Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Picture Postcard Perfect

Today's absolutely perfect Richmond moment was a first for me, despite years living in this city.

Driving down Monument Avenue I saw two mounted officers trotting down the wide median, verdant trees on either side of them and the sky a blue that no crayon could capture.

The cops looked mighty content, but my first thought was that the horses must be loving their grassy stroll.

As always, I marvel at being in the right place at the right time.

This town never ceases to delight me.

Tom and Jerry Saved Me

In terms of music, last week was an epic fail.

For the first time in I don't know how long, I went nine days without seeing a show.

Nine. Days. I may have lost my music cred entirely.

So it wasn't difficult to decide what to do today. Music times four.

Tom and Jerry got me started. Brain Jones et al were doing a live score of jazz, classical and pop music to old "Tom and Jerry" cartoons at the Camel.

The beauty of those cartoons is that there was no dialogue, so instruments stand in for voice and sound effects.

When a bra is used as a parachute in "Yankee Doodle Mouse," the simulated wolf whistle came from a  trombone.

And the last time I'd heard that trombone, which was courtesy of the inimitable Reggie Pace, was at the Bon Iver show at the National last month.

As cool as it had been seeing Reggie play in Bon Iver, and it was very cool, I was a whole lot closer to him tonight when he was playing his formidable trombone and triangle.

It's true; "Tom and Jerry" cartoons are incredibly  violent (although bloodless), which is exactly why you need all that percussion.

How else could you hear Tom bite into a clam shell sandwich in "Salt Water Tabby"?

Enter the uber-talented Brian Jones, a man who always salutes me when he sees me.

As hard as it was going to be to top vintage cartoon music, I knew it wouldn't be enough of a music fix after my recent drought, so I headed to Sprout afterwards.

It was tall people night there, so I didn't have a prayer of seeing more than an occasional head or leg of a musician, but I heard plenty.

First, Old Swampy played a short, swampy set for an enthusiastic crowd.

As a friend told me, "These guys are trouble makers." Or maybe that was treble-makers.

As an unexpected bonus, some friends rolled in toward the end of their set, so now I had amusing (and smiling) company for the duration.

Next San Francisco's Electric Shepherd came out of nowhere and totally engaged the crowd.

After the first couple of songs, a friend gave them the thumbs up with a big Cheshire grin.

I asked if that meant that he was enjoying revisiting 60s-era druggie music and he positively beamed. I took that for a yes.

If that sounds in any way negative, it's not.

The trio of Electric Shepherd was psychedelic, extremely dynamic and very into what they were doing (which almost came across like a soundtrack  or storytelling).

If not for the vocals, I would label it post-rock for how expressive and dynamic it was. I saw more than a few people buying their vinyl after their set, always a good sign.

There were a fair number of musicians at the show to check out a new local band, Peace Beast, with two members from The Diamond Center.

Their sound was very different than that band, and while I didn't stay for the entire set, they had an appealing sound with jangley guitars and girly vocals.

I will need to see them again soon to enjoy a full set.

Standing outside saying my goodbyes, I had a moment unlike any I've had in months.

No, not the self-satisfied pleasure of finally hearing live music again.

Chill bumps when I was outside.

It was a little cool standing outside Sprout after midnight.

I know everyone else  (besides the dress-loving Antonia and me) is happy that Fall is coming, but I wasn't ready for it tonight.

But I was definitely ready for music.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Tales of the "V" Table

Take six chefs, six pig parts, six women and seven wines. Mix well and spread generously over four hours.

Yield: a sWine dinner and the kind of conversation the best writers couldn't write.

Secco was hosting a six-course wine dinner with swine and had bought in additional chefs and tables to handle the crowd.

I was lucky enough to be seated with five other solo diners, all female, at a big table in front where there are usually two couches.

We took advantage of our prime position to check out passers-by and dish on everything from second dates to port and tequila ice cream to younger men.

The festivities kicked off with a reception where we sipped Le Nouveau Nez, admiring its bubbles and seeing how many in the room we knew (not many; my total was only three).

An amuse bouche of pork liver mousse with fennel flower and sea salt brought raves from all but one of us who wasn't a liver fan.

Course #1 was head cheese with three sauces from Secco's Tim Bereika, served with Musar "Jeune" 2009 Blanc.

The savory pig head parts mixed with pistachio and fresh parsley found fans of all three sauces, the savory tomato-berbere jam, the watermelon rind mustard and the mayo-like sauce gribiche.

Two of the people at my table didn't think they liked head cheese (we considered banishing them), only to be proven wrong upon tasting Tim's version.

But we all agreed that we were off to a fine porcine start.

Enoteca's Lee Baedke prepared the second dish, squid-stuffed with ground pork shoulder with garlic, oregano, Pecorino Romano, tomato and Pancetta.

His girlfriend was at our table and told us about how she'd helped stuff the squid (she had a tendency to over-stuff according to her beloved), but we didn't let that influence us.

It was beautifully done and well paired with Bisson 2009 Bianchetta Genovese.

The next course came from The Roosevelt's Lee Gregory, so naturally it had a Southern twist.

It consisted of a roasted scallop, braised pig tails, a lima bean succotash that had the whole table enthralled and pork jus, served with Naranjuez 2009 Sauvignon Blanc (reeking of cat piss and pleasing some of the wine geeks at the table no end).

Lee told us that he'd  paired the scallop with the tails, "So hopefully we can slow your heart down a little." Goodness knows we needed it at that point.

After four wine courses, my table mates and I were as good as old friends. We heard boyfriend/husband stories, we shared first date stories and everyone knew who had power and who didn't.

Jason Alley of Comfort (and the soon-to-come Pasture) did a deconstructed pig's foot Wellington with a mushroom mousse and white toast.

We enjoyed that with a Chapelle des Bois 2009 Fleurie, as young tasting as a Beaujolais and just perfect with Jason's dish.

This wine was a big hit at our table, but maybe we were just ready for a red.

We switched to pink for the next course by Michael Braune of Secco, specifically the Cuilleron 2010 "Sybel" Rose de Syrah.

Michael's course was a braised pork belly complemented by a host of local veggies, including squash, leeks (okay, so they weren't local), padron pepper tapenade, fresh oregano and yellow tomato sauce.

Now that pork belly is everywhere, I have tasted differences in quality, but this one was outstanding.

The pig was sourced from Babes in the Woods, a Dillwyn farm that allows their pigs free range to forage for nuts and berries, giving the pigs a rich flavor.

Pork belly and pink wine pretty much finished us off. We were full by that time.

Not too full to talk, of course, or crack ourselves up (server Matt said, "I knew this table would be trouble") and knowing that dessert was next, we began a discussion of dessert versus additional wine and who had a preference for what.

I like to think that I'm entitled to both, but perhaps that's delusion on my part.

And while not delusional, there was definitely an oblivious quality to the people who continued to come through Secco's front door despite a bright green sign saying they were closed for a private event.

Some stood there like deer  in headlights, some were informed by our table of their error and, when we were mid-story or laughing raucously, some had to be escorted out by staff.

At long last we reached the final course, which was both sweet and savory and created by Rachel DiSylvester of Secco.

Her pork rind biscuit with black raspberry compote had whipped honey and crystallized ginger for a finale (Julia: "Finale,not dessert") lifted from a 70s cookbook.

It was divine, especially with La Stoppa 2009 Malvasia Dolce, slightly sweet and lightly sparkling, the ideal wine for a pork rind biscuit, should I ever be lucky enough to have another.

And if not, I can grow old and become one of those people who sits around and talks about the glory days, back when I ate six courses of pig and lived to tell about it.

Assuming, of course, that my heart doesn't shut down trying to process so much pig tonight.

In which case, I'll just be part of the legend of the "V" table.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Get the Party Started

You have to love a party that begins with dessert.

This was originally a "Farewell to Summer" party which had morphed into a "Hurricane Recovery Party" two days ago.

I was one of the first to arrive, no doubt because I never lost power and there was nothing I could do about my collapsed ceiling today except sweep up the debris.

The hosts were still without power, so the cookout had been changed to a taco party and the guests began to gather on the deck.

Our soundtrack was the next door neighbor's generator, buzzing away noisily in the late afternoon sun.

No power meant no ice, so one host was out trying to find some while the other greeted party-goers.

He insisted that we begin with ice cream since it was rapidly becoming soup cream.

Hard at work until 3:30 a.m. last night, he'd added a Guinness Stout reduction to vanilla ice cream and was serving it with chocolate ganache.

I may not be a beer drinker, but this was about the chocolate and the cream, not the beer.

Once we'd gotten dessert out of the way, we moved on to his basil peach sangria, which packed quite a punch.

Sangria is usually so mild-mannered, but my host had chosen to cut the sweetness of the wine with vodka, resulting in what one guest called a peach mojito.

You know, the old "cut alcohol with alcohol" trick.

Plain and simple, it was a big old cocktail, albeit a beautifully flavored one, and although I'm allergic to peaches and not a cocktail drinker, I drank up.

By some miracle, just as we started eating dinner, the neighbors turned off the generator. It was like a gift to our eardrums.

The crowd was eclectic - an author, comedians, a DJ, several IT types, bloggers, symphony musicians and several Henrico County school employees who got the word that they were off tomorrow mid-party- so the conversations were all over the place.

Where do you send a NYC transplant who asks, "Where can I go to meet people?" someone asked about a new coworker.

Well that depends on what kind of people you want to meet, I said.

Without knowing their preference, someone suggested that you send them to a place that has available men and women so they can pick their favorite flavor.

During a discussion of cell phones (nerdy vs. trendy, sleek vs. washing machine-like), I volunteered to the group that I didn't have one.

Stunned silence.

"Wow! That makes you the biggest hipster here," a girl finally said.

"Do you have a land line?" someone else asked. I nodded.

"Even more so," she pronounced.

Win friends and influence people by being a Luddite.

At dusk, the hosts brought out scads of candles and began making Guinness floats for those with an alcoholic sweet tooth.

Soon the tiki torches were lit and a fire was roaring in a small grill in the back yard.

After the third person asked me what my next stop was, I figured it was time to go.

I stopped home to make sure that no more ceiling had fallen before going to meet friends at the one bar that never seems to close, Bamboo.

And because it's Bamboo, there were as many people outside smoking as there were inside drinking.

Amongst those doing the latter were my friends who had spent a good part of the day shooting a video for their band.

During the shoot, they'd created a house party, with everyone drinking, talking and having a good time.

In essence, the exact same thing they were now doing at Bamboo, but without the cameras rolling. Even some of the extras showed up in their party girl dresses.

But the band members were tired of all that and wanted to talk about more substantive things like "Koyaanisqatsi," Lewis Ginter's mausoleum and surviving a broken heart when your ex walks into Bamboo.

You have to love a party where nerds win out over party girls.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Late Night Adrenaline Shots

The hurricane tourists are out in full force.

I walk Broad and Grace Streets every Sunday morning and they're both usually like ghost towns. I'm lucky to see three people in three miles of walking. Not so today where it was like a street festival and everyone had a phone or a camera.

Couples strolled hand in hand, only pausing to snap pictures of crushed cars and downed trees. People in cars drove slower than I walk to point and exclaim over what they saw.

Yes, it's a beautiful day and well worth being up for, but I question how many of these people would still be in bed if there was no destruction to ogle.

Broad Street was where useless umbrellas had gone to die. They were littered on the sidewalk and stuffed in trash cans, their broken spokes testament to their worthlessness.

A window had blown out and the shards of glass scattered across the sidewalk. Over on Grace, some of the sidewalks became impassable due to broken branches and fallen trees and I had to take to the street. On Allen between Broad and Monument, the devastation was widespread. Both sides of Allen on either side of the median were covered in enormous dead trees.

The fire department had several trucks there, no doubt intending to take care of the situation or maybe just shoo away the paparazzi. And still, people gathered at the yellow tape lines to get better pictures. Coming soon to a FB page near you!

The extent of the devastation for me came from four little leaks in my bedroom ceiling. When Irene's wrath began yesterday, a drip started and I put a pan under it. By the time I went to bed, I had four drips and four pans but not a lot of accumulated drippage in them.

Apparently it was enough because at 3:06, a large chunk of ceiling crashed to the floor, waking me up like a shot (and probably my downstairs neighbors, too).

It's hard to come down from an adrenaline rush like that.

I wasn't about to get up and do anything about it, so I rolled over and began thinking about puppies and rainbows nothing I'm going to admit to here and finally fell asleep after about an hour.

A second slightly smaller piece crashed down around 6 a.m., but I was a pro at being terrorized awake by then and fell right back to sleep.

When I got up, I saw that the floor around two sides of my bed was covered in ceiling chunks and drywall dust. The pans of brown water had bits floating in them. It looked even worse than it had sounded, and that's saying a lot.

Let the record show that I did not take out my camera and document any of it.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Sporting a Drip Dry Dress for Irene

So today I broke almost all the rules of hurricane behavior.

Stay away from windows.

I can't recall a day when I spent so much time looking out the open windows.

The rain and the wind and the trees they were abusing made for such a show that it was irresistible not to just stand there transfixed by what was happening.

Every time I heard the distinctive crack of a branch breaking, I rushed to the window to see where it had landed on Clay Street.

Stay tuned to local TV.

Oops, don't have a box, so I couldn't obsess over the Weather Channel like so many of my friends were.

Stay tuned to a local radio station.

No can do. I can't abide any station in this town, so I listen to a public radio station in Charlottesville, where they made a point of saying all afternoon that it wasn't even raining.

Plan to be self-sustaining for three days.

While I have oatmeal, bread, cashews and plenty of fruit (clementines, cantaloupe and bananas), my main protein sources are Boars Head hot dogs and eggs. Lame, I know.

Have extra batteries.

By the time I heeded the hurricane warnings, there wasn't a "D" battery for sale within the entire Mid-Atlantic, but at last night's dinner party, my good friend had slipped me two "Ds" so that at least I have a working flashlight.

Stay inside.

That's easier said than done. When you live alone, it's inevitable that you go a bit stir crazy after a day like today.

I read for hours. I took a nearly two-hour nap. But after a while, I needed conversation in the worst way.

Throwing caution to the (60 mph) winds, I felt compelled to head out of here before 7:00, hoping like hell there'd be other people at the bar closest to me.

It was a dark walk. With the city having turned off the street lights for the evening (frayed wires and all), I put on my rain jacket, took the biggest umbrella I own and soldiered the two blocks to the Belvidere.

My umbrella threatened to turn itself inside out every third step. The lower third of my dress was soaked.

Must. Find. Other. Humans.

Besides the staff of four, there was only one person at the Belvidere when I arrived., but I was hopeful.

Before long, the owner delivered another (who knew they had pick-up service?).

I ordered a glass of Gatao Vinho Verde and settled in to meet some new neighbors.

One was a sous chef whose restaurant in my former neighborhood was closed tonight and the other a long-time firefighter who now works as a corporate drone for Capital 1.

Before long, a couple came in. And then two more. A three-top called before showing up. It was enough.

I was not shy about joining the other escapees, insinuating myself into their conversations and finding plenty to talk about.

Favorite quote: "The difference between boys and men is that men figure out a solution." Uttered by a man, of course.

The owner decided to document the occasion, shooting video of the storm on Broad Street and doing some slow pans through the bar while we drank and talked about today's endless sirens.

For my hurricane supper, I chose the Belvidere's stellar burger, knowing it was better than anything I had at home.

Smothered in caramelized onions and cheddar, the half pound burger was way more than I needed after a day of doing virtually nothing, but I was trying to store up for Irene's aftermath.

Who knows what tomorrow will bring?

For that matter, it's not like I know any of the post-hurricane rules.

Or that I'd likely follow them either.

Does My Fig Look Big in This?

No question, everyone was in full pre-hurricane mode tonight.

The general attitude was, "Party tonight, for tomorrow we may be trapped inside our powerless homes" or some such thing.

And while I never let a little something like a hurricane or a major snow keep me at home (why do you think I live where I live, for goodness' sake?), I joined right in.

First rule of a busy night: start at your most distant destination.

For me, that was a party on Southside comprised of theater women, my second such gathering this week, but at this one I knew a lot of the people before I got there.

It was one of those times when I was pretty sure everyone there was way more talented than I am, but when you start talking former lovers, speeding tickets and drunk cooking shows, the field is pretty much leveled.

And I can be dramatic when I want to be.

Through multiple courses of wine and food (including a divine chicken thigh dish with prunes, olives and enough garlic for our hostess to promise that no one would want to kiss us), we shared stories of love and lust, past and present.

My favorite thing about this group of females is that just when I think my personal life is/has been abnormally fill-in-the-blank (colorful, bohemian, busy, juicy, odd), I am reassured by one of their tales that I am not alone in that.

Oh, the book I could write!

But after four satisfying hours, I knew it was time to move the party back to the city and closer to home for me.

I stopped at a farewell party a friend was giving, where I had the pleasure of meeting his parents, who knew so much about me that I was surprised every time they opened their mouths.

It's flattering to know that your friends talk about you and it's a tad unnerving to meet people who already know what you do. And what you don't have.

Somehow, I continue to be praised for the things I do without. No one else wants to do it, but damn if they don't admire me for it.

My friend's brother I had met on multiple occasions before because he's a musician and, well, I go to a lot of shows (although this week was an all-time low).

He even gave me his band's new song to listen to. I love when that happens.

Last up for the evening was yet another farewell party, this one for mixologist extraordinaire Bobby at Mint.

Walking in to a packed Julep, I found friends scattered throughout the lively and somewhat loopy crowd.

It required some work just to make it to the bar to get a cocktail, or in my case some spirits, but when I did, I arrived just as a bar stool was being vacated.

That gave me a prime viewing space for the frenzied drink making that was going on behind the bar.

There must have been four different people endlessly giving their arms a workout with a cocktail shaker to supply one of the evening's creative drink specials.

My front row seat to a cocktail cabaret did afford me some mini-drinks, an unexpected bonus.

Bobby's classic Jack Skellington with a toasted marshmallow and the cool-as-a-cucumber Wimbledon were amuse-bouches to my inevitable choice.

In fact, as soon as Bobby saw me, he turned in mid-shake and said to one of his assistants, "She'll have a  Cazadores on ice," with the resigned grin he always gives me for my lack of additives.

I ran into a couple of fellow bloggers at the bar and enjoyed some conversation (and a sip of a spicy Employees Only) with them before half of a favorite couple came up behind me and asked, "What the f**k are you doing over here?"

Somehow I'd missed the engraved invitation to join them at their table, so he'd come to summon me. Pronto.

Over at his table were some transplants looking for brunch ideas (Amour Wine Bistro is high on my list these days), a very handsome man spouting generalizations about women ("Women can be so sensitive!") and Julep's new chef.

For the second time this week, a chef wanted to hear my thoughts on some of the new restaurants and no one loves hearing their opinion of a place validated more than a chef.

And no one can resist showing off more than a chef but this was to our advantage.

He brought out some of the cheeses he's been making and the aged goat cheese with fennel was the kind of taste that made your eyes close.

Swoon-worthy says it best.

He then brought out a spoon of salt and laid it on the table like a prize.

My friend got out a dollar bill, rolled it up and pretended to snort it. Instead, we all tasted grains of it, savoring its purity of flavor.

During a discussion of needlessly complicated cooking, the chef disappeared into the kitchen, returning with two plates.

On one was a sliced up Sun Gold tomato and on the other, chunks of fresh fig.

"That's the two best things I could serve you right now. Nothing I could cook would taste better than that!" he said with a flourish.

With a light sprinkle of the crack  salt, the tomatoes confirmed his words.

The figs had been picked that morning on his parents' farm in Goochland and as one who has spent the past month in a fig-induced euphoria,  I knew what I was in for.

But surprisingly, there were people at the table who don't usually like figs (she liked these) or had never had them. Tragic.

Once the complete madness died down, Bobby joined us at our table to talk about his mixology future.

The guy who first showed RVA that gin and tequila could peacefully co-exist in the same glass clearly has a lot of options and a huge following no matter where he chooses to land.

And lots of places want him right now.

We didn't realize how late it was getting until we began to notice the hordes of scantily-clad girls spilling out into 18th Street.

Honey, does your mother know that you're out in a bra and a pair of shorts that look like a twist-tie and calling that an outfit? I doubt it.

But, hey, that's the street theater of Shockoe Bottom and since my evening had started with theater people, why not end up seeing some performance art?

Because a 250-pound woman in short shorts and a tube top walking in six inch heels is a performance you're not going to see just anywhere.

And while all of us gaped a little (or a lot), maybe she was just in pre-hurricane mode too.

A girl's got to wear it while she can.

How else will she have stories to share with her friends at a dinner party when she's older and wiser?

Thursday, August 25, 2011

A Virginia Estate Bottled Day

Quick, what's Virginia's native grape?

And where in the world can you find the largest planting of that grape?

Norton would be Virginia's own and Chrysalis Vineyards in Middleburg the winery devoted to bringing this native grape to the attention of wine lovers.

I knew after reading Todd Kliman's "The Wild Vine" and tasting Norton that I had to make the trek to the Virginia Piedmont to taste it.

I'd gotten a tease at a wine dinner at Sprout where Norton had been one of the pairings. But it wasn't enough.

A two-hour drive put me in the middle of Locksley Estate where Chrysalis is located.

For many readers of the book who live further away, all they can do is call and order Norton to be delivered to them.

It happened twice while I was there today.

It's not hard to understand people's passion to taste Norton after reading the book, but opening a bottle of it in Oregon can't be nearly as satisfying as drinking it at the foot of the Bull Run Mountains.

Which was where I was as I went through a baker's dozen of Chrysalis wines from their stellar Albarino through the award-winning Viognier to Nortons of every shape and size.

I was fortunate to have the incredibly knowledgeable and charming Eddie pouring for me.

In his elegantly accented voice, he and I talked at length about Norton (he's starting an all Norton all the time blog) and every single wine I tasted, recommending what he'd cook to pair with each one.

Ladies of Loudon County, take note. I think Eddie's a catch.

Afterwards Jenny, the owner of Chrysalis, took me under her wing and gave me a Jeep tour of the estate, rolling over vegetation and dirt hills with ease.

And if that sounds unlike anything I usually do, let me assure you it was.

But as someone who lives mere blocks from Norton Street and Dr. Norton's original farm, seeing fields of Norton grapes heavy on the vine brought the history home.

Jenny had recently bought additional acreage from a neighbor and is building a new tasting room which required a road and bridge to be put in to access it.

Today, she took me down there to see where the river had been dammed and the bridge built (in little over a week, mind you).

Hopping out of the Jeep, she asked what size shoe I wore.

Not quite big enough, but she handed me a pair of serviceable black rubber boots (my friend Danny would say that those boots with my little plaid dress positively made the outfit).

Both of us in boots, we walked over the new bridge, still being graded but fully installed. Landscaping to come.

It's not a big bridge, but it's a strong one. A loaded  eighteen-wheeler will be able to cross it.

What most fascinated me was seeing the river being held back on either side, like some kind of science experiment.

A pipe connects the flow for now and once they finish, the mounds of dirt will be taken down and the river will flow naturally under the spanking new bridge.

Then we got back in the Jeep and climbed the nearly vertical hill to where the new tasting room will be. The views on both sides will be magnificent.

Back in the existing tasting room, bootless and on flat ground, she pulled out a Private Reserve Red, a wine they "play around" with every harvest.

The grapes change, the style changes and only members can buy it. Not being a member, you better believe I savored it.

Honestly, I savored the whole day, driving and all, even though soul-sucking I-95 was involved for part of the trip.

My favorite road trips involve someone else driving, endless conversation and a hand on my leg, none of which I had today.

But with some excellent driving music, plenty of time to sweep the cobwebs from my over-active brain, and more Norton than I'll likely ever get again in one day, life seemed pretty sweet.

Or more accurately, it seemed elegant, supple and earthy with a nice long finish, all qualities I aspire to have.

Just call me Karen Norton.

O Canada! How We Do It in the South

I have discovered the most amazing bar food in Richmond and it is Canadian.

But I never would have discovered it if I hadn't gone to meet a bartender friend at The Roosevelt for dinner.

We agreed on 7:00 in order to ensure we found stools before the madding crowd's arrival.

Good thing, too; twenty minutes after we got there, lines appeared at both doors.

Sliding into a stool, I found myself next to one of my favorite wine reps with my dinner partner to my right and the sun on our backs.

I chose the TJ Virginia Fizz to kick off my evening, much to the delight of the rep, who had actually been part of the grape crush for the Fizz vintage I was drinking.

If he'd done it with his feet, I'd have asked him to take off his socks.

As it was, he told me that Claude Thibaut was the best sparkling winemaker on the East Coast and I merely told him how much I liked the Prosecco-like creaminess of the Virginia bubbles I was drinking.

Since it was my friend's first time at The Roosevelt and I eat everything on the menu, I deferred to him on the food selection.

Like so many before him, he couldn't resist the siren song of the squash fritters.

I may have influenced him a tad to order the steak tartare with egg yolk, but only because I was sure he'd love it as much as I had (he did). The pickled green tomato got a thumbs up from us both.

The people watching is always good at The Roosevelt, like the woman stroking her date's hands in front of her face while he made goo-goo eyes at her.

So is the conversation, like mine with the dapper older man who lives across the street and came in to see if he'd like the place ("Well, I got a nice beer and that's a good start!" he said with a wheeze and a smile).

When my Fizz was gone I moved on to the Gabriele Rausse Vin Gris, soft but with a crisp finish.

It turned out to be the perfect thing to go with poutine, Roosevelt-style, which arrived moments after my wine did.

Sure, in Canada poutine may be french fries, cheese curds and brown gravy, but in Chef Lee Gregory's hands, it was all about southern style.

The crispy French fries were there, but covered in ham gravy with chunks of ham throughout; pimento cheese adorned the center of the plate.

It may just have been the ultimate bar food: carb-heavy with enough protein to be satisfying and decadent to the point of no return.

Bartender T came up and asked how we liked it.

"Awesome," I enthused. "We can feel our arteries hardening as we eat it."

"Well, they gotta harden sometime, right?" he asked with a wicked grin. Indeed they do.

Despite our best efforts, the two of us could not entirely finish this Southern tribute to the Canuck palate.

But, oh, we tried. Someday there will be a monument to Lee in the Pig Hall of Fame.

Poutine negated any need for further savory courses, so we cut right to dessert. A chocolate Coca-Cola cake with marshmallow filling had been added since my last visit.

But the chocoholic in me resisted when I saw coconut cake on the menu.

I have a sentimental attachment to coconut cake; a guy once became smitten with me when I ordered it rather than chocolate.

My friend went with the buttermilk panna cotta after he heard my glowing description of it.

As we shared the two desserts, we talked about life and choosing your path and the role that happenstance plays in it all.

We agreed that worry and guilt are not productive uses of our time.

He wanted to hear about the directions my life has taken and its changes; I wanted to hear about his upcoming changes and how his resume will reflect his colorful path so far.

Poutine may harden the arteries, but it seems to loosen the tongue. Don't say you weren't warned.

Just don't pass up a chance to try it.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Tag and Tuscan Kale

You can only play phone tag with me for so long before I give up. It's not like I want to talk on the phone in the first place.

So after literally weeks of leaving countless return messages but never actually speaking to him, I sent my restaurant-owner friend a FB message.

And don't you just know he shot back suggesting lunch. It was so easy online and such a pain using the phone.

What have we learned here?

Because of my reluctance to leave the city and the fact that he lives in the West End, we agreed to meet at Stella's.

Like so many restaurant owners, he rarely makes the time to check out new places, despite being wildly interested in seeing how they're doing.

He was blown away by how busy the place was while I expected that, having been there before.

Every time a table was vacated, replacements sat down within minutes.

The combination of the location, Stella herself and solid Greek food is apparently exactly what this town has been craving.

If not for the bar stools, there would have been no available seating once we took the last corner table.

Actually, I considered it a compliment to be seated there, since there are plenty of people who would not come close to fitting in that tucked away chair to which I was shown.

My friend likes to "be good" by eating a salad and then sharing a sandwich when we go out to lunch.

Fine by me; I had been wanting to try the salad with black Tuscan kale, kasseri cheese, sliced almonds, EVOO and fresh lemon juice dusted with kefalograviera (a sheep's milk cheese) and he got the Village, a more straightforward Greek salad.

Someone should have warned us to share a salad because the trough-sized bowl of black kale would have been daunting even if I hadn't had half a sandwich on its way.

But it was also a big hit; the slightly spicy leaves were enhanced with two kinds of cheese and I could just taste how good it was for me.

Now I can eat all kinds of bad things for dinner and still feel virtuous.

Our sandwich of chicken with prosciutto and Gorgonzola came with enough Greek potato salad for a small army.

I'd eaten so much of my uniquely flavored salad that I couldn't fully appreciate the sandwich, or maybe it just wasn't my thing, but my friend devoured his half despite doing much of the talking.

He was busy telling me about all his recent road trips (3,000 miles worth) and his ongoing search for another new restaurant spot.

It kind of makes me wonder, when will Richmond reach critical mass on restaurants?

Looking around Stella's at almost 2:00 on a weekday, I'd guess the answer would be no time soon.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Broad Street al Fresco

I'm not ashamed to say that I got adopted at a tasting.

It had been months since I'd last gone to one of the Empress's Tuesday tastings and I definitely picked the right one to climb back on board.

Given the recent weeks' heat and humidity, the Empress had put their tastings on hiatus.

With today's beautiful weather, they'd bought red umbrellas, set out the blue glasses and opened up their new patio to the tasting crowd.

I arrived to a mostly full patio, but stopped to chat with Chef Carly before choosing a two-top and only occupying one seat.

Did you really think I could scrounge up a date?
Well, I hope you'd give me first shot.
Why? You're taken!
Yea, but I have a car and I still drive by the lots.

But I was lucky; before the tasting even got underway, the three women at the next table kindly invited me to join them for the evening's entertainment.

I'd heard one of them mention a beagle, so I knew they couldn't be all bad.

Like the other Tuesday tastings I'd attended at the Empress, this one showcased stellar wines and the most interesting food with a ridiculous price tag of $20.

We started with 2008 Inspiracion Pampano Rueda, a blend of Verdedjo and Viura paired with  a golden honeydew and white peach gazpacho.

The wine's acidity was pucker-worthy until we tasted it after the soup, at which point all the sharp edges smoothed out.

The ginger notes in the lovely gazpacho echoed the same in the wine.

Enjoying our first course, it was hard not to appreciate the lovely evening and the light breeze as we savored our food and wine al fresco.

My new friends were far from all bad; in fact, they were all theater people so I'd seen a lot of the productions they'd worked on.

I could actually participate in the conversation about recent plays. Score!

Our next course involved Martin Codax 2010 Albarino Rias Baixas, a peachy and citrusy wine that paired beautifully with a scallop ceviche with pear chips.

Stop the world, everybody needs to taste pear chips before they die.

Midway through our meal, one of the group asked me flat out if I was "I could go on and on."  A second woman seconded her thought.

How does this happen? How do people know? I never cease to be amazed when this happens.

We got a big buildup from owner Melissa about the next wine, a 2008 Las Rocas Garnacha, for its gorgeous nose and sumptuous long finish.

Melissa didn't lie. This wine did not even need food to appreciate how well crafted it was, but a dish of pink peppercorn and Thai basil frozen cream with raspberry coulis elicited sounds of satisfaction from the entire table.

While the concept of a savory ice cream may not be everyone's expectation for a pre-meat course, this combination of pepper and basil was to die for.

Several people asked the chef when this creamy delight would appear on the menu, but an answer wasn't immediately forthcoming.

And it was as pretty as it was delicious.

Our final wine course was the older woman to the previous wine's pretty young thing.

The 2008 Las Rocas Vinas Viejas Garnacha came from 80-year old vines versus 30-year old vines.

And while the last one had been wonderful, this one had a depth and structure that told you it had been around long enough to get the hang of things.

It was downright elegant.

Carly paired it with smoked filet Mignon with roasted cherries which matched the cherry flavor in the wine note for note.

As we savored our last course, the conversation turned to dating, ineffectual co-workers and the trials and tribulations of excessive use of Foursquare.

Not an issue for me. I will never be mayor of anywhere.

I found a kindred wine soul in one of the women (who runs 17 miles a day) who happily agreed to share a glass of the final magnificent wine with me.

It was impossible to let something so good go by at that point in the evening. Chances are, that's not a wine they'll be pouring again by the glass.

So we sat on the patio as it gradually cleared out, chatting and sipping as the traffic on Broad Street lessened.

If you're going to be adopted, expressive, hand-gesturing, well-spoken theater types are the way to go.

I may never be an actress, but I hope I have enough depth and structure and that I've been around long enough that I can stand in as one of their friends.

Actually, I'm shooting for downright elegant.

I Feel the Earth (and Petunias) Move

My favorite thing about the earthquake? People's cell phones were useless.

Sadly, I was not in J-Ward to experience the quake in my 1876 house, which would have also made it through the last big Virginia quake of 1897.

No, instead I was standing in line at the Lowe's garden center in Carver waiting to pay for petunias.

As the "event" started up, the couple in front of me looked at me, their eyes as wide as saucers. I'm sure I looked just as confused.

We stood there with the cashier as the concrete floor underneath us shook violently.

Since the front and one side wall of the garden area are open, we felt like we were experiencing the quake both inside and outside.

None of us dared utter the "e" word because we don't have earthquakes in Virginia. Right?

Leaving with my petunias, I went on to Kroger where I saw plenty of puzzled people rooted in place trying to get their phones to work.

Bemused look on my part.

Back at home, nothing seemed askance. No books had fallen of the wall of bookshelves. Candles and picture frames were still upright.

Only the art on the walls told the true story. Every single picture was askew.

Art righted, I went to the Byrd House Market where everyone had their "where were you?' story at the ready.

In between checking out Amy's Garden pre-made salsa baskets (assorted peppers, onions, tomatoes) and tasting Soul Ice (mango flavor), everyone wanted to talk quakes...or hurricanes.

I stopped by the Triple Stamp Press table to say hi to friends and got their stories. At the Pizza Tonight booth, we didn't bother with quake talk and went straight to pork talk.

While looking at the dried chicken fingers at Dog Town Lounge (knowing how much the beagle would have enjoyed them), the owner told me about her research into the seismograph map of this afternoon's event.

Gee, it had only been two hours, but I guess you have to do something with your time when your phone doesn't work.

I arrived home to a message from a county-dwelling friend saying, "I feel kind of ripped off." He'd been getting gas and never felt so much as a twinge.

"There better be another one soon," he said hopefully.

No, no, silly. Next is the hurricane and then the plague of locusts.

Swagger and Figs

Go out Monday nights and avoid the crowds, but run into industry people everywhere.

Today's beautiful weather landed me at Lamplighter for some outside conversation with a couple of restaurant types and where I ran into a couple of the Balliceaux crew.

There's nothing like running into a trendy bartender and hearing that he's on his way home to spend the evening reading Harry Potter #4 to reassure me that all is right with the world.

Honestly, I mean that.

Next up was Secco because Mondays are a great night to go and enjoy a lively bar when most places are closed.

Greeting me on arrival was a Bistro 27 staffer enjoying his day off. We chatted on the sidewalk for a bit before he left and I went in.

As always at Secco, the hard part is picking a pink.

With a notation that it tasted like Capri Sun (in a good way) and was made with love, how could I resist Grange Tiphaine Rimage Tournant Touraine Rose with its deep pink color and fruity taste?

I couldn't.

I was lonely for company at the bar when I arrived, but that quickly changed with the arrival of a swaggering man (his words) and the steady company of talkative staff.

One of tonight's specials was a salad of arugula, figs, goat cheese and fried almonds in a 20-year old sherry vinaigrette.

Since I'm fig-obsessed lately, I found this combination to be a delightful one, with the peppery arugula balancing the sweetness of the figs.

I ended up talking to the swaggerer who boasted of wearing salmon colored shirts (the bartender had on lavender and that had been the starting point) as a way of making statements about himself.

It turns out that people questioned him for wearing such colors to work, but he told them that he was "working it," so he was entitled to wear whatever he wanted to.

He said it's all about the swagger, an attitude with which I have some familiarity in men.

He was also enthusiastically eating cheese, so I decided to follow suit with the Cabecou, described as "goaty, gooey and gorgeous."

It boggles the mind how many things besides cheese those adjectives could apply to.

Two of the servers described it as their current favorite, and after tasting its buttery creaminess, I could see why they'd praised it.

I couldn't decide whether it was better with the plum chutney or the onion jam, so I ate both with it.

But it wasn't just about cheese; I was meeting up with a friend who got the evening off to a great start by loaning me a book she highly recommended.

Yes it's a love story which I probably have no business reading, but it's hard to resist a book recommended for its beautiful language.

As another friend and I recently discussed, when it comes to love and potential mates, not knowing the difference between "your" and "you're" is a deal breaker.

And let's not even talk about "should of."

Language matters, at least to a certain nerdy set.

Meanwhile, a big-name chef came in with his lawyer; they were in the neighborhood checking out potential locations.

His bluster may have sucked  a bit of air out of the room, but we managed to carry on with our girl talk in spite of him.

Nerds have always had a way of tuning out the popular people.

It used to be about self-preservation. Now it's just choice.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Bien Sur, I Want to Go Back

Dis donc, is a quick service French restaurant an oxymoron?

It's a moot point because it's not American quick like McDonald's, but La Parisienne Bistro and Cafe is definitely French.

Looking around the downtown spot, my friend was convinced that it was part of a chain.

Tastefully decorated with dark wood and high ceilings, everything was in place down to the smallest details.

Little Eiffel Tower place card holders for order numbers. Large embossed white paper placemats, a charming addition to every table.

"This has got to be a chain," my friend insisted. He works in a restaurant, so he said it with assurance; everything was too perfectly done according to him.

We obligingly stepped out of line to order once we saw the menu and realized that this was going to take some time to decide between crepes, starters, salads, entrees and sandwiches.

My friend was disappointed to hear that breakfast service ended at 11, but happy to find a Croque Madame (pan-fried French country bread with pulled chicken and Gruyere) with a poached egg on top and house-made chips on the side.

I had the open-face avocado topped with a zesty shrimp salad on a bed of mesclun and grape tomatoes.

Mine came out first, with an apology to my friend. "Yours will be right up. The egg is just about finished poaching."

When his delectable-looking sandwich arrived, my friend starting grilling the poor man about the decor and whether this was a chain.

"No, we did it all ourselves," he explained sincerely. "We're French!"

That shut him up and we began eating our delicious dejeuner without another word about chain restaurants.

I had been offered bread to accompany my salad, but had opted for sharing my friend's chips instead, an excellent decision

Their thick crispiness was a nice contrast to the creaminess of the avocado and the shrimp.

Over on his plate, the combination of his thick grilled sandwich with an egg made for a filling dish that he generously shared with me.

I should have eaten more of it than I did because by the time he finished, he was too full for dessert.

This was a tragedy because La Parisienne boasted a case of delectable looking sweets and we'd already ogled everything from chocolate torts with caramel sauce to miniature eclairs to Napoleons.

And now he didn't want any of it. Unacceptable.

Zut alors, I need to pick a more appropriate lunching partner when next eating at La Parisienne.

Which will no doubt be soon and may even begin with dessert, just to be safe.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Order Varies

"I like white wine, white liquor, and white men. In that order."

Only at my neighborhood joint could I hear such a great line and only have walked five blocks to hear it.

When a friend messaged me late this afternoon asking about my plans, I had none.

But after finishing up some work, a look in my fridge revealed that I had nothing good there, either.

Quick! Get presentable and head somewhere where people will be interesting and the food and wine will be good.

Default: Bistro 27 after the thunderstorm moved through.

It wasn't especially busy when I arrived and the kitchen staff was bored. The severs seemed glad to see me, though.

New to the wine list was Motturra Negroamaro Rose, a lovely earthy pink with which I was not familiar.

I asked a nearby guy his opinion and was rewarded with, "I don't drink roses" and the pithy comment above.

Had someone asked me, it might have gone something like this: "I like pink wine, brown liquor and smart, funny men."

Not nearly as sassy or concise.

Meanwhile, people continued to come in, giving the kitchen staff something to do and making for a livelier dining room while I held court at the bar.

I know that Chef Carlos would like to be more experimental with his menu, but he's got such a devoted following that he likes to keep a menu that appeals to everyone.

Along those lines, I went with two of the menu's most familiar dishes, the Bistro salad and the bacon-wrapped scallops over lentils.

I've had both more times than I should admit, but they're both solid dishes that continue to impress newcomers and satisfy old-timers.

And, just to be clear, I made sure that pig was involved with my meal so that my friend Paul could feel smug

The music was full of love angst tonight with "Stop! In the Name of Love," "Can't Take My Eyes Off of You" and "At Last."

If I was in the mood to pine, I had the perfect soundtrack for it.

Mostly I was in the mood to eat and drink and I had more than enough of both while enjoying an extensive discussion of the new restaurants in town with a favorite staffer.

At this rate, Grace Street is going to turn out to be a bona fide theater-goer destination before and after performances at Center Stage.

While we were chatting, a couple came in looking for dinner just after the kitchen had closed.

"We've been staying at the Jefferson and we've been meaning to get over here all week!" the guy lamented.

He who hesitates is lost, my friend.

Let's just say, locals make it a point to get to Broad Street before 9:00 on a Sunday night.

No reason to risk missing pink wine, brown liquor or a well-priced meal.

Or, with any luck, maybe someday a smart and funny man.

Wearing It the Best I Can

"Every dress has a story," my friend told me repeatedly tonight.

Since I have a lot of dresses, I have to assume that means I have a lot of stories.

For her, it was a rationalization for not getting rid of dresses she no longer wears.

I met that friend at Bonvenu, where we lucked into a charming bartender and a changing crowd of colorful characters.

Waiting for my ever-tardy friend to arrive and not ready to order until she got there, the bartender suggested he pour me some wine to taste to occupy me while he took a smoke break.

Okay, Manon Rose will do.

I continued with the Manon once my friend arrived full of excuses about parking problems. Since we had lots to catch up on, we ordered right away.

The grilled hearts of Romaine salad had grilled sweet corn, goat cheese and a sunny side up egg with lemon and roasted garlic vinaigrette.

I am enjoying finding fried eggs atop almost everything these days (tartare, risotto, salad) because the richness of the yolk is a welcome addition no matter where it lands.

Our ex-builder bartender highly recommended the flat bread pizza with Hanover tomatoes, fresh Mozzarella, grilled Vidalia onions and EVOO.

He said four bar patrons had already ordered it and raved about it. I wanted to be the next raver.

And it was good, with a generous four pieces of flat bread and tomatoes to die  for (if not now, when?).

Afterwards, on my way downstairs to the loo, I passed a girl who followed me to the stairwell.

"You are beautiful in your dress," she called to me as I descended the stairs. "You are wearing it!"

I have no idea where that came from.

After dinner, our bartender insisted we try his Flirtini overage (vodka, Chambord, pineapple juice, Triple Sec and Champagne) despite my insistence that I'm not a cocktail drinker.

It seemed to pack a punch, although I'm not a qualified enough cocktail drinker to say much beyond that.

Tonight's music was made for me, with all indie selections from the past three or four years. I couldn't find fault with a single song.

An interesting-looking group came in and claimed the stools next to us. The central character looked at me and said, "You are lovely in a way that says that you don't care. Can I buy you a shot?"

Turns out that he was a (white) rapper and as opinionated as I am. When I said my preference was tequila, he said, "But not Patron, right?"

Right he was because I know that Patron's popularity is due to marketing not, flavor, and there are many far better sipping tequilas.

He was impressed with my anti-Patron sentiments and approved of my choice of Cazadores Anejo.

You never know what captures people's attention.

Another group followed them and this one delivered us a friendly Canadian eager to show us his tattoos and talk about seeing Josh Homme in Copenhaegn.

That lasted for about ten minutes before his girlfriend reeled him in. He spent the rest of the evening looking like a beaten pup.

My girlfriend spent the night telling me about her organizational efforts.

She was divesting herself of old clothes (including some of the storied dresses), reading letters from her past and sorting through old photographs.

I have letters written to me by passionate boyfriends in college. I have photographs going back at least that far.

But unlike her, I never hesitate to give away a dress I don't wear, no matter how good the stories are that go with it.

I prefer to focus on the stories that will come with the dresses that I keep. A few hanging in there right now have doozies attached to them.

Being the optimist that I am, maybe I'm always hoping that a dress' potential has yet to be reached.

You just never know what reaction the right dress might bring...or who it might come from.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Down Home Friendly

Depending on where in J-Ward you live and whether or not your windows are open, you can start hearing the music just before 4:00.

The moment I stepped out of the shower, there it was.

The Down Home Family Reunion had begun.

By the time I made myself presentable and ambled down Clay Street, reunion attendees were everywhere, walking with chairs, looking to park, chatting with friends on the sidewalk.

Passing the gazebo in Abner Clay Park, a gentleman tipped his hat to me and said, "You have a nice afternoon out there, miss."

I found a shady spot just in front of the post wall exactly where I sat last year. And the year before. In some respects, I am such a creature of habit.

Unfortunately for me, the organizers had decided to allow vendors to set up in the area behind the stage seating, so my view was somewhat obstructed.

I could see only part of the stage.

What I could see was the parade of sharp-dressed men (and a few women) passing in front of me. I gave first prize to the man in the pink driving cap (worn backwards naturally), pink and white striped shirt with the sleeves rolled up, white cargo shorts and white shoes.

Not every man can pull off pink and white without looking like an ice cream man, be he did so in spades.

Moments later, Tobey Foyeh and Orchestra Africa took the stage.

They were the ones I'd come to see. >Their music is a pastiche created from a fusion of traditional Nigerian Yoruba music with Afro-beat, Highlife, jazz and Latin elements.

The MC said that Foyeh began performing music at an early age in Ibadan and Lagos, Nigeria and is a self-taught musician who eventually went to Berklee.

Channeling Prince and doing it all, Foyeh composes, arranges, produces, and sings, interpreting traditional and contemporary African music.

Songs had a distinctly African slant, with names like "Market Place" and "The Rain Dance."

His orchestra features him on guitar but also traditional African instruments like the gangan (talking drum) and the kalimba (thumb piano).

His talented backup female singers wore African dress and did a call-and-response style of chorus singing while performing African dance.

Luckily, I could see them from my vantage point.

Naturally I ran into neighbors, one of my favorite couples, and they teased me that I never walk down their way anymore since I no longer have the beagle.

Guilty as charged. I need to change that we agreed.

During a break in between songs, one of the guys standing atop the post wall behind me called down.
"Hey, young lady down there! Are you doing okay?" he inquired with a big smile.

For the second time today, a stranger was concerned with my enjoyment.

Apparently that's just how people roll at a family reunion in Jackson Ward whether you're the kind of family they know or not.

God, I love this neighborhood.

Night Birds, Morning Music

When I go to a Best Friends Day show, I know I'm not going to see any of my best friends.

What I am going to see are T-shirts that say things like "American by birth, Hardcore by choice" and "Dead Since 1991" and "Cloak and Dagger."

Meanwhile I'm wearing an innocuous five-year old Yo la Tengo t-shirt.

Do I care about fitting in? No. Am I there for morning music? Yes.

Night Birds were this year's band for the Fine Foods show that always kicks off the Saturday of Best Friends Weekend.

And even though I didn't know the band, I knew exactly what kind of music to expect. And I got it.

Loud, fast and short, Night Birds' pop punk thrashed hard for about half an hour in Fine Foods' parking lot before people began climbing on the To the Bottom and Back buses to head out to Haddad's for a day of fun in the pool and the sunshine.

I have to say it was pretty interesting seeing the crowd, plenty of whom I know or recognize, and  most of whom never wear anything but jeans, in shorts and bathing suits.

With so much exposed flesh, it was a great day to check out the extent of RVA's tattoo culture.

I'm betting there are going to be a lot of burnt tattoos by the end of today.

But not for me. All I'll be left with are slightly ringing ears and my fourth year's memory of thrash before noon.

I don't need any of my best friends to enjoy that.

Leave the Light On, Darling

I do not know my way around Charm City.

Heading there on the BW Parkway, we passed a flashing highway sign that said, "Speed Enforced...Smooth Operator."

Call us idiots, but we had no idea what that meant or why it would be on a sign.

Despite four trips to Baltimore in the past three years, I was useless as a navigator on today's odyssey.

Oh, we got there just fine, but ended up doing the Grand Tour of Baltimore neighborhoods once inside the city limits.

Wouldn't you just know the only ones we didn't hit were Canton and Fell's Point, the two areas I know.

We passed row houses with marble stoops in almost every neighborhood. We admired rooftop decks with views of Camden Yards.

Somewhere after the Greek neighborhood but before the Latino neighborhood, we passed Corn Beef Heaven but didn't have the sense to stop.

Or later, any idea where we had seen it.

Didn't a wise man say that it's the things you don't do that you regret?

When we discovered Corned Beef Row, we couldn't find the corned beef. Luckily, we kept our humor and kept going.

It only took one heavily-accented gas station owner, one not-nearly-scruffy- enough art student, one tattooed girl walking a dog and one female mailman to set us on the right path.

Days, weeks and months later, we arrived at the Baltimore Museum of Art, home to an incredible collection of Matisse works.

Given our delayed start, we wasted no time in scoping out the Cone Collection.

Claribel and Etta Cone were Baltimore residents who had a life-long passion for collecting Matisse's work.

And money, apparently. Lots and lots of cash.

Included in one of the galleries was a flat screen with a virtual tour of the sisters' 1930s Baltimore apartment.

By touching the screen, you could enter rooms, walk down hallways and open doors where every inch of wall space, bathrooms included, was covered in art.

I aspire to be a Cone sister.

There's nothing like walking galleries filled with Matisses of every size and color palette with another art geek.

We would have made normal people gag with our non-stop art references.

There were two Giacometti sculptures of human figures, one that made me weak in the knees, and both much bigger than any others of his I've seen .

"Man Pointing" had the rough-hewn look of so many Giacomettis, but a real presence. You wanted to follow his finger.

"Headless Woman" was as smooth as glass and truly a stunning representation of the female form, if a bit attenuated.

The artist said that his female figures represented the way he felt when he looked at a woman.

I'd say that it's the way a woman would want a man to feel when he looked at her.

The time passed so quickly that we only had time for a little European art and the American period rooms before a guard warned us it was almost closing time.

Hoping to unobtrusively linger, we slipped into an empty American painting gallery only to have the lights flickered, indicating they were serious about closing time.

Fine. Close your museum before people are ready to leave.

Not to worry, we took the stairs down to Gertrude's where we had a reservation at the bar for dinner.

Our bartender immediately got our attention with his Moonshine Manhattan, an alluring combination of Corsair Wry Moon un-aged rye whiskey, blood orange bitters, white sweet vermouth and a Luxardo cherry.

Because the Wry Moon rye is un-aged, technically it's moonshine, which made for my second moonshine this week should anyone be counting.

Going forward, Friend chose the White Hall Cabernet Franc and I the Paul Jaboulet "Parallele 45" Rose.

The bartender gave me major props for my pink choice, acknowledging that he was a fan.

"Good choice. I've been drinking that all summer," he endorsed.

Getting lost and ogling nudes make a person hungry and we were starving.

P.E.I mussels were a logical place to start, especially because of the unique broth of Loose Canon Ale and grain mustard with Andouille sausage.

I liked the broth a lot but my beer-loving friend loved the broth and sopped long after I'd given up.

Mmm, beer.

A huge seafood salad of mixed greens with lump crab meat, scallops and shrimp  was offset with BBQ pulled pork sliders with chow chow on brioche buns.

"You really can't have too much pig, can you?" my friend asked rhetorically.

No, but I really can't have too much art, either.

We drove home through a driving rainstorm that turned 95 into an endless parking lot with brake lights everywhere.

Even so, it couldn't take away from a perfectly charming day sipping moonshine in Charm City.

Our only regret was that the lights went out too soon.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

It's What They Wear Underneath

With the James River Filmmakers Forum, you are guaranteed variety.

That means 16 mm and video. It means comic fables and music documentaries. It means shorts and clips from longer works. It means stories about dating and self-mutilation (not related, by the way).

At tonight's screening at the Visual Arts Center, it meant five films (or parts of films) and a good-sized crowd to take them in.

The first two shorts by Robert Massa,"Margaret" and "Cora," were from a series about women and their neuroses.

Because they were done on film, the images were just beautiful. Interestingly, some of the film had been developed in the filmmaker's bathroom.

The main character in "Cora" was a cutter and, in a truly odd twist, so was the actress who played her. It was an unsettling thing to learn after the fact.

"Treezilla" by Joey Tran and Shawn Hambright used paper cutouts and a pipe cleaner tree monster to tell a cautionary tale about over-sized trees gone bad.

A lot of the dialog had a dry wit to it, surpassed only by the sound the raging tree made, which we learned was a combination of screaming and burping.

Some things they can't teach you in film school.

We only saw fifteen minutes of Les Owens' "The Silo Effect: The Treehouse Sessions" because it was a 47-minute film.

It documented local band The Silo Effect's three day recording session at Sound of Music Studios.

Made by the father of one of the band members who was a professional musician for over thirty years before taking up filmmaking, the documentary served as a tease to a bigger story than we got to see.

The youngest of the filmmakers was Thomas Bell, a senior filmmaking student at VCU.

"The Gauntlet" was a humorous take on speed dating (shot at the Empress, of all places) and the issues inherent in any kind of first date when so much can be read into what people say.

And don't say.

From the overly agreeable yes man to the over-confident studly type, the film exposed a variety of male stereotypes and what their behavior means.

There were also a few female cliches like the girl obsessed with her ex and the bitch who wouldn't cut any guys any slack.

Even the credits were funny, with one that said, "Thanks to all the extras who forgot to give us their names."

It was quite a leap from there to Tamara Eastman's historical documentary, "Birthing a Colony," a film about how different the experiences of women giving birth in the Virginia colony were depending on their social class.

Indentured servants and slaves had it worst, not surprisingly, often having their babies taken from them before being thrown in jail or sold.

But as the film showed, any woman was at risk giving birth in a time where childbirth frequently killed mother or infant or both.

I always stick around for the filmmakers' panel after the screenings, because, cutting and burping aside, you never know what fascinating tidbits you'll hear from the filmmakers.

For example, when some women are talking about an attractive guy one of them saw, the first question they ask is, "Is he in a kilt?"

When women like that start a production company, they name it Is He in a Kilt? Productions.


So I guess if I ever start a production company, it'll be called Is He a Good Talker and Kisser? Productions.


Going Back to My Former Life

The Franklin Inn is the essence of a neighborhood spot.

So much so that even though I haven't lived in the Museum District for five years, when I was in there today I ran into my former next-door neighbor of thirteen years.

She doesn't live in the neighborhood anymore either, but how fitting that we happen upon each other in our former neighborhood joint.

My lunch companion had been eager to go to the Franklin Inn ever since he heard they had a $3.95 burger.

We settled into a booth, where I inhaled the scent of the old-fashioned heavily-petaled pink roses adorning the table. Forget long-stems, these were like my grandmother's roses.

From that fine start, we ordered Cokes for caffeine's sake and he began fawning over the menu while I got into listening to Michael Jackson's "PYT" (how did we ever think he was talking about girls when he wrote that song?).

The burger was a given for him, but seeing that they had Senate Bean Soup meant that he had to start there (he's a lawyer).

His next dilemma was a choice of sides; he was sorely tempted by both hushpuppies and onion rings, finally opting for the latter instead of the chips that came with his burger.

I'm easy. I ordered the chicken salad club and happily took the chips that came with it. Done.

His soup was full of ham and long-cooked beans; with the addition of a little pepper, it was perfect. The Senate would be proud.

My overstuffed chicken salad sandwich had as much bacon as a BLT. It should have been called a BLCS,  but that doesn't really roll off the tongue.

The onion rings arrived in a tower with some falling off the plate. Sure, they were the frozen kind, but when served right out of the fryer, they were tasty.

The burger satisfied my friend for its superior non-standard roll, the perfect patty to bun ratio and the addition of the raw onions he had requested.

Neither of us finished everything on our plates and yet when our server asked if we wanted dessert, he immediately said yes.

Not made in-house, the chocolate cake scratched an itch we didn't truly have, but wasn't so compelling that we finished it.

Friends came in and sat nearby at the bar. I was curious why they looked so nice and learned they'd come from a funeral.

They'd ducked into the Franklin for a drink before making their way to the funeral reception. As my friend and I agreed, drinks are a must on funeral days.

A neighborhood spot is one that caters to all kinds of needs regardless of where you live.

Watercolor Pickle

On the one hand, you have to admire multi-talented people.

But how is it some people end up being very good at several things?  And how is it some people can take up a discipline and master it effortlessly?

That's the question I came away with after the opening of Victor Yanchick's show "Watercolors" at VCU Tompkins-McCaw Library this evening. Yanchick, who happens to be the dean of VCU's School of Pharmacy, decided to take a painting class in order to do something totally different from what he does on a day-to-day basis.

I imagine drugs get old after a while.

But unlike most of us who take a painting class, he was good at it and kept at it. His opening tonight showed just how well he's mastered the watercolor format with 42 works ranging from landscapes to still lifes to portraits.

After perusing the show, I met the artist and was surprised to learn that he paints from photos and magazine pictures. I admired the one called  "English Boathouse," mainly because it challenged my perception of England (granted, I've only been to London).

The view of buildings in pastel shades of peach, green and lavender was complemented by a stone wall shadowed in purple. What England was this? "Cornwall, perhaps," said the poet standing next to me and I appreciated the explanation. Yes, all that water.

My favorite piece was "Maymont Afternoon," but not because it reminded me of Maymont or even Richmond. Rather, the street scene looked like a Dutch village street, quaint and charming, with its turreted building and path leading off into the trees.

I was fascinated to hear that the artist uses painting as a way to wind down, the way some people use TV (shudder) or a good book at the end of a long day. About 9:30, he begins painting and with a few hours work is able to complete a watercolor while his wife sleeps upstairs.

But it's not for the profit that he does it. The works are sold and the proceeds benefit pharmacy scholarship programs. And in yet another how-can-you-resent-this-guy twist, all the frames he uses are reclaimed.

Yes, he scours garage and estate sales, buying inexpensive frames and matching them to the appropriate work. Some of them were quite striking. As are some people's abilities.

I gave a little thought to trying to discover my hidden talent and instead went with one of my known strengths: eating and drinking. Carver was calling and the Magpie had a nice crowd when I arrived, including a bartender from M Bistro I'd recently met.

"So you do come here," he said  with a smile, pointing at me. "You weren't lying." I'm not sure what it says that he thinks people lie about where they've been, but I didn't judge (much).

The wine list has a nice selection of Northwest wines and I went with the Thurston Wolfe Lemberger Rose since the wine rep had told me that Magpie had gotten the last seven cases of it. Drink it while you got it, kids.

My very August amuse bouche was a savory/sweet spoonful of fig, tomato, yogurt and balsamic reduction. The classic rock was rolling and T-Rex was banging a gong.

For dinner, I got the grilled house-made wild boar sausage with an enormous Briarwood pickle and coarse mustard. I loved the full-bodied flavor of the wild boar and found the pickle's pucker to provide a nice tartness to contrast with the richness of the meat.

Victor Yanchick could have made quite the still life out of that combination. And probably shot the wild boar and grilled up the sausage, too.

Proof positive that you never know what you can do until you try.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Thar She Blows

I have seen "Mocha Dick" and he is enormous.

The 52' white felt whale that is currently residing in a gallery at the VMFA is truly a sight to behold.

It's actually built to scale over an armature of inflated vinyl. The barnacles are handcrafted. The scars were made by the zig-zag stitch on a sewing machine. Discreet zippers hold the enormous piece together.

Standing next to it gives a mere human a sense of the terror such a creature could cause to a boat full of men in the middle of the ocean.

Tristin Lowe's labor of love is a tribute to the same sperm whale that inspired Melville's "Moby Dick" and the accompanying items in the show reflect this.

There's a harpooning scene carved on a whale tooth (as big as you might expect).

A rare 1930s edition of "Moby Dick" shows an illustration of Captain Ahab. "To accomplish his object, Ahab must use tools, and of all tools used in the shadow of the moon, men are most apt to get out of order."

Aren't they, though?

A whale oil lamp from 1813 was made by using the free blow technique.  An Rockwell Kent engraving shows a lookout on a ship's mast. There's Robert Salmon's 1839 oil of "Boston Harbor."

As I moved around the whale, it struck me how tight the quarters were. Load-bearing columns abutted the piece and I wondered why it had been placed in such a small room, relatively speaking.

Turns out the only other place it would fit was the atrium (and too many revenue-generating parties are booked there) so it was put in this gallery at the back of the 21st century galleries out of necessity.

It's the smallest room "Mocha Dick" has ever been shown in.

That's not a complaint; I'd rather have it here and be tight than not have ever experienced it at VMFA.

I spent so long admiring the whale that I ended up talking with one of the guards.

"Do you ever get tired of it?" I asked.

"Never," he said emphatically. "For the first three weeks, I couldn't look away from it. Now if I work in another gallery, I come over here just to see it."

In an 1830 article, the whale was described as "As white as wool. As white as a snowdrift. White as the surf around him."

Every bit of that applies to the magnificent creature I saw today, but without the fear factor.

I'm willing to bet that you won't be able to look away, either.

Bantering with the Best

One poet, three chefs, one scientist, nine musicians, one illustrator and one skateboarder with a cane.

After a day trip to the Rappahannock, I met up with one of my favorite people for, as she put it, "a glass of wine and unloading."

It turned into a couple of glasses at Six Burner, where I ran into two friends taking a break from drywall hanging and wineglass-breaking hounds.

My friend had had the day from Hell with her evil boss, she was missing her beloved who is out of town for another month and she was trying to decide what to do about a toxic friend.

If that kind of day doesn't deserve food and wine, what kind does?

We did a balancing act with a red and yellow tomato, feta and pine nut salad dressed with the lightest possible lemon juice and olive oil vinaigrette and a plate of fried oysters.

It's been proven that fried foods make everything all better, just like a mother's hug.

I don't know if we solved all her problems, but as usual, we had some great conversation and major laughter going on.

She's that rare person I can discuss both the Peacock Room and dangling love letters with.

Once she felt better, I drove over to the Firehouse Theater for The Listening Room, a musical highlight of every month and this month curated by Matt Klimas of Snowy Owls, one of my very favorite music geeks.

My seat had been saved for me between two friends, the charmingly loopy one and the one who likes to talk about people with me.

Clint Maul went on first, doing old and new material, including several short songs (his words) like "Ohio" and "Tilden Street."

Short and winding, it's the ideal street to memorialize in song.

He's only been songwriting since 2006, but you'd never know it by his material, which had an assured air to it.

Favorite line: "The girl's easy on the eyes but she's hell on the heart."

He was followed by Stolen Sheep, a trio from  Knoxville.

I'd met lead singer/guitarist George when I'd arrived and my love of reverb had come up.

'"We'll do some extra reverb for you," he generously assured me. "How do you feel about delay?"

For someone like me, the more pedal effects, the better, especially at the LR, where pedals are not typically part of the performances.

George said he'd had writer's block for three years and then sang the first song he'd written afterwards.

"I'm searching for a metaphor...I'm searching for a simile." Language geeks love that kind of lyric.

Last up was the Cinnamon Band and I was one of the few who'd seen this very electric two-piece band play an acoustic show at Ipanema Live last year.

They were unplugged again tonight and as a friend and I agreed, they're damn good either way.

Tonight they added an accordion player to flesh out their songs, adding a welcome folkiness to their sound.

The drummer was in rare form, teasing his bandmate about his lack of audience interaction ("Banter!" he commanded to no avail. "Your mother said you need to talk more.").

Despite having seen this band multiple times, I continue to enjoy seeing them live.

The songs are well written, the musicianship is good and they always seem to enjoy themselves.

Favorite lyric: Everybody needs a target that's easy to love."

The show finished at a civilized hour, so I took the opportunity to go to Secco, where I ran into a friend who broke his foot skateboarding and has been out of commission for weeks.

He's mobile with a cane now, but miserable at his long confinement. He likened it to the last week of summer vacation for a kid.

You've watched endless movies (he did four seasons of "Mad Men" in two days), played endless video games and you want to return to life as you knew it.

Sympathizing, I had a glass of the peppery Chateau de Roquefort Rose "Corail" while we discussed his accident (it wasn't a trick but trying to avoid a kid that landed him on his foot wrong) and a new DJ night at Sprout (third Thursdays).

He wants me to notify him before the next Listening Room. I get so many requests like that, I should hire myself out as a social secretary.

I met a visiting chef and former Richmonder (tattooed with a spoon) and enjoyed hearing about the restaurants in other places he's worked and how much RVA's dining scene has improved.

Everyone needs a restaurant target that's easy to love.

A group was discussing wedding rings and one of the servers suggested the groom-to-be get a ring tattoo, like he had done.

The bride-to-be thought that that was a bad idea.

"Why, because it's forever?" the ring-tattooed server asked pointedly and to great laughter.

"I'm going to divorce him after I finish school," she said.

In case of an easy divorce, it would be hell on the finger getting rid of that thing.

Surely there's a metaphor or simile in that.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Bring Me My Lid

Jumping into the dating pool requires a leap of faith.

Turning that act of bravery into a musical is how "Hearts on Line" ended up being created (from the original title, "Leap of Faith").

Tonight Firehouse Theater did a staged reading of the new play by local playwright Rebecca Jones with music by composer Paul Bartsch, who also played piano.

I don't want to say that online dating is a hot topic, but when I arrived 30 minutes before show time, the ticket line was out the door.

People got turned away.

It seems that others are finally realizing what I've been saying for a while now. The Firehouse's $5 staged readings are the best theater deal in town.

I got lucky. I hadn't bought a ticket in advance because I'd never needed to for one of these productions.

And as the line inched up, it became clear that I might not get in.

But the theater gods smiled on me and I was allowed in as one of the last seven people to gain admittance before the house was full (they were counting seats at that point).

An usher was seating the last few of us and as she led me to my seat, she warned that I wouldn't be able to sit with my party.

What party? I was a party of one at a play about finding love.

Somehow I was seated in a second row seat, one off the aisle. It's exactly one seat from where I choose to sit at Firehouse functions.

I don't know how in the world I got so lucky.

Some of the people who were let in with me were seated in folding chairs off to the side with an obstructed view, presumably so they could sit together.

Sometimes it pays to be Miss Lonelyhearts.

The play told the story of a nice Episcopalian girl, Rachael, who goes on J-Date to find love.

Apparently a Jewish drama teacher in 8th grade had sealed her appreciation for Jewish men.

Interwoven with her attempts at finding Mr. Right were subplots of other people doing the same while her gay best friend shored her up.

You know, basically the story of every other single woman's life.

The subplots were funny because they took the audience through unsuccessful first dates where couples discovered they had little in common and no spark.

Eventually, though, and with enough optimism to keep trying different people, each idiosyncratic one of them found their match with someone else's reject.

As one of my former bosses liked to say, "There's a lid for every pot." And, yes, he was Jewish.

Strong characters and astute portrayals gave everyone in the crowd a reason to care about the dating action.

The audience got caught up in the plot, some fascinated with Rachael's dating adventures and others just as taken with the sagas of the other couples.

The play got a bit muddy with a tangent about her converting to Judaism, but ended with the promise of a dinner date (a doctor!) with an interested/interesting-sounding man.

The play was long, too long, but the songs were clever, witty and some even beautiful.

But it was Rachael's continued willingness to take yet another leap of faith that kept the audience in their seats for nearly three hours.

I'm not putting my heart online, but I'd happily take possession of my lid.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Hanover Lunch All the Way

Could there be a lovelier day to eat in a courtyard?

I took a friend with me on my return visit to Citizen because he was intrigued by my description of the good food and unbeatable prices, but also sure he couldn't locate it by himself.

Given the steady stream coming in the door, it appeared that a lot more people have discovered it since my first visit.

It is in the heart of downtown.

And despite the chef teasingly telling us not to tell anyone about Citizen, I'd guess that everyone who's eaten there has told someone about this tucked-away gem.

New to the menu was a Hanover tomato, basil, Provolone and roasted garlic paste torta and when my friend started making noises about getting it, I called dibs.

When asked about my choice of side, I wavered.

I'd loved the curried chickpea stew I'd had on my last visit, but I felt obligated to try something different.

The counter girl saved the day by saying, "We've changed it a little since then. You should totally get it again and taste the difference."

Sure, she was enabling me to feed my curried chickpea stew obsession, but she was also right.

The curry was stronger and the garbanzos cooked more al dente.

But next time I'll have no excuse.

It worked out well because my friend got the omelet "all the way" (applewood smoked bacon, sharp Cheddar, ham, caramelized onion and Hanover tomato) with a side of Byrd's Mill grits.

I'd been hoping to try one of the egg dishes since I knew that the chef gets his eggs fresh from a farm in Mechanicsville, and here was my chance.

I knew he'd want some of my sandwich.

The basil was just as fresh as the succulent red and yellow tomatoes on my grilled torta and, like last time, I was too full to eat all of my stew.

His omelet was stellar, large, full of sweet onions and salty bacon and cheese.

My friend assured me I could help myself since he'd never be able to finish such a big dish.

It was a good thing I got in my two bites early on because he finished every bit of it, although the grits went home with him.

We'd taken our lunch out to the courtyard and eaten it on a bench across from a worker bee eating an ice cream bar and reading a library book on her lunch hour.

Our conversation got off to a great start when my friend asked, "So, got any good man stories?"

"You know that's not going to happen," I replied, sending him into a loud laugh attack and startling the ice cream eater.

But from there, we got serious and, like the good friend that he is, he listened while I shared my status quo.

And, like at the end of the very first evening of our friendship two years ago, his summation was the same.


At that point, the worker bee got up and left, no doubt having heard enough tales from the courtyard for one lunch hour.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Butter Pecan from a Flute Player

A breezy August evening with both temperature and humidity hovering below 80 practically begs for outdoor activity.

I found mine in Meadow Park at an outdoor concert featuring the Glass Brothers, a bluegrass band I'd never heard of but was willing to take a chance on.

You know, I can be open-minded about music.

There was still enough sunlight dappling the green spaces to ensure that early arrivals like me could choose a shady spot and leave the less desirable sunny areas to the latecomers.

By the time the band set up, people were arriving in greater numbers, coolers in hand, dogs on leashes, children in wagons and most with chairs or blankets to spread.

The Glass Brothers had all the necessary bluegrass components: guitars, a banjo, an upright bass, harmonica and two brothers who handled vocals and humor.

They did covers (Dylan and Gram Parsons) as well as original material ("The Blue Ridge Ran Blood Red" was a nod to the sesquicentennial).

For the song "Blue Eyes," the lead singer said, "This is a ladies' choice. Pick a partner and slow dance!"

I couldn't very well ask a stranger to dance with me, but I didn't see anyone else dancing either, not that I turned around to look.

In lieu of an intermission, most of the full band left, leaving one of the brothers, who was joined by a female vocalist for a few songs before the full band returned.

The Fan District Association put on the event and they'd arranged for free ice cream for the crowd.

At one point during "Don't Think Twice, It's Alright," the guy serving at the ice cream cart picked up his flute and played along.

Planned or not, it was a charming moment in the show for those who noticed.

I was relieved to see that I wasn't the only non-Fan resident enjoying the music; one of my favorite Jackson Ward couples showed up just as I was wondering why bluegrass lovers like them weren't there.

A text from a friend had summoned them there. Now that's something I can't do.

Because it was a neighborhood event, there was a moment of silence for Mr. Mendez, the father of Kuba, Kuba's Manny, and such a well-known figure in the neighborhood.

Late in the performance,after many people had pulled up stakes and left, a car pulled up at a house across the street and three people got out.

Two went into the house and a third, a much older woman in her lace-trimmed Sunday-go-to-meeting clothes (complete with a broad-brimmed hat), began to slowly walk over to the park.

She stopped a few feet from where I was sitting by myself and just stood there listening to the music.

"What a fine way to spend a Sunday evening," she said to me, smiling broadly before turning to go home.

My thoughts exactly.

Hello Pastis and Calvados

The best way to entice a friend to spend a leisurely brunch with me is to pick a place with food and wine so good that he won't want to leave.

Sure, some might call that manipulation, but I prefer to think of it as catering to my friend's interests.

So when we decided on brunch, I chose Amour Wine Bistro as our destination, knowing he's a sucker for fine French wines and well-done food.

We were the first customers in the door, so we got the front table, also known as the "aquarium seats"  for the ever-changing view of Carytown street theater (a lot of fake tans, a lot of questionable clothing choices, a lot of bad parallel parking).

I began our multi-hour odyssey with the cocktail special, a fresh grapefruit juice and Rose combination that had a nose of the sweetest grapefruit and the prettiest deep pink color.

My friend has grapefruit issues so he had a Kir Royale, but it couldn't compare to my fresh-squeezed libation, IMHO.

Our first course was yogurt with local blueberries (so large I couldn't finish it), watermelon gazpacho (not a lot but so well done that the flavors sang in my mouth) and blueberry mint jam on a salted butter baguette.

Let me just say that one of my fondest childhood memories was toast with a thick layer of salted butter topped by strawberry preserves.

I can still remember making up that combination and taking it out into the sunshine to enjoy on our swing set in the backyard.

Few things move me like a slice of heavily buttered toast with jam enjoyed on a summer morning outside.

And this blueberry mint jam on a superior baguette would probably have made my head explode had I taken it down to the swings as a child.

With that lovely course, we enjoyed a Chateau la Calisse Rose, pale in color and long on finish. I could have walked away happy after that course.

As we sat there discussing his upcoming trip to the Amalfi Coast, other adventurous brunchers began to trickle in until we were merely one of many tables enjoying a multi-course mid-day meal.

And of course, there was so much more to come.

Next up was the protein plate. On it was a quiche of local summer veggies, flounder with capers and white wine sauce and beef tips with Dijon sauce.

Paired with that array was Chateau de Valcombe Costieres de Nimes Rouge, which managed to work with all three entrees, always bringing out the berries in the wine.

The crust on the quiche was especially well done and the flounder probably my favorite. The beef tips managed to be medium-rare, a feat for such small pieces of meat.

While eating we were making plans for a future day trip while his Mac has to be in the shop. Tough call, north or west? We made no final decision, given our emerging loopy state.

I finished with the cheese plate (Crotin de Chavignol, Morbier, Comte and Fourme D'Ambert) paired with Roussillon Pierre Henri Pinto Noir.

From the first taste of the Loire Valley goat cheese, the wine showed itself to be the ideal accompaniment for my cheese course.

We couldn't decide which we preferred, the Morbiere or the  Fourme D'Ambert (a bleu), but they were all outstanding.

My friend had gone the fruit route with a tart tatin and house-made pastis-melon sorbet (yes, it was my first brush with pastis. Sad, I know).

To accompany his sweet course, he had Calvados (a small amount of which he poured over the tart) and Cremant, because bubbles and dessert are a match made in heaven.

It was my first Calvados, but I found a lot to like about its complementary nature with the tart. And I haven't met too many Cremants I didn't like.

As my friend lingered over his tart, I enjoyed a Cremant d'Alsace Rose, returning to my affinity for pink.

By that time, my friend was happily admitting his fondness for my choice of brunch spots, raving about the baguette, the flounder, the Chateau de Valcombe, the tarte tatin and the Calvados.

He acknowledged that "that was a lot of lunch," but as someone who had had a banana and figs for breakfast, I was feeling mighty satisfied by the time we finished.

He admitted that he wasn't nearly as enthusiastic about going to the office now that we'd had such a pleasant three-hour interlude, suggesting that perhaps he should drop his rate for any work he managed to accomplish this afternoon.

And he had forgotten about any talk of manipulation and was now praising me for my excellent brunch choice.

It should be noted that he did not want to leave.

Mission accomplished.