Monday, October 31, 2011

Lunch for One

You don't always get a low-key lunch when you expect one.

Sliding into my neighborhood joint for a bite to eat today, I was amazed at the non-stop parade of people also seeking out a Monday lunch at Bistro 27.

Maybe it's the new menu. Maybe it's that they're open on Mondays when so many places are not. Maybe it's that it's Halloween.

Even the guy who was delivering linens to the restaurant made 27 his lunch spot. Then there was the mayor. And the beer rep and his gluten-intolerant girlfriend. And the 100 lawyers.


Ignoring all that, I had the Kifti Kabob pita, grilled lamb and tzatziki with a green salad in pita bread; the fries were an unexpected bonus.

The succulent lamb smothered in tzatziki could have given a Greek place a run for its money, if you know what I'm saying.

When I was asked if I needed ketchup for the fries I declined; the perfectly cooked shoestring potatoes needed no embellishment beyond the light sprinkling of salt that came on them.

I wasn't going to have dessert, really I wasn't, but given the newly-arrived  Fall weather, I couldn't help but order the poached pear.

The pear had been poached in red wine and spices and was still warm, making for a nice contrast with the vanilla bean ice cream.

A nearby bar sitter asked if I was having beets with ice cream (WTF?) and I explained what I was eating. I may have done a good job because he ordered one,too.

I offered my best gluten-free restaurant recommendations to the girl with the intolerance and she was thrilled to hear about options of which she'd been unaware. GF is showing up on plenty of menus now.

As I perused the RTD article about the proposed Arts District, I had to stop myself from turning around and asking the mayor why the proposed district didn't include Clay Street (the location of the Black History Museum and my home base).

But it's a start and the district can always be enlarged. Or so one would hope.

Besides, I'm sure the mayor didn't go out for lunch on a Monday to hear from constituents.

I know I didn't go out to hear about any one else's complaints, so why would he be any different?

Going to Confession

Josh said it best. "I wouldn't come out for one band on a Sunday night, but for these two..."

It was a fabulous bill for an off night like Sunday and after a non-stop Halloween weekend at that.

I found my friends waiting at the bar and we immediately adjourned to the front table for the best possible view.

Music geeks at Table 1.

Local singer/songwriter Clint Maul was on first and started right on time. If The Camel isn't careful, people will begin to think they can do timely shows.

Even the often-problematic sound proved to be a non-issue tonight.

Clint did a handful of his famously short songs and closed with Do-Over," a song about relationships, one of many we heard tonight.

A friend had turned me on to the next band, Strand of Oaks, after listening to them obsessively the past few weeks.

Once I began doing the same, I felt her passion.

Well, maybe not the full extent of it ("Man, I really can't wait. I'm going to die so please bring your CPR manual."), but I was definitely hooked.

Their sound turned out to be everything we'd hoped for.

Mesmerizing and passionate with obtuse lyrics, they at times reminded me of post-rock (minus the vocals of course) and my friend of '80s classic rock with a little ambient sound thrown in.

Lead singer Tim tried describing his looks as like those of Frodo (and his bandmates as elves) and that devolved to Dildo, which made the audience laugh.

"It's good to laugh because these songs are f**king sad!" he told the crowd.

And they were, but beautifully sad, entrancingly sad, especially those written right after his house burned down and he got dumped.

The trio covered Moby and played a song about John Belushi's drug dealer in addition to playing a lot off their new critically-acclaimed album.

Tim said he tended to hurry through their set because of his eagerness to hear Crooked Fingers, understandable but the crowd would have loved a longer set.

Luckily, my friend has already asked them to come back to play a house show. Score.

And then the tall one ascended the stage with his band. Eric Bachmann's band Crooked Fingers were the main event tonight.

His wit became apparent at once.

"Thanks for coming out on the Sabbath. Except the Sabbath was really yesterday."

There's something wonderful about his voice; you hear the weariness of a life lived and with his tendency toward confessional songs, you feel like he's singing the journal of it all.

At one point he introduced his band, thanked them and thanked Strand of Oaks and Clint.

"I'm thanking everyone except Jesus," he said. "I hope that doesn't offend you. I doubt it does."

Band member Liz added her beautiful voice to the mix, killing it on "Your Control," a song on which the band originally dueted with Neko Case.

But the standout song of the evening was both voices on "Sleep All Summer," as achingly romantic a song as anyone has ever written.

We take our empty hearts and fill them up with broken things
To hang on humming wire like cheap lamps down a dead end street 
Close your weary eyes until the wintertime
And every time we turn away, it hits me like a tidal wave
I would change for you, but babe, that doesn't mean I'll be a better man
Give the ocean what I took from you 
So one day you could find it in the sand
And hold it in your hands again

Their emotional intensity had the crowd holding their breath until the last note.

And that was noteworthy, too. The people who came out tonight for this show were die hard fans.

You could have heard a pin drop during Crooked Fingers' set and that included the bar area, a true rarity.

Okay, what is this place and what have you done with the Camel?

And can this be the new Camel reality?

Sunday, October 30, 2011

On Reading Camus Together

I wasn't the only one seeking subtitles at the Westhampton on a Sunday afternoon.

After taking my usual seat, front row center, a woman came down the aisle and said, "You're in my seat!"

Sorry, honey, you snooze, you lose.

But our encounter did lead to a talk about the necessity of sitting in the front row there simply for the leg room.

I once took a tall friend and she declined my suggestion to sit in the front row only to regret having to fold her legs into a pretzel for the duration of the film.

Today I wanted to see "My Afternoons with Margueritte," starring Gerard Depardieu, the iconic French actor who seems like he's been around my entire movie-going lifetime.

To say it was a simple story of an under-educated man who befriends a literate 95-year old woman on a park bench is an understatement, a concept explained in the movie to Depardieu's character Germain.

Germain was the result of a quickie by his mother and a stranger and ever since she'd been berating him, destroying his self-esteem but not his spirit.

When they meet, the old woman says, "I was born from a love everyone else."

"Not everyone," Germain says, "Some people are mistakes."

And some people, like me, are both born of a love story and a mistake. It happens.

The movie moves at a leisurely pace (dare I say French-like?) and there are no big Hollywood moments as Margueritte reads Camus to Germain and life in the small village continues in the cafe, the market and the park.

The owner of the cafe is a 50-year old and her much younger Algerian boyfriend deserts her for a younger woman.

Big lug Germain tries to make her feel better by saying, "He'll be back. Everyone knows the best stews come from old pots."

As left-handed a compliment as that was, he's right and the boyfriend realizes the error of his ways.

But that's secondary and it's Germain's love stories with both his recently-pregnant girlfriend and the declining old woman that make up the heart of the movie.

Margueritte, lively, chatty and thoughtful, was described by Germain as loving nouns, surrounding herself with adjectives and living in a green field of verbs.

That's the kind of old-pot stew this mistake born of a love story aspires to be.

No understatement there.

The Devil Went Down to Third Street

I have seen the devil and he was at a diner.

Which is not where I began my evening. First up was meeting a friend at Aziza's, where I walked in to an empty restaurant.

As in no one but me and the hired help.

Apparently Restaurant Week is taking its toll on non-RW places, although our server said that an early crowd had just left.

I felt bad for the staff, money-wise, but their Halloween costumes were good and I was okay with one-on-one service.

My friend followed me in shortly after I struck up a conversation with a customer picking up his to-go order.

When I heard him say he'd painted himself brown for Halloween last year, I had to ask.

"It's no big deal," he shrugged. "I'm Mexican so it's okay."


The wine list yielded up Riscal Proximo Tempranillo, a red we needed given the damp and cool night.

"I think it's actually going to freeze tonight," my friend said incredulously. Kill me now; it's October 29th.

Despite multiple compliments on my tights tonight, I am in no way ready for tights weather.

We had lots to discuss: upcoming anniversaries, CD gifts, whether or not guys ever fully mature, you name it.

Our servers were unfettered enough to join in on conversations throughout the night, providing illuminating other viewpoints.

For dinner, we chose whipped Prosciutto with cashews, citrus, basil and balsamic on bread.

The concept of whipped Prosciutto intrigued us both but the resulting spread had an appealing depth of flavor that we loved.

Neither of us could resist local wood-grilled rabbit with Brussels Sprouts, carrots and anchioade, but we were both surprised that the veggie mixture was not hot.

Which is not a complaint, because it was a flavorful, textural delight.

The rabbit, although a tad salty, was perfection when eaten with the craisins for contrasting sweetness.

Although I wasn't crazy about the music (a vintage '50s station), both my friend and the servers loved it.

It led to a discussion of which Patsy Cline song is best done karaoke-style.

That's information I never need to know.

Sipping our wine after we finished, our server offered dessert and we declined...until we started talking about the great Aziza cream puff and then we caved.

Setting it down in front of us, our server justified it saying, "It's small anyway." What she meant is that it wasn't as big as our heads like it usually is.

After discussing the Lincoln movie with a guy who didn't make it in due to his size ("No one over 200 pounds," he said. "People were skinny during the Civil War, especially Confederates."), we left.

Even though it was almost 11, we had theater to see.

"Robert Johnson and the Devil"was playing at, of all places, Third Street Diner.

Most surprisingly of all, it was playing on the third floor of the diner. I didn't even know that there was a third floor.

It's not a big space and it filled up quickly but there was drink service up there, so things were pretty convivial.

The play was about blues guitarist Robert Johnson selling his soul to the devil at the crossroads of Highways 49 and 61 in Mississippi.

The fog machine put out a serious amount of fog in the small room and lasted far longer than the audience expected.

But the short play was elevated by Roi Boyd's performance as the Devil, although his horns had a bad habit of slipping down to his shoulders.

Friend and I laughed so hard we almost cried.

The story of a man fascinated by women and whiskey (as opposed to, say, men and tequila) took a turn for the worse, like the musician's life, when a jealous husband laced his bottle of booze with strychnine.

Because apparently, even a deal with the devil can't ensure immortality.

There was a guy in the front row with a loud but distinctive laugh. After the show, the narrator put the mic in front of him and said, "You should just laugh."

When the play ended, the actors became musicians and a blues band kicked into high gear where moments before a play had been.

The Devil was absent but he probably had souls to buy.

But not mine. There's nothing I want badly enough to sell mine for, at least nothing that I can't get on my own.

I hope.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Didn't I Tell You Already?

My devotion to Jackson Ward is legendary, both in this blog and among anyone who will listen to me go on and on about my neighborhood of the past five years.

Still,, it's nice to have my opinion validated in a place as lofty as the New York Times. The article about J-Ward in Sunday's paper, here, tells the rest of the world what I have been trying to convince anyone who lives in other RVA neighborhoods for a while now.

Ghostprint Gallery? I'm in there every single month for their opening preview to see what compelling show they've hung. It's one of two galleries I tell people never to miss on First Fridays.

Nate's Taco Truck Stop, while a more recent addition to the Ward, already feels like it's been there forever. I used to have to walk over to the Compass to score Nate's Frito Pie and now I don't even have to leave the 'hood to indulge in my favorite bag o' lunch.

Steady Sounds is a regular destination for me and I don't even own a turntable. I know people who do, though, and this is where I buy vinyl for them. And I've seen some excellent live music here (Alessi's Ark, White Laces, The Great Unknown, Bake Sale, Jonathan Vassar) leaning on bins in their intimate setting.

And Ettamae's Cafe? Shoot, I've been singing these guys' praises since the first week they opened, here, back last summer. That post even ended up on the press page of Ettamae's website and I've been back loads of times since. I find it hard to resist a place with terrific food and where the Chef not only kisses you but his co-owner yells, "Now the party can start!" when you walk in.

I've been a regular at Mama J's since March 2010, here, when a friend and I discovered Croaker's Spot had left the Ward (fools! but they're coming back) one cold evening. Since then, it's my go-to place for fried chicken and homemade cake, two staples of my diet P.A. (Post Apocalypse or after layoff, pneumonia, breakup or roughly February 2009 through the present).  I have a friend I can call up and all I say is, "You wanna?" and he knows I mean we're doing lunch at Mama's.

So for a change, I am happy with the out-of-town press' take on my fair city. I've complained before that outsiders tend to mention the same old places (Mama Zu, Kuba Kuba, Millie's) ad nauseum. This time the NYT got it right, not even acknowledging the (IMHO) over-hyped restaurant that shall not be named in J-Ward.

On the other hand, if they do a sequel to that story, they should contact me and I'll bring them even more up to date.

J-Ward Girl knows of what she speaks.

Friday, October 28, 2011

This Must Be the Place

As much as I enjoy seeing an intimate show, a part of me always wishes that more people were there.

Such was the case tonight at Sponge HQ in the Anderson Gallery for the Small Houses CD Release show.

A lack of attention had me there when the doors opened instead of closer to music time, but it worked out well anyway.

I ran into a friend who wanted to go across the street to Cous Cous for take out so I joined her for a drink.

Her Campari and soda seemed much more sophisticated than my Malbec, but I needed something to thicken my blood after Old Man Winter arrived unexpectedly today.

How is it I was wearing shorts and a T-shirt yesterday and it was sleeting today?

But never mind. If I understood science, I wouldn't be a writer.

We fell into a terrific discussion of our memories of elementary school, mine of singing folk music and hers of learning about people like Stephen Foster.

We agreed it was unlikely that children get any exposure to either in these days of SOLs and what a pity that is.

Returning to Sponge for the show, I put out a batch of oatmeal chocolate chip cookies I'd made for the attendees.

No, I don't usually bake for shows, but Sponge shows are always so intimate and it seems like both musicians and music lovers are always hungry.

The three members of Michigan's Small Houses were performing on a raised platform that barely contained them.

Actually, last time I'd seen them, it had been just the singer Jeremy and I'd been blown away. Tonight he had keyboards and backing vocals for a much lusher sound.

Introducing "Tired in 20 Cities," he said, "Which we are now, but that's okay because this is what we want to do."

They played several songs from their new CD and mentioned it was for sale.

"All the money we make selling CDs goes into the Waffle House fund. They're so awesome! We don't have them in Michigan. We went twice in one day!"

Jeremy took a moment to tune before their final song and keyboard player Adam noted, "The guy gets one Nick Drake album and now all his tunes are weird tunings."

"I have three," Jeremy corrected him with a grin before launching into a song from the new CD.

After a break to mill about and admire the beehive, the aquarium and see what everyone is doing for the rest of the weekend, Psalmships took the stage.

Psalmships is Joshua from Philly and I had also seen him before at the Listening Room; I recalled his distinctive four-string guitar playing and emotive voice.

After playing a few songs, he invited keyboard player Adam up to join him, clarifying that they'd never played together before.

"I don't know Adam from Adam," he joked.

But with direction ("A minor, G, A minor") from Joshua before each song, Adam complemented his songs beautifully.

It became clear from those instructions that it was mostly minor chords, so I leaned over to a musician friend and asked a dumb non-musician question.

"Minor chords because he sings sad songs, right?"

"Dark," she clarified for me. she whose favorite bands make her cry. She knows from dark.

In fact, she and I were the only females at the show. When I mentioned it to my seatmate, he said, "Guys are dumb. Guys forget things."

Too bad for guys. They missed a couple of excellent touring bands and homemade cookies.

All except for the smart ones and they're the only ones who matter anyhow.

The Only Difference

Sometimes you need to look at the energy you've been putting into what you do and regroup.

Or, as my long-time friend Joel would say, deny, deny, deny.

That denial began by meeting friends on the deck outside the Best Cafe at the VMFA before the artist talk began.

Enjoying the warm evening air, we all acknowledged that tonight may have been the last fine night of the year before cold weather arrives.

Artist Tristan Lowe, the creator of Mocha Dick, the amazing life-size whale sculpture currently residing at the VMFA, got me thinking about new phases of life during his talk tonight.

Taking the audience through a history of his sculptural work, he said he reached a point where he needed a new challenge, an epic project with which to challenge himself.

His conversation with curator John Ravenal  provided a fascinating look at a twenty-year career that built on itself, taking flight with figures whizzing around a gallery and culminating in the white felt whale now curved around a column at the museum.

Lowe was well-spoken and self-deprecating and probably overly forthright for many of the blue hairs in the audience.

I appreciated his honesty in discussing the journey his art has made. It was especially satisfying to hear how much he liked the contained placement of his whale in our museum.

Personally, I've been struggling with it, although I'm grateful that we got it at all.

No doubt Richmonders will look back in twenty years and marvel that we had a Lowe sculpture on exhibit way back in 2011.

After the talk and saying farewell to my friends, I made  a bee-line for the Roosevelt where I'd promised multiple people I'd be headed.

Saying that the place was a zoo is a gross understatement.

The place was mobbed, with people waiting for bar stools, waiting for tables and no one showing any signs of leaving.

I hovered, I said hi to people I knew and eventually I scored a glass of Pollak Durant White, a blend that came highly recommended by the guy who'd invited me there tonight.

With patience I eventually got a bar stool and the company of a wine rep (with little tolerance for Virginia wines) and his girlfriend.

Unexpectedly, I learned that the Virginia winery owner I'd met and sent in had already been in for dinner.

I was disappointed to hear that the kitchen was already out of the pig's head terrine I wanted and had to regroup.

Choice #2 was the double cheeseburger with cheddar, bacon onion jam and rooster sauce. To allow me to live with myself, I ordered a side of roasted baby carrots with ginger and orange juice.

Chef Lee's burger borders on sublime; it could be the addition of Sausagecraft meat to the mix or it could be the addition of foie gras butter.

Either way, it's a burger to be reckoned with.

Wisely, I ate it as quickly as I could before my arteries hardened completely. Or someone asked for a bite.

I ran into a couple of friends who are to be extras in the Lincoln movie. One had had his beard shaved to Civil War -looking fashion and the other had spent the day having his pierced (okay, plugged) ears cosmetically altered.

Then there was the beer rep who wanted to tell me about all the Beer Week events going on. The only problem was that I don't drink beer.

A friend told me about U2's Philly show with Interpol opening (not their best effort, he said) and the prime seats they'd had.

The wine rep and I discussed Oregon Pinot Noir and South African Pinotage and why he has a hard time with Virginia Claret.

By the time I switched to Blenheim Cab Franc, the crowds were beginning to thin and the staff no longer considered themselves in the weeds.

It was the best time to gather friends and talk trash about music, restaurants and how expensive it is to have a print framed.

Meanwhile, in the back of my head, the imaginary CD playing was saying, "Time to change course."

Sometimes your best period comes after a sharp turn in direction.

Or so an artist once said.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Water with a Whiskey Chaser

Sure, everyone's heard of smallpox, but who knows what bigpox was?

Aha! And neither did I before today's Banner Lecture at the Virginia Historical Society.

Former Army Surgeon Adrian Wheat gave a thoroughly entertaining and informative lecture on Civil War Medicine amusing himself and his audience with his wealth of knowledge and dry wit

He began the lecture with a sepia-toned photograph of two Civil War-era looking doctors titled "The Confederate Paradox."

Turns out the photo was of him and a friend as re-enactors, you know, a "pair of docs."

Hey, the audience laughed.

When speaking of homeopathic and botanical medicines used during the Civil War, Wheat said that they're all available at Ellwood-Thompson.

There's a new advertising tactic for E-T.

He talked about ether originally being a recreational drug.

At "ether follies," the users would end up cavorting which sounds to me a lot like what happens when anyone uses recreational drugs.

Another major medicine was whiskey, always administered to an injured man after he was given water ("Injured men were always thirsty"), but before the morphine and chloroform.

Booze was clearly a popular cure-all as evidenced in a quote Wheat read from a Civil War-era doctor who, when brought some moonshine and asked how to use it, advised, "I want you to take it internally, externally and eternally."

Wheat didn't say how much whiskey and moonshine helped with the scourge of the war, venereal disease, but he did quote a soldier's letter home.

"I've had the mumps for a week and it's settled in my secrets."

I would guess his mother reading that at home was scandalized at the thought of her sweet son's bad behavior.

Because, yes, bigpox, that unheard of disease? Syphilis.

And I guarantee you there's nothing at Ellwood-Thompson that could cure that.

Sweet Bird of Youth

It's not every night you admit your days on the back of a motorcycle wearing nothing but cutoffs, a tube top and flip flops.

I may forever be trying to educate myself to compensate for that kind of youthful stupidity.

In the first of a two-night art nerd-athon, I went to the annual Mellon lecture at VMFA.

Either the number of art nerds is increasing or the topic was hot, because the lecture sold out.

Degas' "Little Dancer Aged Fourteen" was what got everybody going.

Lecturer Richard Kendall was the well-spoken Englishman who had gone so far as to cut up copies of Degas' preparatory drawings for the sculpture in order to figure out the artist's thought process.

For Degas, it was all about "legs that didn't move" (as in the artist moved around the model) and a bold new sculptural realism that had some critics crying, "Ugly!"

Kendall's sense of humor showed in remarks like, "Imagine this when you're practicing ballet in your bedroom tonight," when showing us a sketch of dancers' feet positions.

Like practicing ballet in my bedroom is what I'd want to be doing there at night?

The lecture ended with Kendall thanking the audience and all at once the lights came on.

You don't get to ask questions at a Mellon lecture. Just ask any art nerd.

Which was fine because I had a friend to meet for dinner and, as it was, my stomach had growled throughout the lecture.

I walked into the Magpie to find a decent crowd at the small bar. Walking the length of it, I took a seat near the end.

Only then did the friend I was meeting wave and say, "Hi, Karen" from his perch at the other end of the bar.

Yes, he saw me walk right by him and let me do it for his personal enjoyment.

Once I got a glass of Arido Malbec, he asked me what I'd been up to.

I mentioned how much I'd enjoyed Bootleg Shakespeare the other night, knowing that owner Tiffany is a big theater fan.

Next thing I knew, the guy sitting on the other side of me joined in, recalling his bootleg experience two years ago.

You never know when bar talk will turn into a theater roundtable.

The Magpie had just switched to their new Fall menu, so there were some tempting new choices like Rappahannock River Oysters 5 Ways.

But after last night's bi-valve extravaganza, I was moving more in the land direction tonight.

Fried butternut squash gnocchi with smoked Gouda and apple sauce was an interesting take on autumn flavors. The flavors of the sauce nicely complemented the crispy fried gnocchi.

Braised beef cheek in lobster broth with charred scallions and baby carrots was listed as a small plate, but easily made a meal.

The cheek was fork-tender and the richness of the broth elevated the veggies to something out of the ordinary.

I feel certain even young veggie haters would change their mind about clearing their plates if they were served them in lobster broth.

Since we'd arrived later, when the kitchen closed, we eventually had Chef Owen regaling us with stories of his childhood hunting trips.

There were only three rules on the trips. You had to be at least ten years old, no females, and no gambling (too many guns and too much alcohol to risk it).

In his family, it was a rite of passage to learn to cut up what you killed so at age eleven he found himself being told to slice open the deer he'd shot.

He laughed telling us about how he cried, not because of having to slice an animal open, but because he was throwing up so much at having to do it.

There's a visual most eleven-year olds will never have.

Even so, he said he wouldn't change a thing about his childhood. Including zipping his younger brother into a sleeping bag and throwing him down the stairs.

My friend shared that he told his younger brother that Crisco was icing and the poor kid took a huge bite. Owen was impressed with my friend's big brother brilliance.

It was one of those rare times that I was just grateful I grew up with five sisters.

Owen remembered that the stack of Playboy magazines at the hunting lodge was taller than the toilet they sat next to.

Heady stuff for a boy, no doubt.

I remember my father's stacks of Playboys in a bin in our basement. We girls didn't consider them particularly heady.

Sister #3 had the right idea, though. She sold a dozen or so of them to boys in the neighborhood, sure my father would never notice their absence among so many back issues.

She wouldn't have made a dime if we'd had brothers.

And I certainly wouldn't have let any brother of mine tell me how stupid I was for wearing so little on the back of a motorcycle.

Ah, youth.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Hip and Hoppy J-Ward

It's old news how much I love Jackson Ward, especially with every new addition to the coolness factor.

Today that meant suggesting a friend take a walk with me so we could check out the new Hoppy Dog Market that opened yesterday.

Since it's barely four blocks from my house, we walked around first or it wouldn't have been much of a walk.

A quick stop at the ATM turned into a reminder of why I never go into banks anymore when it wouldn't accept my deposit.

Inside I ended up in line behind the one girl turning in her life savings in the form of rolled coins.

I don't know who was more peeved, the teller or me.

Deposit done, we made straight for the Hoppy Dog to see what a person can score there.

Beer, lots of well-chosen beer is the easy answer. My suds-loving friends are going to be thrilled with the selection.

But they had wine, too, and Flour Garden baguettes and great big cinnamon rolls. Wisely, Tall Bike coffee. Local goat cheese logs offered an array of creatively flavored cheeses for $4.50.

I was tickled to see my friend Cy's honey in two sizes; his Bearer Farms seems to be the local standard for superb honey.

Virginia Diner nuts and peanut butter reminded me of meals eaten at that vintage spot during trips to and from the beach.

But it wasn't just about what they carried, it was the vibe of belonging to the neighborhood.

The guy who lives over the shop likes to play his piano with the windows open. My friends who live in the Emrick Flats have the equivalent of the best beer refrigerator in town right next door.

Hoppy Dog's owners live in the 'hood. I've known him for years because he's a talented drummer who introduced me to his better half when we ran into each other strolling First Fridays (without having to park first, ha!).

We like to keep it local in Jackson Ward, but if you're not lucky enough to live here, I'd still suggest you check out the H-Dog.

Just have the courtesy to leave the last cinnamon roll for a J-Ward neighbor.

Hey, "R" Months!

I spent the day on the Northern Neck and practically every gas station I passed driving out there had a sign out front advertising "Fresh Oysters."

Which must be exactly why a French place like Bistro Bobette was hosting a wine dinner tonight featuring not only Virginia oysters but Virginia wines.

Yes, Virginia wines in a place that is as Francophile as they come, but it is Virginia Wine Month after all.

How could I resist?

Roping in a fellow oyster-lover, I arrived early enough to greet the chef (lip prints left on both cheeks, as requested), the wine host (looking very dapper in a gray suit) and the bartender (as busy tonight as I've ever seen him)before my friend arrived.

While I waited, I was served with Barren Ridge's Rose, a dry Rose with beautiful color and a representation of the winery that would be featured tonight.

I don't know when the next time I'll be sipping local in Bobette will be, so I savored it.

Once my friend arrived, we chose bar seats for our meal and a server came up and asked if it was okay to release our table to the masses.

Of course, I told him. "Good," he responded, "Cause I already did!"

And masses is not exaggerating because there were so many people present tonight, including the ubiquitous Lincoln cast.

Yet again, I saw "Lincoln" actor Bruce McGill and spoke to him about him following me all over town.

Dinner was a masterful effort by the chef and the Wine Consigliere, Rob,who had paired courses beautifully.

Barren Ridge, out of Fisherville, was the featured winery and the owner, John Higgs, came over to introduce himself.

"He wouldn't have lingered so long if I'd been alone," my friend noted. I can't help it if your people are a weak one.

The first course paired Barren Ridge Viognier with raw Rappahannock oysters (from a gas station, perhaps?) and a traditional mignonette.

Next we had Stingray Oysters Rockefeller with the Tinkling Spring, a blend of Viognier and Vidal Blanc. The acidity of the wine cut the richness nicely.

The oysters Rockefeller were, by consensus, the best anyone had ever had. Instead of the over-baked and dry cheesy version, the juiciness of fresh, briny Stingray oysters dominated.

Vidal Blanc reappeared in its purest form for the third course, Old Salt oyster stew, a soup rich with cream and oysters and decadent with perfectly balanced flavors.

The Rose we'd had earlier had lost out to the Cabernet Franc as the pairing for the bacon-wrapped quail with oyster stuffing.

While I hate to see a good Rose lose out (Rose season quickly fading as it is), the Cab Franc really was the wine to handle pig and quail.

And can we just take a moment to appreciate the beauty of quail with oysters and bacon?

All the wines were notable, so getting a chance to talk to the winery owner proved especially satisfying.

The winery is in a former orchard and we got off on a discussion of older apple varieties versus Red Delicious (a type I wouldn't eat if you paid me) and how his ancestors' orchard had lost out to the big guys.

His story underscored the importance of seeking out obscure apple varieties instead of going with West Coast big boys.

My friend, a smoker, returned from one of his cig breaks toting three roses, saying that if he'd been my actual date (he wasn't; his wife was busy) he'd have brought flowers.

Nice touch.

Later during a discussion  with the bartender, owner and wine host (all married) of why I'm still unattached, I pointed out that all the good ones are taken.

Their response amounted to "aw, shucks." Not terribly helpful.

For dessert, we had lavender ice cream (the lavender coming from Goochland County) profiteroles with caramel sauce.

The change-up to lavender and caramel made for a  most pleasing profiterole change of pace. My friend paired his with Calvados while I went with Sauternes.

The chef was in and out of the kitchen all night, happy to be serving Virginia food and wine and pleased at his over-full dining room.

After four hours, we took our over-full bellies and walked outside to leave.

I was off to Balliceaux and my friend was headed home. Mine turned out to be the better choice.

My intent was to see Hey, Marseilles, a Seattle septet and by the time I'd arrived, I'd missed only one song.

They were an indie music lover's wet dream.

From across the room, my friend Austin gave me a thumbs up and I did the same.

Whoa, this was amazing music.

With trumpet, drums, violin, guitars, cello (occasionally bass), and keyboards (occasionally accordion), they came across as Fanfarlo meets Devotchka meets the Decemberists meets Ra-Ra Riot.

There was even a Francophile quality to the sound.

Chamber pop? Cabaret pop? Folk Pop? Who really cares?

I couldn't have been any more thrilled with the music if I'd booked it myself (insert nod to Chris Bopst).

"Thanks for hanging out with us on a Tuesday, in RVA. We're Hey, Marseilles," the lead singer rhymed. "And that is why I write the lyrics."

The lyrics were actually quite smart and the full sound from so many instruments made fans of almost everyone in the room.

And I guarantee you when they hit Philly a few nights from now, it'll cost way more than five bucks.

It won't likely follow a stellar dinner of Virginia wine and oysters, either.

"Fresh Oysters, Stellar Wine, Awesome Music:" That's what those gas station signs should have said coming back.

Not that I don't like pleasant surprises.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Heartbreak Beat

Sometimes the best way to be a good friend is to share some emotional eating.

When I messaged a friend about getting together tonight, my question about what he was doing was answered with, "Being pissed at my ex."

Although it's been coming for a while, he broke up with her yesterday, so understandably he's still processing.

But, as I told him, sitting around being pissed at her was not a worthwhile way to spend his evening and he agreed.

No, far better to go eat dollar tacos at Little Mexico and rant to me than sit at home and stew. And that's exactly what we did.

The arriving crowds were non-stop, the service incredibly fast and his chicken and my beef tacos perfectly serviceable.

But even with non-stop relationship talk while we ate, we were in and out in record time.

I suggested continuing the unloading with a gooey dessert so we went to Bev's.

A couple of indecisive girls let us go ahead of them and I took no time ordering a classic hot fudge sundae (no topping but double hot fudge).

My friend chose to taste the new basil ice cream while I sat down.

Meanwhile the girls decided and ordered. When the first of their ice creams was set down on the counter, my friend went to take a bite of it.

"Hey, that's my ice cream!" one of the girls said to him.

"That's hers!" I yelled from my seat, trying to stop him.

In another world, he took a bite without ever hearing either of us.


That ice cream went in the trash tout suite. But it was an amusing distraction and just what he needed.

As we sat there eating our sundaes and getting more stuffed by the minute, we recalled another time we'd gone for sushi and then come to Bev's.

That night we'd promised each other that we'd never make that mistake again.


On the other hand, with each bite, his mood was improving.

When we left, I suggested a walk knowing that the ex hated to walk after eating while he enjoyed it.

Leading the way, I headed straight to the VMFA's sculpture garden (since I'd not seen it at night) while he continued to talk about what was on his mind.

The garden was beautiful with the lighted water steps, the illuminated burbling fountains up top and the lit pathways through it all.

Near the top, we considered how the wooden deck would make a stellar dance pavilion, like the ones at the beaches in days of yore. It even had the sound of moving water in the background.

We stood on the lone metal bench at the very top of the garden, surveying everything below us.

It's a postcard-worthy view of our world-class museum after hours.

Meandering back to Bev's, we detoured so I could show him my favorite screened porch and yard in all of the Museum District.

Our last discussion was about what he should have learned from this last relationship; he wanted to take all the blame and I wouldn't let him.

"You learned how important it is to make sure you can both communicate with the person you love," I told him.

In my experience, you can never talk too much or too long.

But, what do I know? He's been unattached for 24 hours and my current status stands at over two and a half years.

Hell, he should be taking me out for some emotional eating.

Tastier Than a Laundromat

I'm a big fan of the neighborhood market and even more so when it includes freshly-made food.

My regular Monday lunch buddy and I made our second attempt at House of Homemade today after they'd been closed for a catering gig when last we tried.

The new Church Hill spot is adorable, offering limited essentials for nearby residents, but it's a thoughtful inventory.

The eggs are local (22 miles) and brown. Two varieties of tomatoes were available, along with potatoes and local greens.

Milk, organic oatmeal and peanut butter (breakfast and lunch!), Flour Garden breads, and Tall Bike Coffee, both beans and prepared are for sale.

But we were there to eat from the small but appealing menu.

The Renaissance sandwich was homemade curried chicken salad with raisins, toasted almonds, field greens and cilantro on a multi-grain bread.

Its curry flavor was perfect: subtly spicy with enough sweetness from the raisins for a nice contrast.

With it, we got a quarter pound of one of their four prepared salads to share. The garbanzo-lime salad was a definite winner too, with bits of red pepper and onion.

We devoured our meal at one of the two tables in the big front window of the place, watching as Hill residents jogged and strolled by.

For dessert, we chose a dark chocolate cupcake with orange cream icing and although the cake was a tad on the dry side (it was just after the weekend, though), the orange cream icing was out of this world.

It didn't hurt that it came with a big hunk of dark chocolate sticking out of it, either.

We asked what the space used to be and learned it was a laundromat and, long ago, a diner (perfect, I thought).

Back when it was a laundromat with no change machine, customers knew to go to the house across the street for change.

If you yelled up, an upper floor resident would lower a bucket on a rope, you'd put your bills in and he'd send down quarters.

I wanted to know if he took a cut, but the counter girl today didn't know for sure.

It only makes sense. Operational costs and all.

After a satisfying lunch and agreeing that we'll be back, Friend and I braved the VCU campus for the Libraries Book Sale, my first time scrounging their stacks.

I've been getting queasy lately because I am on the last book of my former stack.

Not having more books at the ready makes a devoted reader question the meaning of life.

And while I've still got 500 pages to go in Arthur Miller's autobiography, it'll be a less anxious read knowing I have others waiting in the wings.

We had no problem finding a parking space, but it limited us to a mere hour.

And there was so much to look through! I spent so much time looking at albums that when our time ran out, I'd only found two books.

Biographies of George S. Kaufman and Noel Coward should up my theatrical literacy, but they're not nearly enough to ease my book stack unrest.

Fortunately, the sale runs through Friday. And next time I'll walk so time won't be an issue.

Stack anxiety makes a smart girl plan ahead.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Twice Smitten

That a 101-year old man could make a film about youth and love so believable left my head and heart happy.

"The Strange Case of Angelica" by Portuguese director Manoel de Olivera was tonight's feature at UR's International Film series.

The series is always a mix of students and an older crowd taking advantage of the chance to see foreign films, this one less than a year old, that don't otherwise show here.

Because Olivera first conceived of this movie back in the '50s, there were a lot of details about it that seemed anachronistic for 2010.

The main character Isaac wore a fedora and carried a handkerchief; I don't know a man today who does either regularly.

He lived in a boarding house and his landlady brought his breakfast up on a tray when he didn't come downstairs for the meal. With a flower.

And the whole premise of the film begins with him being called to a wealthy home to take a death portrait of the beautiful daughter who has just died.

There's a custom long gone.

In a magical moment, one of many in the movie, as he's taking the photograph, the girl opens her eyes and smiles at him.

None of the mourners in the room notice, but at that moment he is smitten.

She comes to visit him at night and they fly over the city; he dreams of her, reaching up to her form floating over his bed.

At breakfast, other boarders discuss matter and anti-matter as a matter of hypothesis while he realizes that he has achieved the intersection of the two in his meetings with Angelica.

Before the film, we had been warned that the movie was slow and used mostly static cameras ("No MTV quick cutting in this film").

I would argue that it reflects the attention span of a time past when movie audiences enjoyed lingering shots of workers singing in a vineyard or an exchange from a balcony to the street on a rainy night.

It wasn't slow; it lingered. Nothing was forced and Isaac's gradual obsession with Angelica unfolded in a completely believable way.

The film's take on life and death and the thin line that separates the two worlds (and the visible wires during the flying scenes) made for a moody and atmospheric film that would never get off the ground in Hollywood.

I left grateful to the now-102-year old director who essentially assured me through this quiet and whimsical film that love and life are forever.

At his age, I'm assuming he must know.

Beat It

It's not often I'm willing to  wait in line for an hour and a quarter, but for Henley Street's Annual Bootleg Shakespeare, I do.

Happily and with my mouth running to my friend about the past few months of my life for entertainment, we stayed until we scored two fifth row seats before looking for a place to eat.

Given the limited time we had, we settled for a restaurant in the parking lot, Ledo's Pizza.

And there I had a bit of a cultural shock.

There were individual TVs at some of the tables. Not at the one we chose, you can be sure, but within view at a half dozen booths.

Please tell me this isn't the wave of the future.

Even the manager coming over to check on us and, seeing our glasses of red wine and white pizza with bacon, saying he was going to bring over the bottle of wine and get us drunk (we declined) couldn't compensate.

I'm sorry; a booth with a TV ensures no conversation and that's exactly what we saw. Silent people eating together without sharing a word.


Luckily, seeing "Troilus and Cressida" made up for it all.

The bootleg experience, with the actors bringing their own costumes and props and  having no rehearsals except the day of the show, is one guaranteed to delight.

The actors experience things as the audience does and the results are always hilarious.

The evening always starts with a drawing and this year first prize was a basket with a plastic sword, a Cressida doll and a box of Trojans. Brilliant.

And this year, Henley had chosen a problem play, one I had never seen produced, so that was yet another exciting element.

It's a long play, too, but the energy of the actors kept things moving and there was enough comedy, bawdy and otherwise, around the tragedy and history to make the evening pass in a flash.

The story was mostly about the warring between the Trojans and Greeks but also about the doomed love affair of Troilus and Cressida.

To be wise and love
Exceeds man's might

Duh. So there's a truism as old as mankind.

Achilles, played by Joe Carlson, strutted around in his underwear and an open robe, lusting after men and powdering his privates.

Cynde Liffick played Agamemnon in a red shirt and black leather jacket, but it was her one sequined glove that made the costume.

She got a well-deserved round of applause for delivering the endless list of the the dead and wounded.

I always find that Adam Mincks, here as Aeneas, makes me laugh out loud and he did it many times tonight.

A scene where he handed a half-eaten apple to the old man Nestor and then kept checking on it with sly glances had the audience in stitches.

And the very old Nestor, played by Liz Blake-White, was the physical comedy of the play, moving slowly as if with great age and often being scooped up by another character to move her along.

Her line, "I'll hide my silver beard in a golden beaver," was met with outbursts of laughter from many.

Women are angels wooing.

As many times as I've seen Foster Solomon in a production, this was the first time I saw him play big and dumb.

It was, in fact, his big fight with Hector, played by Matt Hackman, that put the audience over the top.

Their staged fight segued into the dance moves for MJ's "Beat It" with the entire cast joining in. It was amazing just how well they pulled off the moves at a moment's notice, especially the big, dumb Ajax.

And his line about "The policy of those crafty, swearing rascals is not proved worth a blackberry...or maybe a Droid," showed his improvisational skills.

Being a punk version of Shakespeare, many actors wore T-shirts ("Survival Tonight Mandatory") and lip "piercings" that were removed for kissing scenes.

Cressida, played by Zoe Speas, was flawless in her belted body suit, ripped fishnets and spot-on delivery.

In a scene about her frustration over losing Troilus she ad-libbed about tearing out her "awesome" hair, a nod to her spiky and fashionable haircut.

It was little things like when Cressida left for Greece and Troilus came out in the next scene with an "X" over his heart.

A very sweet and touching statement.

Being a problem play, nothing was really resolved at the end. There were dead people, as usual, but no reunited lovers or unmasked characters.

Just like real life, I suppose.


We chose Fanhouse for a post-theater cocktail and walked into a mixologist extravaganza, not completely unusual there since Bobby Kruger runs the place, but even the guests were the talented sort tonight.

A high point of the night was when four of them combined resources to create one cocktail.

First one chose a gin, then Frangelico was added by another, then bitters by someone else and the final ingredients by the fourth.

They brainstormed on garnishes and toppings, but the final result was quite tasty, said the non-gin drinker (okay, me).

A group came in and order Jager bombs and as I saw Bobby making them, I asked if his soul was dying a little.

"Yea," he admitted, "But not as bad as if they'd asked for appletinis."

Everything is relative.

Or, as he pointed out, "We have competing demographics in here tonight."

Now that was some restaurant diplomacy.

A low point of the evening was when the volume on the sound system got turned up for R Kelly, making conversation impossible ("Everyone wants to hear R Kelly loud," Bobby insisted), until enough customers requested it be lowered.

But when the '80s arrived in the musical form of the Outfield's "Your Love," and the volume was again raised, there was much singing along and drumming on the bar.

I did neither, but to the observant type, my thoughts were all there.

They always are if you're paying attention.

There's language in her eye, her check, her lip
Nay, her foot speaks; her wanton spirit looks out
At every joint and motive of her body.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Loving My Enemy Tonight

"If you're here, that means this is the best thing going on right now," the handsome bass player Matt told me when I arrived at the Camel.

Actually, there were two outstanding things going on at that moment (9:00) but I'd already taken in the first.

InLight had a different feel this year by virtue of being held in a central location rather than a streetscape; it seemed to make for more interaction among the attendees.

The first pieces I saw were lit boxes with cut-outs, including one that resembled a large creature.

Walking away from it, a guy came up behind me and said, "They stole that idea from Disney World. They have the same thing there but bigger. I just went there last month and saw it."

And here I just saw it for a whimsical and creative sea monster rather than stolen intellectual property.

Passing the lantern parade, I stopped in front of the RVA Dance Collective, who were doing a piece that ended with a scream.

"Well, that was interesting," a woman said sarcastically, rolling her eyes as she walked away.

Actually, it was. The sudden movements of the dancers, the still figures, all of it made for a visual treat that she clearly wasn't appreciating.

The interpretations using light were myriad. One showed lines of a Samuel Beckett poem and another just the face of a diva singing.

Since the aria was in Italian, it was all about the emotion in her face, which given her beauty and strength of voice, was considerable.

"Next! You can only look at that for so long," declared the man beside me to his friends leading them away after about five seconds of watching her sing.

It made me a little sad.

There was a lot more video this year, it seemed to me, focusing on things as disparate as "Recollections of Tredegar" to graffiti images from Broad Street and Fulton Hill.

Probably my favorite was a cloth-covered house with different video projections on the walls and roof.

Best of all, after you walked around to see all the various images, you could go inside it.

Standing inside with two guys sitting in the chairs there, I watched the shadows of kids dancing and frolicking outside against a video projection of a raging fire.

Flame images leaped up around their outstretched arms and bouncing forms.

The juxtaposition was fascinating, an unexpected moment that could not have been anticipated but captured the essence of InLight: people interacting with light.

To get to follow such a unique experience with great music was just a lucky break.

No two ways about it, I was excited to be seeing the Rosebuds again.

I'd first seen them back in early 2008 when they opened for British Seapower at the Satellite Ballroom in Charlottesville and again this summer at the National when they opened for Bon Iver.

And as much as I'd enjoyed them those times, seeing them in a small room like the Camel as the headliner was a guaranteed good time.

In yet another world-shaking moment, the show started on time, so many people missed White Laces' acoustic set.

Leader Landis admitted that they weren't used to playing acoustic and were going to make it a short set.

It was too bad because they played well and I would have liked for the crowd to have shut up, the better to hear them.

They did two covers ("This is the second song tonight we didn't write and that's disgusting," Landis said) in the five song-set.

Every time I hear these guys, their sound is slightly different and every time I like it.

Prabir and the Goldrush were up at bat next and I'm happy to report that Matt's bass was high enough in the mix to hear, not always the case, but a pleasure when it happens.

Why have an instrument that big if you can't hear it if you're in the audience?

It took forever to get the sound worked out for the Rosebuds, but the eager crowd waited without complaining.

It was the last night of their tour and they were happy to be playing to a small, enthusiastic crowd who obligingly sang along every time they were asked.

"F**k it, this is a dance song,"  lead singer Ivan said introducing "Get Up, Get Out" and you'd better believe people danced.

For that matter, the crowd went wild for the dancey "Woods" (coincidentally, full of light imagery) especially the two middle aged couples right in front of me.

They were definitely getting down with their bad selves.

My long-time concert buddy Andrew walked up to me, looked down, grinned and shook his head.

This has happened to us a time or two before; we attract the unexpected dancers and then sit back and watch.

I suppose if we had rhythm, we'd be dancing as uninhibitedly as they do.

A musician friend mentioned how poppy the Rosebuds are, unclear as to how they were considered indie when their sound could potentially suit the mainstream.

As if pop and indie are mutually exclusive. But to each his own.

In his defense, he had just come from a Dead Kennedys cover band rehearsal, so the transition may have been a bit tough.

Not so the transition from InLight to the Rosebuds.

Two superlatives in one night. It couldn't have been easier...or more satisfying.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Changes not Cha-Cha's

It is a great karmic lesson to spend an evening with a friend who is going through the same thing you went through a while back.

Even if you're not over it, just further along.

By the same token, it is a pleasure to spend an evening with friends too infrequently seen.

Starting at the Belvidere, we allowed the bartender to tell us where we would hypothetically be going if he were part of our entourage tonight.

Charming as he was, attentive even to our Vinho Verde needs, any plan that involves Cha-Cha's has no relevance to my life.

On the other hand, the smoked salmon, stuffed mushrooms and hummus were all on point, underscoring what you can get at a place like the B @ B and not at Cha-Cha's.

And somehow I doubt that what happens at Cha-Cha's stays at Cha-Cha's.

But because Richmond is a small town, it's tough to remain when your past walks in, so before long we exited stage right to the relative anonymity of Balliceaux.

I say relative because the bartender immediately chided me for missing half-priced wine night on Tuesday.

For the record, I have only done half-price wine night twice in Balliceaux's history.

I was particularly enamored of the music mix tonight, including, as it did, Empire of the Sun, Phoenix and various Roxy Music, including "To Turn You On," possibly my favorite of their superb catalog.

I could show you in a word 
If I wanted to
A window on a world
With a lovely view

We began with cocktails, if you can call my Hornitos on ice a cocktail, and major discussion of the validity of Meyers-Briggs (present were an INTP, an INFP and yours truly, an ENFP).

The Thinker among us had nothing but harsh words for the Feelers present, which made for some hilarious insults tossed our way.

She made up for it by insisting on a bottle of Dibon Cava, nutty and sparkling, to underscore the occasion of our overdue get-together and her recent change in status.

We indulged in a cheese plate, but the attention-getter was the spicy chickpea salad served in a chickpea flour shell that thrilled the gluten-intolerant among us.

Which was good, because she could use a little thrilling these days.

But then, who among us couldn't?

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Dirty Minds and Empty Beds

I began my evening with a South African and for a change it wasn't a wine.

Photographer Zweletha Mthethwa was speaking at the Grace Street Theater in conjunction with the stellar Environment and Object exhibit at the Anderson Gallery.

To challenge his audience, Mthethwa began by showing a short-form video, but placated the audience by saying, "I promise you it's not a long video, maybe four minutes."

Have we really become a people who need to be promised short bites in order to hold our attention?

Don't answer that.

On the other hand, the artist said he often works on multiple projects simultaneously to stave off boredom, so perhaps he understands the short attention span from the inside out.

The first of three videos was comprised of still photographs and set to the South African national anthem.

Mthethwa made a point to mention that he objects to the new anthem because it utilizes three languages.

Duly noted.

The other two videos contained moving images, not stills, and the second, a soundless black and white piece, was notable for its unclear actions.

We saw skin contracting and contorted facial movements with no real explanation for what was going on.

After a minute or so, some people began squirming in their seats, presuming we were seeing the faces of people in the throes of passion.

Turns out they were weight-lifting, but as Mthethwa pointed out, "It's open-ended. I enjoy bringing audiences in and seeing what they bring to the work."

Dirty minds mostly, I'd say.

The last video provided a unique perspective because the camera had been placed in a ball, meaning we saw grass and sky and everything in between in a never-ending revolution.

It was an insular view that delivered a different reality than a person might otherwise know.

Video paved the way for his photography and we were shown works from various series, including "Interiors" (of people in their hardscrabble rooms), "Empty Beds" and "Sugar Cane Farmers."

His large-scale format photographs show South African natives usually from the bottom of the economic ladder and are as much about portraiture as about the marginal landscapes they inhabit.

During the question and answer period, we learned that Mthethwa knocked on doors to get many of his pictures and told the subjects to act naturally.

He preferred that they didn't smile since, in his opinion, most smiles are not natural.

After so much enlightenment, I went to Secco to meet a friend and kill some brain cells.

The evening was notable for the excellent bubbles we drank (Pierre Paillard Brut champagne) to celebrate both her birthday and upcoming one-year relationship anniversary.

Knowing that a cold front is about to usher in Fall (much to my sorrow and everyone else's delight), I chose to drink the last of the rose before they're gone (but never forgotten).

I did bow to the impending coolness with a dish of the house made gnocchi with lamb ragout and preserved Meyer lemon.

Its deep flavor and pillows of potato gnocchi made me happy Chef Tim was willing to do the work so all I had to do was chow down.

What with non-stop conversation, beautiful bubbles and long-braised lamb, I was feeling awfully pleased with my evening.

And let me assure you, Mr. Mthethwa, my smile was not only natural, but completely sincere.

Knock on my door and you can take my picture to prove it.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

First Rule of the Blogosphere

Be careful who you blog about for you may run into him the next night.

After a catch-up date with a good friend on the patio of The Empress in the balmy (84-degree!) late afternoon air (where I professed that a certain female chef would be my choice should I decide to jump the proverbial fence), I headed downtown for a birthday celebration dinner for a friend.

We were gathering at the bar of Bistro Bobette for drinks before dinner and I was the second arrival.

First there was a female chef (she's a great friend but not one I'm hypothetically lusting after), who was drinking a Cosmo and welcomed  my company as we waited for the others.

I was poured a glass of the Barren Ridge Chardonnay, an unusual offering for Bobette because it's a Virginia wine, but one from the winery to be featured in their local oyster dinner next week.

When our quintet of four women and one guy was assembled, we moved to a table to begin the evening in earnest.

Since I am usually a bar-sitter at Bobette, I found it interesting to be in the middle of the dining room, surrounded tonight by a lot of large parties.

Which was a good thing because we were not a quiet table.

Of course the advantage of being part of a group was all the good things I got to taste: sauteed calf liver, veal tenderloin, crispy veal sweetbreads, rainbow trout and smoked trout tart, all beautifully executed.

The one newcomer to the restaurant at our table marveled at finding calf liver on the menu and then was thrilled with its tender, flavorful delivery.

The birthday girl regaled us with pictures and tales of her recent trip to Puerto Vallarta, where she and her boyfriend stayed in a pricey resort (and pricey is not a relative term here; the room was $2,000 per night).

She assured us that she'd used points, not cash, to make the trip happen.

Still, towels folded to look like swans, rose petals floating in the bathtub and private pool and ocean views out all the windows made it clear that this was a world away from any vacation I've taken.

As we were sitting there sipping wine after the meal, a lone diner walked in looking remarkably familiar.

It was the same lone diner who'd come into Bistro 27 last night and stolen everyone's attention.

Bluntly put, this town is lousy with actors from that "Lincoln" movie.

Rather than allow the ubiquitous Bruce McGill to capture the attention of everyone in this restaurant too, I headed over to accuse him of following my restaurant lead.

And don't you know that rather than admitting to being a copycat, we ended up talking restaurants. He also said that he loves to cook.

I asked how he was managing to end up at all the restaurants I frequented and he said he uses his nose to make his dining decisions.

It's a method that's hard to argue with.

So now that I've met the man, I can't go on and on about people fawning over him while I get ignored.

He agreed with several of my takes on local restaurants, so he's clearly a smart cookie and not just an attention-seeker.

But if he shows up tomorrow night, I'm going to be a tad suspicious.

After saying goodnight to him (and the bartender and the chef and the regular and his college roommate), I left to join my friends at Rowland for dessert.

Once we got through the birthday song and chocolate torte, I was pushed off on an unsuspecting restaurant guest by the birthday girl.

The poor guy had tried to engage her in food talk and she'd abdicated to someone with a wider palate (actually that's anyone who eats more than beef, grits and potatoes).

It worked out well for me because he was enjoyable to talk to and not only knew Richmond restaurants, but Washington's as well.

We got off on a tangent about the wild and inappropriate things some guys say to girls.

He shared an incident from his own past that involved his fingers around a guy's throat after the guy invaded his ex-girlfriend's personal space.

I shared a few hysterical examples from my own life as he listened in amazement.

"On behalf of men everywhere, please let me apologize," he said, taking personal responsibility for his people.

It was a sweet but unnecessary gesture.

True, I've been told some crazy stuff, but I'm not ready to jump the proverbial fence as long as there are still guys out there who like to talk, kiss well and like to eat.

Some of them even cook, I hear.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Tax Deadline Revelry

My friend, the accountant, was celebrating the end of the tax extension deadline.

So, while my taxes are long filed, there are apparently a lot of bar and restaurant owners who only filed today.

And when he asked where we should meet, I picked someplace convenient to me: Bistro 27.

I arrived first and shooed a few employees from the three best stools so that when my friends arrived, we had our places set.

Friend was a bit harried after his final day coordinating tax returns, but things got better as soon as we ordered a bottle of Burgnas Albarino.

It helped but Bistro 27 was hopping and with no real designated bartender, we had to work for our service tonight.

Friend complimented me on my "new" dress, a Diversity Thrift $3 find he thought showcased my, er, assets.

The same friend needed to give me a hard time about several things, including our long-ago rainy night trip to Ashland Coffee and Tea (I may have over-shared my personal life) and our 2009 trip to Portsmouth (I wasn't his first choice for a companion) and my recent admission at a friend's dinner ("I can't forget what you said"), making for a slow start to the evening.

When we finally got our server's attention, we ordered a bottle of the Domaine les Vieux Murs Pouilly Fuisse, a beautiful wine worthy of celebrating the end of tax season.

To accompany such a fine wine choice, I had the gnocchi with braised oxtail, a long-cooked dish that had an earthy flavor and light-as-air gnocchi.

We had the good company of Bistro Bobette's bartender, his wife and another lunch spot owner, so the conversation flowed fast and furiously.

For dinner, I had the lamb kebob over an antipasto of chick peas, walnuts, red pepper and eggplant. The unique underpinnings of the stellar lamb made me glad I'd chosen something off the new Fall menu.

Our server had disappeared once actor Bruce McGill had arrived and begun spinning tales of his acting past, but it's hard to resist the allure of celebrity, so we didn't complain about his absence even when the Chef joined him.

My friends and I had a lot of fun eating, drinking and skewering the staff for their celebrity devotion while we looked on.

No doubt the cast of "Lincoln" is going to distract RVA for months to come.

The accountant took issue with the chef's statement that Gisele Bundchen earned $44 million a year (sort of like how I take issue with mountain bikes that have eighteen gears), but numbers are his business.

Frankly, once you start talking about more than a million a year, my eyes starts to gloss over, but then, I'm a poor writer.

We finished our meal with chocolate mousse and a chocolate cup with zabaglione and fresh berries, proving that no matter how deep the conversation gets, there's always room for chocolate.

The chef joined us, a server too, and before long we had a spirited discussion of celebrity worship ("My Cousin Vinny" and "Animal House" being the points of reference) once the celebrity left the house and all agreed that life is better as a non-entity.

Of course, we have to think that since no one fawns over us when we arrive at a restaurant.

On the other hand, my taxes were paid by April 15th. And I don't have to put up with obsequious behavior.

Unlike Bruce McGill, I prefer to be challenged, not fawned over.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Must We Fall Back?

Could it stay this weather for a few more months?

It's so beautiful out there and at 81 degrees, a practically perfect temperature for someone like me who gets cold easily.

Not happy to be inside, I called up a restaurant friend I knew was off today and we made plans to meet up at the VMFA Boulevard entrance (always).

He hadn't seen Mocha Dick or the Tobacco Project, so we did those first.

He remarked on the swing between the two ("Wow! A cigarette rug and a life-sized whale?"), but I see them both as representative of the unique offerings that characterize the new VMFA.

We wanted to see the print exhibit "Temples and Shrines in Japan: Woodblock Prints hy Kawase Hasui," and I marveled at how many of the prints showed the stark contrast of snow over vibrant colored buildings.

But the main point in going was to fully explore the sculpture garden, which I hadn't yet done.

I'm a big fan of Maillot's "La Riviere" with its reclining female figure and got a kick out of Arman's "Captain Nemo's Accumulation," a collection of propellers.

But while I'd seen the cascading water stairway, I'd not yet walked up and down the steps beside it.

Nor had I seen the bank of little water fountains near the top of the hill. They resembled exploding champagne bottles to me, each spewing forth with a celebratory froth.

At the top of the hill, we sat down on the lone bench overlooking the garden but with a limited view of it.

We heard the bugle at nearby Benedictine High School signaling the last formation of the day.  In the clear afternoon air, it floated over the sounds of water surrounding us.

Walking back down the hill, we chose the spots where future sculpture should be placed, should the VMFA want our opinion.

After a leisurely time in the garden, we still weren't ready to go back inside, so we strolled over to Curbside to sit on their patio and soak up the perfect October afternoon.

He enjoyed a bacon burger while I sipped a Sauvignon Blanc and we compared Folk Fest experiences in the sunshine.

Curbside is not a regular hangout for me, but on an exquisite autumn afternoon with only one other couple on the patio with us, it was practically perfect.

Really, just a few more months of this would be fine. Say, maybe through February?

And the Award Goes to...

I got to play dress-up tonight because no cute boys were available.

My friend the theater critic hadn't met anyone he wanted to invite to the Richmond Theater Critics Circle Awards so he settled for inviting me.

"It's formal," he wrote. "Do you have a nice evening dress?'

Conveniently, I do and I can cover up my legs when it's required.

Despite me not being of the sex of his dreams, my date was gallant enough to pick me up since driving in a full-length dress is a pain.

The evening began at Popkin's for a reception and the first person I saw was singer Desiree Roots in a dress with a train.

A train. In Popkin's. Think about that.

After schmoozing and glad-handing for an hour, we moved across the street to the Empire Theater for the awards.

I didn't see many open seats and the crowd was a lively and stylish one, so it felt more like a seated party than a stuffy awards banquet.

And because these were theater people, there were not one but two intermissions to allow people time to get their drink on.

The entire show had been scripted with loads of inside jokes and lots of theater humor, including critic roasting.

When two of the presenters talked about acting versus teaching, one said that the advantage of teaching was that you could send difficult students to the principal..

Or even suspend them.

"I know some critics I'd like to suspend," actress Susan Sanford cracked. "From a bridge. Or a tall building."

Singer Susan Greenbaum asked co-presenter UR basketball Coach Chris Mooney why he'd wanted to participate, given his non-arts occupation.

He answered, "I'm not really known in this part of town." The audience loved that.

One of the biggest laughs went to Anne Holton when she was asked about the high points of being First Lady.

She mentioned the Queen's visit in 2007 and the challenges of learning all the protocols required.

"Thank God there are no queens here tonight," she deadpanned.

Another good pairing was Culture Works' John Bryan with DJ Melissa Chase.

Talking about the contribution of costume design, Bryan said, "Without costumes, theater would just be a bunch of naked people sitting around."

Pause. "Like in radio," he said.

"Hey, we wear headphones," Chase corrected him.

But it wasn't just banter. A song from each of the nominated musicals was performed throughout the evening.

Favorite lyric: "I'd rather be nine people's favorite than a hundred people's ninth favorite."

I, too, aspire to be nine people's favorite. I just want some say in who the nine are.

Like any awards show, there were surprises.

The very first  award winner wasn't present.

Another acknowledged how surprised she was with her win by saying, "I was so unprepared that I'm still chewing gum."

The very talented Alan Sader got my vote for most dapper evening attire for a male in his red plaid kilt and high socks.

He looked magnificent accepting his award for Best Actor in a Leading Role in a Play (for King Lear).

My money is on him winning next year for playing Big Daddy in "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof."

Best Musical was a tie between "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels" and "Title of Show," prompting comments about RVA having room for the biggest musicals as well as the smallest (budget).

I had just turned to my (critic) seatmate and commented that Henley Street Theater hadn't won anything (she gave me a cryptic smile) when lo and behold, they won Best Play for "Last Days of Judas Iscariot."

When all was said and done, the crowd was well-lubricated, a bit hoarse after so much yelling for favorites and savoring the camaraderie of the Richmond Theater community.

What else could we do but go for munchies and rehash it all?

My handsome date who opened doors for me and introduced me all night long by saying, "This is my date. Isn't he pretty?" and I were joined by another couple at Third Street Diner.

Over diner food of nachos, cheeseburger, chicken fingers and fries (in our defense, they were out of lettuce), we watched a waitress clean the floor with the vacuum cleaner strapped to her back.

We talked about gay men with girlfriends for beards and which lecture topics attract lesbians.

And before we left, we ogled the contents of the vending machine at the front of the restaurant

Cigarettes, Advil, tampons; all the essentials of life were there.

Our server said the machine used to have candy and condoms, too but, alas, no longer.

Not that my date and I needed either. We were full and neither of us was getting that kind of lucky tonight.

Not that we hadn't looked fine enough to tempt a couple of (very different) guys.

We just didn't meet the right ones.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Brunch Punch

You never know what chef and sous chefs you'll run into at brunch.

Especially on the first day a restaurant opens for brunch.

Despite a recent dinner visit, I was sucked in by the Roosevelt's brand-new brunch debuting today, so that's where I landed after my morning walk.

The dining room was half full, the music was local (Homemade Knives) and the vibe was "just woke up and need good food" casual.

All of that worked for me.

I'd brought the new Washington Post Fall Dining Guide in case I didn't find good conversation but I immediately ran into restaurant types enjoying a day off.

A four-top of them told me that they'd covered the menu and loved it all, so I had their seal of approval to try anything.

In a related note, I noticed that you could add foie gras to any menu item.

Starting with a glass of Virginia Fizz, I ordered the three breakfast sausage corn dogs with maple syrup that promised (and delivered) the tantalizing combo of sweet and salty.

Each taste of the fat Sausagecraft sage breakfast links covered in corn batter and dunked in syrup provided breakfast in a  bite.

I watched as bourbon tea punches were dispatched from the bar with little umbrellas in them. For some reason, I found that charming.

While I ate, a customer came up to the bartender and inquired about the music.

Since the barkeep was the wife of the singer being asked about, the customer left with not only the band and song name but an e-mail address to get the CD.

It's all about the details.

When the same bartender mistakenly made a mimosa instead of a Bloody Mary, I was the recipient of the mistake and lapped up the pulp-filled beverage that is sure to annoy the dishwasher with its bits of fruit clinging to the glass long after the beverage is gone.

Undecided between coffee cake and a biscuit with maple butter, I went with the latter, sure that Chef Lee would deliver a biscuit worthy of my Richmond grandmother, who made fresh biscuits three times a week for us growing up.

Bessie would have been proud.

Amazingly, there was even a little butter left after I inhaled the biscuit, a highly unusual state of affairs for this butter lover.

I ran into an artist whose work hangs in my living room, a musician I've heard many times (and continue to enjoy) and a good friend with whom I shared my recent horoscope ("I got chills when I read it," she said. Don't I know it?).

A local chef arrived and took up residence next to me, providing stellar conversation and company for the rest of my stay.

With my peach Bellini delivering its intoxicating aroma with every sip, we discussed the newest restaurants (including his own), the problems associated with burning bridges and who's becoming the new Cabo's (an insult if ever there was one).

I left with lunch plans on Tuesday, dinner plans on Wednesday and bar plans a week from Thursday.

Oh, yes, and plans to return to the Roosevelt for brunch and the fried chicken biscuit as soon as possible.

Meat Comas and Clarinets

If you're going to party after the Folk Fest, may I suggest it's with a klezmer band.

I took yet another Folk Fest virgin to the festival tonight, although we saw nowhere near as much music as I had last night with my first newcomer.

It may have been because tonight's companion was not a musician.

It may have been the larger crowds making movement more difficult or it may have been that after having seen six bands last night my choices were more limited.

But we still managed to hear music.

The highlight tonight was the Malian group Bassekou Kouyate and Ngoni Ba, who got a late start because setting up their sound system took forever.

Apparently their unique instruments were quite a challenge to mic, but once they got started, the crowd was right behind them, clapping and dancing.

But I could tell my friend was losing interest, so we made Mali our last stop.

After I dropped the newbie off, I headed over to Buzz and Ned's BBQ to join a Klezmer band after-party.

After their Folk Fest set, Winograd's Nue Tanznoyz Kapele and dancer Steven Weintraub were being feted by Buzz with ribs, brisket and appropriate liquor and in return, they were playing for the party.

Arriving, I discovered a bar comprised of  Slivovitz (made from "ripe and sound Damson plums") and Becherovka, a digestif made with herbal bitters.

Because who would want to use unsound plums for liquor?

While I was told of the significance of them and even tasted these spirits of the Jews, I was happiest to find Cazadores right next to them.

I happen to know that the bass player (and Buzz himself) are tequila fans, so I felt no guilt in forsaking the traditional for the agave.

When the band arrived at Buzz and Ned's, the first thing they did was perform a song while the amazed customers put down their ribs and stared.

Steven, the dancer in the group,  pranced about with a scarf enticing women to join him.

Once that was out of the way, we all sat down at the big picnic tables to eat...and eat.

Plates of succulent ribs were followed by a brisket as big as my thigh (and far more tender) and potato salad, macaroni and cheese, onion rings, hush puppies and I don't even remember what else.

At one point, the bass player looked at me and said, "Jewish people never eat this well."

Or so much pork, I'm sure.

Buzz himself carved the brisket from a picnic table and we didn't even bother with plates or utensils.

People grabbed the chunks and slices they wanted as they were sliced.

Sliced onion was available for the Texans

Once the band was sated, and it took a while, they grabbed their instruments and again began playing.

By the second song, there were two accordion players and one clarinetist standing on picnic table benches playing while their brethren played from the floor.

Multi-level Klezmer.

Then they went inside the restaurant to play for the staff who was busy cleaning up once the last customer left.

"That never happens," one of the servers later told me.

Steven got more women to dance and eventually a circle dance formed.

All but three bites of the brisket got eaten.

Less than two inches of Slivovitz remained out of the two bottles that started the party.

One of the musicians told me that "A clarinet is a voice and it tells the story of the Jewish people."

I didn't exactly dance on a picnic table, I merely sat on one.

And that's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Crashing on Memory Lane

Mortality makes for get-togethers.

Meaning that because my Mom had a heart attack a few months ago, one of my sisters decided to organize a luncheon with all six daughters and my parents.

No husbands (as if!) or children, just the original family unit.

And it was delightful because when you have six sisters who all live in another state, gatherings of the group are few and far between.

So we had a lovely meal and, because of our family history (a different dessert every night growing up), we had three desserts today.

Italian shortbread cookies with chocolate ganache filling, a chocolate cake made by my Mom and Georgetown cupcakes.

Yes, one of my sisters actually stood in the block-long line for the sake of the D.C. standard in cupcakes.

Better her than me.

After a leisurely lunch, we adjourned to watch an old VHS tape from the day my parents moved from just outside DC to the Northern Neck.

Seeing rooms I hadn't seen in 25 years was a hoot.

When we got to shots of the family room, my sisters were tossing around memories of teen-age parties held there.

"Well, except for you, Karen, " Sister #3 said. "You didn't have enough friends to have a party."


True, but only a sister would feel the need to point out such a thing.

But that's what family get-togethers are for, right?

Good God, Paul, Never?

I wouldn't have thought it possible, but I have a musician friend who had never been to the Folk Fest.

Not during the three years it was the National Folk Fest and not during the three years since RVA took it over.

Good god, I had no choice but to pop that cherry for him.

In my effort to ensure that he enjoyed himself, we saw six of the seven performances tonight, requiring that we we cross back and forth between the hill and Brown's Island four times.

Luckily, neither of us minds a walk.

We began under the "Richmond at its Best" banner with Cape Breton duo Mary Jane Leonard and Wendy MacIsaac doing their new/old take on Scottish music.

Introducing a Gaelic love song, Mary Jane explained the lyrics she'd be singing in Gaelic. Girl loves boy, boy dumps girl, girl is heartbroken, Mom says if he returns she won't be sad.

"That's as upbeat as Gaelic love songs get," she said to laughter.

Jamaica's The Mighty Diamonds were next for us and their first song was a perfect analogy for the pastiche that is the Folk Fest.

This reggae band, who've been around since 1969, started with their version of Dave Brubek's "Take 5" from 1959.

Not that I knew that.

And therein lies the beauty of having a musician as a festival companion, even if he was a first-timer.

Our initial trip across the bridge was for Qi Shu Fang Peking Opera, a spectacle to be sure.

Part acrobatic with gravity-defying flips, part theatrical with elaborate costumes and staged fights, and completely compelling music with instruments I couldn't identify, it was a huge crowd pleaser, especially for the novice.

Our first foray into the dance pavilion was for Pedrito Martinez Group doing Afro-Cuban house party music that had more than a few people dancing.

Late in their set, a band member asked the crowd, "Who's going to come up here and dance with me?"

"I'm pretty sure it's not going to be me," my companion said drolly.

Two women made the cut before Pedrito removed his shirt to cool down from all the dancing and percussion-playing he was doing.

From behind me, I heard a mild-mannered-looking woman say, "I want that shirt!"

Which is to say, the band had the crowd seriously worked up.

It was a very different crowd for 74-year old blues guitarist Magic Slim and his group the Teardrops, who, while he needed to sit to play, still managed to impress on the guitar.

The last performance of the evening was Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys doing the Cajun thing back at the dance pavilion.

By that point in the evening, the tent was filled and enough alcohol had been consumed that lots of people were dancing.

One guy had his hat tied to his arm, a half-finished bag of popcorn tied to his belt, a big-old fanny pack actually on his fanny ("Probably full of gorp," my friend observed) and light-up Mardi Gras beads around his neck, but was dancing sweetly with his wife in spite of his pack load.

There were also plenty of girl couples dancing, either because they'd come with girlfriends or their men-folk didn't want to dance.

As we stood near a support pole for the tent listening to the accordion and multiple fiddles, my friend mentioned that he might resort to dancing with it.

I'd already instructed him not to tell anyone that he was a first-timer since I had a reputation to maintain.

"Oh, my status as a first-timer is the least of your worries," he'd assured me. "I could ruin your reputation any number of ways."

Now I realize he was talking about doing a pole dance to Cajun music.

That would have been a rookie mistake. Fortunately, he'd been warned.

But what a picture that would have been for one of the many Folk Fest photographers.

Richmond at its best indeed.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Sticky Fingers

When my Church Hill-living friends rave about their neighborhood, I nod.

And then there's the but...

My passion for Jackson Ward aside, I couldn't live in a neighborhood with so few restaurants.

And yet after last night's kick-ass meal at the Roosevelt, I was right back on the Hill for lunch today at OMG Cafe.

And frankly, OMG. The menu was well-priced, with everything from a bologna burger to curry chicken with palm-rolled dumplings and steamed cabbage.

Tempting as they both were, I went straight for the OMG chicken and waffle with blueberries, as did my friend.

I figured they must be good because the mother and two sons at the next table had all ordered them, too.

When the youngest boy's plate was delivered before his mother's, he wasted no time in folding his hands and saying grace, not about to wait for her food to arrive to dig into his own.

His t-shirt said "Blame My Sister" but I'd be inclined to blame the chicken and waffles.

My friend and I both liked the sleek interior with its ten-seat bar, four high two-tops and back table done in green, silver and black.

I was especially enamored of the music which began with Marsha Ambrosius' soulful song stylings and segued into Evelyn "Champagne" King.

There is a particular high unlike any other when you are eating fried chicken with your syrup-sticky fingers and "Love Come Down" comes on the sound system at just the right volume.

My friend's grin was as satisfied as mine. "I haven't heard this song in forever," he agreed.

OMG, now I want to go back and order the lake trout sandwich and see what comes on the stereo with that.

Outlyer Observations

Honestly, things just keep getting better at The Roosevelt.

When I first ate dinner there, it was opening night and I fell in love with everything about the place, here.

Now almost three months and many visits later, I continue to default to it for its ever-changing and creative menu, all-Virginia wine list and guarantee of interesting people with whom I can chat.

Knowing that, I was in a bar stool and choosing my wine early on tonight.

A girl next to me was just finishing up her buttermilk panna cotta with regret.

"The only problem with this Mason jar is that I can't get my tongue in it to lick it clean," she bemoaned.

When I suggested she could lick it partly clean, she inserted her finger and began swiping out the last bits on her finger.

"Not embarrassed to lick my finger at all, " she bragged to no one in particular, getting the last of her dessert the only way possible.

Despite the balmy temperatures, I decided to go for red wine, choosing the Rockbridge Pinot Noir.

Later a guy observed that every single person at the bar had white wine and said dryly, "I see you're the outlyer."

Not just in wine, my friend, but in many things.

As always, the company was outstanding.

I started with a favorite girlfriend, followed by a talkative radio rat, a teacher suffering from parent/teacher conference-itis (my second of the week), a musician couple out for their anniversary, a photographer/copywriter duo and Tony, the neighborhood gent who's writing his memoirs of life in Amelia County ("My marriage went south and so did I").

And then there's the food. My first plate was magnificent.

Seared foie gras pate on crispy pork rinds with apple moustard was enough to make me swoon and harden my arteries at the same time.

Bartender T. made me laugh out loud, saying,"Bringing the class back to pork rinds," while my friend Josh asked, "Is your mind being blown now?" when he saw me eating them.

Yes, yes it was being blown, as were my taste buds. Decadent as foie gras is, eating it on pork rinds took it to a whole new level.

I gave my girlfriend a taste but she said one was enough while I went on to finish an entire plate of this rich take on snack food.

When Chef Lee came by to see how I liked it, I tripped over my words praising it and he said with his usual nonchalance, "I don't know how I didn't think of it before."

The restaurant was crazy busy tonight with a lot of tables reserved for large parties and, unlike past visits, lots of older people instead of the usual young, hip crowd.

Nearly full but wanting a second course, I chose the chicken and rice soup with a slow-cooked farm egg.

The richness of the egg only added to the taste of the savory stock dense with hunks of chicken and tender rice.

I must have looked like I was enjoying it because after I finished, the couple next to me asked what I'd eaten and each ordered a bowl.

And then there were the fried sugar toads with bacon aioli, always a treat when I find them on a menu. Insert in mouth, scrape and chew. Yum.

Not content to stay with one Virginia wine, it being Virginia Wine Month and all, I moved on to the Veritas Claret, a Bordeaux-style blend recommended by my girlfriend.

And still people continued to arrive for dinner.

A trio of guys sidled up to the bar next to me, the one telling the others, "This place is always busy because the food's amazing. Just smell that!"

Since I was two stools from the kitchen and plates had been coming out all night, I was well aware of how delicious the aroma was, but to the unfed, it must have seemed unbearable.

I finished up my evening with a slice of coconut cake and a discussion with neighbor Tony of  "Playing for Change," a multi-media movement dedicated to peace through music.

He highly recommended it to me when he discovered I was a music lover.

"Look at the website," Tony instructed me and I promised him a full report next time I see him there.

"Not a report," he said smiling, "Just your observations."

I'm always glad to share my observations when I'm at the Roosevelt because there's so much pleasurable to observe.

Now please pass the pork rinds.