Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Just Give It To Me Slow

Slow Food RVA took over today's happy hour at the Anderson Gallery, satisfying on several levels.

Or, as a friend I ran into said, "Of course you're here. Food and music!"

Tables were set up just outside the gallery for partners in the slow food movement to share edibles meant to be savored and appreciated.

I'm not enough of a milk drinker to appreciate the raw milk tasting, so I went straight to the Olli table to eat cured meat.

There was no way I could resist telling the charming meat cutter about my experience at Fiola in DC.

When I had teasingly told Chef Fabio Trabbochi that I had come up from Richmond to eat Richmond meats, he agreed with my wisdom, saying that Olli made the best cured meats he has tasted in this country.

My story was enough to make a meat cutter smile (and it so distracted him that he forgot what he was cutting).

Manakintown Specialty Growers were serving pimentos de padron peppers the traditional Spanish tapas way, sauteed in olive oil with a touch of sea salt. Supposedly one in five is hot, but I had eight and all were mild (and yummy).

Apollo was doing the olive oil tasting with three offerings ranging from a light Provencal style through the more robust Sierra to my favorite, the  Barouni, a pungent and spicy oil which I was told most people find too strong.

I liked it a lot and will seek out subtlety in my next lifetime.

Style's food critic John Haddad, also Vice-Chair of Slow Food RVA, spoke briefly to acquaint people with the group.

The premise, that slow food is based on there being a story behind all good food, extends to a mission of celebrating, educating and advocating. All three seemed to be in play today.

The Gourd Trio, playing gourd instruments and wearing gourd hats, then entertained the crowd with songs about stray gourd vines and neighborhood ethics (with a shout-out to Southside).

How better to follow up food than with food? I headed over to Acacia and miraculously found a great parking space mere steps from the door. Hey, I don't no stinking valet parking.

As I was about to parallel park, a car came up behind me and stopped. Once in the tiny space, the guy pulled up next to me, paused, smiled and gave me at thumbs up.

Who doesn't like a pat on the head, even if it is only for a minor skill like parallel parking?

The mini-wine dinner at Acacia got off to an auspicious start when I arrived to find my reservation for one set up at the bar obviously waiting for me.

As I sat down and was greeted by bartender Aaron, I saw frantic hand waving behind him.

Two girlfriends, one a like-minded eater and the other half of a certain restaurant-owning couple, were signaling madly from the far reaches of the bar.

Seems they were on a girls' night out and had stumbled into Acacia at the last minute. They were just finishing up their first course.

It seemed silly to eat alone when I could have company, so I invited them to move to the bar stools on either side of my place setting and I'd try to catch up as best I could.

First came sauteed rock shrimp cake with cilantro cucumber Greek yogurt sauce paired with 1 2009 Chateau de Valcombe Costieres de Nimes Blanc.The wine's fresh straw flavors were lovely with the shrimp.

Our able bartender suggested catching me up to where my friends were on the menu, so I went on to my second course while they chatted with me about nearby bar sitters.

Beet and goat cheese ravioli came with salmon confit, sliced Mandarinquats (my first) and a basil puree.

Matching the beet pasta and salmon beautifully was a 2010 Chateau de Valcombe Coustieres de Nimes Rose.

While my one of my friends is not much of a rose drinker (I try not to hold it against her), I am, so I really enjoyed drinking this beautifully balanced wine with the moistest of salmon.

As happens at Acacia's wine dinners, the wine rep came over to tell us anything we wanted to know about the wines and to make us laugh.

After sticking her nose in a glass of sauvignon blanc, my friend handed it to me with the request to, "Tell me what that funky smell is."

"Cat piss," I responded handing it back and she had a laugh attack. When it subsided, I got the wine rep to explain it to her in wine lingo.

"Cat pee-pee, that's what it is," he told her. "Swirl, it's gases; it'll go away." Further laughter, this time at the expert's expense. Oh good, at least it wasn't just me.

By this point, I had caught up with my friends and we got our entrees. Two of us went for the roasted leg of lamb with an eggplant tomato terrine, grilled local potatoes and a black olive sauce.

The third had the sauteed rockfish with sweet corn farrotto, zucchini linguine and a cumin lime sauce. The corn farrotto spoke to my summer corn jones and the fish was Chef Dale's usual perfection.

Over in lamb land, the two of us got three large slices of leg meat to savor with our 2007 Chateau de Valcombe Garance Syrah, a big tannic wine to go with our juicy red meat.

The fish eater had a 2007 Chateau de Valcombe Costieres de Nimes Prestige Rouge, a  blend of  Syrah and Grenache. She was happy to share and I'm always happy to taste.

But the fact is, we were getting full and none of us did full justice to our meals at that point. What was I thinking ordering lamb on such a hot, summer night?

Well, besides that I love lamb, it got me that eggplant tomato terrine which married those two flavors in layers of red and green that tasted as good as they looked. It was a highlight of the meal.

We had the leftovers removed to a five-pound box for my friend to take home to her handsome boyfriend and moved on to important topics of discussion.

Why can't perpetrators of crimes against children be punished the same way they inflict pain? Why don't the people who wear pink and green go further east to eat than Acacia?  Why do only certain restaurants have wine dinners?

Lost in discourse, one of us suddenly realized it was going on 11 and some people had to be up and go to work early in the morning.

And therein lies the beauty of slow food. Conversation is meant to be an integral part of the pleasure of a good meal and should be savored along with the food and wine. There should be no timers on good eating.

If there is a story behind all good food, there should be stories to go along with all good food.

We shared some tasty ones tonight.

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