Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Hello, Lovely

Shut up, I like tasting menus.

As many times as I've done the Tuesday Tasting at the Empress, it never occurred to me how much I like the concept.

Two of us decided to give their Southern Italian tasting a whirl tonight and joined a small but enthusiastic group of diners doing the same.

Tarczal Dry Moscato was just dry enough to cut the rich garlicky pan sauce over roasted squid stuffed with white beans, spinach and garlic.

Conversation revolved around the stages of a post-relationship friendship. How much is too much?

I'm always thrilled to find fresh anchovies, so the next course of them served with black olive puree, lemon zest, spicy caper sauce and cherry tomato confit pleased me no end.

A Villa Pozzi Pinot Grigio delivered honeysuckle and fruit and got a thumbs up from the nearest Southern Italian.

Then it was time for the third course and Cantina Zaccagnini Montepulciano suited my penchant for a full-bodied red while only slightly intimidating my table mate.

It was paired beautifully with mussels in a red wine, tomato, garlic and pepper flake sauce over gluten-free linguine.

My gluten-intolerant friend would have been over the moon with that dish.

Last up was fried veal sweetbreads with veal jus, roasted green tomato puree and fried sage leaf.

And if you're going to eat innards, you need a luscious and velvety wine like Layer Cake Primitivo to keep things properly primal.

And that's when it occurred to me. How great would it be if a restaurant did this every night?

You pay your twenty bucks and you get four two-ounce pours of different wines with a small plate paired with each.

And not a small plate two people could pick off of, but a true small plate. A few bites of four different dishes.

Call me fickle, call me a Gemini, but know that I enjoy savoring as many different tastes as possible.

So naturally I see a lot of sense in a four-course tasting/pairing, something that offers me both fresh anchovies and sweetbreads in the same meal.

Not to mention squid and mussels.

Plus just enough wine to make it work. Brilliant.

But since no one's calling me for restaurant concept ideas, I'll set that aside for now.

Instead of stopping while we were ahead, we opted for the chocolate/banana crepe to round out our meal.

Between listening to the XX on the restaurant sound system and saying hello to the friend (who thinks of himself as Princess Di) busy plotting with his cohorts how to rule the world ("We want you to be the social director," he insisted), I used my finger to finish up the last of the chocolate sauce on the plate.

Therein lies the beauty of a tasting menu. You not only have room for dessert but time for finger licking.

You know, in case you have bigger fish to fry later.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Random on the Half Shell

It may be a personal best.

I've had men approach me in some of the oddest places - a stoplight on Monument Avenue at midnight, the Ladies' Room at Lemaire, the third row of D.A.R. Constitution Hall - but never when I was surrounded by water.

It was like this: I was visiting the 'rents on the Northern Neck.

When my Dad and I headed down to the dock, we noticed that the tide was exceptionally low.

So low that the shell bar that extends from their beach was completely exposed.

It's a crescent of shell-covered sand created years ago by the castoffs of an oyster facility on the very long wharf that used to jut out from that place.

Most of the time you can't see it, except at low tide when parts of it are exposed.

Today, a full half a mile of it was sticking out of the crystalline blue water, something I'd never seen in all the years of visiting there.

It was irresistible, so when my Dad I headed up to the house, I decided to walk out on it.

It was a truly unique feeling to be on this sliver of "land" surrounded by gently lapping waves.

When I reached the end, I paused to look around, admiring the new vantage point of my parents' house, the point of land and the duck blind which was now amazingly close by.

Next thing I know, a guy in full waders is loping through the water toward me.

He must have been out there all along and I just hadn't noticed him.

We'll just chalk that up to nature's beauty distracting me. That and the bright midday sun.

So, yes, perched on a foot-wide piece of exposed beach in the middle of the Rappahannock River, I met a semi-retired judge, former Marine (Desert Storm), water fowl lodge owner and former Richmonder (Freeman High School, Hampden-Sydney, UVA Law).

I was thrilled to get an impromptu local seafood industry lesson.

He showed me Black Butt oysters (enormous) and an oyster half eaten by a cow-nosed ray (major crunch action).

I heard about the wooden wharf (which explained the remaining pylons) and how it had a shucking shack with brick fireplaces (that explained the occasional bricks in the river) in it to keep the shuckers warm.

Oyster boats brought their catches to the wharf, they were shucked and then steam boats coming up the river stopped to buy them and take them to Baltimore.

I had had no idea about any of this history.

He was out in the river doing his favorite thing: gathering oysters, which he apparently sells to local restaurants.

"Ever been to the Lancaster Tavern?" he asked once we'd shared our life stories.

Of course I had, many times with my parents.

"I'm the one who supplies them for Oyster Tuesdays," he said with not a little pride.

He said that he found gathering the mollusks to be zen-like, a real change from his other occupations.

"How do you like your oysters?" he asked, presuming correctly.

Any way I can get them, I answered honestly.

Pointing to his bushel basket under a nearby dock on the shore, he instructed me to go pick out a couple dozen for myself.

You don't have to offer me hour-old oysters twice.

Once our extended chat ended, he told me what a pleasure it had been to meet and talk to me.

I felt exactly the same.

Walking back across the shell bar towards his basket, I found an old medicine (or maybe spice?) bottle embedded in the sand.

This day keeps getting better.

And so it was that, for the first time in my life, I not only shucked oysters (and I wasn't half bad, either) but enjoyed them literally fresh out of the river.

With a dash of hot sauce, my amazed parents and just a little appreciation for the random places men choose to talk to me.

I couldn't have been more satisfied if I'd found a pearl.

Italian Philosophy

Life is like a doughnut.

Tonight that doughnut was actually a zeppole because it's Lent.

I know that only because not one, but two restaurant owners I know have told me they've given up red wine for Lent.

A Catholic friend finds it hysterical that you can give up one color or another wine instead of actually making a sacrifice and just, oh, say, give up wine altogether.

I don't know about that but I am Italian-savvy enough to know that zeppoles are only baked after Ash Wednesday.

And while I'm certainly not up on my religious holidays, I did walk by a church on Grace Street last Wednesday that said, "Ash Wednesday, Come in for Quiet Reflection."

I'm not much on ashes or quiet reflection, but I'm all about the custard-filled doughnuts Stuzzi makes every Lenten season.

So after dutifully finishing my margherita pizza and Primitivo, I happily shared with an Italian all that dough and cream and powdered sugar that are a metaphor for life.

The hard part outside with the reward inside and just enough sweetness all around to keep you coming back for more.

I'm thinking life just may be as simple as that.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Un/Fortunately, it's Pass/Fail

Best to begin with the highbrow portion of the evening and degenerate from there.

So we started at Firehouse for "You Don't Know Me: A Trio of  One Acts," part of the Acts of Faith Festival.

And, yes, I'm a heathen but they let anybody in, probably hoping to make converts.

The plays were all about those most impolitic of topics, namely race, religion and redemption.

"What Strong Fences Make" and "Beirut Rocks," both  by Israel Horovitz, dealt with Arab/Israeli issues and were separated by an interpretive dance piece done first in silence and then to Talking Heads' "Life During Wartime."

In the second piece about Jewish and Arab prejudices, Audra Honaker was especially strong as the Arab girl with a good reason to hate Jews, even as her reaction crossed the line.

I appreciated a scene in that play where the Jewish guy chided his new roommate for sloppy language. "I'm a Lit major, Jake," he shouted, ""Words are inspirational to me,"

In other words, choose your words carefully and say what you mean.

True in context, true in real life.

The final play was one I'd seen a bit of at the Acts of Faith Preview and dealt with racial prejudice at a predominantly white college in Ohio in 1949 .

The subject matter (illegitimate children, unmarried sex and bias against blacks in the early '50s) was strong, a worthy match for Katrinah Carol Lewis' performance as the author who had to live through it all.

The premise of the play was, you want to hear why there's s much violence in the author's books? Listen to her life story.

And we did.

After our culture fix,we headed for dinner around the corner at Cellar Door (where the sandwich board said they were open for lunch and dinner every day but closed for Superbowl), where I immediately ran into a bartender friend.

"You missed a good show last night," he grinned.

I also missed oysters and dinner with an Italian winemaker last night, but as far as I can tell, I can only be in one place at a time.

Goodness knows I try to prove otherwise.

We ended up having a fine supper (Prosciutto-wrapped scallops in beurre blanc, Peruvian chicken and roasted corn salad for me) with reduced price Malbec (always a treat to find happy hour on a weekend).

The final stop of the day was at Sticky Rice (I know, right?) for the final round of their Iron Man chef competition, pitting the Richmond chef against the Baltimore and D.C. chefs.

A Sticky Rice face off, so to speak.

Since I hadn't been in Sticky Rice for years, there was some adjustment period while I took in the crowd, the music, and the vibe before the smoke machine started up and the three finalists came through the front door to music.

It was pretty hysterical and the whole thing was being filmed and broadcast throughout the restaurant.

Don't let anyone tell you there's no good entertainment in RVA on a Sunday night.

My partner in crime and I found a bar stool and claimed it, with me ordering a Hornitos to transition to where we were.

Which was a very noisy bar with a (for all intents and purposes) meaningless competition going on while a comedian made loud jokes with the judges and some people snapped pictures.

No, really.

Although we stayed through the first round of tastings by the judges, the winner wasn't announced, so we may never know which Sticky Rice chef took home the trophy.

On the other hand, we'd revisited a place once recommended in an out-of-state newspaper as a hip place for a visitor to go.

No, really, let's not send our out-of-town guests to Sticky Rice as a representation of who we are.

Even for the Tater Tots.

But all experiences are good conversational fodder and this one was no exception.

We made up stories about the high maintenance-looking blond talking to the guys next to us.

We watched the two cameramen all but trip over each other trying to film the Ironman no one was paying attention to.

The funniest exchange of the evening involved a past event.

"Remember what you said the other day?"

A puzzled look. "Give me the footnotes."

My advice? Take notes if you have to.

No one said it was going to be easy to keep up.

The fun is in trying.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Begin My Blisteringly Fast Romantic Period

It was my last time subbing for Mom and I knew it.

That is, my last couple date for the symphony because my friend's Mom (whose ticket I was using) will soon be back in town and she'll be wanting to go to the rest of the season with her son and his girlfriend.

So she'll be the one meeting them for dinner beforehand.

For our last symphony date, I chose Chez Foushee for dinner and was rewarded with a window table right over the heat vent.

Our server kept asking if it was getting too warm but after the bitter cold and driving wind outside, I thought it felt divine.

In my perfect world, there's always a heat vent under the table.

Considering we'd walked in without a reservation and every table was taken except the one we got for which they'd just moments before had a cancellation, we were pretty damn lucky.

We began with a bottle of Mont Marcal Cava because it's always a party when the three of us get together.

Given the chill factor, I began with a zesty tomato soup as creamy as a bisque and with spiced croutons floating on top.

I decided that the perfect accompaniment was the Comte "grilled cheese" with wild mushrooms and beef marrow.

The earthy mushrooms and marrow atop thick-slices of bread and smothered in the slightly sweet and oh-so strong Gruyere-like cheese, made for the most adult of grilled cheeses.

My friend's girlfriend, born and raised in the Museum District, had fond memories of the space, recalling when it housed her hairdresser's salon.

"The shampoo station used to be right over there," she said pointing to the side. She's always a treasure trove of tidbits about RVA before I got here.

We didn't have time for dessert, so we left craving it and heading to CenterStage.

Tonight's program went something like this: minimalist, romantic, romantic.

Naturally the minimalist was the American and the romantics the Europeans.

"The Chairman Dances" by John Adams and written in 1985 was conceived of as a prelude to the opera "Nixon in China."

No, really.

Not surprisingly, it had a soundtrack feel to it, but I found plenty to like in the twelve-minute piece.

Mendelssohn's "Die Erste Walpurgisnacht" offered up three soloists and the Richmond Symphony Chorus for a dramatic piece about druids and Christians and fairies and sacrifices.

You know, the usual things poets write about.

My friend Homes, ever the musician, observed afterwards, "You don't often get to see that many down bows in one piece."

I'm sure that's true and I'm equally sure I'd never have noticed.

After intermission and a spirited discussion of dessert options, we got to the main event, Beethoven's "Seventh Symphony."

Fast best describes the movements of the piece and the program even said some parts were "blisteringly so."

Watching my friend Matt Gold play double bass, I loved seeing his handsome head move with emphasis in the blistering parts.

I know for a fact what a fan of Romantic Period composers he is.

By mutual decision, we decided to stop at Pasture when we left the theater and score some long-awaited dessert.

Bellying up to the bar, we got a bottle of Ruffino Prosecco and a couple of chocolate candy bars, that fabulous dessert of chocolate that stops just short of fudge with hazelnut crunch, Nutella and chocolate that Pasture does so well.

I may have enjoyed it even more than usual given that there had been such a gap between my savory and sweet courses.

There's a lot to be said for anticipation.

By the same token, there's a lot to be said for blisteringly fast, at least when it comes to some things.

Like Beethoven. Or better yet, a romantic period.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Make Mine a Nebbiolo

For the third time in four years, I spent the afternoon pouring for strangers.

The Virginia Wine Expo is at the Convention Center, mere blocks from my house and an easy, if breezy, walk for me.

I'd been asked to pour for Gabrielle Rausse, Italian winemaker of some of my very favorite Virginia wines.

True, I'd have to smile at drunk people all day, but I also got to surprise people ("Wait, why isn't this Pinot Noir red?"), listen to their defiance ("How can you have a Malbec? There's no Malbecs in Virginia!") take compliments from people ("Whoa, look those amazing tights!") and confound them ("What do you mean there's no tasting room or website? How off the grid is that?").

How could an eccentric like me not be impressed with a winemaker not playing by everyone else's rules?

As you might expect, the first few hours are far saner than later in the day when people have their buzz on.

You can tell because after a while, some people just walk up and stick out their glass and say, "Gimme your fill-in-the-blank" instead of doing a full tasting.

You can also tell by the glazed eyes, but I don't want to judge. Much anyway.

And we're not even going to talk about the ones who wear their wine glass on a string around their necks.

But all that is mere comic dressing for the pleasure of pouring well-made wines while the winemaker stands next to me doing the same, but with an Italian accent.

And he was so good at working the crowd.

When a woman asked how he made such great wines, he responded, "I tried making bad wines and this was the result."

At one point he asked me about our mutual friend, the one who'd asked me to be a pourer today.

"How did you meet?" Gabriele asked me and I explained our Virginia wine connection.

"Well, you must be practically perfect because that's the only people he makes friends with," he told me.

Of course, that just solidified that Gabriele must be the same since they're friends, too.

And while I'm anything but, I am more than happy to be standing for six hours on a concrete floor conveying my enthusiasm for fabulous wines made by a practically perfect Italian with grapes grown in Virginia.

Call it an eccentric's idea of a good time.

Rebel, Rebel

It was an evening that headed south from the very start.

Arriving in Carytown just as the rain did, River City Cellars' weekly wine tasting beckoned with a focus on southern Italian wines.

And on a February day when it was 82 degrees, thoughts of southern Italy are awfully appealing.

Moving through a crisp yet rich Fratelli Urcluolo 2010 Fiiano di Avellino through a full-bodied Villa Mottura 2008 Primitivo di Manduria, we chatted with the group about why some women don't drink white wine (there was one there like that) and how Primitivo grows so well in southern Italy that they let it grow like bushes.

There was an older couple there who had been to every region in which the grapes we tasted had grown. They were talking about their next trip and buying lots of wine.

That's the kind of old people I want to be when I get there.

With wine and chocolate (my must-have burnt caramel and sea salt dark chocolate) purchased, the next stop was the VMFA for the opening night of the Southern Film Fest.

This year's theme is "Screening Southern Rebellion" and, frankly, my dear, I couldn't have been more interested.

Film critic and author Molly Haskell was the keynote speaker and, as a former Richmonder, she began by talking about all the familiar places she saw today since it had been years since she'd been here.

Referring to the topic of tonight's documentary, she quipped, "What the South lost in fact, it made up for in fiction" about Margaret Mitchell's  epic "Gone With the Wind."

She spoke of what a pioneering feminist and rebel Mitchell was, wearing pants, dropping out of Smith  and finding her own way in life.

Even better, being one of the "rebel debutantes." Dancing a provocative Apache tango  that ended with a kiss in public. And when she did marry, marrying a bootlegger.

Wisely, she eventually replaced him with a fellow writer.

When she did finally start accepting her age and settling down, Mitchell saw her more sedate lifestyle for what it was.

"Respectability is the punishment of the wild."

Both Haskell and the documentary, "Margaret Mitchell: American Rebel" made it clear that the author drew Scarlett O'Hara from her own strong-willed history.

It was all about the gumption.

After the film, it was an easy trip up to Amuse where I walked in to find my two former gadabout and now reclusive friends enjoying a cocktail and eager to catch up.

Boxwood Rose was followed by mussels and Surry sausage, fried oysters served over tonnato sauce with pickled veggies, and finally sardines (a last minute replacement for Alisis anchovies) with poquillo peppers, olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

If you're going in a southern Italian direction already, shouldn't there be food from the water?

And Amuse continues to deliver a stellar meal every time.

After talking to a server friend who was headed out to do the rounds, as she put it, we made the acquaintance of a woman at the end of the bar who joined us in finishing up our meal with an absinthe.

Surely you knew where that was going.

She was raving about CineBistro and I didn't have the heart to tell her I don't go to Stony Point.

The question was raised about why so many men are complacent until they meet a certain woman. I ventured an opinion.

The bartender missed my take on this burning issue, only to return some time later seeking to hear what he had missed.

You have to appreciate a guy smart enough to want to learn the answers.

Whether he's southern or southern Italian. Rebel or respectable.

As long as he's trying.

Friday, February 24, 2012

No Suit Required

My first choice would have been an al fresco lunch, but my lawyer friend wanted a proper sit down affair.

So we ended up at a very full TJ's at a window table with a view of Main Street with business types and serious-looking women in suits.

We were neither in our summery clothes.

We'd planned to start with the grilled SausageCraft lamb sausage, but the kitchen hit a snag and to make it up to us, sent out two cups of today's soup, a potato leek with crispy leeks and thick-cut bacon.

It not only coated the spoon, but no doubt our arteries, too, with its decadent richness.

Just as we were sitting back in our wingback chairs to digest that, the lamb arrived.

It was my friend's first SausageCraft so I got to enjoy his reaction to tasting its spiced meatiness along with a parsnip pear puree, sauteed spinach and veal demi-glace.

I think I saw his eyes glaze over in pleasure. Not that I didn't enjoy it just as much, but I at least knew what to expect.

For lunch, I had the jumbo lump crabcake sandwich, mainly to see how good a crabcake it was.

My Maryland childhood makes me a crabcake snob of the highest order and this one was good. Not backfin good, but decent.

Probably good enough to impress an out-of-town hotel guest. Unless he was from Maryland.

Friend had the hearts of romaine salad and was so impressed with the generous serving of Italian white anchovies that he vowed to get a side order of them alone next time, completely bypassing the salad portion of the dish.

As he likes to point out, they're one of the very few things actually better from a can.

Over a leisurely lunch, we chatted about the alienation of Republican women, the way the cost of a dim sum meal escalates quickly and how live-in partners have different refrigerator standards.

Some people, he pointed out, save every little bit of leftovers while some of us only keep them when there's enough for another meal. To each his own.

Since we'd forsaken the beautiful day to eat inside, it seemed only fitting to finish with that most summer-like of desserts, ice cream.

A house made butter pecan (no doubt  Southern enough to charm even the most Northern of guests) came in a bowl deep enough to hold far more ice cream than any two people needed.

Like the soup, it was spoon-coatingly creamy and so chock full of pecans that they showed up in every bite, which is a very good thing.

Had we been eating at home, there wouldn't have been even the tiniest bit of leftovers to put in the refrigerator. no matter what a person's standards were.

Anyway, it's all negotiable when you're lunching with a lawyer.

Bringing Down the Dark Horse

Sometimes you have to sacrifice a gala for a road trip.

In this case, a road trip on a gloriously warm February evening for a drive under a sliver of a yellow moon to Charlottesville to see a swoon-worthy band.

I've been told by someone who should know that my taste in music leans toward the swoon.

So when a friend invited me to the Governor's Cup Gala tonight, I had to decline citing the ticket I bought a month and a half ago to see Other Lives, a band I'd first heard here, at the Southern.

Arriving on the Downtown Mall, I ducked into a Mexican hole-in-the wall for Baja-style fish tacos (lightly breaded tilapia with lime-cumin slaw and pico de gallo), queso and chips and a couple of the most wonderful house made Mexican chocolate icebox cookies imaginable.

At the Southern, I ran into a friend from Richmond who'd also been at the Black Iris show. She and some friends had been smart enough to get a room at a B & B tonight to avoid the drive home.

Note to self: do same for next C-ville show if at all possible.

Australian band Wim was the opener and they couldn't have been a better fit with Other Lives.

"We've come a very long way to entertain you," the lead singer said.

Their glam folk had a layered sound that rose up to meet his big voice (and dramatic hand gestures), but it was the four-part harmonies that won my heart.

That and the way the guitarist used a bow to play his guitar on certain songs.

The singer had a huge key chain on, noting, "It's very jangly, isn't it?  I should use it like some kind of percussive instrument."

During the break, people were talking about how interesting and well-done their set had been.

It was then that my friend introduced me to a C-ville friend she'd suggested come to the show.

We ended up chatting for a while about music and Richmond (coincidentally, he used to live on Grace Street and had some great stories about it).

He'd found Wim to be "too frou-frou" for his taste and I had to assume that it was the glam element it had.

Despite our difference in musical opinion, he was kind enough to hold my spot while I ran to the bathroom.

There, the guy in front of me in line asked if I'd decided to come out tonight just to hear music.

No, I explained, I'd come to hear Other Lives. "Oh?" he said, suddenly seeing me in a new light.

He'd seen them open for Delta Spirit a couple of years ago and had liked them so much more than the headliner.

He was thrilled to have found a kindred soul and talked my ear off about the band before disappearing into the loo.

And then Other Lives came out and I was in full swoon mode.

How do I love thee, Other Lives? Let me count the ways.

I love your castanets, your trumpet, your three violins on any given song, your harmonica, your bells, your French horn, your cello.

I love seeing the drummer put his sticks down and play the clarinet.

I love seeing one member with a guitar slung around his body, holding his violin in his left hand and playing the trumpet with his right. And that's when he wasn't playing piano or keyboards.

Sigh. That's practically a music fan's wet dream.

Unlike the last time I'd seen the band, there was no Ramones cover, but we got to hear much more of their new album, "Tamer Animals" to beautiful effect.

They closed out their set with "Desert" before bandleader Jesse came back for one solo song and the band rejoined him.

"We loved playing here for you guys," Jesse said. "It feels real, so intimate. It's important for us to experience this."

No doubt he was thinking of their upcoming gig opening for the first leg of Radiohead's tour, where the crowd won't be two feet from their faces.

But I can't complain. I've now seen them in a room with thirty people and again with maybe a hundred and been blown away both times.

No doubt they had the same effect on Radiohead.

As I drove home under a canopy of stars before I hit the bright lights of RVA, I couldn't help but think about what a stellar night it had been, both musically and with the spectacular scenery of the skies on this unseasonably warm night.

But we're all just an end to a simple thing
And it's all you see, it's all you see
We're just tamer animals

I'm with Jesse. It's important to experience these things.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Sunny with No Chance of Pants

It's official: today was the first shorts-wearing day of 2012.

Doing my Grace Street constitutional was like strolling the Maymont Flower and Garden show.

Everywhere, something was in bloom.

Crocuses and snowdrops are supposed to be up by now, but there were daffodils nodding in the breeze, pink hyacinths (worth bending down to smell), magenta oxalis under trees, white mounds of Candytuft, neon pink straw flowers and the little blue blossoms of Periwinkle.

And that's just the ones I recognized. There were tiny purple flowers on something heather-like, too. The Camellia bushes are loaded with pink and red blooms.

A guy sitting on a brick wall told me, "It must be Spring if we're seeing those legs again!"

Another told me, "You look really nice" without ever moving his eyes above my waist.

A older man making an illegal U-turn stopped in the middle of Allen street and called out, "After you, young lady."

Warm weather makes people talk nice to strangers apparently.

VCU students joined me in embracing the warmth; everywhere were tank tops, spaghetti strap tops, flip-flops and, naturally, a couple of shirtless guys.

The door to The Village was propped open. People were eating on the patio at Ipanema.

Welcome, Spring weather, for as long as you last. My shorts will be ready when you are.

Single Malt Education

What I know about scotch couldn't fill a jigger.

Conveniently, I'd been invited to a Balvenie tasting at Balliceaux, providing an opportunity to up my scotch savvy and broaden my horizons.

I'll cut to the chase and say that i am still a tequila person at heart (quality tequila, that is).

The soiree began with one of Elby award winner Sean Repoza's craft cocktails, this one made of Glenfiddich, Hendrick's gin, black pepper-infused pineapple, ginger and lemon.

For a non-mixed drink drinker, I found the concoction delightful with its pepper and pear notes.  That pear, I was told, was the Glenfiddich.

Our charming host, Nicholas, a Scot who works for Balvenie somewhere between selling and marketing, took his time teaching us to nose, taste and rub Scotch on our body parts.

"Feel free not to drink everything that's poured for you," he said shrugging. "As a Scotchman, that breaks my heart though."

My friend Frank, also a Scotchman (although currently residing in London), has echoed that sentiment on many an evening we were out.

"Scotch drinkers are promiscuous," Nicholas explained, referring to their drinking and not sexual habits. "They're the Tiger Woods of the whiskey world."

The Doublewood 2-year had a sweet, vanilla nose with traces of floral, but Nicholas warned us not to go too fast.

"It's like a first date," he cautioned. "Don't go in with the lips."

Forewarned is forearmed. He also told us to save our nose hairs by not going all the way into the glass.

His lecture was extensive, explaining the growing, the fermenting, the blending; it was the sheer length of time that he stressed as key.

"There's nothing to do in northern Scotland but make whiskey and rut like rabbits."

Well that explains having decades with nothing better to do than to make Scotch.

Next came the Single Barrel 15 year old, but the non-Scotch drinkers still hadn't been won over.

Leave it to the 14 Year Old Caribbean Cask which picked up the flavors of the rum that had previously been in them to make fans of nearly everyone in the room, even Sean.

Talk of rum led to talk of the islands and that led to reggae and next thing we knew, Nicholas was singing, "Drammin'. We're drammin'," to great hilarity.

The Portwood 21 Year Old required special treatment; we were told not to smell it.

We were instructed to put our hand over the glass, shake it and get Scotch on our palm.

Next he wanted us to rub our hands together, cup them and inhale.

"That's what our distillery smells like," he said with a grin.

Heavenly. It was, as he said, spectacular.

More precisely, it was refined, like the big brother who went off to boarding school and came back polished.

The finish was long and nutty with a hint of honey.

Because it would be silly to give Americans Scotch and not feed them, we enjoyed all kinds of apps along the way.

Butterfish was layered over a deconstructed egg salad with capers on a chip. Pistachio guacamole crostini had oyster mushrooms atop them.  Pulled pork and slaw came with a side of barley. Vanilla sorbet wore a crown of bacon.

House-cured bacon, that is.

In his wonderful accent, Nicholas told jokes, stories, family lore (Balvenie being one of two non-corporate owned Scotch distilleries) and swore like a, well, Scotchman.

And then the lesson was over and it was on to Ipanema for the Blood Brothers to spin vintage 60s music for a lively crowd.

Because there were two other free shows within a short walk, the crowd changed all night as people came and went from show to show.

The friend and I left Scotland for Italy and some Analissa Primitivo as Jamie and Duane proceeded to play an outstanding mix of pop and soul from the swinging sixties.

Besides the amazing music they pull out, the best thing about these two is how much fun they're always having as they play this stuff.

Second best would probably be seeing Jamie dance, as anyone who ever saw Baby Help Me Forget can attest.

For me, the best thing is finding a seat on the bench and having a terrific view of everything that's going on and everyone who's passing by.

That included musicians, DJs, and restaurant types.

I impressed the hell out of a couple of Scotch drinkers by letting them smell my palm.

They say it's important not to go in with the lips.

Never let it be said that you can't teach an old tequila drinker new tricks.

And now I can just about fill a jigger with my Scotch knowledge.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

What Was I Thinking?

I tend to believe a Frenchman when he talks about food.

So when Friend and I walked into La Parisienne for lunch and the familiar Frenchman behind the counter tells me to get the special, blanquette de veau, because "It's the most French of dishes," I do.

I'm that easy.

The generous-sized bowl of veal chunks in a mushroom and carrot mirepoix over rice was simple, satisfying and way more than I could finish.

Especially because I needed to save room for some of my friend's frites.

We took our time lunching and chatting about the important things in life: restaurant copycats, kind men and how to take a compliment.

She pointed out how helpful it would have been to have gotten a call from her older self to her younger one with advice.

You know, stuff like, "You'll never look hotter! Show it off while you can."

Or, "His band sucks!"

Maybe even, "Quit wasting your time with him and move on!"

If only.

For dessert, I tried one of the dark chocolate-covered vanilla confections in the case while Friend had a mocha coffee drink.

Even if I did drink coffee, which I don't, there'd be no way I could sub out coffee for chocolate.

And I wouldn't have needed my older self to call me with that bulletin when I was a young thing.

Like knowing when to listen to a Frenchman, some facts of life are understood young.

Or, at the very least, younger.

Down Home Listening Room Reunion

It was like the old Brownies song, "Make new friends and keep the old."

After a two-month hiatus, the Listening Room returned tonight in fine form.

Walking in, the Romanian gypsy music chanteuse stamped my hand, the independent woman gave me a hug and the tweeting monster showed off her adorable thrift store skirt.

When I got into the theater to claim my seats, I found the dimpled M.C. on a ladder doing something official.

He hugged from on high.

My favorite J-Ward couple had already established a beachhead in the row behind me.

Life was good.

With everyone's Listening Room behavior a tad rusty after the break, the M.C. got laughs when thanking Apropos Roasters and their coffee "house call" service.

After an hilarious correction, he made that "home delivery."

The L.R. had an encore performance with Philly's Chris Kasper, whom I've seen a few times, including a command performance for just me, here.

Tonight he brought a different sound when he played electric guitar and utilized a pedal board, making for denser sound.

Starting one song, he abruptly stopped, saying, "I'm gonna change chords. Forget what you just heard."

Musical and funny? Irresistible.

Favorite lyric: "Find me when I'm older, My tongue a bit bolder."

During the break, I scored some King cake in honor of Mardi Gras before moving over to say hello to the scientist, who immediately offered me peanut M & Ms.

He has offered me chocolate at any number of shows and yet it was still unexpected. He even apologized for the lesser chocolate (it's usually some exotic dark chocolate).

You have to appreciate a friend who is never without the important things in life.

Moonbees played next and I thought their meditative psychedelia was a stellar direction for a Listening Room show to take.

Bassist Nate explained how he came to be in the band (by asking basically) and Clifton, long a personal favorite since Ilad, cracked wise about ignoring bass players,

Coincidentally, I'd seen both musicians play not long ago when I'd gone out for Romanian gypsy music.

Drummer Brian was poster-worthy and Gabe wooed ears with slide guitar.

The audience couldn't have asked for a better return show after a long two months without.

I'd hoped to get some girltalk in with the two cutest girls at the show, but they ditched me for their beds, so I headed to Secco solo.

There were only two couples there when I arrived, so I wasn't expecting much. Eventually another came in.

The music was set to She and Him on Pandora, although the pastry chef and I noted that it wasn't playing much besides She and Him.

Finally, City and Color came on and the music took off.

Atta girl, Pandora, you can do it.

Midway through my Domaine Brazilier Côteaux du Vendomois Rose, I overheard the latest arrivals mention "August: Osage County," which I'd just seen.

Now that I'm older and my tongue a bit bolder, I jumped right into that conversation. They'd seen it in NYC in 2008 and wanted to see it again here.

But of course. Turns out he's an actor in "The Lion King."

A hyena at that.

He and his mate had been at Secco last night drinking flights and had come back particularly for the Vina Sastre Flavus Blanco, a minerally white.

"Want to try some jaen?" the bartender asked when my rose was gone, offering up the Flavus and a grape I'd never even heard of.

And why not now that I had  this charming couple to talk to?

Since they're in town for the run of the play, they were eager for ideas on what to do and where to go.

As it happens, that's a subject with which I have some familiarity.

I recommended restaurants, venues, even events (Blood Brothers dj-ing 60s music, hello?) and they enthusiastically made notes on his phone for future reference.

We talked about his brother the playwright; we discussed the Elvis photograph he had seen in the back hallway of the Landmark.

I couldn't have asked for better company.

"You're a resource!" I was told after over sharing my opinion on the Jefferson, 3rd Street Diner and Amuse.

Yes, that's what they're calling me these days. A resource.

Or someone who can't keep her opinion to herself.

The way I figure, someone's got to help the hyenas who come to Richmond.

I like to think I'm qualified. After all, what are new friends for?

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

My Final Offer

I love an offer I can't refuse.

Like when a worthwhile band slips into town on a Monday night.

That was Mates of State. On the  fifth day of their eastern tour which began last Thursday. At the Canal Club.

With far too few people to do the band justice and just the right amount for an appreciative audience.

It was a good show start to finish, with Canary, Oh, Canary leading the charge.

I find lead singer Michael absolutely charismatic and no matter how often I hear them build a song's intesnity or lock into a groove, I am spellbound.

They encored with "Over the Underground,"  a middle finger to that most holy of hipster idols, Lou Reed.

The crowd for them was decent but not what it should have been. Come on, guys, what else is going on at 8:00 on a Monday/holiday?

Sean Bones followed with his guitar, his beats, his keyboard, and his hat with a chin strap.

"I used to have a band," he explained. "But we couldn't figure out a name for them, Sean Bones and they said, 'Screw you. Go out on your own."

And here he was.

His jangly guitar over beats was as sunny as a day at the beach.

Midway through his set, he noticed some newcomers and said, "I'm Sean Bones Cougar Mellencamp if you just arrived. I have a gift shop over there and if you have any private questions, I'll be over there."

While he played his exuberant set, a girl sat against a column near me playing online Scrabble and never once looking up at Sean Bones.

Tragic, really.

By the time Mates of Sate began their set, the crowd had grown considerably, although a musician friend and I discussed how many more people were at the National show when they played there.

The band's loss, no doubt, but tonight's fans' gain.

Mates of State grab me with their fast tempos, high energy and unexpected song structures.

They hit the ground running, sliding in "My Final Offer" early and saving "Palomino" for last.

No MoS song ever goes the way you expect the first time you hear it.

Which is a good thing for some and not so much for others. Me, I just think it's poppy yet different enough.

You know, I don't always need my hooks handed to me on a silver platter.

But my shows? I'll take them any way I can get them.

And on a Monday night after black bean nachos at 821, I'll take what's offered with great delight.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Of Better Boots and Proper Puddings

Snow be damned, we were going to go out.

The plan was to go to the Firehouse for a grade B movie and some comic commentary, a la Mystery Science Theater.

Looking out the window over the white-covered rooftops of Jackson Ward, it was tempting to just stay in.

"Let's go," I was directed. "It'll be an adventure."

True that and the worst that could happen would be that the event had been cancelled and we'd still have had a snowy walk.

Only one problem. Leaving the Ward at that point in the snowfall meant the roads were kind of a mess. We drove one block and canned that idea.

With reinforcements of an extra layer of wool and gloves, we set out for the Firehouse. There were a surprisingly large number of cars on the road for 8:30 on a Sunday night.

Pre-holiday snowy bar seekers perhaps?

The snow was more of a sleet at this point, but we made it to our destination only to find the cancellation sign on the door that I'd anticipated all along.

Time for Plan B: dessert and wine at Ipanema.

We arrived with my feet soaking wet and cold (wrong boot choice and a bad call on my part) to a cozy, warm and welcoming room.

The bartender looked glad for more company. We got a bottle of Analisa Primitivo and considered the sweets.

A girl walked in with a skirt and tights on. As she and her date stood there looking at the chalkboard, I commented, "What kind of person wears a skirt and tights out on a night like this?"

She turned around, saw my dress and tights and laughed. "Thanks for the validation!" she said pointing at me as her date rolled his eyes.

For dessert, I got blueberry pie a la mode and my partner-in-crime got the almond apricot cake. We both thought we'd made the best choice.

There just isn't a better late night dessert bar than Ips.

As we sat there savoring our puddings (as my Scottish friend would say), one of the servers walked up and started looking for music.

"All I have is stupid world music on my iPod," he grumbled.

We weren't sure if that meant that his iPod was full of world music of the stupid variety or if perhaps he had been in a different kind of mood (say, pop or folk or metal) and was realizing that all he had was world music available.

In any case, his music began with post-rock and moved forward most agreeably from there.

There weren't a lot of people in Ipanema, but little clutches of them kept arriving as we lingered over our Primitivo, enjoying the warmth.

I saw several friends, one of whom claimed she wished she were at home in her jammies.

By the time we left there, the sleet had returned to snow and we had a lovely stroll home with much more hushed streets.

Once we got back to the Ward, we began hearing the distinctive sounds of fireworks popping and whistling a few blocks away.

Doesn't every neighborhood celebrate a fine snow with pyrotechnics?

And while some people might have been longing for the their pajamas by that point, we decided to go listen to some '90s mixes made by a young man I once knew.

Because, after music from a cave, young man music is my very favorite kind. Such passion! Such energy! Such hopefulness!

Even more so when I knew the young man who had put it together.

Such a perfect soundtrack to sit in front of the windows and admire the incredibly bright midnight light that comes with a good nighttime snow.

Snow be damned, it was nice to be in after all.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Southern Colony Uprising

I'm on a theater roll this weekend.

On the final day of Theater VCU's production of "The Elephant Man" and with snowflakes continuing to fall, we made our way to the Singleton Center.

Since I'd never seen the movie or play before, I had only a reader's knowledge of the story of John Merrick and his grotesque physical condition.

Set in the late 19th century, the story of how a doctor takes in Merrick to give him some semblance of a normal life and home was all about the irony of a man who couldn't be helped and the rest of the world who choose to do things that cause them suffering and unhappiness they could avoid.

The cast, particulalry Austin Seay as Merrick and Matthew Johnson as the doctor, made it easy to forget that it wasn't a troupe of professionals.

A sign in the lobby had warned us of nudity, which came in the form of the Mrs. Kendall character, an actress the doctor brings in to provide Merrick with a conversational partner.

He has chosen her for her ability to disguise her revulsion at his looks, but she ends up being a trusted and true friend to the man who has never seen a woman naked.

"Real charm is always planned," she tells the doctor before meeting Merrick the first time and after a discussion of how it's not just actresses, but all women, who learn to feel one thing and say another.

Merrick hopes for a mistress because, despite his bone deformities, certain parts work just fine since no bones are involved there.

Genitals are referred to as a "southern colony in need of protection and governance."

All I'm saying is, thank god I wasn't alive in Victorian times.

The kind of repression is part of the big speech the doctor gives near the end, lamenting the "grotesque ailments" he sees due to women wearing corsets.

The diseases he treats because people eat and drink to excess.

The way the more normal Merrick's life seems, the worse his condition gets.

The way people inevitably hasten their own deaths.

In other words, the frustrations of life, whether in the 19th or 21st century.

And completely believable out of the mouths of VCU students' mouths.

Richmond theater, just keep on rolling. I'm right behind you.

What Lack of Love Does

Somehow I must have seemed like a good sipping partner.

Wine date #1: Cafe Caturra with a glass of Santa Julia Torrontes, a friend and her Baltimore beau and a roaring fire despite the open door and 50-degree temperature outside.

Suggested soundtrack: Animal Collective ("Walking around in our summertime clothes, nowhere to go while our bodies glow").

Wine date #2: The Belvidere at Broad with a glass of Prosecco, hordes of people headed to see "The Lion King" and a DJ telling me about his glorious walk in today's sunshine.

Suggested soundtrack: The XX ("Wanna find myself by the sea, in another's company").

Wine date #3: Ipanema with a glass of Analissa Primitivo, a friend in the cutest earrings and a discussion of being an independent woman when given no other choice.

Suggested soundtrack: The Helio Sequence ("Lately, I don't think of you at all, or wonder what you're up to or how you're getting on").

The evening concludes at Strange Matter for music and a light show.

The crowd is good-sized but not packed, probably because there are several other good shows going on tonight.

First up is Airstrip out of North Carolina and when I ask a musician friend what they sound like, he responds, "You know that North Carolina indie band sound? Yea, that's what they sound like."

Damn if he wasn't right on. The Chapel Hill foursome's music covered the 80s and the 90s despite issues with broken guitar strings and being out of tune.

During the break, Matt of Snowy Owls asked me to help him carry shots to the stage and the imbibing of those shots began their set.

They covered Superdrag (a nod to Matt's Knoxville roots) and fuzzed out hard while continuing to win the crowd away from their drinking and talking.

The Cinnamon Band played last and they had a bunch of drunken die hard fans in the room singing along to almost every song.

They covered Nick Lowe's "What Lack of Love Has Done" as well as doing both the A and B sides of their upcoming single.

"Easy does it doesn't cut it when you want someone."

Hey, they said it, not me.

After their set, I chatted with friends, one of whom inquired what I thought of the Cinnamon Band.

"Her answer has nudity in it," my girlfriend said to much laughter.

Because I first saw the Cinnamon Band unplugged, I still get a kick out of hearing them full-on electric and I said so.

I did not so much as mention naked anything.

There was some discussion of which instrument can win a person's heart; I heard a case for pedal steel guitar and I know someone else who would say sax.

I'd be inclined to go with the vox as the irresistible instrument for me.

Words. It always comes down to words.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

February: Richmond City

When you want to see a Pulitzer Prize-winning play in Jackson Ward, you just walk a couple of blocks up and over.

Or across the street, depending on where you live.

And voila, you find yourself in front of the lovelier-all-the-time Empire Theater, which houses Theater Gym.

Where, it just so happens, Cadence Theater Company is doing the Tony Award-winning "August:  Osage County,"

An usher shows us to our seats, me on one side of the aisle and my companion on the other side.

I sit down next to a man who is alone. He looks at me, looks across the aisle at my partner-in-crime and says to him, "Get over here! What's wrong with you?"

He does, they switch seats and a play about the mother of all dysfunctional families unfolds.

Literary references feed this reader's soul; the play begins with a discussion of T.S. Elliott.and later a character tells someone, "Don't get all Carson McCullers on me."

Dialog about shades of a word's meaning (ironic versus incongruous) stokes the fires of the language-obsessed.

I am both.

It soon becomes clear why this play got noticed immediately. The dialog is fast and true and there are vices of every kind on display.

"There's something to be said for alcohol," a sister says. "But not much."

It's a dark comedy with bitterness throughout ("Marriage is a cruel covenant") that takes place in Oklahoma, which is also considered a state of mind ("I got the Plains").

When the three sisters sit around getting drunk, they try to figure out why everyone makes such a big deal about their parents' generation.

"Greatest generation, my ass," the oldest says. "Just because they were poor and hated Nazis?"

As if having a top-notch piece of new theater to show Richmond wasn't enough, the up and coming Cadence Theater Company assembled an excellent cast, utilizing some of RVA's best actors.

They spit and yell and throw things and generally act like dysfunctional people might act.

Everyone's lives are messed up, falling apart or based on lies and eventually even that is acknowledged as that awful place "in the middle...where everything lives."

Oh, yes, that depressing place. I try to steer clear of it.

During one of the two intermissions during the three-hour play (which never for a moment lagged or felt anywhere near as long as three hours), a woman coming up the aisle nearly joins my companion in his seat.

Picking herself up, she says to him, "I got distracted by her fun tights. Sorry, I almost fell into your lap."

He now sees me as an asset who can deliver women into his seat with him.

The play continues and I can relate when a character says about her mother that she "Doesn't believe in air conditioning. Like it's something you believe in."

Just for the record, I don't believe in it, either.

The third act brings even more drinking, sex and arguing, with the actors inhabiting the characters so completely that you feel like the sister Barbara who mistakenly walks in on a private and painful conversation and can't move to escape hearing it.

When the lights finally came up at the end, the crowd was on its feet for what we'd just seen.

You know, just another night of exquistely exiting theater in J-Ward.

Feel free to stop by if there's no Pulitzer-winning play in your own neighborhood.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Brown Bag Discarded

I sold out Jeff Davis for Chez Foushee with nary a nerdy look back.

Just as I was getting dressed to go hear a brown bag lecture about the inauguration of Jefferson Davis at the Museum of the Confederacy, a friend called to ask, "What are you doing today?"

Chalk it up to my northern birthplace, but I forgot all about spending my lunch hour learning more about the Lost Cause and agreed to be at Chez Foushee twenty minutes later.

If nothing else, it was going to be a far shorter walk to the restaurant than it would have been to the MOC.

And it's not that there wasn't going to be any learning at lunch. Good conversation always leads to learning something or other.

Walking in, I was directed to my lunch buddy's table by one of the staff that knew him well.

We started with a bottle of Perrin et Fils Reserve Cotes du Rhone Blanc, because that's what restaurant people do and that's what he is.

Is there anything as delightful as honeysuckle notes at lunch?

As the ladies who populate Chez Foushee sat down all around us, I tucked into the seared Brussels sprouts salad with bacon, bleu down cheese, walnuts, red onion, fresh mint and  red wine vinegar.

A former boyfriend once told me that my favorite things were all strongly flavored (tequila, stinky cheese) and this salad proved his point in spades.

But it was the delicate mint undertones that really made this salad sing.

The salty bacon, the pungent bleu cheese, the strong-flavored Brussels sprouts were a combination made for those with strong tastes.

I loved it.

As we discussed the restaurant business, bad dates and clueless bartenders, it occurred to me that there was no way Jeff Davis could have been half as much fun.

I mean, I'm a history nerd par excellence, but there's nothing like a lunch that ends with that most old-school of all desserts, the molten chocolate cake with chocolate ganache and a little more wine.

Especially when surrounded by ladies who lunch and a man who likes his wine, liquor and men white.

In that order.

Fasten Your Seatbelts, It's Gonna Be a Bumpy Life

It was like tag team catch-up sessions.

I met up with a friend and when she finished with me, she handed me off to another.

First we have Casa Patronales 2010 Carmenere Reserva with charcuterie, followed by lamb and chocolate mousse.

As a post-Valentine's Day bonus, the mousse arrives with chocolate-covered strawberries the size of a small fist.

And yet the strawberries are surprisingly sweet. Better living through chemicals, no doubt.

As one of my my very favorite long-time friends, I thoroughly enjoy talking with her about men we know, Valentine's Day and enjoying every bit of time we can find.

Over velvety wine and savory food, she talks about wanting me to come work with her doing what I do well; I want to hear about her trip to D.C. and seeing the Annie Leibowitz show.

As the supportive friend who has been listening to my saga in detail for three years now, she is happy to hear of all that has transpired since we last got together.

She brings me a trio of iced sugar cookies, heart-shaped, pink and red and polka-dotted and tasting of butter and sugar while I bring her womanly reading material.

Prosciutto is mistaken for pastrami, but not by either of us.

When she leaves to go home to her beloved, I leave to meet another friend at Bistro Bobette.

I can tell it's the day after Valentine's Day because I find a parking space directly across the cobble-stoned street from the restaurant.

The bar is empty when I arrive but the music is outstanding; Pandora is tuned to Thievery Corporation, making for a compelling variety of music.

The charming bartender pours me blood orange liqueur and welcomes me back after a bit of an absence.

A server unexpectedly drops the calculator in the sink and smilingly blames my tights for the distraction.

By the time my friend finally joins me, I have chosen Chateau d'Orschwihr Cremant d'Alsace for its tiny bubbles and long finish.

As a bonus, I know it would please my Alsacian friend to know I am drinking this wine.

Meanwhile, my tardy girlfriend arrives and we have the bar to ourselves, a rarity at Bobette.

With "Bittersweet Symphony" playing, I order Bob's Dog, the house recipe hot dog with Gruyere, Harissa mustard and a mountain of frites.

She has the air-chilled chicken with quince and Moroccan spices and truffled mac and cheese.

But what she really wants is a bite of my dog and some frites, so I accommodate her.

What are friends for?

The chef comes by for his Continental kiss and shares that a customer called him over to announce that he didn't approve of the Chef's creme brulee, preferring his own recipe.

I'd have suggested to that customer that he start eating creme brulee only at home then.

As we enjoy our meal, my friend tells me about an Iranian woman she met last night in D.C.

The woman explained to her that Americans seek a mid-level life experience, preferring to avoid the highs and lows of the unexpected.

She contrasted that with other cultures who prefer the variety and energy of a life that swings from one extreme to another, providing a range of experiences and less complacency.

I not only get it, I feel a bond with an Iranian woman I have never even met.

Not quite like the girlfriend I discuss all the juicy details with, but close.

Fact is, it's all about the ride.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Under the Milky Way Tonight

Today was Galileo's birthday and somehow that must be worth noting.

Surely the Italian who discovered the phases of Venus (love struck, lovesick, smitten) and the Galilean moons deserves some sort of acknowledgment, even if he was doubted in his own time.

I decided to go with music. The way I see it, how better to celebrate science than with the arts?

Because celebrating a scientist with science sounds duller than watching paint dry, at least to me.

Besides, I was going anyhow. I even had a willing accomplice for the show, a guy with nothing better to do.

Balliceaux was hosting a double bill of Allison Self and Ariel Rubin, making for two Venuses with ukuleles.

Allison, who needs no introduction (or mic), did one of her usual strong sets, choosing music by Loretta Lynn
("Don't Come Home A-Drinking"), the Carter Family and a song about gin by Bessie Smith, as well as her own original material.

She alternated her two ukuleles, promising the small but enthusiastic crowd that Ariel would also have two ukes.

When she mentioned having CDs for sale, she allowed that they were also available "If you want to do something for me."

Pause. "Come on guys," she laughed. "Like sweep my floor."

Oh, that.

Allison was opening for Boston's Ariel Rubin who brought with her a stellar guitarist (and plenty of effects) to augment her folk pop sound.

She, too, had two ukuleles, baritone and tenor, both amplified, but it was her voice that grabbed the room and held fast.

A song about crazy eyes was hauntingly beautiful, leaving listeners stunned when it finished.

"Mama, I'm Leaving" told the story, she said, of packing up and moving from western Canada to Boston. Mom was less than enthused about the move, it seemed.

Favorite lyric: "You wanna do right, but not right now."

She continued with one beautifully sung song after another before thanking the crowd and thanking Allison for making it possible.

And we fans were turned out into the night to finish up our evening under Galileo's moons.

Forget science, I'm convinced I not only want to do it right, I also want to do it right now. Maybe even sweep the floor, too.

Doubters, take note.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

A Fine Romance

According to Pandora, I'm obsessed with minor key tonality. And I'm okay with that.

What I didn't realize until I went to VCU's Cabell Library today to see the exhibit, "A Fine Romance: Jewish Songwriters, American Songs" was that minor key melodies are considered unmistakably Jewish.

The traveling exhibit was about the contributions of Jewish songwriters to what became known as the Great American Songbook.

A monument to the idea of American romance, so to speak.

Guys like Harold Arlen ("the Negro-est white man" Ethel Waters said she ever met), Jerome Kern (who wrote that ultimate romantic song "The Way You Look Tonight"), Irving Berlin (derided by some for having the audacity as a Jew to write "God Bless America") and George Gershwin ("The Man I Love," 'nuff said).

The show was an interesting assemblage of pictures, sheet music, and lots of information about the era 1910-65 when songs like that were being written non-stop.

And for a lyric lover like me, learning that a hallmark of this music was the the cleverness and wit of the words only made it better.

I don't want you
But I'd hate to lose you

But it was something more; the songs fused ardor and resignation into sublime ambivalence.

I  wandered around and finally found the somebody who
Could make me be true and could make me be blue
And even be glad just to be sad, thinking of you.

Melody genius and the perfect words. Now that's a fine romance.

Afterwards, my music-loving companion and I enjoyed a sunny walk over to Garnett's for happy hour and their fabulous $3 snack plates.

White bean hummus with avocado on crostini, apple slices with cheddar baked in phyllo dough and mayhaw jelly and bleu cheese on crostini made for the perfect post-romance snack.

The case was argued that even a snack requires a dessert course and since we'd finished the savory, it was time for the perfect accompaniment.

Like the friends who stopped in briefly for a piece, we indulged in the double chocolate cake.

We've just been introduced
I do not know you well
But when the music started
Something drew me to your side

So many men and girls 
Are in each other's arms
It made me think we might be
Similarly occupied

Only a great American songwriter could make the polka so romantic. A Jewish songwriter, of course.

Wearing a Pink Heart on My Sleeve

"I didn't think you'd be here, Karen. I thought you'd be out on a hot date tonight."

So said the organizer of the WRIR Black Valentine's Day party at Cous Cous when I walked in last night.

He then stuck a small pink heart on my blazer. You know, for the occasion.

When I inquired what had made him think that, he laughed, saying, "You're a  woman-about-town, so I figured you'd have other plans."

Fact is, I'd already had a hot date by that point (nearly 11:00), so I was ready for some music about love gone bad.

I heard a conversation where a girl told friends that she'd come to the show because, "How many times is it going to be Valentine's Day in my life?"

Um, roughly speaking, annually?

There was a lot of holiday-appropriate garb: a blonde's pretty red lace top, fabulous red pumps on one musician's girlfriend, a red dress at the bar and my own hot pink skirt.

Like any Cous Cous show, it didn't start anywhere close to on time, but who among us had somewhere to be on Valentine's night?

The show of covers of love gone bad began with a favorite of mine, flamenco guitarist Frankzig, both on acoustic and electric guitar, and his drummer.

"The Hunter" was an intense exploration of sexual-sounding themes tailor-made for the occasion.

Along the way, I enjoyed a conversation with a DJ about the difficulty of finding someone who shares your music passion.

We agreed that someone who tells us they only go to three or four live shows a year is a red flag.

Don't need it weekly? He and I call that a deal breaker.

But, as he also pointed out, he's been attracted to girls who shared his music passion and yet they had no other compatibilities.

Also unacceptable. We're going for the whole package here.

Next up was Push Button Reaction, as straight forward a rock band as anyone needs to hear.

I couldn't decide if they hearkened back to classic 70s or just that late 90s period when that kind of rock reared its mainstream head again.

To their credit, they did a Zombies cover, "She's Not There."

I, however, was.

As they wound down, I made a comment to the drummer of the next band, Boney Loner, about having to follow such rock and he assured me they'd have no problem.

"We're sloppy, but we're entertaining," he humorously acknowledged. And they were.

While they got set up, I was introduced by my DJ friend to a local musician who had toured Europe.

He and the DJ had run into each other at a show in Germany years ago. He'd also used to do a show on WRIR called "Screams from the Gutter," a punk show.

Just another reminder that in RVA, you're never more than three degrees of separation from anyone.

As Boney Loner took the stage, he looked over at them and leaned down to tell me, "They keep getting younger, don't they?"

He'd just told me he was 32.

Boney Loner and the Sacred Teachers were all about Stooges covers, making it hilarious when an audience member called out for them to do some Iggy Pop.

Pay attention, people. It's music, not rocket science.

The lead singer was a whirling dervish of intensity, climbing on the wooded half wall that separates the bar area and diving off into the arms of the crowd.

That is, when he wasn't climbing on chairs looming over the crowd and spitting lyrics into his microphone.

And then there were the drummer's fingers, bloody by the end. There's some holiday red for you.

A few songs into their set, I heard "hello" and my Valentine's date had reappeared for the remainder of the show.

I've heard that's how Valentine's Day dates end up with a happily ever after ending.

At least for the evening anyway.

After all, who knows how many more Valentine's Days we have?

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

I Have News for You

Valentines' Day eve is not your typical restaurant night.

A brief stop at Bistro 27 began with an empty bar and me, at least until a girl in pale green leather gloves took the corner stool.

I couldn't imagine getting such a thing in Richmond and she admitted she'd spied them in NYC and had to have them.

They were the color of an after dinner mint so I understood completely.

My stay progressed through  some superb Gabrielle Rausse Nebbiolo Reserve, beef tips over Gorgonzola polenta and ended with me coming out of the men's room to find another restaurant owner inquiring, "Are you cheating on me?"

I ceded the bathroom but not my restaurant virtue.

And as I left, people were still calling the restaurant hoping to get a 7:00 reservation for Valentine's Day.

Seriously, people?

Next stop was Acacia because they'd moved half-priced wine night to VD eve, probably figuring that Valentine's Day was already going to be a good Tuesday.

My partner in crime and I scored end stools with a view and a bottle of Casamatta Rosso Sagiovese, fragrant and soft and oh-so Italian.

You know the type.

The music was different tonight, less clubby and more mainstream; I wondered if it was intentional for the occasion.

The crowd was definitely of the night-before variety. One girl had on a red satin dress while her date sported a red shirt and black tie.

They were very festive.

We ate our way through fried oysters and Southern cole slaw and house-smoked salmon with herb creme fraiche and red onion caper oil.

If you're going to have Richmond's chef of the year cooking for you, you can't go wrong with fruits of the sea given his passion for them.

Not surprisingly, I ran into several people who'd been at the Elbys last night and the consensus was that next year's event will be too big for the Historical Society.

We finished with almond and caramel milk chocolate sponge cake with coffee ice cream, rum caramel, caramel milk chocolate ganache and coffee cream.

And that dessert, I would guess, is an example of why Josh Gaulin won last night for best pastry chef. And  how we justified eating it.

You see, we're just going behind the judges to fact-check. If there was also laughter to the point of soreness, it came after the research.

We certainly weren't out celebrating the night before Valentine's Day.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

How Soon is Now?

If the Virginia Historical Society had spontaneously combusted tonight, half the restaurants in Richmond would have had to close and a lot of great tights would have gone up in a puff of smoke.

Fortunately that wasn't the case.

The occasion was the inaugural Elbys, Richmond's restaurant awards named for Master Chef Paul Elbling.

Shortly after arriving, I came face to face with the great man himself when he walked up to me and said, "You have such beautiful stockings. And what's in them."

Leave it to a Frenchman to compliment a random stranger right off the bat.

Soon the hordes of restaurant people and the merely curious were herded into the auditorium where I had heard many a Banner Lecture.

It was there that Richmond Magazine proceeded to announce the restaurant awards while alternately sharing food history about the eight Virginia Presidents.

Several people told me that they could have lived without the food trivia, but I loved it.

Witness: George Washington was obsessed with composting (yes, dung piles at Mount Vernon). Virginia ladies valued themselves based on their bacon.

And then just as the tension was becoming claustrophobic, the honored were called onstage.

Some awards were hardly surprises. Lemaire won for fine dining.

Dale Reitzer won Chef of the Year, getting laughs with his acknowledgement of his staff that, "I'm not shit without them."

Balliceaux won for their drink program, with mixologist Sean Rapoza giving a nod to Bobby Kruger for having blazed the trail.

When Black Sheep won Best Neighborhood restaurant, owner Amy spoke eloquently about their commitment to Carver and getting people to come to "that" neighborhood.

Host Juan Conde followed her remarks by saying, "Just keep serving those chicken livers and I'll keep coming back."

When Secco won for Best Wine Program, Chef Tim Bereika  in Chucks Taylors and owner Julia (the tomboy) in a dress took the stage.

After thanking her suppliers, she said, "And thanks to Richmond for getting it."

You're welcome, oh ginger one.

EAT Restaurant Partners (Blue Goat, Osaka et al) won for Restaurant Visionaries, with Ron Melford saying, "Thanks to everyone who didn't go to a chain restaurant last year."

Call me proud of my membership in that group.

Best Pastry Chef went to Josh Gaulin of Acacia, beating out one of my favorite chefs, Carly Herring, who I was happy to hear has now landed at C'est le Vin.

Another of my favorites got the nod when Caleb Shriver at Aziza's won Rising Culinary Star for across the board perfection as well as having "the work ethic of a beast."

I'd just been sucking on his bones Friday night. Beef marrow, that is.

The Roosevelt took Best New Restaurant to much applause and gratitude from Chef Lee Gregory who sounded genuinely surprised at the honor.

At the after-party, Marty of Steady Sounds spun the excellent mix of music which got a surprisingly few restaurant types to dance.

Richmond magazine's editor said she was hoping to see people dancing on the tables and, frankly, that would have been awesome.

One of Acacia's stellar bar staff suggested he and I get things going but once he told me he used to teach swing dancing, I thought better of it.

Fortunately, other Acacia types got the dancing started.

Because there were only two bars, lines were long but waiting became a party with people visiting one another in line in the interim.

Food tables were everywhere and they featured the food preferences of the Virginia-born Presidents.

While loading up on spoon bread and fried chicken, the server said, "I love your tights. I noticed them when you came in two hours ago."

Wow. You're going to hand me food and say nice things at the same time? Definitely my kind of party.

And I was far from the only pair of cute tights. Women I have never seen wear tights pulled them out for this shindig. High heels abounded.

One restaurant owner, when complimented on her tights, admitted that she'd found them in her closet, along with a beautiful evening purse.

I only wish my closet held such a treasure trove of goodies.

After several conversations, a favorite sous chef belatedly introduced me to his girlfriend, apologizing for forgetting previously.

"I'm trying to be better," he said with a grin. "I'm teachable."

His lovely girlfriend agreed that teachable men were the very best kind.

Dollop's baker had on one of the most stylish and colorful dresses of the evening and when I complimented her on it, she admitted that it was really a bathing suit cover-up.

You can't buy that kind of fashion sense.

I finished up at the Broadbent table for some 1996 Madeira Colheita, smooth and nutty on the finish.

Our little group fell into a discussion of what we were doing in 1996.

Let's see. Not drinking Madeira and not having half as much fun as now.

Do they give awards for finally getting it right?

Raging Through This Life

I drove to Fredericksburg to see a violent snowstorm whip through downtown.

That and laugh long and hard with two of my sisters.

The drive up 301 was bone dry and without incident (unlike the drive home). I walked into Kybecca Wine bar at 2:57 with the staff teasing me that they didn't open until 3:00.

At 3:02, the snow shower began without warning. There was no gradual buildup, no transition from light flakes to snow downpour.

All at once snow was coming down so hard you couldn't see across the street.  Great gusts of wind blew snow horizontally down Charles and William Streets.

It was so weird, so sudden and unexpected, that both staff and customers rushed outside to take pictures of each other in the blizzard.

Well, not the digital Amish among us.

I stayed put and watched as the dramatic drop in temperature caused all the windows to fog up with our hot breath.

Forty five minutes later, it was all gone leaving everyone to return to their wine drinking in earnest.

By then we'd gotten a bottle  of Bebe Prosecco Rose and settled in for the long haul.

Our get-together's purpose was twofold; we came to celebrate one of my favorite sister's recent birthday and to do some pre-gaming before my Dad's birthday dinner.

We had a lot to talk about and we only had four hours to do it in before being expected at the pre-dinner cocktail hour.

The conversation went something like this: near death experience, a weekly affair with an old girlfriend, sibling rivalry, drunken train trips, determining an anniversary's official date, advice I gave my sister when she started sleeping with her now-husband (who knew I used to advise on such?) and congratulations.

The food went something like this: Thai shrimp skewers, pistachio pesto gnocchi, bison and bleu cheese sliders, pesto pizza and Chincoteague oysters.

I shared some recent family stories I'd heard from various fam members, all to the amazement of my listeners.

Both are convinced I should be writing all this stuff down since no one else remembers it.

Even though we were soon off to eat again, two of us splurged on dessert, sharing the chocolate pot de creme and the Nutella and blackberries on grilled pound cake.

We delayed leaving for the inn and the festivities because a) the sister organizing everything is a royal pain and b) we were caught up in the post-5:00 blue sky and late afternoon light.

Wasn't it just a hot minute ago that it was black as night at 5:00? It's so wonderful to be on the other side of the Winter Solstice.

But all good things must come to an end and after many laugh attacks, too many questions about the state of my life and the unique pleasures of being with two sisters with whom I don't even need to finish my sentences, we decided to move to the inn.

Happy hour was a  blur of hugs and greetings, followed by a move to the private dining room for dinner.

Our server Ryan was a Mary Washington student who couldn't have known what he was in for when he took tonight's shift.

Asking if any of us had any questions, my sarcastic aunt queried, "What's the meaning of life?"

Ryan blushed and said he was a little young to know yet, but that he was working on it.

The hand-cut French pork chops were the star of the evening but my seafood-loving family did acknowledge the much better than average crab cakes (primarily backfin) and the generous serving of pan-seared rockfish.

While the array of entrees had been impressive, the dessert choices were less so: apple pie, pecan pie and creme brulee.

I thought I'd made it clear to the restaurant world that not having a chocolate option is unacceptable.

All I can say is it was a good thing I'd scored dessert earlier or I might have been disappointed.

It was a birthday so there were shared memories, old jokes and much rolling of eyes at family-familiar quips.

A joke about trying to change one's mate resulted in my Dad responding with, "You haven't been listening, Grasshopper."

Let's just say that it wasn't directed at me.

When the party ended, I was happy to hit the road and return home, albeit a much colder place since the front moved through on the back of the whirlwind blizzard.

Cruising back on Route 301, I got almost into downtown Bowling Green (an oxymoron if ever there was one) when I saw flashing lights behind me and pulled over.

The female officer asked if I was in a hurry and then noted the case of alcohol and Chinese pinball machine in my back seat.

I had good explanations for both.

She asked for my license and registration before saying, "Have you been drinking?"

One drink since 7:00, I told her honestly and it was going on 11:00 at that point.

She went back to her car to run me through her computer while I cranked Bloc Party's "Sunday" and wished I could teleport home.

Returning with my documents, she sent me on my way telling me to drive safely.

I always do, ma'am. I have many vices, but speeding isn't one of them.

Besides, I wouldn't want to rush past another rogue snowstorm along the way.

When we need to rage through this life
There might be ones who are smarter than you
That have the right answers, that wear better shoes
Forget about those melting ice caps
We're doing the best with what we've got

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Keeping Up is the Easy Part

The Friday evening exploration began on 17th Street and moved eastward with only one quick detour to the other side of the street.

New, old, old, new, old, new.

At C'est le Vin, there were a bevy of wines to be sampled and a familiar yet new consulting chef, Jannequin Bennett, debuting their new menu.

Chilled beet gazpacho with goat cheese mousse and celery made a non-beet eater swoon.Catalan chicken bruschetta, salt cod salad and pork belly over white beans hinted at what new taste delights await the wine drinker.

A third generation chocolatier, Kelly (as in Chocolates By) taught by her grandmother, a former chocolatier for Wanamaker's in Philly, seduced us with exquisite pieces of Petit Syrah in dark chocolate.

There were sixteen wines to be savored and after working our way through, we chose the Spanish bubbles of Eudaid Massana Noya "Familia" Brut Cava and the 2009 Pied de Perdrix (named for the 1,000-year old Partridge Foot vine, a distant cousin of Malbec) to leave with us.

Yum, yum.

A detour across the street took us to Main Street Station so the transplant could see its renovated magnificence.

The large-format photographs of the building flooded by Hurricane Camille or with the tables set in the dining cars couldn't compare to one of WWII soldiers kissing their girls goodbye, they inside the train and the girls outside.

Kisses were exchanged through the train windows and, for many girls, their feet left the ground, dangling above the edge of the track.

It was kissing as levitation method.

Leaving the train station, we set out up the hill to Globehopper for gypsy music by the Richmanian Ramblers, music both profound and hilarious.

The lovely Antonia Vassar and Nate Matthews on upright bass had an assemblage of talented musicians (including Clifton of Ilad and Moonbees and Jessica of the Jungle Beat) and a clarinetist who wrapped his woodwind around all those strings and hauntingly brought forth the gypsy spirit to the Bottom.

"Great is wine and tasteful as well
When you drink it with handsome people
But if you drink it with ugly people
The wine gets stuck in your throat."

Conversations with the accordion player on the topics of beauty, kindness and curating finished out the evening there

Continuing our eastward assault, we joined the throngs at Eric Schindler Gallery for "A Land of Strangers," Mary Chiaramonte's new show of acrylic works on birch panels,

The artist, herself a twin, used her paint to convey a sense of mystery, of other worldliness. It is a show of the surreal and the very real

"High Tide" showed a dark-haired girl floating in the water her hair fanning out around her, clutching a fish.

My favorite, "The Nameless" was entirely surreal: a woman in a dress stands in a field of blues and greens, her blond hair and the house on fire she holds providing a vibrant yellow cast against the cooler colors.

Discussing "The Sleepwalking," an image of a muscular-armed girl with a long torso and short, stocky legs in a bathroom, a French friend observed, "We call that a low rider."

Do we? Because I don't.

Schindler Gallery is busy. I run into the orchid guy, the cheese whiz, the woman who has poured me absinthe, the collector of old telephones.

Keeping with the neighborhood theme, and because we have been non-stop busy since the tapas at C'est le Vin, we end up at Aziza's on Main.

The bar is empty, waiting for our arrival, and glasses of Paololeo Promitivo di Manduria deliver a peppery nose and flavors of dark plum.

A favorite waitress shows off her "predator" look, sporting a leopard print top, a crouching tiger brooch on her shoulder and necklaces of various snarling beasts.

It's Friday night, so things should be a bit wild.

My time is spent sucking the marrow out of brick oven roasted bones (as I tend to do with my evenings, I am told) with grilled bread and pickled turnips.

My dining partner goes with seared fluke with wild mushrooms, gnocchi and basil lemon butter. The bites he shares with me are moist and buttery with an irresistibly crispy edge.

Because it is his first time at Aziza's, I stealthily order the cream puff so that he can experience it

He is properly bowled over, first by its size and then by its classic dark chocolate, cream and pastry one-two-three punch.

Sometimes you have let the pro do the ordering for you.

At our final stop, the wine was a 2002 Ravenswood Vintner's Blend Merlot, everything an insipid Merlot is not: full, soft and delectable.

Music comes in the form of "September" with a bossa nova beat. It's Ultra Funk time.

And the conversation? I say it's not a real question if you're just giving someone a hard time.

"World, world, sister world
World, world, sister world
When will I have enough of you?

When I give up bread for Lent
And the glass will give up on me
Maybe then I'll have enough of you."

Romanian gypsy music, truly profound and hilarious.

Just the way I want to live my life.

Friday, February 10, 2012

The Cosmic Boomerang of Life

Being on time is a relative thing.

So when I arrived at Chop Suey for the poetry reading at 5:30, it wasn't a huge surprise that it had been moved to 6ish.

Sonya Renee Taylor was running a bit behind, The surprise was that she was even willing to do a reading at Chop Suey before her scheduled reading at University of Richmond tonight.

Walking into the room fifty minutes after the reading was supposed to start, she charmed us all by saying, "You guys are sexy and that makes my day better."

There were a few hard bodies in the room, it should be noted.

Explaining that she was a performance poet, she clarified the difference between the work on stage and the work on the page.

We were lucky enough to hear both.

The best part of "Creation Story" was the line, "Women should be wanted."

Can I get an amen?

"Communion of Glass" was every bit as compelling, including, as it did, the line, "Wouldn't want to ruin this pretty dress. It's the only thing holding me together."

The power of a good dress can not be overstated.

Taylor's voice rose in intensity and volume as she read or recited her poetry (as with "The Truth," a poem she delivered extemporaneously), imbuing her reading with an appealing immediacy.

The devoted crowd took in her poetry while knowing that she had a limited time to share with us because of her UR reading.

Still, an evening that begins with poetry being read is worthwhile no matter how long the verse lasts.

From there I made a belated entrance to meet a friend for dinner, hoping she'd forgive my tardiness.

The bartender was a familiar face who admitted to his number being 90, a preference for leggy blonds and a brief career on reality TV.

You know, just another bartender in River City.

Friend and I focused on more significant things like the importance of romance in a relationship, how we didn't fully appreciate our younger selves and how eager we are for good company now.

We didn't have enough time to fully explore those topics, so we moved the party to Balliceaux where a lively crowd was gathering for Canary, Oh, Canary.

I saw all kinds of familiar faces there, musicians mostly, but also including two bartenders who went out of their way to welcome us (by giving us a hard time) and keep us at the front bar.

It was only because I know I'll be hearing their reverb-drenched dreamgaze next week that I could relax and just chat up my friend about life, love and white go-go boots.

Yes, I am proud to say that I have a friend who owns a pair of white go-go boots (bought in Bermuda for $5) which, we agreed, will be the perfect footwear for some of our salons once we open our doors to the public.

I'd be the first to admit that I have nothing that can compete with white go-go boots.

To paraphrase Ginger Rogers who said she had to do everything backwards and in high heels to keep up with Fred Astaire, I fear I will have to find even cooler tights and better conversational hot buttons to compete with white go-go boots.

Luckily, I have the power of a pretty dress holding me together.

I don't know that it's enough to make me wanted as a woman, but it's a start.

I'm planning to work my way up to white go-go boots, metaphorically speaking.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Oh, (Karen) Kay!

Gershwin at noon is irresistible and, let's face it, they can't take that away from me.

Patrick Smith was giving a lecture, "Grasping Gershwin: The Man Behind the Music," complete with musical clips.

So I wound my way through VCU's Cabell Library, only to hear "Hello, Karen" from behind.  It was a favorite poet who'd recognized me by (what else?) my tights.

Once in the lecture room, I saw a friend, singer and accordionist also in attendance.

Goofy for Gershwin, all of us.

Smith talked about Gershwin's musical siblings, talented musicians all, except for brother Arthur who was merely a "musical enthusiast."

Personally, I consider that the highest compliment.

We beard about Gershwin's years on Tin Pan Alley, his mega-success when Jolsen recorded "Swanee" and his foray into symphonic jazz.

It was that battle between high brow and low brow music that Gershwin took as his challenge and mission.

Naturally I was taken with the story of Gershwin's great love, a woman named Kay (coincidentally, also my middle name) whom his mother forbade him to marry (she wasn't Jewish) so he carried on a life-long affair with her.

That love manifested itself in the music he wrote for the musical, "Oh, Kay!"

Now that was an essential piece of Gershwin trivia I definitely needed to know (and my needs have been quite the topic of conversation lately).

The engaging Smith talked about the experimental concert for which Gershwin composed "Rhapsody in Blue" and how he heard "music in the very heart of the noise" of the train he was riding on as he composed it.

Of course the tragedy was how young Gershwin died of a brain tumor, silencing his musical output.

Luckily, he'd already put his philosophy out there.

"Don't die with you music still inside of you. Listen to your intuitive inner voice and find what passion stirs your soul."

Every day, all day. And night.

Clicking My Heels Together

I am clueless in Short Pump.

So when I set out at 5:35 to get to the new Peter Chang's in the Far West End, I anticipate being on time for a 6:00 dinner.

How naive of me.

First there was the stopped traffic waiting to get off on the Short Pump exit.

Then there was the slow merge as we all tried to get off the ramp and on to Broad Street while others did the reverse.

Already behind schedule by then, I was now faced with finding a storefront in a sea of strip malls.

Let's just say I finally found it in the last strip center I intended to look.

Which is a roundabout way of saying that I got there at 6:20.

Another fifteen minutes and I could have been at the Peter Chang's in Charlottesville.

After a minute or two of mingling (well, I was late), we were asked to take seats and the parade of food began.

Dumplings, duck soup, rice cakes, lamb chops, chicken, noodles, eggplant. And so much more.

All Sichuan spicy, all perfectly executed.

All washed down with Jefferson Cab Franc, which made for a fine pairing.

Next to me I had the eighth grade-daughter of a local chef, so we talked about books  ("The Hunger Games"), her musical faves (Queen, the Beatles and Coldplay, in that order) and food (Dad said she was a natural cook).

I advised her to avoid boys who didn't eat everything. We agreed that life without meat was unthinkable.

The vegan restaurant owner to my right begged to differ.

Mrs. Lee (Chang's partner's wife), beautifully resplendent in a black dress and hot pink shawl (and delicate ankle bracelet), did the introductions and translated for her the Chef.

When the meal was finished, I agreed to fetch one friend to meet another and her date at Secco.

He wasn't so much her date as someone she met in the 90s and recently reconnected with (that's apparently what we're calling it these days).

Who knew those things really happened?

During a discussion of being given a hard time by one's date, one member of the party noted, "Sadly, I like it."

And aren't those the best relationships?

All that spicy Chinese food had left some people wanting dessert to accompany the jammy Cantina del Pino Dolcotto d'Alba we ordered.

Pistachio cannoli was a worthy match for the fragrant wine while the others enjoyed the bread pudding with sea salt and caramel.

It was pretty obvious we weren't in Short Pump anymore.

Never let it be said that I don't leave the city to eat. I did just that for Peter Chang's food.

There, I've done my Short Pump for 2012.