Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Take It Easy

So, Holmes says and the night is on.

I am curious about Dutch and Co. and he and his beloved agree to go along for the ride.

I'd tempted Holmes and Co. out to Church Hill to check out the handiwork of Aziza's former chef, whose food I'd introduced them to almost three years ago, here.

We arrive to find three bar stools empty, although they are not three adjacent bar stools.

The hostess makes an adjustment and we are seated together, not surprisingly near someone Holmes knows..

Initial impression: it looks surprisingly like the Roosevelt, right down to the ceiling and chandelier.

My small group requests  Brandbourg Pinot Noir, all the more enthusiastically when we hear that its limited distribution means Dutch & Co. is one of the few local places offering it.

Who doesn't like to be exclusive? Some of us are so easily led.

SubRosa Bakery (mere blocks away) bread arrives in a napkin charmingly closed with a clothes pin stamped D & Co.

Second impression: the vibe is low-key and there is no need to be cool here.

Like we could if we tried.

Even Holmes had to admit that the vibe was terribly comfortable, demanding nothing more than admiring the tin ceiling, slurping the Pinot Noir and savoring every bite that came from the kitchen.

I couldn't resist beginning with what the kitchen called porridge.

Please, sir, more.

It was a savory/sweet concoction that involved malted barley, smoked maitake mushrooms, roasted pear, kale and almond cream.

The mushrooms are so earthy as to be like chewing dirt, a much tastier thing than it probably sounds.

As someone who eats oatmeal every day, let me just say that this porridge was the exact opposite of oatmeal.

Predominantly savory, the dish had occasional flashes of sweetness with the pear and almond cream, but mostly stuck to the savory side. Every bite delivered savory where I expected sweet, an exquisite play on my taste buds.

It didn't taste like anything else in Richmond.

Both my companions had the perfect egg (a former Aziza staple and aptly named) with cured salmon, herbs, sprouted quinoa, braised cabbage and cumin yogurt.

As Holmes pointed out, it sounds like a lot, but once you break it down, it's mighty satisfying, especially that buttery salmon.

Tonight's special was three Anderson's Neck oysters for five bones, so Holmes generously ordered oysters for everyone.

It's been a good week for tasting brine, that's all I'm saying.

After another bottle, I ordered the pork and winter squash rillette with honey-roasted nuts, pig skin cornbread, cabbage and cumin yogurt.

Creamy rillette and hot and dense cornbread were a match made in heaven.

Meanwhile, the hanger steak and smoked pork belly with celery root, persimmon, bitter greens and ginger herb sauce impressed Homes and the missus no end.

"I thought those were carrots," Holmes said of the brightly-colored persimmons.

At one point, Holmes turned to me and had to admit, "I like the relaxed vibe here. They didn't spend a million dollars redecorating and it's comfortable."

True that and the food was just as impressive as when I'd first taken them to Aziza.

For our next course, we looked at the dessert menu, deciding on the honey pot and the chocolate.

The winter's honey pot was made of warm milk, honey, pound cake, lavender ice cream, assorted citrus and candied nuts.

Holmes' beloved had spotted it before she'd even decided on dinner; it was that appealing and unique.

It arrived in a little ceramic honeypot decorated with bees. When the guy next to us ordered it, his came in a straw-colored honeypot sans bees.

I forsook the caramel waffle (for which our server gave us hell) for the chicory chocolate toffee cake with orange ginger Chantilly, candied fennel and olive oil anglaise.

By the time we finished, most of the room had cleared out and we had little desire to be the "campers" of the room.

Abandoning Church Hill, we headed back downtown for a nightcap.

By default, Tarrant's won out, offering one last glass and a couple of sassy barkeeps.

A bottle of Prosecco greased the wheels for a discussion of the 130 herbs in Green Chartreuse, reminding me of covering that topic recently with another bartender.

This one suggested we add the Green Chartreuse to our bubbly, an unlikely but totally doable combination.'

"Green Chartreuse is like Lalique glass," my comrade-in-art-history observed.

Well put, my friend, even if no one else besides me knows what you mean.

We sipped the 130 herbs in a very un-monk-like fashion, but quite appreciative of the unusual flavors.

It was almost as satisfying as finding a relaxed vibe in a trendy, new Church Hill eatery.

Fact was, I owed them one after our last meal out a few weeks ago where I'd chosen a dud and we'd all paid the price.

You ebb and you flow, my friends. It's all an experience, right?