Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Lunar Fairy Tale

It's a shame about the blood moon.

You look forward to something all week and then a little thing like a cloudy sky eliminates any chance of seeing the lunar eclipse and you have to adjust.

Make new plans and move on with your life.

So even though I'm not a steakhouse kind of a gal, when a friend invites me to dinner at Morton's the Steakhouse, I'm happy to go.

We ignore the cookie cutter looking dining room and sit at a bar table fronting Virginia Street so I don't have to see the TV.

When I ask for a glass of the Jean Luc Colombo Rose, the loud-voiced bartender tells me he can't serve it to me if I like Roses. Oddly enough, he will serve me a glass of white Zinfandel. I order a split of Prosecco instead.

The music is cheesy beyond belief, easy listening versions of songs like "Come Together" with its urgency stripped out of it, "The Girl from Ipanema" sounding like a deodorant commercial and Hall & Oates' "I Can't Go for That," minus its buoyancy.

Is this really what corporate types want to hear while they eat a $65 steak?

A woman arrives and takes a table near us, no big deal except that the bartender begins chatting her up (here on business, staying at the Omni, lives in Montreal) and her voice sounds like she was huffing helium before walking in. It's Betty Boop in the flesh.

It's a high-pitched squeaky thing that is almost as loud as the bartender's. There are moments when the two of them are talking across the room and I can't hear a word my friend is saying, despite the fact that he's a foot away.

I'm dying to turn around and ask her what business she's in with that distinctive voice, but my friend tells me not to and we move on to dinner.

He's invited me because he wants me to share a rib eye with him, mercifully the 16 ounce and not the behemoth 22 ounce. I insist on greenery to mitigate the inevitable artery clogging so we begin with chopped salads and have grilled asparagus with balsamic with the hunk o' meat.

The rib eye turns out to be a disappointment, full of fat and gristle and hardly befitting its price tag. My friend is clearly disappointed.

Although our server suggests key lime pie or carrot cake for dessert, he allows us to order chocolate layer cake instead, leading me to believe he doesn't feel as strongly about the cake as he did the Rose.

One bite in and my friend says, "Out of a box," and I have to admit there's nothing to recommend it except that it's got real whipped cream next to it and it is chocolate, albeit pretty average chocolate.

Fortunately, we have spent the time not just eating, but talking and catching up, so my trip to a steakhouse has not been a complete waste, even if it has confirmed what I already knew.

That said, years ago I enjoyed many excellent meals at The Palm in D.C. so I will at least allow that not all steakhouses are created equal. In fact, my friend assures me I would be wild about Butcher and Singer in Philly.


He was ready to go home after dinner, but I moved on to Balliceaux to see NYC's Jessy Carolina and the Hot Mess.

I got delayed when I ran into an acquaintance at the front bar who'd been wondering why his texts to me had come back to him. I reminded him that I am cell phone-less and thus un-textable.

Seems he'd recently smoked a rotisserie chicken after injecting it with bacon fat and had wanted to invite me over to enjoy it with other like-minded bacon fat lovers.

He put my number back in his phone and promised to call, not text, next time. By the time I got home tonight, he'd already left me a message to prove he had my number and would use it in the future.

That dilemma taken care of, I got a Cazadores and found a seat in the back room just as the band started up.

Jessy, the leader, played washboard, cymbals and sang in a beautifully powerful voice, while three bearded guys provided accompaniment: an upright bass player, a guitarist and a guy who played banjo, clarinet and sax.

When she sang "Shine On, Harvest Moon" in her lovely, languid voice, I think everyone in the room knew we were hearing something special.

"We drove up from Rock Hill, South Carolina today," Jessy said. "It's been a long day, so thanks for coming out on a Monday. It is Monday, right?" From there, they went on to discuss what song to play next. "We don't have a set list," she explained as if it mattered.

They did "Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter," compelling two couples to take the floor and begin expertly swing dancing.

Warning us that we were about to see a small disaster because they didn't know all the words so they'd have to whistle instead, they began Louie Armstrong's "Struttin' with Some Barbecue" with whistling until the sax kicked in and the room began applauding.

Earlier I'd noticed that the guy nearest me had no shoes on during their set but when they took a break after a song about a dead girlfriend, he found shoes and went up to meet the band, along with a bunch of the dancers who wanted not only to buy the band's CDs, but get them autographed as well.

I just stayed where I was and watched, resulting in a man coming up to me and saying, "Anyone who watches so intently must be a musician." You hate to disappoint people, but I had to admit that I don't have a musical bone in my body, that I'm just a big fan of music.

"Well, you must be a true fan because you're not drinking," he observed, pointing to the glass of water next to me. I pulled my empty Cazadores glass out from under my chair and admitted to Prosecco at dinner.

He told me he'd just eaten at Dinmor and I asked if he meant Dinamo. Affirmative. Seems he'd been driving down Cary Street and spotted it and gone in, knowing nothing about it, but thoroughly enjoying his squid ink fettuccine with calamari and shrimp.

The band returned and he took the seat next to me. A girl with a trombone appeared and sat down next to the stage.

Jessy introduced her as Martha, saying she was a new friend they'd met outside during the break and she happened to have her trombone with her so they'd invited her to sit in.

The banjo player gave her the key and they began playing "Louisiana Fairy Tale," and then invited her to move her chair up on stage with them.

"It's like a promotion," Mr. Dinamo said.

It was while they were playing "Chinatown" that he leaned over and pointed out that Martha was playing off-key. I asked him if he thought she knew that. "She's ultra-confident if she does," he said.

While the band was trying to decide what to play next, Jessy commented on how large the crowd was for a Monday night. "None of these people have to go to work tomorrow," my new friend said before asking me what I do.

He was tickled with my response because he's a scientist turned writer who's five years into writing a book about people and why they do the things they do. "If I send you a few chapters, will you rip it apart for me?" he wanted to know.

If it's as mediocre as my steakhouse dinner, I'll be glad to.

The Hot Mess closed with a spirited rendition of "Yes, Sir, That's My Baby" with poor Martha still off key but with everyone -musicians and audience- clearly having a fine time on a Monday night.

Plenty good enough to make up for missing the blood moon. And no, sir, I don't mean maybe.

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