Friday, April 29, 2011

Skating at Bistro Bobette

We're not the same town we were before the VMFA remodeling, I swear.

I can say that because artists like Julian Schnabel didn't used to come here to talk, as he did tonight in a wide-ranging discussion with modern art curator John Ravenal.

Schnabel was funny, talkative and opinionated.

"Paintings are not pictures of something; they are something," he told the audience.

As a painter who has been known for both painting on broken ceramic plates as well as painting on velvet, the man should know of what he speaks.

"I wanted to paint on something particular to me."

The time went by quickly with Schnabel talking about the Picassos he has owned, the passage of time ("People invented time because they couldn't handle infinity") and imagery ("It almost didn't matter what the imagery was").

When Ravenal tried to wrap up the talk, Schnabel was having none of it.

"Anybody want to go home?" he asked of the crowd. "You won't be rude if you leave."

Not a soul moved.

When asked about favorite music, he cited Berlin, Aretha's version of Bacharach's "I Say a Little Prayer" and all of Tom Waits' ballads.

Personally, I found that to be a terrific answer.

Finally the talk turned to Schnabel's films and he spoke of the lack of critical praise for his new film "Miral."

Frustrated, he sent copies to actor and director friends to get input.

"I'm going to play something that will blow your mind," he promised. "And if it doesn't, you can say 'Julian, you're full of shit."

He then held his cell up to the microphone.

It was director Carl Reiner raving about the film and saying that Julian should call him back for more praise.

"Call this number for lauding," Reiner said in his unmistakable voice.

I have to say, the unexpected pleasure of an artist talk at the VMFA is hearing the artist's voicemail messages.


When I walked out of the museum, it had obviously just rained but the temperature was lovely for a drive downtown to Bistro Bobette to meet one of my favorite couples for dinner.

With them, it's a pleasure to be a fifth wheel.

I was late, but they were later, so it worked out well.

The bar was full of regulars - the Welshman, the New Yorker- who amused me until my friends arrived.

Mas de la Dame Rose helped, too.

Because we were overdue for a couple date, it was a while before we got around to ordering.

I couldn't resist the special of skate wing with fiddlehead ferns and artichoke bits in a balsamic reduction.

My handsome friend got the moullard duck confit with greens and green peppercorns; his beloved the veal with morels in a brandy cream sauce.

We three never eat together without playing musical plates and tonight was no different.

The texture of the duck was uniquely different, the morels and fiddleheads screamed spring right now and the skate everyone agreed was magnificent.

As much as we talked, discussing theater, Peter Chang's, Richmond Magazine and, of course, the new and upcoming restaurants, we didn't come close to closing the gap on new-to-each-other information.

In fact, when I mentioned my recent visit to the Balkan, the response I got was "WTF?" said just like that for decorum's sake, I guess.

"But you don't ever go to the West End," he said.

Never say never about a lot of things.

Eventually we were the last customers, having outlasted even the other regulars, so we made our way out to Cary Street, satisfied after another superb meal at Bobette.

If the masses ever discover this place (and I hope they will), it will be a squeeze for the regulars because it's just not that big.

As I drove westward, vaguely intending to go home, I remembered it was Mondo Italia night at Balliceaux and detoured there.

Jazz band Glows in the Dark was playing music from 70s Italian films while just such a film showed behind them.

Don't knock the pleasures of Italian movie music from the 70s until you've heard it.

Despite endless sex and violence onscreen (breasts and bloodshed everywhere), the music is terrific and being played by some of RVA's best jazz players.

Tonight they even had a couple of vocalists, Eddie P. from Amazing Ghost and Lydia Ooghe from Lux Vacancy, making for a musically perfect way to end my evening.

Let's take stock here.

A world-renowned artist and director not only speaks at the VMFA, but offers to arrange a screening of his brand-new film there since it may never open in Richmond (and gets an ovation when he says it).

A local restaurant offers morels, fiddleheads and skate wing as casually as some places used to offer fillet Mignon and broccoli.

A jazz band who has scored films for national directors plays a free show of vintage 70s movie music performed by some of RVA's A-list jazz musicians.

Maybe it doesn't have to do with the museum renovation, but clearly we're in the new and improved Richmond, VA.

Funny, I feel right at home.


  1. this one should be printed in the Washington Post with the headline - Washingtonians aren't this lucky.... or you're paying massive mortgages and parking for what again?

    Great blog about another great night for you!