Wednesday, March 28, 2012

When You Need Magical

Say what you want  but some nights the culture comes in the shape of a wine bottle from across the Atlantic.

So despite a stop at Bistro 27 for a glass of Gavi and to hear about new tequilas on order, say hello to some J-Ward neighbors and kiss some favorite staff, the evening's main destination was Secco.

Not that Secco isn't great every day, but tonight they were hosting a "handsome Portuguese winemaker" and offering food to pair with the man's Quinto do Crasto wines.

Honestly, I didn't want to couldn't find a more worthy cultural activity.

We arrived early, found some open bar stools and looked forward to some Portuguese men and wine.

Call me old school, but I thought it seemed wisest to begin with the man's white.

Grassy and crisp. it was a fine start to the evening. so we also ordered the Portuguese plate that Chef Tim had created to pair with it.

Sardine-wrapped olives, salt cod croquettes and house-made sausage arrived and made the wine sing.

This was why we'd come, to taste the food that best suited this wine.

And we weren't the only ones; the local bookstore owner was doing the same as were the affable wine rep and his lovely wife.

Next we tried his Quinto do Crasto Douro Red, a fruity and accessible gem that was seducing us further into his portfolio.

We kept going with food, choosing the house-made goat sausage with red chile-seasoned roasted olives, raisin puree and peanuts.

Sweet and salty; is there a more appealing flavor profile anywhere?

We followed that with the succulent pork cheeks with parsnip puree and beech mushrooms, despite my prior ignorance of beech mushrooms.

Rich and textural, I defy anyone to refuse cheeks if they tasted this dish without knowing what it was.

It seemed a good time to move on to the heartier red, the Crasto Superior, notable for its lovely tannins and long, lush finish.

As much as I am regretting the thermometer heading south the past two days, it did make savoring this mouth-filling red a real pleasure.

As usual, the music was spot-on (Beach House is always a great choice) and we debated about a dessert course.

With the Superior about gone, we opted for one of his ports with a chocolate bread pudding with caramel sauce and sea salt and an orange/cardamon cream-stuffed canoli.

Deep and complex, if the Portuguese can't do port right, who can?

Just to be truly indulgent, we also ordered the Carboncino, not for its proclaimed melty, mushroomy qualities but for its magical ones.

The way I see it, anytime you can find magical on a Tuesday night, you should take advantage of it.

Even when it comes in the form of a cheese.

It was at that point that the winemaker's table suddenly had a few empty seats and we opted to take them over.

Winemaker Miguel Roquette was indeed handsome, proudly unmarried at 45 and unintelligible when he tried to pronounce "Raleigh."

In other words, perfectly charming.

Coincidentally, I also knew a couple of the table's occupants, both the lively former Virginia first lady and her public service-bound son, making for a spirited discussion of running for office, the "Mikado" and temperature controls.

And when Berlin came up in the conversation, I proudly showed off the Berlin tights I was wearing.

Owner Julia had already complimented them when I'd arrived.

It's amazing how much mileage you can get out of a pair of old tights when the conversation goes European.

I heard about next year's schedule for Virginia Opera, why I should write a book and the winemaker's jet-setting lifestyle.

Like I said, culture doesn't always come in the form of a performance.

Sometimes it's just the people around you.

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