Sunday, February 23, 2014

Champagne, Figs and Spock

Of course I had to find out.

So with a new chef and a new play, my evening was off to a fine start right in the neighborhood.

I met the charming man who'd invited me to dinner at Bistro 27 so we could check out the new guy slinging food at my neighborhood joint.

Chef Cory trained under Kevin at Pomegranate and I'd heard he was a big fan of organ meats, which made him sound like my kind of chef.

We started with bubbles at the bar before moving to a table amongst what was undoubtedly a room full of playgoers.

With two productions currently at the November Theater, everyone was in place by 6 to ensure being finished by 7:45.

My date told me about a recent trip to D.C. and I told him about my excursion to the Blue Ridge and we agreed that our meal goal was choosing dishes Cory had put on the menu.

So we started with his housemade sausage plate of pork and duck foie gras sausage and red wine and Parmesan sausage with mustard two ways and red pepper jelly. Outstanding, both of them.

If a man can make sausage, it's a good indicator he's my kind of man chef.

We moved on to seeing what he could do with entrees. For my friend, that meant salmon topped with scallops and a red pepper and caviar compound butter over cauliflower and anchovy puree he raved about.

For me, it was perfectly pan-seared scallops with a to die for champagne and fig demi-glace.

There were so many people in the room that hearing the music was a challenge, but every now and then something good - the XX or a samba - would come through loud and clear and we'd nod our heads in approval.

I had no intention of getting dessert but the housemade tiramisu turned out to be a weak spot for my date, so I obliged.

By the time we finished and scuttled across the street to the theater, it was almost curtain time for the Pulitzer Prize-winning "Clybourne Park" produced by Cadence Theater Company.

It's another play that's part of the Acts of Faith Festival and like Henley/Shakes' "Death and the Maiden," which I'd already seen, its inclusion was intended to be thought-provoking.

A play that takes up where "A Raisin in the Sun" left off, it tells the story of a neighborhood with race issues, which, of course, is every neighborhood in this country.

The first act was set in Chicago in 1959 when the first black family has bought a home in an all-white neighborhood ("After a reference to colored people, "Don't we say Negro now?") and the second in the same house but 50 years later ("My current commute is slowly eroding my soul") when a white couple has bought in what is now an all-black neighborhood.

Racial jokes come out but so do slurs against women, gays and even the privileged position of white men.

Everyone is uncomfortable dancing around the topic of race yet everyone manages to say something inappropriate. It's a lot like real life.

Watching the talented cast spar verbally was yet another reminder that the race card is one that still gets played far too often, even in 2014. Will we never be able to move beyond this delicate subject?

Choosing this award-winning play for the Acts of Faith festival was yet another reminder of Cadence's strength as an upstart theater company.

An uneasy topic in a well-written play, superbly acted and touching on the kind of sensitive issue that, like a scab, needs to be picked at again and again until we finally see it healed.

We can't fix what we don't acknowledge and a play like this reminds us we need to talk about the very things that make us the most uncomfortable.

After a satisfying night of theater, I said farewell to my date and went to a neighbor's Olympic party.

Despite it being in Jackson Ward, I was quite certain I wouldn't know anyone except the hosts, yet I walked in to prove that there are never more than two degrees of separation in Richmond.

Here was a favorite bartender decked out in Olympic colored balloons. There was a FOH manager looking like a silver medal. Oh, and there was a bartender of several decades with his homemade egg rolls. And the goat-loving cheese whiz who left us for Charlottesville had returned for this party. Hail, hail, the gang's all here.

I admired all the local art on my neighbors' walls, including the massive wall of albums coming down the staircase.

Everything from "Grand Funk Live" to David Bowie's "Changes" to REM's "Murmur" to Madonna's eponymous first album. Best of all, the records were still in there to be removed and played.

Only in Jackson Ward can you see "Mr. Spock's Music from Outer Space" hanging on a 19th century wall.

Or swing from a new chef to challenging theater to celebratory Olympian vodka shots without ever straying more than five blocks from home.

Color me devoted to my 'hood.

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