Monday, March 24, 2014

More Flavorful in Every Way

I am nothing if not able to plan a day of activities.

So when a date instructs me to "pick a place," I am already envisioning a day and evening of amusements.

We begin with brunch at Stella's, a place I hadn't been in a full two years.

Walking in, I spotted two open seats at the bar and claimed them as if they were my own. "You got here at just the right moment," the woman nearby noted of the recently vacated seats.

This is a good thing since I would not wait around for a table here. Note to self: plan to arrive at Stella's brunch sometime after 1:00 to avoid the crushing mass of humanity,

While Prosecco on tap was ordered, it was soon discovered that the tap was shot and a lengthy replacement effort began, ultimately resulting in us drinking an alternate sparkler instead.

For food, I chose a smoked salmon fritatta with capers, red onion, scallions and Manouri cheese over grilled pita with tzatiki, a dish so distinctive and appealing that a nearby couple asked what it was.

They were Charlottesville residents who'd been to the car show here and were stopping by for a bite before hitting the road. We were locals looking for a bite to eat before heading west to the movies.

Before changing gears, we savored honey tokens - puffs of fried dough bathed in honey sugar syrup and covered in fresh cinnamon - while trying our best to ignore the TV blasting basketball, a replacement for the missing TV screen in the back that used to show vintage Greek movies.

Ah, the good old days.

If you want to ensure I never return to your restaurant, show modern day TV. I promise I won't darken your door again.

But since there was no avoiding the glare of the screen, we ate and left, heading to the vintage Westhampton theater to see Wes Anderson's latest eye candy, "The Grand Budapest Hotel," a singularly beautiful movie about a snapshot in time that no longer exists, Europe pre-WW I.

Sure there's unpleasantness - a cat being tossed out a window to its untimely death, rich, old ladies dying and bad guys chasing good guys - but mostly I enjoyed glorious European scenery, a whodunnit of the highest order and ski chase sequences worthy of a James Bond movie.

It was a film that made me laugh out loud over and over again. I almost choked on my buttered popcorn.

When explaining why he preferred older women, our hero, M. Gustave was eloquent. "They're the cheaper cuts and far more flavorful."

Don't talk to me about younger women until you've cleared things with M. Gustave. He knows what of he speaks when it comes to my people.

The movie was pure Wes Anderson, full of visually stunning set design, deadpan delivery and the most unlikely situations imaginable. There was sex with 84-year olds, a stolen painting caper and a severed head.

The one thing my date and I could agree upon was that we definitely needed to see this movie a second time to catch the dialog we'd missed.

Aural and visual stimulation was followed by the same at Secco, where we ran into a friend and the woman to whom he is devoted, followed by an atypical Spanish Cava and a cheese plate.

It wasn't hard to use those around us to discuss gardening in winter, second (or 19th)  chances at romance and the appeal of cellaring Roses before devouring them.

We heard a woman behind us say, "I smoke Virginia Slims and they're $6 a box. Most cigarettes are only $4," afraid to turn around and look at her.

I said farewell to a Secco server leaving to join the academic world and reveled when the sun finally made its way into the sky, lightening things up for the first time today.

When we left there, it was to got to Gallery 5 for the Silent Music Revival and a showing of vintage "Mutt & Jeff" shorts set to a soundtrack improvised by Dumb Waiter, a band who impresses me more each time I see them.

If you've seen them before, you know to expect a melange of jazz, metal, experimental and fusion and that's exactly what they delivered while we watched Mutt and Jeff have wife trouble, be sliced into hot dogs and, time after time, run so fast that they ran out of their clothes.

In the politically incorrect "Dog Gone," dogs are rounded up and then taken to a sausage plant where they are turned into links. Ouch. It was top notch humor, circa 1911-1926.

Dumb Waiter's improvisations were spot on, heightening the story and meshing with the crescendos of Mutt and Jeff's activities.

After the shorts ended, I spoke with guitarist Nick and drummer Nathaniel of Dumb Waiter, praising their performances, and chatted with other friends who had made the show.

When I finally left, it was to head to Garnett's with my date for a late night meal. In fact, it was for Garnett's stellar date night special of a bottle of wine with two entrees.

My choice was a grilled Gouda with caramelized onions, tomato and bacon and it was just the thing to allow discussion of the band's effect-laden saxophone and distinctive tapping, two points of interest for one of the two friends I'd invited to experience the band.

Honestly, Nick's guitar and Nathaniel's drumming should be enough, but the onslaught of all four was downright impressive. Mutt and Jeff never sounded so good.

We finished up with my childhood favorite cake - chocolate cake with white icing and chocolate dribbles (in this case, chocolate ganache)- a rarely seen cake that evoked memories of my youth and birthdays.

When I set our to plan a full day's activities, I never could have expected such a throwback ending to it all. I was just trying to prove that the cheaper cuts deliver the most flavor, even when enjoyed over an entire day.

Sometimes it's just a a matter of arriving at exactly the right moment and moving forward with it.

Pure luck, in other words.

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