Friday, April 15, 2011

Down the Rabbit Hole

Walking through that giant door at the Virginia Center for Architecture (aka the Branch House on Monument Avenue) always feels a bit like an Alice in Wonderland moment to me. Yes, I'm vertically-challenged but I think it would feel enormous to anyone because it is.

By the same token, standing in front of an 8 x 13 foot living wall feels a tad surreal, kind of like a house plant on steroids. Or maybe a flat Audrey ("Feed me...").

Tonight's opening was for "Vertical Gardens," a new show about green walls and green roofs and how they're now being embraced for their economical, environmental, and aesthetic values. Some of them were truly fantastical.

There was a private residence in Mumbai, which was essentially a residential tower inspired by the hanging gardens of Babylon. The core of the tower was living space with lush greenscapes growing around it on every floor and hanging off the edges. Serious money was clearly involved in this creation.

Considering that vertical gardens were "invented" in the late 80s, the exhibit made clear how much progress has been made with them in barely a quarter of a century. Rooftop gardens? Pshaw, old news.

I mean, even the Shake Shack in NYC's Madison Square Park has a green roof. Chicago's City Hall has one. But the truly impressive one was the Vancouver Convention Center, which sported a six-acre green roof.

The centerpiece of the exhibit was Edmundo Ortega's giant living wall made from hundreds of plants over the course of three days. I know that only because he was at the opening and willing to talk to anyone who asked about his creation. I loved how enthusiastic he was about creating these huge green walls for people.

When I left the opening, I drove down Park Avenue and spotted a farmer friend I hadn't seen in months in front of his apartment. Calling out to say hello, he looked at me like I'd grown horns.

"I've never seen you driving before. I don't think of you that way," he called uneasily from the sidewalk. I had no idea.

Not wanting to further destroy his illusions about me, I drove on to Six Burner, tonight the site of multiple large group gatherings, but with not a soul at the bar.

A "Washingtonian" magazine was suspiciously front and center at the end of the bar; I learned it was because of a mention of Six Burner in it (Chef Philip Denny's use of sous-vide made it worthy).

In an article about getaways, Richmond was the first suggested destination (come on, Picasso, of course). And, like every other out-of-town piece ever written about our fair city, Millie's was recommended. Yawn.

I look forward to the day when non-local writers can make RVA restaurant suggestions without mentioning Millie's. I'm pretty sure everyone on the east coast knows about Millie's by now...and no doubt mistakenly believes that it's our only (or best) restaurant.

Maron Cotes de Provence was considered the featured white (because, sadly, no one has a featured pink listing), so that was a  no-brainer. Dinner, not that I needed it, was the duck confit, potato gnocchi, cocoa and blood orange sections.

I'm a gnocchi hound anyway, but put it with that decadent duck confit and I could see why the bitterness of the dusted cocoa was the right thing to do. Guilt should have come with every rich bite, but didn't.

Instead, I took my time savoring it, enjoying conversation with a rotating cast. On the chat table (bar?) were party tape mixes, slaughterhouse rules, where to eat in DC and new restaurant wars. I couldn't have asked for a better combination.

Unlike Alice, I didn't need anything labeled "Eat me" and "Drink me" for clarification. Although as usual, I may as well have been wearing a "Talk to me" sign.

Curious Satisfying how I manage to convey that without a label.

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