Sunday, July 20, 2014

Sex at the River

It was a perfect day to read on your porch.

I said as much to four different men I saw reading on their porches on my walk this morning.

But, despite the mid-70s temperatures and cloud cover, my day was not about porch reading but all about a road trip.

In an effort to catch up with a favorite couple, I'd suggested Merroir because they'd never been. Make no mistake, I'd raved about the place to them, but we'd never quite been able to align out schedules and make it happen.

Today, the planets lined up and we hit the road to eat oysters by the river.

(sound of record scratching)

Unexpectedly, 64 was full of vacation-bent cars headed to the Outer Banks. It was a major buzz kill.

Fortunately, the driver was willing to be creative with the map and we were soon cruising through the back roads of Providence Forge and Quinton.

When we eventually landed in Topping at Merroir, the first person I saw I knew. Really? An hour from Richmond and I see someone I know from the Camel? Apparently, yes.

We had our pick of seating options, opting for a picnic table facing the river, and causing the female portion of the couple to take a deep breath and exclaim, "It smells so good!"

It was true, the salty air off the river was carried on the breeze and delivered to our table right about the time the first bottle of M. Lawrence "Sex" Brut Rose arrived.

Because if a Saturday sojourn to the river isn't cause for celebration (and thus, sparkling), what is?

With sailboats pulling in and out of the marina, we ordered our first dozen oysters, a mix of buttery Rappahannocks, mildly salty Stingrays and briny Old Saltes.

If it had been up to me, and it wasn't, they would have been all Old Saltes.

Then suddenly, we had a man in a green golf shirt join our group, a man who turned out to have gone to high school with my friend and had already been at Merroir drinking beer for four hours.

On the plus side, he was a scintillating conversationalist (JFK, the media, feminism), curious ("What are your political leanings?") and an architect, albeit one with an odd laugh.

When he got up to leave, we ordered our second dozen oysters - this time all Old Saltes- and welcomed our server for the evening who turned out to be young Ford, whom I'd first met last July when he'd waited on me and my date during his early days as a server.

Tonight, he was assured, obviously having mastered the serving game in the year since I'd seen him. Or, judging by the overly generous way he pored my wine, at least able to fake it.

I think it was around the time we moved on to our third dozen (also Old Saltes) that I looked over and saw two good friends, another favorite couple, taking the table next to us.

Good god, was there no escaping people I knew despite being an hour from home? Clearly not.

I grinned at them, I met their gaze and smiled like a crazy person, but it took me getting up and walking over to their table for them to recognize me.

That's okay, I accept that I'm not the memorable type.

I leaned in for a picture with them, capturing our random meeting, but was slapped in the face with 21st century reality when my friend went to post the picture and Facebook not only recognized me but automatically tagged me.

Do I really want to think about face recognition technology that knows who I am before a friend tags me? Nope, I don't.

Meanwhile, we kept ordering "Sex" and more food, namely a crabcake, a lamb hotdog and the clam and lamb stew, a perennial favorite with me.

The music was classic rock, veering from Neil Young to the Beatles to CCR and back, tolerable only because my friends offered me a taste of their sassy scallop ceviche.

We watched speedboats speeding in a no-wake zone and ordered Carolina shrimp and a grilled Cesar with anchovies.

Much as I love Merroir on a sunny day, today's overcast skies were ideal for lingering with no fear of discomfort or skin burning.

As we delved into another bottle of "Sex," I looked up to see a familiar face, a restaurant owner who's now out of the business.

Was there no end to the number of Richmonders who'd followed us to Topping today? I'm not complaining because it was fun to run into so many people I know, but after a dozen visits to Merroir with no familiar sightings, it was a bit surprising.

But mostly it was wonderful spending a coolish, cloudy day on the river watching boats traverse the water and eating and drinking with friends.

I heard about their recent trip to D.C.'s Hotel Rouge (and Bistro Coin) and the National Gallery, as well as a side trip to Solomon's Island, Maryland, a place I've never been.

We admired the changing light and sky as afternoon gave way to evening. Eventually, we gave in to dessert after hearing another table ask for a doughnut.

What is this doughnut you speak of?

This was a s'mores doughnut, split with marshmallow cream inside, chocolate on top and graham cracker crumbs over that and we devoured it with the last of the "Sex." Ford nodded his approval as he cleared the table.

My final request was a trip to the dock which has changed so drastically since last summer when it had been "upgraded" to include railings on three sides so it was no longer possible to sit on the end and dangle my feet in the water, as I had since they'd opened.

But making the best of what it is, we stood at the end of the railing, savoring the river breeze in our hair and ruminating on what a stellar day at the river it had been.

We didn't want to leave, but we were full and it wasn't fair to take up a table any longer with people continuing to arrive.

Walking back past other diners, my friend jokingly asked people at tables if they knew him. "We're from Richmond..." one woman said, half expectantly. Stop the madness.

Driving back, we got almost to Richmond before my friend suggested a nightcap at Lucy's, conveniently mere blocks from my house. Why would I say no?

Dinner service was winding down and our savvy bartender was able to recreate a cocktail my friend had fallen in love with at the Hotel Rouge while her beloved and I happily sipped Espolon.

With vintage soul playing - Stevie, Gladys, Smokey - we sipped our drinks and talked trash with the staff until it was time to call it a day.

My friend told me to stop gloating about taking them to a place they enjoyed so much. His girlfriend did nothing but rave about what a fabulous day it had been.

Me, I'm just going to end my lovely day reading on my porch. Because it's that kind of day night.

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