The best evenings are those where you have no idea where you're going and yet end up exactly where you're supposed to be.
When I left the house, I kind of, sort of planned to stay close, but once in the car, I drove straight to Bistro Bobbette, making me think that that's where I needed to be.
The bar was mostly full when I arrived, except for a couple of open stools; I chose the one in between two guys. One was the evening's entertainment (he played the accordion) and the other a regular who lives nearby during the week and then returns to his other home for the weekend.
I got an enthusiastic greeting (and compliment on my tights) from bartender Olivier, who'd been absent on my last two visits. I asked both guys on either side of my stool if they were okay with my company and got nothing but enthusiasm.
Olivier immediately offered me a glass of sauvignon blanc (why, yes, if you insist) and my neighbors introduced themselves. The accordion player and I discovered a mutual connection almost at once (we have four local accordion players in common) and the neighbor remembered meeting me at Bobette a while back. Hello, gentlemen.
I asked for the salmon rilletes, a new addition to the menu, and my seatmates engaged me in conversation about local dining and culture. Luckily, I knew a thing or two about those topics.
My rilletes were outstanding with the surprise of Russian caviar on top (and, yes, I was told exactly what, but am not enough of a foodie to care, much less share). As I dove in, Olivier came over and asked, "Are you driving?"
Unsure where he was going with this, I said I was. "Okay, I'll make it smaller then," he said, returning with a cordial glass of chilled Ciroc vodka, a French product made from snap frost grapes. He assured me that it was the ideal complement to the caviar and that it was reasonably priced.
It was the perfect thing with my rilletes and caviar, and I appreciated the suggestion. Chef Francis came out to see how I was liking the new dish and to join me in a glass of Ciroc.
A newcomer joined our group; he was a coworker of the neighbor, but friendlier and more into the conversation. Shortly after I switched from Sauvignon Blanc to Muscadet, another regular came over to me with a plea (and, yes, it was acknowledged that it was regular night).
"You know, here at Bouchon," he began before I corrected him on the name, "Sometimes we shift seats at the bar so other regulars can sit together." He'd had three friends arrive, so we moved down to accommodate them.
The neighbor left, leaving me with his coworker and the accordion player. We assumed the traditional boy/girl placement.
The coworker turned out to be way more interesting than his cohort had been. We discussed catholic churches, Jamaican cuisine and European travel. He has lived in Europe for extended stretches, so he was full of good stories about food and people. We found out that we're both fans of Rosie Connolly's over Penny Lane Pub.
Along about then, the regular who'd asked us to move began to feel guilty and ordered apple pies for us as well as his foursome. Do I know what went into this concoction?
No, but I feel safe in saying it was neither wine nor good tequila, the only things I drink. Well, except for French vodka with Russian caviar.
As the clock approached 10:00, I knew I had to get going to make a show at Balliceaux. My new friend walked me to my car, full of compliments and suggestions that we meet up again soon. I think it's likely that will happen. I want to hear more about the Belgium and Vienna years.
Things were just getting cranked up when I got to Balliceaux. I paid the cover charge, hoping that its higher-than-usual cost would eliminate all but those who really wanted to hear indie singer/songwriter Karl Blau.
Blau, from Washington state, has been in town the past few days recording with Matt White and company. Tonight's show was the Spacebomb launch party, Spacebomb being the name of both White's recording space and his record label.
Naturally, half the musicians in town were at the show. I teased a couple of them about how every sax player in town was there. I spoke to no less than three drummers, all of whom gave 75% as the amount of time they watch only the drummer when they're at a live show.
Blau was terrific; his first set was just him and his guitar and he began with "That's How I Got to Memphis," easily one of my favorites of his. His Tim Buckley-sounding voice was a pleasure to hear live.
After an extended break with drummer Pinson Chanselle spinning records (Randy Newman, Aretha Franklin), Blau was back, this time with some of RVA's finest backing him up. Matt White (guitar), Cam Ralston (bass), Chanselle (drums) and sporadically Bryan Hooten (trombone) and Bob Miller (trumpet) became Blau's band.
Maybe it was just the musical inspiration in the room, but these guys got into a groove and just explored their musical ideas. Blau used multiple mics and half the room seemed to have tambourines; the other half danced or bobbed.
The best part of it all was the feeling of being part of a moment that will likely never happen again. Blau will return to Washington and, yes, we'll have a recording in late 2011, but nothing could compare to the energetic and creative vibe that swirled through that room for a few magical hours.
I met a really interesting guy tonight, had my first caviar and vodka combo, and heard a truly unique performance afterwards. Being where I was supposed to be worked out beautifully for me.
Things are working out awfully well these days. Don't think I haven't noticed.