Thursday, April 18, 2013

Women are Wonders

It was double flashback night.

One of my favorite photographers was having a birthday today, which necessitated us going out to dinner to celebrate him.

Instead of leaving the choice of restaurant up to the birthday boy, I suggested Dinamo, knowing it couldn't miss.

Mama Zu + Edo's = can't lose.

What was strange was walking into the old 821 Cafe space, a place I'd spent many, many meals in over the past decade.

Besides looking incredibly brighter and cleaner (to be fair, the old 821 existed during the smoking days, so that was a major factor), I loved the chic black, white and red color scheme.

821, I hardly knew ye.

My first thought was that they were going for a futurism theme, the art and social movement that began in Italy in the early part of the 20th century.

How else to explain the propeller dynamo in the front window?

We chose a table instead of the bar so I could admire the clean lines of the long, narrow space.

Looking at the brief menu, we both saw multiple options we'd like to taste, so we narrowed it down to two so we could start eating as soon as possible.

For our first course, I chose a chilled seafood salad of mussels, clams, shrimp and fish with capers, red onions, olives and celery in a lemon/olive oil dressing.

No kidding, it immediately took me back to a lunch last October in Oltrarno, the quaint town on the other side of the Arno river from Florence.

Sure, that seafood salad had come after a morning at the Pitti Palace, but tonight's seafood tasted every bit as fresh and just as minimally dressed.

Perfection, in other words, minus the palace.

The birthday boy looked very happy.

Although it was a hard act to follow, we agreed that the gnocchi with lamb ragu was the contender most likely to do it.

Pillowy potato pasta swam in red sauce with chunks of ground lamb in every bite.

And, just for the record, I don't even like red sauce.

While my friend sipped his caffe Americano and filled me in on his recent week in Nashville and, oh, falling for a woman the first day he was there, I sopped bread and all but licked my plate.

When he finished his lamb (I think he took his time just to tease me because I'd eaten mine so quickly), he was so satisfied with his meal that he turned down dessert.

On his birthday, no less.

We don't do that in my family, but to each his own.

I'm not the birthday police.

The longer we lingered chatting, the more people began populating the other tables until we finally ended the festivities with him dropping me at home.

He had things to do and I had a demon barber to see.

This time it was my turn to pick up a friend for Theater VCU's production of "Sweeney Todd," a play I hadn't seen since the '80s at the Kennedy Center in D.C.

So while I remembered the bones of the story, I knew a lot of it would be fresh to me tonight.

Freshest of all was that it was staged as a non-musical.

The set was compact and clever, with Mrs. Lovett's Pie shop directly under Todd's Barber shop and a courtroom to the left and a bedroom/lunatic asylum to the right.

We'd taken seats in the front row so as to see every drop of blood shed for the sake of pie-filling.

Okay, so actually the blood was shed for revenge, but even I'd remembered they all ended up as pie filling.

As in savory pies, you know, like Proper Pie up in Church Hill.

Somehow, though, I can't imagine them making the same comment as Mrs. Lovett. "The black buddings are selling very well  now."

Richmond may be ready for savory pies, but I'm not convinced they're ready for savory pies made with dried blood.

Give 'em time.

My theater-loving friend and I talked about the cast at intermission, impressed with how well the young cast was pulling off the grim story of a man who's lost everything and takes it out on the world.

Yes, it's been a few years since I'd last seen this play, but VCU's production was holding up well to my memory of the drama, even tragedy of the play.

Favorite line: "Women are wonders, sir, even when they leave, they are still there."

I especially liked the poetry of that.

After the curtain call, I made a pit stop in the bathroom where I found one of the backstage crew busily washing all the tankards that had been used for ale-drinking in Mrs. Lovett's pie shop.

Now, that I'm sure I don't remember from seeing "Sweeney Todd" at the Kennedy Center.

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