Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Hey, "R" Months!

I spent the day on the Northern Neck and practically every gas station I passed driving out there had a sign out front advertising "Fresh Oysters."

Which must be exactly why a French place like Bistro Bobette was hosting a wine dinner tonight featuring not only Virginia oysters but Virginia wines.

Yes, Virginia wines in a place that is as Francophile as they come, but it is Virginia Wine Month after all.

How could I resist?

Roping in a fellow oyster-lover, I arrived early enough to greet the chef (lip prints left on both cheeks, as requested), the wine host (looking very dapper in a gray suit) and the bartender (as busy tonight as I've ever seen him)before my friend arrived.

While I waited, I was served with Barren Ridge's Rose, a dry Rose with beautiful color and a representation of the winery that would be featured tonight.

I don't know when the next time I'll be sipping local in Bobette will be, so I savored it.

Once my friend arrived, we chose bar seats for our meal and a server came up and asked if it was okay to release our table to the masses.

Of course, I told him. "Good," he responded, "Cause I already did!"

And masses is not exaggerating because there were so many people present tonight, including the ubiquitous Lincoln cast.

Yet again, I saw "Lincoln" actor Bruce McGill and spoke to him about him following me all over town.

Dinner was a masterful effort by the chef and the Wine Consigliere, Rob,who had paired courses beautifully.

Barren Ridge, out of Fisherville, was the featured winery and the owner, John Higgs, came over to introduce himself.

"He wouldn't have lingered so long if I'd been alone," my friend noted. I can't help it if your people are a weak one.

The first course paired Barren Ridge Viognier with raw Rappahannock oysters (from a gas station, perhaps?) and a traditional mignonette.

Next we had Stingray Oysters Rockefeller with the Tinkling Spring, a blend of Viognier and Vidal Blanc. The acidity of the wine cut the richness nicely.

The oysters Rockefeller were, by consensus, the best anyone had ever had. Instead of the over-baked and dry cheesy version, the juiciness of fresh, briny Stingray oysters dominated.

Vidal Blanc reappeared in its purest form for the third course, Old Salt oyster stew, a soup rich with cream and oysters and decadent with perfectly balanced flavors.

The Rose we'd had earlier had lost out to the Cabernet Franc as the pairing for the bacon-wrapped quail with oyster stuffing.

While I hate to see a good Rose lose out (Rose season quickly fading as it is), the Cab Franc really was the wine to handle pig and quail.

And can we just take a moment to appreciate the beauty of quail with oysters and bacon?

All the wines were notable, so getting a chance to talk to the winery owner proved especially satisfying.

The winery is in a former orchard and we got off on a discussion of older apple varieties versus Red Delicious (a type I wouldn't eat if you paid me) and how his ancestors' orchard had lost out to the big guys.

His story underscored the importance of seeking out obscure apple varieties instead of going with West Coast big boys.

My friend, a smoker, returned from one of his cig breaks toting three roses, saying that if he'd been my actual date (he wasn't; his wife was busy) he'd have brought flowers.

Nice touch.

Later during a discussion  with the bartender, owner and wine host (all married) of why I'm still unattached, I pointed out that all the good ones are taken.

Their response amounted to "aw, shucks." Not terribly helpful.

For dessert, we had lavender ice cream (the lavender coming from Goochland County) profiteroles with caramel sauce.

The change-up to lavender and caramel made for a  most pleasing profiterole change of pace. My friend paired his with Calvados while I went with Sauternes.

The chef was in and out of the kitchen all night, happy to be serving Virginia food and wine and pleased at his over-full dining room.

After four hours, we took our over-full bellies and walked outside to leave.

I was off to Balliceaux and my friend was headed home. Mine turned out to be the better choice.

My intent was to see Hey, Marseilles, a Seattle septet and by the time I'd arrived, I'd missed only one song.

They were an indie music lover's wet dream.

From across the room, my friend Austin gave me a thumbs up and I did the same.

Whoa, this was amazing music.

With trumpet, drums, violin, guitars, cello (occasionally bass), and keyboards (occasionally accordion), they came across as Fanfarlo meets Devotchka meets the Decemberists meets Ra-Ra Riot.

There was even a Francophile quality to the sound.

Chamber pop? Cabaret pop? Folk Pop? Who really cares?

I couldn't have been any more thrilled with the music if I'd booked it myself (insert nod to Chris Bopst).

"Thanks for hanging out with us on a Tuesday, in RVA. We're Hey, Marseilles," the lead singer rhymed. "And that is why I write the lyrics."

The lyrics were actually quite smart and the full sound from so many instruments made fans of almost everyone in the room.

And I guarantee you when they hit Philly a few nights from now, it'll cost way more than five bucks.

It won't likely follow a stellar dinner of Virginia wine and oysters, either.

"Fresh Oysters, Stellar Wine, Awesome Music:" That's what those gas station signs should have said coming back.

Not that I don't like pleasant surprises.

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