Here's my restaurant wish for Richmond: more places near Center Stage where people can park once and party twice.
I had a couple date to go to the symphony and we made a reservation for 9 North Fourth beforehand. Perfect plan, right? Well, it was until they called and said they'd be closed tonight for "mechanical problems." Rats.
That left us with exactly one choice, Capital Ale House, which was fine because they're beer fans and all three of us are fans of food in casings. Done and done, as my friend Scott is fond of saying.
And while the two of them stuck to the menu, he with kielbasa and pierogies and she with knockwurst and bratwurst, I was special of the day all the way.
There was no resisting the pork belly sausage banh mi with pickled carrots, onions, cilantro, spicy aioli and fries. Or if there was, I didn't know how to do it. And might I mention that the star of the dish was courtesy of Sausagecraft? Enough said.
Oh, was it good. A baguette barely contained the sausage (which our server described as "pork belly in skin"), cut into fat slices.
The fatty richness of the sausage married beautifully with the crunch of the pickled toppings and heat of the sauce; it was banh mi heaven (Kevin, eat your heart out). I was so glad I'd suggested Cap Ale as Plan B.
After an enormous and shared piece of chocolate cake a la mode, we moseyed up to Center Stage for some Weber, Schuman and Brahms.
Guest conducting tonight was Victor Yampolsky, impressive with his mane of white hair and dapper in his tails. I remarked to my friend that he had a certain Leonard Bernstein-quality, only to later read in the program that he worked under Bernstein.
I especially loved his dramatic bowing style, which involved throwing his head back before dipping forward into a bow. Perhaps it was to better showcase that shock of thick hair.
After intermission came the highlight of the evening, the guest artist Awadagin Pratt, originally from Pittsburgh.
He took the stage in black shirt and pants and I think I'm safe in saying that it was undoubtedly the first time a man with mid-back-length dreadlocks had sat down at the grand piano with the RSO. And who better to play Brahms' Concerto No. 1 in D Minor for Piano, Opus 15?
I loved the way he wiped the sweat from his face between movements, undoubtedly caused by his enthusiastic playing style which often brought him up off his stool. I was also taken by the way his left foot kept time so hard that it could be heard in between piano notes.
Brahms was followed by Live at Ipanema, switched from its usual Sunday slot because of the Superbowl. That turned out to be an error in judgment for all of us.
Playing was French-born Blasco, a talented singer-songwriter, but a man with a quiet sound unable to compete with the raucous Saturday night crowd.
He began his set by saying, "This is going to be quiet, so if you're going to keep talking, you'll have to whisper. But everything sounds more important when you whisper." The problem was people talked over him saying that.
Accompanied only by his auto harp and crystal-clear whistling, he put on a beautiful performance for the few of us actually listening.
The others tried shouting and making disparaging remarks ("He sounds like Rufus Wainwright and that's a good thing. But not tonight and not here," one idiot said) before eventually leaving.
One very drunk guy said he wanted to leave for the Village. "You either want a milkshake or a nineteen-year old," his friend smirked. "Actually, both," he slurred. Gross. By about half an hour into Blasco's set, most of the truly obnoxious and drunk crowd had left.
Only then did it start to feel like the cozy and intimate affair Live at Ipanema usually is for music lovers who regularly attend.
Better late than never, those of us who stayed till the end agreed. All of us felt fortunate to have heard a rare evening of song accompanied by auto harp playing and whistling.
My last stop was Sprout for their show, which I knew would continue right up until closing.
I arrived in time to hear Charlie Glen of the Trillions play keys and sing his hooky pop songs to an enthusiastic crowd. He finished with the crowd favorite "Bad Potato," attributed to his geeky father and played standing up.
Paul Ivy vs. the Board of Education unexpectedly took the stage next, although they had been slated as the headliner. From the first note, the crowd was into them.
These guys had a garage rock sound (although I'm sure Paul will correct me on that if I mislabeled) led by Paul's excellent guitar playing.
Their set began with a kick-ass version of "Both Sides Now," hardly your typical garage rock band song choice. I was impressed, even as I wondered how many in the crowd knew the song's origins.
The show ended with singer-songwriter Ben Shepherd singing his cryptic and heartfelt lyrics. A heckler marred the vibe in the room, not once, but twice before mercifully disappearing. Ben, a local favorite, ended his set with a song he said had no music: a poem.
After a night like tonight, unlike with the restaurant issue, I can't say I have any music wishes for Richmond.
Just keep it coming.