Thursday, April 14, 2011

There's No Place Like Home...at Amuse

Some of the best times my friend and I have shared have been our road trips. When we get away to DC or Norfolk for eating and music, we always return recharged after the change of scenery.

So I considered it the best kind of compliment when we walked out of the VMFA today after a three-hour lunch and she said, "I feel so amazing. That was like getting out of town for the day!"

Since my very first visit to the renovated VMFA and certainly to Amuse, I have touted its ability to transport the visitor to another, more cosmopolitan city. But it was my friend's first visit to Amuse (and only second visit to the new VMFA) so she was unprepared to spend the afternoon somewhere that felt so unlike Richmond.

It was high lunch hour when we arrived, but we were graciously seated in the deep green chairs and two glasses of Montand sparkling brut rose were a lovely visual accompaniment to the chairs' green. Within minutes, our bar stools became available and we moved.

She began by taking pictures with her new camera, of the bar, of the rose, even one of me that was so colorful I made it my new Facebook profile picture. I should have her take my picture more often because she does a damn fine job.

Since she was the Amuse virgin, I let her make our lunch selections. Being gluten intolerant, she was beyond thrilled at all the options she had on the menu.

As our bartender explained, the chef prefers to include vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free options on his menu so that people don't feel limited to asking for a dish minus half the ingredients.

We began with the mussels with Sausagecraft's Della Nona sausage in a garlic butter sauce; it broke my heart to know she was unable to sop up that yummy broth with bread, but she made do by eating the broth alone. I went through more bread than I care to admit.

Next up was a salad of Manakintowne greens, including pea shoots (always a sure sign spring is here), shaved fennel, and beautiful watermelon radishes, all in a grapefruit vinaigrette (her favorite).

For our main dish, she chose for us the roasted local chicken breast with gin and juice endive, sun-dried cherries and quinoa (another of her hot buttons). The yardbird tasted especially fresh, not at all like a factory-farmed supermarket bird.

Meanwhile, I had moved on to a second glass of rose while my friend nursed hers like a teetotaler. This was so uncharacteristic that I had to tease her about it. As I reminded her, she was the one who had schooled me on imbibing when we first became friends, keeping me up late and teaching me tolerance.

Our bartender, eavesdropping as all good bartenders do, looked up sagely.. "And the student becomes the teacher," she said nodding. My friend, trying valiantly to prove her mettle, claimed she would have a second glass.

Of course, by the time she did, I was ready for a digestif, so while she tackled rose #2, I ordered up an absinthe. Since it was her first time seeing the drip, she documented it with her new camera and, at my insistence, took a sip and eventually another.

Earlier in the week, I'd returned home one afternoon to a phone message saying, "I hope you're out having an absinthe for lunch." I hadn't been, but perhaps it planted the idea in my head.

But sparkling rose and absinthe for lunch? That's a pretty colorful lunch, even for me.

No wonder we didn't feel like we were in Richmond anymore. The terrific part was that we were.

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