyone was complaining, mind you), but not so late that I couldn't head over to Republic afterwards with a couple of friends for a show about sex.

The inimitable Prabir Mehta was playing a show all about sex with his partner in crime (and symphony violinist) Treesa Gold. There were booty bags and condoms being handed out. And why was I there?

Not because I like Republic cause I don't (Andrew and I went one time and permanently crossed it off our list). Everyone in the place smokes, so we reeked after being in there for a relatively short time. And the crowd is, well, the crowd wouldn't like me.

But Prabir and Treesa are friends and talented musicians and I was curious to see what kind of hilarity would ensue. Would they even be able to keep straight faces?

It was totally worth it. Treesa rapped (yes, really) and as Prabir's brother noted, "That's the whitest thing I ever heard in my life." Her husband cringed and fortified himself with many Bass Ales (he also shot video, it should be noted).

When the smoke and annoying people finally got to us, we left, but just as we stepped outside, I heard the first few notes of the Divinyls' masterfully metaphoric "I Touch Myself." There was no way I could walk away from that.

On the side of the building, I slowly opened the door that faces the stage so we had our own private viewing area. The three of us watched as Prabir and Treesa tore it up.

At the end, Prabir glanced over at us with a look of pure sheepishness. Treesa beamed.

Keftes with a reader, four-string guitars and dimples, booty bags and self-pleasuring. This may have been a Tuesday night for the books.