Sunday, February 12, 2012

How Soon is Now?

If the Virginia Historical Society had spontaneously combusted tonight, half the restaurants in Richmond would have had to close and a lot of great tights would have gone up in a puff of smoke.

Fortunately that wasn't the case.

The occasion was the inaugural Elbys, Richmond's restaurant awards named for Master Chef Paul Elbling.

Shortly after arriving, I came face to face with the great man himself when he walked up to me and said, "You have such beautiful stockings. And what's in them."

Leave it to a Frenchman to compliment a random stranger right off the bat.

Soon the hordes of restaurant people and the merely curious were herded into the auditorium where I had heard many a Banner Lecture.

It was there that Richmond Magazine proceeded to announce the restaurant awards while alternately sharing food history about the eight Virginia Presidents.

Several people told me that they could have lived without the food trivia, but I loved it.

Witness: George Washington was obsessed with composting (yes, dung piles at Mount Vernon). Virginia ladies valued themselves based on their bacon.

And then just as the tension was becoming claustrophobic, the honored were called onstage.

Some awards were hardly surprises. Lemaire won for fine dining.

Dale Reitzer won Chef of the Year, getting laughs with his acknowledgement of his staff that, "I'm not shit without them."

Balliceaux won for their drink program, with mixologist Sean Rapoza giving a nod to Bobby Kruger for having blazed the trail.

When Black Sheep won Best Neighborhood restaurant, owner Amy spoke eloquently about their commitment to Carver and getting people to come to "that" neighborhood.

Host Juan Conde followed her remarks by saying, "Just keep serving those chicken livers and I'll keep coming back."

When Secco won for Best Wine Program, Chef Tim Bereika  in Chucks Taylors and owner Julia (the tomboy) in a dress took the stage.

After thanking her suppliers, she said, "And thanks to Richmond for getting it."

You're welcome, oh ginger one.

EAT Restaurant Partners (Blue Goat, Osaka et al) won for Restaurant Visionaries, with Ron Melford saying, "Thanks to everyone who didn't go to a chain restaurant last year."

Call me proud of my membership in that group.

Best Pastry Chef went to Josh Gaulin of Acacia, beating out one of my favorite chefs, Carly Herring, who I was happy to hear has now landed at C'est le Vin.

Another of my favorites got the nod when Caleb Shriver at Aziza's won Rising Culinary Star for across the board perfection as well as having "the work ethic of a beast."

I'd just been sucking on his bones Friday night. Beef marrow, that is.

The Roosevelt took Best New Restaurant to much applause and gratitude from Chef Lee Gregory who sounded genuinely surprised at the honor.

At the after-party, Marty of Steady Sounds spun the excellent mix of music which got a surprisingly few restaurant types to dance.

Richmond magazine's editor said she was hoping to see people dancing on the tables and, frankly, that would have been awesome.

One of Acacia's stellar bar staff suggested he and I get things going but once he told me he used to teach swing dancing, I thought better of it.

Fortunately, other Acacia types got the dancing started.

Because there were only two bars, lines were long but waiting became a party with people visiting one another in line in the interim.

Food tables were everywhere and they featured the food preferences of the Virginia-born Presidents.

While loading up on spoon bread and fried chicken, the server said, "I love your tights. I noticed them when you came in two hours ago."

Wow. You're going to hand me food and say nice things at the same time? Definitely my kind of party.

And I was far from the only pair of cute tights. Women I have never seen wear tights pulled them out for this shindig. High heels abounded.

One restaurant owner, when complimented on her tights, admitted that she'd found them in her closet, along with a beautiful evening purse.

I only wish my closet held such a treasure trove of goodies.

After several conversations, a favorite sous chef belatedly introduced me to his girlfriend, apologizing for forgetting previously.

"I'm trying to be better," he said with a grin. "I'm teachable."

His lovely girlfriend agreed that teachable men were the very best kind.

Dollop's baker had on one of the most stylish and colorful dresses of the evening and when I complimented her on it, she admitted that it was really a bathing suit cover-up.

You can't buy that kind of fashion sense.

I finished up at the Broadbent table for some 1996 Madeira Colheita, smooth and nutty on the finish.

Our little group fell into a discussion of what we were doing in 1996.

Let's see. Not drinking Madeira and not having half as much fun as now.

Do they give awards for finally getting it right?