Sunday, March 13, 2011

Live and Let Die

Driving down Main Street into the Bottom just before 6:00, I realized the error of my ways.

I had been asked to choose the dining destination for a symphony-bound group and I had not taken into account Shamrock the Block when I suggested Aziza's on Main.

As far as the eye could see, the sidewalks were overrun by people in green shirts staggering, stumbling and in some cases heaving.

It was, to sound like the Byrd Theater's public service announcement, pretty gross.

Slowly I made my way through the masses and found a parking space amongst scads of poorly parked cars, a testament to all the non-city drivers clearly in the immediate area.

The man in front of Aziza talking on his phone looked at my legs and asked his caller, "Does she have dark brown hair?"

Closing the phone, he extended his hand. "Hi, I'm Tom."

Tom was the brother of a friend with whom I had a couple date plus five.

Inside Aziza's, our table for eight was awaiting us and I met Tom's family, who live in Philly (oddly enough, my second Philly connection of the day).

The staff was welcoming but obviously harried from dealing with Shamrockers seeking sustenance since the moment they'd opened.

Since no one but me had ever been to Aziza's, I recommended the pizzas and the Perfect Egg and the group took me at my word, with the exception of the lactose-intolerant Tom who got the bouillabaisse (and the egg, which he loved).

Multiple bottles of Olegano Albarino were shared by my couple date and me.

I couldn't resist the Quinalt River steelhead trout tartare with capers, herbs and citrus with a side of Manakintowne greens.

I've had a lot of terrific food at Aziza's and this one definitely goes on the list.

The distinctive flavor of the trout was beautifully enhanced by the salt of the capers and savory herbs.

Continuing my role as food advisor, I suggested that anyone seeking dessert try the cream puff with chocolate ganache.

To my surprise, they now offer a variation, a chocolate mousse-filled cream puff with ganache.

When my friend's girlfriend suggested getting two of the chocolate puffs to share, I explained that she needed to taste the original first, so instead we got one of each for the three of us.

She never even tried the chocolate version, being completely smitten with the original.

I was able to rest my case after her second bite.

As we left the restaurant, a truck loaded with eight porta-potties was chugging up the hill, indicating that the debauchery was over.

And it's not even St. Patrick's Day until Thursday.

The O'Donnell in me cringes at the thought.

We made it to CenterStage with five minutes to spare before the symphony began its program of "The Music of James Bond."

I took my seat in the nosebleed section, although I was dead center with a fine view.

Guest conductor Carl Davis came out in a sweeping copper-colored metallic coat , took the podium and shouted, "One, two, three, four!"

It was not the typical start to an evening of symphonic music.

He explained, "You realize that tonight is a course. Bond 101. I'm expecting great things from my students."

It was just what I needed because I've seen so few Bond movies and could use a little cultural literacy on the subject.

They orchestra began with "Dr. No," the most instantly recognizable Bond theme.

Before "Goldfinger" could be performed, he brought out guest vocalist Mary Carewe, who arrived in a sweeping red evening gown.

Her big cabaret-style voice was perfect for that song as well as the Burt Bacharach gem, "The Look of Love," which followed.

To demonstrate my Bond ignorance, I hadn't even known that ubiquitous song came from a Bond film. Duh.

Hearing Paul McCartney's "Live and Let Die' was a bombastic treat, both for the audience and the symphony's guitar players, but this song got no vocals for some reason.

When Davis spoke of the shift to Roger Moore as Bond, he mentioned Moore's stint on TV's "The Saint," which got applause from those who remembered the show.

"Your marks are rising," the conductor noted to laughter.

Not to be outdone by Carewe who had worn two different gowns in the first half, after intermission Davis returned in a long peacock blue coat and began with Duran Duran's "A View to a Kill."

After that rousing 1985 pop theme, he turned to us as if ready to light a cigarette and said, "Well, I enjoyed that!"

So had we.

He took us through Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig, with accompanying music by Bill Conti, Norwegian pop band aHa and U2, each representing the sound of the era in which it was created. I was learning all kinds of things tonight.

And then we graduated with Bond honors, the show was over and I moved on to Sprout to hear a Charlottesville band that had piqued my interest, Manorlady.

There was no question, this was my kind of music: guitars with lots of reverb, dreamy harmonies, and a generally dense sound that, for whatever reason, speaks to me. I was just sorry there weren't more people there to hear them.

When their set began, the lead singer noted that there were only four of us in the room, but he thanked us for being there.

By about three songs in, the crowd had grown to over twenty, including enough musicians and serious music geeks to convince me that I wasn't the only one who knew these guys were worth checking out.

More than satisfied with my new-found Bond knowledge followed by an excellent set of moody music, I could call it a night after their stellar set, with no regrets.

I'd barely gotten online when I got home when a friend messaged me, "Since when are you and me home at midnight on a Saturday night?"

Not very often, I told him, but by then I was six hours in and completely satisfied with my evening.

As it is, we lose an hour tonight and I honestly don't have any extra hours to spare.

Fortunately you only live twice.