Thursday, October 20, 2016

Mambo Italiano

Bite your teeth into the ass of life and drag it to you.

What better way to bite the ass of life while also celebrating the 20th anniversary of "Big Night" than with a Big Night wine dinner with friends old and new at Camden's?

The usual suspects - Pru, Beau, Beckham and the Beauty - were joined by a new face from the neighborhood, only two months into his return to Richmond after forays to Baton Rouge and Atlanta.

The Barrister, as he was immediately dubbed, proved a worthy addition to the group and seemed unfazed by our ricocheting conversations, despite having been warned by the chef that we were a handful.

But most of the tables were similarly enthralled with their tablemates since the chef had made a point of combining reservations to create groups of 5 or 6, the better to appreciate a truer "Big Night" experience. My guess would be that we weren't the only table to make a new friend or two over five courses while the movie played and the music was set to Louis Prima.

This is a restaurant! This is not a f*cking school!

Good thing because all of us would have gotten marked down for talking out of turn.

In true "Big Night" style, platters of food and bottles of wine were dropped off at each table for people to enjoy family style and woe to the server who tried to remove a bottle that still contained a few sips in it from ours.

Tellingly, she only tried that once.

Starting with zuppa Toscana accompanied by Monferrato Bianco Giabine, we were fully into our food-friendly wines and elaborate meal before some of my fiends even realized that the Barrister was as new to me as to them. "Everyone gets along with you!"  Pru said by way of explanation for her assumption that Barr and I were BFFs.

The handsome Vittorio Fracchia of Sulin Winery paused at our table to introduce himself, explaining that he was the fifth generation of his wine-making family, but all I could think of was the scores of women that five generations of his male Italian ancestry must have gone through.

Speaking from experience with Italian men, I feel certain had I said it, he would have taken it as a compliment.

Tri-color risotto - pink seafood, white cheese and green spinach - resembled the Italian flag and was paired with the winery's crowd-pleasing Chardonnay while discussing the rigors of jury duty. As a juror for a murder trial, Pru had been appalled at the quality of the experience.

"Exhibit A was a Hennessy bottle!" she said to laughter. "All the character witnesses were wearing orange prison jumpsuits." New black, right?

"Here's your first Barbera of the evening," our server (and VCU prof) said, causing Beckham and I to swoon a bit at the prospect of more Barbera to come. What a lovely and extremely rare thing to be told, we agreed.

You could hear the oohs and ahhs at every single table when a whole roasted rockfish complete with cherry tomato eye was dropped off at each, along with roasted hens, grilled asparagus and roasted beets to go with glasses of the appealing Aleramo Barbera.

I can't speak to how refined the other tables were about de-boning and serving their rockfish, but from where I sat, it was a joint venture, hands-on continuum that ensured everyone had their fingers in that succulent fish at some point.

The chef went table to table, amusing himself with how each table autopsied the secondi course. I can't even recall the last time I ate so much rockfish at one sitting or enjoyed it more.

Goddamn it, I should kill you! This is so f*cking good, I should kill you!

Rapidly approaching full-as-a-tick territory, we nonetheless soldiered on happily because next up was suckling pig (the photo posted on Facebook earlier in the day showed us what the poor thing looked like before it got shredded and brought to us) to be washed down with Barbaresco Brasal Fracchia and savored listening to Vittorio's heartfelt ode to the Nebbiolo grape.

In this arena (and probably others) Vittorio and I are in complete agreement.

All the while conversation swirled from board games to restaurants to Beckham and the Beauty's envy-worthy plans to get married in South Africa in less than 8 weeks. When the topic turned to drink and why we do, Beauty made sure Barr understood that we don't drink because we have to.

Pru set the record straight quickly. "Not gonna lie, sometimes I do. I do have to." Beau would undoubtedly be qualified to attest to this.

The earlier promise of more Barbera was fulfilled with Barbera Ornella accompanied by the culinary orgy that is timpano, a pastry-covered "drum" holding ziti, cheese, sauce, meatballs, hard-boiled eggs and sausage and that, by all rights, none of us should have had the room to attempt.

We dove in with abandon.

When to-go boxes were brought out after tables threw up the white flag in surrender to the final dish, we quickly determined that we needed boxes for everyone. Despite the appearance of three couples, we were a six-top, all of whom lived separately.

When the chef walked around tossing Squirrel Nut Zippers in front of each guest, it was the signal that the dinner portion of the big night was over, and that the Presidential debate portion was about to begin. Moving to the bar for a better view of the screen, we settled in for some Italian wine-fueled commentary as the nominees faced off.

Every time Trump used his favorite adjective, we'd hoot and holler "tremendous!" to show our disdain for his limited vocabulary and braggadocio. How can anyone watch him say, "No puppet. You're the puppet" and not expect to hear "na-na-na-na-na" next?

Beckham and the Beauty drifted out into the night before Trump had insisted he won't necessarily accept the election's results and sometime around midnight, Pru and Beau took charge of our friend and deposited the Barrister at his home five blocks away (and, yes, he'd gotten major points for walking to dinner).

Conversation didn't end then, not with the Prof there bringing up assorted salacious topics such as, "A dude better be able to - we'll sub in "perform oral sex" for how she actually phrased it - like a champ" and, "You got a sweet ass, Karen" to round out the evening.

We're not talking life here and it's not like she tried to bite it or anything.

Primo, do you know why this night is happening?
Because it has to happen.

And this, as you may have guessed, was how we dragged ourselves to it.

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