It was time for vacation debriefing.
Pru had also been away last week so we needed to meet up and compare notes. But first, it was l'Chaim time.
Because of scheduling conflicts, I'd yet to make it to any of the Anderson Gallery's happy hours, always one of my favorite summer series.
Nothing was going to prevent me tonight from seeing My Son the Doctor, a Klezmer/Balkan band I hadn't seen in years at the Anderson. And nothing did.
Their set was already in progress when I arrived, so I found a space and settled in for gypsy and Jewish songs of love and longing with lots of percussion.
During the break, I mingled with the baby-toting singer (her band would be wonderful on a bill with My Son), the Chicago sculptor ("Of course we're both here, it's free!") and the fiber artist (looking glamorous and offering a hug) before heading outside to chat with Te Frenchman who'd recently sold his house and joined the swells at Rockett's Landing.
Chatting outside in the garden, the post-rain air was so thick and humid, it had a life of its own.
When I departed there, dewy but happy after the energetic eastern European music, it was to meet Pru at the new Continental Divide and see what kind of Mexican comfort food this Charlottesville restaurant had to offer Richmond.
Their "Get in here" neon (with an arrow) had already made me a bit wary.
I should have known by how far away I had to park that the place would be mobbed. Inside, I found friends clustered around the bar and a nice, big tequila menu on the chalkboard at the end of the bar.
It was noisy, so noisy that I could only hear two songs and one was by CCCR, one of my least favorite bands, but I ordered Cazadores reposado and hoped for the best.
Pru introduced me to some of her friends after informing me that we would not be staying to eat because she'd found the menu underwhelming.
Me, I'd given the Divide points simply for their menu attitude. Lines such as, "Give everyone a break. If your baby is crying, take it outside," and "Come on, don't even ask for separate checks" called to mind other chefs who don't hesitate to lay down their house rules.
Once we started into catch-up mode, it quickly became apparent that the din was far too loud to allow any real conversation, so despite her friend's invitation to join their 12-top, we declined and beat feet.
It's not a dis. I'll go back to check out the red hot blues or maybe assess their nacho capabilities once the frenzy dies down.
Walking out of the madness, Pru asked where we were headed. After a moment's consideration, I told her we were headed for my neck of the woods. The Rogue Gentleman.
The rain had ceased not long before, but we still found a moat on Jackson Street and side-stepped it to make it inside.
Taking the end stools at the bar, I continued with tequila - Espolon this time- while Pru stayed true to France with Rose.
"I didn't eat lunch and I'm starving," she said, encouraging me as we looked at the menu.
With a cover of "Ain't No Sunshine When She's Gone" playing overhead (to our mutual great delight), we ordered pork belly rillette with pickled onion, wedges of radish (Pru is a certified radish fiend and I'm not far behind), sea salt and crostini; chicken liver pate with roasted beets, arugula and vin cotto; and, to mitigate the offal (and may I just say how much pleasure it gives me to see "offal" as a menu category), a salad of curly endive, peaches, baby heirloom tomatoes ('tis the season), turnip creme fraiche, and salmon roe.
As we dove into these three dishes, all beautifully balanced, I heard her vacation woes and shared my own (too many people, same as hers).
If I was forced to pick a favorite (because they were all stellar), I'd have to go with the pork belly rillette because how can you go wrong with pig belly cooked in fat? That's right, you can't.
And, as usual, Jackson Ward's street theater did not disappoint.
A white hearse drove by and a woman walking a dog waved at me.
Meanwhile, a bike rickshaw pulled up waiting for a couple and when they emerged, the driver quickly sat down on the seat, moving his butt across it to absorb any raindrops before letting them sit down.
A young couple came in, ordered two glasses of bubbly and inquired about the tasting menu before moving to a table so they could woo in private (he kept kissing her neck).
Pru wondered whether or not we needed dessert, but I suggested instead that we indulge in a digestif, namely the Fernet Branca the Rogue Gentleman has on tap. When in Rome and all.
Midway through our Fernet, three guys came in, all out-of-towners, and chose stools next to us.
Next came the arduous task of deciding what they wanted to drink from the creatively-conceived cocktail menu.
Two were rum drinkers and marveled at the kitchy glasses that their Sol y Sombra and Fu Manchu arrived in (worthy of the best tiki bars), while the third was a devotee of bourbon, choosing the 12 Parsecs, with the menu notation, "a parsec is a measure of distance not time."
I admit, I was curious about how three guys in town for a convention at the raceway had managed to find an obscure Jackson Ward bar, so I asked and they claimed it had been a cinch.
God bless the internet, I suppose.
What they'd decided they wanted on their next stop was some Pappy Van Winckle, and the bartender suggested McCormack's Whiskey Grill to scratch their itch, sending them to their phones to see if McCormack's carried it.
Forget a sense of adventure, forget going over there to find out for themselves, they had to call just in case.
As luck would have it, none of their phones provided the telephone number. Guess they were going to have to chance it.
"What dive bar should we go to that's good but a little dangerous?" the handsome Floridian inquired.
Whoa. Do I look like the kind of local who's going to spill those kind of beans to a conventioneer?
Come on, don't even ask for insider information. Give everyone a break.