Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Multiple Dates and Hot Seats

If variety is the spice of life, then I had a well-seasoned evening.

I'd been on an all-day road trip date (details not forthcoming) and by the time I got home, it was time to get cleaned up and figure out what to sandwich around the Listening Room tonight. I must say, it turned out to be a pretty tasty concoction.

And speaking of, Tasting Tuesdays are always a good excuse to go to the Empress, so I decided to get sustenance there.

I must have been earlier than usual because it was still the "wine enthusiast" period, with all glasses $2 off. That was my motivation for ordering organic, the Cuvee Hortense, something I wouldn't have typically gotten, but thoroughly enjoyed.

Anyway, the tasting was forgotten as soon as I spotted the bacon-wrapped dates on the menu. They're a favorite of mine and I'd never had theirs. Instead of the usual five or six, this was nine of them, albeit a bit smaller than I'd seen before.

But they came atop a local honey and Gorgonzola sauce that was to die for. As much as I love the sweet/salty combination of bacon and dates, they were elevated to something truly exceptional with this rich sauce. I even sopped the decorative micro-greens in it.

Just as I was finishing the last date, my server came by and I asked for the grilled asparagus, not even sure where that desire came from. They were perfectly cooked and seasoned with a bit of heat. And they made me want protein.

So next I asked for the beef carpaccio with shaved Manchego, arugula, black sea salt, chili-infused oil and slices of grilled sourdough.

Of note was the thickness of the raw beef, which is usually paper thin. Not so this, but it was none the worse for it and the generous and extremely flavorful serving satisfied on every level.

Because I'd taken my time deciding and then eating sequentially, all of a sudden it was time to get to the Listening Room's new digs, the Firehouse Theater.

Not sure what to expect with a new venue, I wanted to get there early enough to score a good seat and have time to visit before the music began; I succeeded on both counts. I mean, some of these people I hadn't seen in 18 hours.

One of the three bands was not playing due to a car accident, so the first to be introduced was Dogs on Main Street. MC Chris said that he wasn't going to tell us anything about the performer because "he prefers to remain mysterious."

I think his name was Mac (it was spoken quickly) and he came out cracking wise about himself as he tuned his guitar. "I wish my songs were as funny as I am," he lamented. "Sorry, Mom."

He had a compelling voice, kind of growl-like, but not in an affected way. This guy was a self-deprecator par excellence, too, questioning why he was on stage and why people were clapping for him. Because we like talented singer/songwriters?

The Hot Seats played next and they'd brought their fans with them. The bluegrass-loving locals are a big favorite live what with upright bass, drums, guitar, fiddle, banjo (sometimes two) and occasional mandolin. They also get bonus points for frequent trading of instruments and multiple vocalists.

They introduced a cover by saying, "Here goes. This is as straight ahead bluegrass as we do. As we can. As we will," and played a Scruggs and Flatt tune. John Prine was not far behind. It was a lot of strings, a lot of voices and the audience loved it.

The move to the Firehouse meant that there's now a bar for the Listening Room (but, alas, no donuts; they were sacrificed for the sake of beer and wine), so some of us hung around afterwards to mingle and talk about the first show at the new space (Antonia: "Change is hard").

The consensus was that it was different but good. Not as intimate, but better and more comfortable viewing. And a lot less work for the crew that sets up and breaks down each show, which is a very good thing.

I topped off my evening sandwich by walking up a few doors to the Camel for jazz, for which there's no cover charge on Tuesdays. With a rotating cast of local jazz musicians, it's a tempting way to end any Tuesday night.

By the time I arrived, I only caught the last couple songs of the Larry Branch Agenda's set, both originals, which sounded good. I'd brought a friend with me, saw a few repeats from the Listening Room and met up with another jazz lover.

Next up was keyboard man Steve Kessler, playing with drums, bass and sax. He explained right off the bat that the entire evening would be free jazz, totally improvised. Now things were getting interesting.

You never knew which member of the quartet was going to lead things off and then it was just a matter of time before the other bobbing heads came in behind and around to fill things out.

Frequently when one player went off on an obscure tangent, the others laughed out loud or smiled broadly as if to say, "WTF?" A few times the music actually stopped and a quick low-volume discussion ensued as suggestions were made.

But mostly it was a set of musical interplay between a bunch of guys that captured the audience's ears and eventually rewarded them. At the close of the set, Kessler said, "Thanks for coming to listen to our rehearsal." Happy to oblige. I love seeing a room full of blissed-out jazz geeks.

Evening sandwich gone, I brushed aside the crumbs and licked my lips. That certainly worked out well.


  1. That "details not forthcoming" is KILLING me . . .

  2. You wouldn't want me to kiss and tell, literally or figuratively speaking, now would you?