Thursday, March 17, 2016

Instant Karma

This may surprise some people, but I didn't come into this world a tequila drinker.

Au contraire, my first drinking buddy was a college chum from California who dropped into my life, simultaneously becoming my best friend for life and alerting me to the pleasures of rum.

I began with Bacardi and almost immediately transitioned to Meyer's more complex taste, a preference that lasted until 1992 when a radio job introduced me to my soul mate, tequila.

Fast forward to January 2010 and master mixologist Bobby K. did a wine tasting at Julep complete with paired courses and I was once again reminded of the  beauty of a fine sipping rum.

The gradual increase in the number of obscure rums brought into the Commonwealth became apparent with each new tiki takeover, so when a friend asked me to join him for this week's Spring Break tiki menu at Saison, well, duh.

Wearing a favorite flowered dress, we met at a reasonable enough hour to beat the tiki crowds - rumor had it they'd made something crazy like 170 tiki drinks Sunday night - while it was still 80-something degrees and felt like island weather.

Inside Saison, it was perfectly civilized, if a touch heavy on the air conditioning and, appropriately (if a bit predictable), the Beach Boys soundtrack was making it feel like an endless summer.

Wasting no time, we dove into the tiki menu, he with a Jungle Bird (black strap rum) and me with a classic daiquiri (blended rum) because, as the owner pointed out, there's nothing quite like the beauty of a well-executed daiquiri.

As if a perfectly concocted daiquiri wasn't enough, it arrived with a miniature paper crane atop the cocktail pick, and not a mass-produced crane from China, either. Oh, no, these were crafted by a server's friend, a crafty woman who had given up drinking and needed a way to occupy her hands.

In fact, there was an entire flock of colorful paper cranes on picks roosting in a glass nearby, a testament to the boredom of abstinence.

"I'll never know that feeling," my friend observed with a sly smile, knowing we were in agreement on this one.

Almost at once, we were greeted by a wine geek friend who'd recently been to San Francisco for the second time in 2016 - "Hey, I'm thinking of going again in May. What are you doing in May?" - and shared tales of staying with new friends in Russian Hill and the Haight plus a natural wine party that featured platters of ribs, a dynamite combo.

This somehow segued into my friend sharing his fondness for the tropical Truchard Roussanne of nearby Napa and an insistence that I get my hands on some as soon as I could manage. It helps to have connections.

After ordering food, we chose our second round of drinks, this time the Tripe Windsor for me (Jamaican rum and Curacao) and the Chartruth for him, leading to a story about the bartender who claimed that as long as you began your drinking evening with Green Chartreuse and ended it with Green Chartreuse, you could count on no hangover.

He'd done field research to prove it, brave soul. The only problem, we agreed, is the ridiculous cost of Green Chartreuse in the Commonwealth.

I gave credence to this story by sharing a legendary Green Chartreuse party I threw back in 1997 where nothing was served but Green Chartreuse, on a night where both the heat and humidity hovered around 90%. That said, I heard no hangover complaints, although for all I know, my guests slept for days afterward.

"I can't keep Chartreuse around," tonight's bartender admitted. "No Fernet, no herbals at all. Can't trust myself." I know people who can't keep Chunky Monkey or Samoas around for the same reason.

Beginning with mussels in white wine herb broth and lots of bread for sopping, we moved through confit pork belly with a five-minute egg over Manchego grits and chili broth, to a jar of (obscene) foie gras pate with vermouth gelee and toasted pecans thickly schmeared on Billy bread, the latter a fitting choice for a person's last meal before execution.

Fortunately, it was not our final meal, just a prelude to whatever libation came next.

Discussion got heated when the subject of the bureaucratic miasma of the ABC came up, with the owner, bartender and the three of us bantering about what needs to change in order to bring Virginia into the 21st century bar world, a topic that merits some serious investigative journalism.

The San Fran devotee next to me ordered a Tortugan Conspiracy with all the things, namely a green plastic palm tree, a paper crane, a paper parasol, a pink flamingo, an orange plastic fish, a hunk o' fresh pineapple with leaves atop it and..wait for it...a bathing beauty who hung on the glass by her breasts.

Naturally, she immediately Instagrammed a picture of its magnificence to the world.

My date was intrigued by the drink mixer machine at the end of the bar, today concocting a Pina Colada (blended rum) that, while also boasting a bathing beauty hanging on the glass by her boobs, also tasted satisfyingly tart, not cloyingly sweet as so many bad Pina Coladas do.

This five-day tiki pop-up got us talking about the month-long Christmas pop-up at Mockingbird Hill in D.C., which two of us had experienced. My friend recalled the wonder of seeing a pricing mistake on the menu and ordering a $150 a glass sherry for $15 ("Merry Christmas," the bartender said after the error was pointed out) and much discussion about when Richmond might see a similar pop-up.

We all know people who know people, just saying.

Just as I was considering ordering the Tiki Love Hut, complete with flaming lime peel cup, my wine geek friend beat me to the (ha!) punch, so instead I chose Malibu Barbie's Dreamhouse (spiced rum, blended rum, Rhum Agricole) with its gorgeous nose of orgeat and allspice dram and stuck an extra straw in it (blue, of course, a fact he noticed at once) so we could share.

With 13 tiki drinks on the menu, we could only do so much damage, although my great regret was that we exercised restraint and didn't order a Zombie (limit one per person), because it was the one drink that contained absinthe and I am never averse to a visit from the green fairy.

By the time we left, sunlight had been replaced with moonlight but the air was still warm and inviting. Two of us walked a few blocks together, discussing the theory of opening yourself up to the universe and whomever and whatever that might deliver.

Blissfully optimistic, neither of us can understand why more people don't get it. "Think about that, two people end up in the same place on the same continent at the same time. That's bound to happen again."

And that, my friends, is the Chartruth, plain and simple.

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