Sunday, October 9, 2011

Smelling the Broom

I've borrowed a husband at Julep's before but tonight I lent myself out to one.

As in a friend's wife was away and he wanted company at dinner so I said yes to being that company (after the first two people he asked said no).

When he asked where we should go, I suggested Julep because I'd met the new chef a while back and then run into him twice in the past two weeks.

"You need to come in," he'd say sincerely, assuring me I wouldn't be sorry.

And since it's Virginia Wine Month and Julep has an extensive wine list, I knew we could count on that even if the food was still a tad lackluster.

It was anything but.

I began with Barboursville Rose while we negotiated over the menu, eventually settling on crispy Saltine oysters with Tasso ham remoulade.

It's so nice to be back in the "R" months.

Goodness but they were delicious with the Saltines providing the salt and crunch to contrast with the succulent  oysters inside.

With them we shared a half bottle of the Thibaud Jannison Sparkling, continuing our my devotion to the Old Dominion's wines.

Although my friend enjoyed it, he'd have never chosen it, so I know it was my enthusiasm that caused him to cave.

That and, as he pointed out, even a grilled cheese tastes better with bubbles.

Julep was a zoo with not an open table for the first three and a half hours we were there.

Looking at the menu, the signature shrimp and grits hadn't gone anywhere but it was the low country bouillabaisse that caught our eye.

Crawfish, mussels, fish and big chunks of Tasso ham floated in a dense broth with fingerling potatoes, sweet corn and grilled baguette.

The sop-worthy broth had the taste of a long simmered stock with herbs and each component of the seafood was perfectly cooked.

To accompany such a savory soup meal, we chose Chateau Petit Moulin Blanc, a white Bordeaux listed as having aromas of broom and acacia flowers.

You have to know that I could not pass up a chance to have a broom nose, nor could my friend when I pointed it out.

And while I can tell you that it was complex and well balanced with a long finish, the broom escaped me.

I'm a wine novice, you know. Had it been an aroma of Swiffer, I'd have gotten it right away.

While my friend indulged his cigarette habit, I learned about Johnnie Walker Blue Label from a nearby barsitter ("ridiculously over-priced and I won't drink it till I'm ready to die") and, from the manager, about men needing to reach 40 to have a clue  ("I thought I was together but I was still a mess at 35 and most men are").

When Chef Randy finally came out for water and saw me, I raved about the food. "Told you, told you," he said with a sly smile. Yes, he had.

It's only cocky if you can't back it up.

Dessert was a bourbon chocolate tart which had more crust than we needed, but did a good job providing the period at the end of our meal sentence.

My friend was done by that point, so I stuck a fork in him and made my way to the Camel for the Ten Buck Tour while he headed home to bed.

I walked in just as Joshua James was starting his set and I was glad not to have missed him because I've been a fan ever since a friend gave me a mix tape containing both  "Coal War" and the heartbreaking "FM Radio" about the death of his father.

He's got such an intimate, haunting voice and the Camel was the ideal place to watch him perform since the crowd was nowhere near what it should have been.

He had a guitarist and drummer with him to flesh out the songs of his Nebraska childhood and the disappointments since then.

He closed by moving off the stage to the floor, bringing a cymbal and opening a suitcase with bells which he spread out on the floor in front of him.

Seeing Joshua James playing bells and singing from the floor may be one of the all-time highlights of my many Camel shows.

HoneyHoney was co-headlining with JJ and I knew very little about them but had a good feeling.

The usual duo was a four-piece tonight, except for two songs they did as a duo ("Back to our roots"), and lead singer Suzanne played mostly banjo and occasional violin while guitarist Ben shared vocals.

"We've been here a while and we're feeling pretty feisty," Ben said, "so if you don't mind,we're going to play hard and fast for a while."

Their music was a melange of folk, alt-country, maybe a little honky-tonk and rock. There was even some movie-sounding element to it all.

Suzanne's voice was big enough to pull it all off and was beautifully served when Ben sang along, like when they covered Hank Williams' "Lost Highway."

Favorite line: "Don't know how to hold back what I shouldn't say."

By the time they got to their last song, they were rocking hard and the crowd was totally into them.

As one of the servers, a musician herself, said to me, "These guys are absolutely awesome."

I agreed. It was a ten-buck ticket show to be remembered for some time to come.

Too bad for the borrowed husband who missed it.

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