Friday, June 20, 2014

Under My Umbrella

Thank god a pragmatist invited me to dinner. You know the type - don't get your hopes up and you won't be disappointed.

Blah, blah, blah.

What I mean is, thank god on a 98-degree day that I was picked up in an air-conditioned car to be taken to an air conditioned restaurant for the evening. Not that I would have turned on the stove had I stayed at home, but you get my point.

The only problem was that we walked into Belmont Food Shop (home of the handsomest wooden walk-in in all of Richmond) five minutes after every seat except one in the entire (and tiny) place was occupied.

My conclusion? Weather wimps who'd all dashed out of their houses the same moment the earlier rainstorm had ended.

My date graciously allowed me to commandeer the lone empty bar stool while he stood (obediently? respectfully? graciously?) next to me, but saddled with a gaggle of tattooed, monosyllabic stylists from a nearby salon just over his shoulder.

As it turned out, they weren't much of a problem because they spent just as much time outside on the bench smoking and talking on their phones as they did at the bar saying "like" every third word.

Pulled fresh from the oven, two piping hot gougeres arrived like a greeting from the kitchen, an amuse bouche to tease us of what was to come.

With a full house, a recent rain and the stylists' inability to close the door on their frequent trips in and out (raised in a barn, as my grandmother used to say), the restaurant was a tad warm and the tinny '20s music a little tough to hear sometimes, but with a dry, white Bordeaux, we were in no hurry so we settled back to wait out the first wave.

But patience deserves reward, so we asked for the bluefish spread with frisee to tide us over, which, to my date's credit, he gallantly ate standing up while people around us discussed golf courses and child-rearing ad nauseum.

At long last, the stylists gathered up their cigarettes, phones and wallets to leave for greener pastures, leaving a row of empty stools behind. My date placed his backside in the one closest to me and our evening began in earnest.

After placing our dinner orders, we took some conversational tangents - the appeal of vacationing in Argentina wine country, the location of Indiana Avenue in D.C., Anne Bancroft's age when she made "The Graduate" - until our tuna tartare and roasted chicken arrived.

I was swooning over my tartare's caviar and lemon vinaigrette but even so, couldn't help but be wowed by the simplicity and beauty of perfectly roasted chicken, both light and dark meat, crispy-skinned and satisfyingly seasoned ("Salt and pepper and leave it alone," the chef later confided) when my date offered me a bite.

For amusement, the big front window provided a view to the street theater of Belmont Avenue, a ceaseless parade of people coming and going from Carytown, some with bags or kids in hand, others moving slowly as if in a food coma.

Once all but one table had cleared out, the chef came out to speak to each of the remaining groups of diners at the bar, saying how unexpectedly popular tonight's squash blossoms and short ribs had been. All I know is both had been 86'd before we got there.

But that's okay. When you go out with a pragmatist, you don't expect much, so every delicious bite, every silken sip, every witty bon mot is a nice surprise.

At least until I get hit by a bus...and won't that be heartbreaking?

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