Monday, February 27, 2017

The Dinner Game

Take a Frenchman and a Francophile, shake well and they'll throw a superb party on a Sunday evening.

Pru was hostessing at her manse and Amour Wine Bistro's owner Paul was in charge of food, film and wine, meaning as guests, we were walking into a full-on hospitality onslaught complete with vases of flowers everywhere and moody lighting.

French music was playing through speakers, guests were clustered in the kitchen (as always) and living room (where I landed) and everyone was given a glass of wine practically as as soon as their coat was whisked away by the sockless man with floral cuffs on his shirt.

One of the men, who looked decently dressed but not particularly stylish, said that he'd gone into Ellwood Thompson "in his French party costume," as his wife characterized his togs, and a clerk was immediately suspicious because all he'd seen him in for years was jeans and a t-shirt.

I don't think there was a woman there without a scarf tied jauntily or languidly around her neck. My fuchsia one tied in the back under my hair and draped down my back, making me look like I was ready to hop on the back of someone's Vespa at the snap of a Frenchman's fingers.

Except that it was 39 degrees in Church Hill (but snap away in a warm clime and I'm all yours).

Meanwhile in the warm house, I joined in conversations, re-meeting some people I'd only meet once or twice before and being introduced to newcomers. Turns out one young woman was there without her date because he'd unexpectedly called and broken up with her this afternoon.

Which, as someone pointed out, is a far better way to be dumped than via text.

And while her thoughts may have been elsewhere, here she was part of the party vibe with the rest of us, mixing and mingling like a trooper and looking adorably French while doing it.

The expansive dining room table was groaning under all the food: cheese and charcuterie, onion tarts with bacon, a quinoa dish with haricots vert, carrots, mushrooms and onions that I could eat for days and multiple kinds of quiche including a killer one with Jarlsberg and ham. Baguettes, sliced and whole, were everywhere.

No exaggeration, I ate three plates of food.

With one group, we talked about being lucky enough to have a job you love, a category I put myself in. A woman was saying that she was sure her man would hate his new job - the commute, his dislike of office settings - except he loved it for the cooperative office dynamics and relaxed inter-office vibe.

"It was that really nice, sunny Friday and my boss just told everyone to go home and enjoy the day," he crowed with pleasure.

Luckily, my boss is me.

We talked about how vain some men can be in middle age about wearing glasses and how some women have enough pairs of glasses to qualify as accessories, like scarves or jewelry.

As is inevitable at Richmond parties, restaurants were brought up and someone asked me why everyone holds Edo's Squid and Mama Zu in such high regard. I gave her the back story, but allayed her fears about not being a fan of either. I'm the same kind of outlier.

Paul had shown up wearing a beret with a wig on underneath and after the second bottle of bubbly, a bald guest tried it on for size and then obligingly whipped his head around repeatedly to pose for come-hither pictures.

Dessert was a dark chocolate sea salt pate-like tart drizzled with caramel, followed by a final course of Paul's homemade blackberry sorbet - so dark it was almost black - on top of melon/Pastis, so beautiful a marriage of flavors that several non-cantaloupe lovers admitted to being enraptured by it.

For me, it was not only the fruit-forward flavors but the mouth-coating creamy texture that belied its lack of dairy that won me over.

By the time everyone had licked their dishes clean, you could have stuck a fork in any of us because we were all in a food coma, making it the ideal time to start the raison d'etre for tonight's soiree: a 1998 French comedy called "Le Diner de Cons," aka the dinner game.

Yes, 1998, so portable phones that still had antennas sticking out of them and pre-flat screen monitors that took up half a desk.

The premise was simple: a group of condescending businessmen held a dinner every Wednesday and each brought along the biggest idiot they could find to be ridiculed. Whoever brought the most obnoxious loser won.

A Parisian publisher invites his idiot contender - a tax employee whose wife left him for another tax employee so he recreates architectural wonders in matchsticks to assuage his grief - to his house for a drink pre-dinner, but before he arrives, the publisher throws his back out, rendering him practically immobile.

And then his wife leaves him, in no small part because he participates in such a demeaning event.

Clearly, he's having a terrible, no good, awful day and now he's stuck with an idiot at his house trying to help him sort through his personal problems while he writhes in pain.

Spoiler alert: idiots do idiotic things that only make bad situations worse. Like mistakenly calling the former friend from whom the publisher originally stole his wife or mistaking the wife for the mistress and sending her away or repeating insults about the nymphomaniac mistress to her face.

All done, of course, with the usual French aplomb, unabashed wine drinking and droll put-downs, so not all that far off from the witty tete-a-tetes going on between tonight's party guests, even the brokenhearted one.

That ex of hers missed a helluva good time.

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