Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Like What I Love

The message was clear.

Meet me tonight for dinner...TONIGHT...I say.

You'd think it had been a while since we'd been out together.

Oh, wait. It had.

Between a perpetually busy job, a move and massive house redecoration, he'd had no time to catch up with a friend since I don't know when.

All of a sudden, we were on for tonight.

Once we got together, his conversation focused on how a favorite restaurant had disappointed him the last three or four times he'd gone.

In fact, his beloved had stated for the record that they'd made their last visit there.

So naturally, the first place he suggests is that restaurant.

Fortunately, it's closed so we soldier on to Julep because, as he says, "I haven't been there in 100 years."

And I hadn't been there since Bobby's last night as mixologist there, back in 2011.

We chose the bar to eat, in the process meeting a visiting Chicagoan getting his southern chowhound on.

Despite it being a Monday night, Julep had a steady stream of people the whole time we were there, making for a lively vibe.

Friend chose a Louis Jadot Pouilly-Fuisse because he only likes white wine and doesn't care for new world varietals.

It was a lovely choice, medium bodied and elegant, and set the tone for the first course.

I began with a crabcake appetizer, not on the menu, but I figured if you can make a crabcake entree, making an appetizer couldn't be that hard, while my companion got the crispy fried oysters.

Both dishes showed a deftness with seafood that no doubt serves them well with visitors from places liked Chicago.

We shared a salad of local baby red romaine lettuce with Parmesan curls, grilled garlic butter croutons, white anchovy and a Creole-Cesar dressing.

Truth be told, the curls were flat, but the flavor was good.

Our conversation was all over the place because it had been so long since we'd been out together.

The service at Julep is always so professional, if a tad old school with only male servers, but we had to laugh when the hostess came behind the bar.

As she was refilling our water glasses, my friend spoke to her and when she didn't hear, she came back with, "HUH?"

It was the kind of loud, honking "huh?" that has grated on the nerves of parents, teachers and anyone who'd ever heard it come out of the mouth of a clueless youth.

So we'll say the staid atmosphere was tempered by the honking of the hostess.

My friend is a beef lover so the grilled dry-aged New York strip called to him and with good reason.

The perfectly cooked piece of meat (one of his complaints at the place that had been disappointing him so much lately) came with horseradish mashed potatoes, grilled rapini, ham hock demi glace and whole grain mustard butter.

He was so impressed that he couldn't wait to bring his long-suffering mate in for that steak.

I went with the cassoulet of Sausagecraft lamb sausage, duck confit, pork belly, white beans and vegetables with an herb bread crumb topping.

It arrived in a ceramic bowl holding enough heat to warm the room, so I had to be patient before going in.

But it was worth it for the succulent bits of lamb, duck and pig, although I thought the crumb layer a bit dry.

In my book, a good bread crumb topping has as much butter as bread, but not everyone feels that way.

Meanwhile, my friend was telling me that he and his main squeeze are trying to plan a vacation where neither of them checks messages for a week.

Wow, I remember when people planned vacations where their goal was just to relax and have a good time.

Clearly, we are now setting the bar much lower.

On the other hand, I was just happy to hear that the two workaholics were attempting to get away.

It was during our discussion of all the club-hopping we'd both done in Washington in our twenties that our server inquired about dessert.

Nothing on the menu grabbed me, but my companion insisted that we needed the Bananas Foster served tableside for two.

Amazed that I'd never had Bananas Foster, he told me it had been all the rage back in the '70s.

I was game, so next thing we knew, our server brought over his mobile kitchen and was sauteing bananas in butter and brown sugar, adding spiced rum and pouring the flaming mixture over pound cake and vanilla ice cream.

All I could think of was how key it would have been to keep all that flaming away from the polyester clothing of the '70s.

Or were there tragic Bananas Foster incidents back in the day?

And while my favorite desserts are always of the chocolate variety, the bananas Foster was a fine, sweet finish to our meal.

We stayed a while, sipping more wine and talking about recent parties and new restaurants before I deposited him back and went on with my night.

Making a bee-line to the Camel for an evening of new bands, I arrived as Sea of Storms was starting their set.

I knew nothing at all about the band beforehand, but I was stopped in my tracks when I saw them.

The lead singer/guitarist was Brandon Peck.

I bought one of Brandon's prints back in 2008 before I ever knew him. It's the largest piece I own and still hangs front and center in my living room.

A couple of years later, I met him when he bartended at Ipanema and then served at The Roosevelt.

I've had many conversations with Brandon, but I'd never seen him in his music guise.

I was riveted.

You think you know someone and all of a sudden, he's part of a post-punk/hardcore trio, spitting out lyrics three feet in front of my face and it's so awesome I can't move.

Thanks, Sea of Storms, for the welcome into the night's activities.

During the break, I found lots of people I knew and the general buzz was how excited everyone was that the Camel is hosting more free shows lately.

For some of us, it was two in a row after Sunday night's Scolaro show.

I think we can all agree that more free shows allow the attendees to spend more on the bands' merch as well as adult beverages.

Headlining tonight was Hens, the new project by Josh Hryciak (formerly of Mermaid Skeletons) and David Shultz (...and the Skyline).

With no idea what to expect from them, I was thrilled when the foursome came out with guitars blazing like Band of Horses.

Josh is a stellar songwriter and we were treated to song after song from a band playing out for the first time.

"This is an awesome turnout for a first show," Josh beamed.

"We 're lucky hens," David observed drolly.

But I'd already run into any number of friends who'd said they were there to see what Josh's new project was.

The fans of Mermaid Skeletons are legion in this town

But even better, the band was more than just Josh (I'm a big fan of David's, too) and with three people trading off lead vocals, I wouldn't be surprised to learn that others, like David, are doing songwriting, too.

Josh announced a couple of personal songs, including, "Like What I Love," a concept as necessary to me as it must have been to him to write the song.

Stylistically, the set varied with one song as smooth and mellow as an old R&B groove, while a particular favorite was keyboard-based with few vocals, an almost post-rock dreamscape, and others were full on guitar and drum rocking.

But apparently, that's just how Hens roll.

As my photographer friend observed later, "Dang that was a good show."

I'd go even further.

Dang, that was a good meal. Dang, that was two good bands I needed to hear.

And only TONIGHT...I say.

It's so easy to like what I love.

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