Thursday, January 31, 2013

Enlightening and Dismal

It's good to be reminded of alternate mindsets.

I found that out by going to the Anderson Gallery for Brian Ulrich's talk on his current shows, "Coppia" and "Closeout," which I'd already seen once, here.

Walking to the front of the gallery to talk to the room-overflowing crowd, a good percentage of whom were students, he gestured at the mic and asked, "Do I need this?"

Pause. "It would be awesome if it had some reverb on it."

I knew exactly what he meant.

He settled on moving the stand nearer him and perching on a stool to talk about his photographs.

Explaining that after September 11th he lost interest in the kind of autobiographical work he'd been doing, he began explaining the overwhelming sadness that had permeated the country in the weeks after.

He referred to an overall "grieving umbrella" that we all had fallen under then.

As he continued to explain something so obvious, it occurred to me.

Most of the people in the room had been 8,9,10 years old when the attack had happened.


No matter what they recall of the events and the effects, they did not process it as adults and their take on it would almost have to be less fully informed.

Ergo Brian's setting the cultural scene for them.

What I saw as quite obvious had to laid out for them.

While describing shooting the thrift stores for the second part of the project, he said, "I was working in thrift stores while I was an undergraduate. It was an enlightening and dismal experience."

He sheepishly shared how he'd removed things from "dark" malls long closed.

When it came to the end, he concluded by saying, "I feel like that was the longest run-on sentence."

There was big talk, "Discover a commitment to an idea," and reassurances, "I think I'm making dumb, bad pictures and then something clicks."

Hell, that could be considered the kernel of artistic endeavor.

But the reality is his shopping photographs are, as he admits, "Not living room art. People have to get it."

Talking about people redefining what their definition of success is had him instantly mindful of his audience.

"That was definitely not meant to be ironic," he clarified.

Again, what I saw as quite obvious had to be laid out for them.

Wow. I'm not old, I'm just pre-ironic.

I always enjoy hearing questions from students trying to wrap their heads around hearing from an adult who's succeeding artistically.

I left the grasshoppers to the master to head over to Steady Sounds for comedy.

My neighborhood record store was sponsoring #14 (I think) of the Midnight Suggestion upstairs under the world's lowest ceiling.

Waiting for things to get started, I perused the bins, deciding which had the best come-ons on them.

The winner: Imperial Teen's "Feel the Sound" with the Rolling Stone tease, "California new wave trash pop deviants."

If you ask me, Trash Pop Deviants is a much better band name than Imperial Teen anyway.

Gradually people began moving upstairs for a quartet of Austin comedians.

There I saw an acquaintance who'd just discovered he and his wife are having triplets, so I had to ask if he'd seen his life flash before his eyes when he'd heard the news.

"Yea, that first day was a black day," he admitted, mentioning a morning drink before adjusting to the very big news.

No wonder he'd come to laugh.

I met a couple of guys next to me, one of whom's wife told him, "You're in fat's cross hairs."

I'm sure she only told him for his own good, but a couple of us laughed out loud.

Marty, one of Steady's owners came up to turn on the air conditioning, worried that on this unseasonably warm, windy and humid night, that we might need cooling down.

It was a good call.

Our emcee had not had time to come up with any clever puns of introduction for the comedians, but he plucked a few things from the "Times" headlines for some last-minute topical humor.

Then we were on to Shawn who introduced himself as "White Man #2," when he moved to the front of the room to crack wise.

Train travel was described as preferable to flying because if there was a murder, the passengers would solve it.

That could even be called literary humor.

Aging came up when he mentioned he'd looked in the mirror and realized that, at age 33, he wasn't going to be very "desirable" in prison.

"That's sweet," he said of being left alone, "And kind of bitter."


The next guy was Jesse (I think?) and he led with smoking, mentioning how bad bowling allies smelled and how they were better than the patch or gum for quitting motivation.

Honestly, I had no idea there were still places that allowed smoking.

He even included a public service announcement, "Tip your bartenders well!" so he was also teaching us life lessons.

Bill wore a vest, perhaps so would be remembered as the comedian who wore a vest.

He said he used to do Cafe Diem, notable mainly because of the superior graffiti on its bathroom walls.

That degenerated into ghosts and oral pleasures before he brought us back to his breakup.

Is there a more reliable comedy crutch?

But we weren't to fret for him because he'd used the opportunity to go on OKCupid, the salvation of the single and the broken-hearted.

Or so I've heard.

Immediately a woman in the audience challenged him on it and he asked what her issue with it was.

"You gotta have game!" she threw out.

He worked that into his routine which was basically about a girl not liking the kind of sex he wanted.

"Dump her!" the heckler suggested.

But his best line of the night was, "I'm tired of irony."

Aren't we all?

Last up was Joe, who obviously didn't know his crowd when he began by saying, "I'm not a vegetarian. That shit annoys me."

I give Joe credit, though; he taught me about otherkins, those people who see themselves as partially non-human.

Oh, yes, they do. Part kitty cat, maybe.

He got me laughing when he mentioned Spike TV and its tag line, "TV for Men," saying, "I thought all TV stations were."

Now I know they do a show called "Manswers," in which men ask questions and are given testosterone-fueled answers.


Just as funny was his gun bit wherein he likened the NRA's suggestion that the solution to the gun problem is more guns by suggesting that the problem for diabetes is Sweet Tarts.

The headliner had been a funny guy. For that matter, they'd all been funny.

Texas new wave trash comedy deviants, even.

People just have to get it.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Bring on the Night

It was a long time coming.

Ever since I put The XX on my "best of" list in 2009, I had been hoping to see them.

When tickets went on sale, I wasted no time in walking down to the National to get mine, unlike some XX-loving friends I could mention who waited until a couple days ago and then panicked to discover the show was sold out (R.J., I'm looking at you).

For maximum enjoyment, I planned to go to the show with someone who had been introduced to the XX by yours truly.

Our first stop was 821 Cafe for black bean nachos in a mobbed dining room with a server who was clearly in the weeds.

The nachos were more than just sustenance: they were a tradition since we'd shared them together before we'd gone to see Rodrigo y Gabriela at the National a few years back.

He'd forgotten how large the serving was, but I hadn't and we both finished feeling quite replete.

But the chalkboard had one lone dessert, we had a half hour until show time and we were barely a mile away.

The piece of mint chocolate cake was enormous, with a minty green icing that was neither overly sweet nor overly minty.

In fact, my companion noted, "It's like the toothpaste you're allowed to eat."

We wolfed down the cake mainly because a large contingent of motorcyclists had come in and appropriated three tables and now people were waiting for our chairs.

Arriving at The National, we found a surprisingly big crowd already in place just before 8:00.

There were several things I could say about the crowd - they were punctual, they were probably devoted fans, they were infrequent concert-goers- but the main thing I could observe was that they were young.

Young as in underage, a fact I gleaned from the abundance of right hands marked with a big, black X to signify, "Don't sell this person a drink."

It reminded me of a conversation I'd had last week at the Yo la Tengo show with a friend who works at the National.

He'd chided me for not being in for so long, but I reminded him that The National isn't booking much of my kind of music lately.

"You know why?" he asked. "Indie crowds don't drink. Blues and rock bands, they drink."

Based on what I saw tonight, indie crowds don't drink because legally they aren't allowed to.

It doesn't bode well for me spending more time at The National, sadly.

Up first was Austra and, as my companion noted, "They've got no problem referencing the '80s."

And this is a bad thing, why?

Lead singer Katie had a waist-length blond ponytail, the voice of an opera singer and a dramatic singing style that involved hand gestures and dance-like moves.

Her keyboard playing required spidery hand gestures and dramatic rolls of her spine.

"Hello, we're Austra from Toronto," she said by way of introduction. "It's our first time playing here. It's very beautiful."

The light show for their set was impressive for an opening act.

After one song, the stage went black with just two pink spotlights and Katie walked across it, saying, "I don't think it's ever been this dark on stage. I like it. Thank you, lighting!"

The keyboardist got the award for most awesome ensemble in a white track suit with notes and (was it?) treble clefs across the shoulders and down the pants legs.

He and the bass player spent their set dancing in place to the variety of songs the band played, everything from synth-based pop to Kate Bush-like dirges.

It had been an impressive set given Katie's lungs, the spot-on drumming of the female drummer and the sheer uniqueness of the breadth of their sound.

For the record, I'd happily see them again.

While The XX got set up, I scanned the crowd, spotting the Johnny-come-lately friend who'd apparently scored a last-minuet ticket, but other than him, I didn't see any familiar faces other than the musician friend who worked the bar and served me.

I have to assume I don't have many friends as passionate about minimalist dream pop as I am.

The band came out and immediately launched into "Angels," thereby demonstrating to everyone in the room that both singers Oliver and Romy had every bit of the voices heard on the albums.

"That Jamie is a good looking guy," my straight friend observed. He was that.

Romy was all shoulder pads and short hair and her distinctive hushed voice and spare guitar played off Oliver's bass and deeper-than-the record voice, as they played and sang facing each other and moving in concert.

"It's very special to be here," Oliver announced. "It's not just our first time in Richmond, it's our first time in Virginia."

RVA, represent.

And, truthfully, we could have represented better.

While the crowd did tone down the talking during songs, there was far too much screaming and mid-song clapping when it would have been more respectful to shut up and let such a quiet band be heard.

My guess is that a lot of the kids in the room were new to the concert experience and don't know any better.

I should teach a class.

One of my favorites came third, "Fiction," with its Interpol-light guitar bit and Oliver's heart-tugging vocal.

"Crystallized," from the debut album got slowed down to the point that it confused the kids who continued to attempt to sing the "I, yi, yi" parts at the album's tempo instead of what the band was doing.

Personally, I thought it was terrific of them to change things up, both for their sake as well as ours.

"We wrote a new version of this song for this tour," Oliver said by way of introducing "Chained," which benefited from different rhythm than the original.

"Reunion" got the full steel drum treatment (so cool) and segued fluidly into "Sunset," just as it does on the album while "Swept Away" was sped up and ended abruptly.

The award for song that brought out the most cameras was "VCR," probably because it was the entry point song-wise for many people when they first discovered the XX.

All too soon, the set ended and they walked off stage.

When they returned, it was for the most exquisite moment of the show.

They began playing "Intro," the song that leads off their debut album and for those of us who begin with albums and not songs, the first thing we ever heard of The XX.

Call it a slow burn.

Without vocals, it allows the listener to get immersed in the furtive-sounding, nuanced chillwave that is The XX.

While earlier there had been a light show, complete with smoke and pulsing beams, for this it was just a black backdrop with a giant white "X," like on the first album.

The sound of the bass drum caused the curtain to move.

"Thanks Richmond, for being such a wonderful audience," Oliver said before playing "Stars" and abandoning us to the real world.

After a sensual set of mood music with Jamie doing multiple things at once on percussion, Romy's lush guitar and sexy singing and Oliver's killer vocals and bass, I felt lulled into a world where people whisper their feelings and it's always nighttime.

Minimal music, but never minimal feelings.

Fiction, when we're not together
Mistaken for a vision, something of my own creation
Come real love, why do I refuse you?
Cause if my fear's right, I risk to lose you
And if I just might wake up alone
Bring on the night

It was worth every bit of the three-year plus wait to hear them live.

Walking out the sold-out crowd moved slowly, as if reluctant to go home after the transcendent experience.

Beside me in the massive pack of humanity waiting to escape, a guy spoke to the girl with him, saying, "I was just reading an article about the psychology of stampedes. This is scary."

Don't worry, son. We'll cover the logistics of exiting the venue when you come to my class on how to go to a show.

Rule #1: Leave your camera at home and experience the entire thing first hand and not through the tiny screen on your phone.

That way your memories will seem less like fiction.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Go with the Flow

Yea or nay, video games as art?

Game designer Kellee Santiago gave the talk, "Flow in Games and in Life," for the opening of UR's new exhibit, "Flow, Just Flow: Variations on a Theme."

It's not as unlikely as it sounds.

Kellee's non-competitive video game "Flow" is part of the show.

She's also one of the proponents of games as an art form, along with MoMA who've just added fourteen to their collection.

Who am I to disagree?

And while I've never played a video game before, I played "Flow" as part of this show.

I didn't wait for games to be considered art to play one, it just happened that way.

No, really.

Unlike the healthy contingent of young men in the audience tonight, most of Kellee's stories about game development went over my head.

The part that I did get was about flow itself, that feeling of being engaged in an activity, the feeling of focusing your energy, the enjoyment of the process.

Completely focused motivation.

Which, not surprisingly, most of the young men who asked questions of Kellee during the Q & A, seemed to have on the subject of game design.

But for me it was all about the 21 pieces of contemporary art awaiting us in the galleries in addition to the video game.

The concept of "flow" was expressed in myriad ways throughout the exhibit.

Humming engines and wires, on mulberry paper, with airplane flight patterns, on video and on burnt paper.

And as varied as the mediums were, always the essence of flow came through.

Near a mesmerizing kinetic sculpture hanging from the ceiling was an explanation of the principles behind it.

I read it twice without clearly understanding the concept and turned to the student standing next to me, telling her it was too scientific for me.

"Oh, good!" she said, sounding very relieved. "Me, too."

Call me simple.

One thing was very clear, though. In the context of contemporary art, a video game did not seem out of place.

In fact, it brought to mind the age-old argument about language.

I know people who believe language is a malleable thing, constantly shape-shifting to what the culture is speaking and writing, while others think that language provides guidelines that we adhere to.

Marcel Duchamp proved that the concept of art is every bit as open to interpretation and the proof was in the flat screen and controllers that greeted us in the Hartnett.

We live in a post-Pacman world. It was bound to happen.

The smart money's on enjoying the process.

Even for those of us who will never again play a video game.

One is my limit, even if it is considered art.

Monday, January 28, 2013

A Whole New World

One must be fortified to face the gauntlet of Disney.

Knowing this, I agreed to meet my out-of-town friend for the last time before he motors home.

He was spending the afternoon trolling Carytown, so I suggested Secco for dinner.

What I hadn't expected was how full they would be, but we managed a couple of bar stools smack in the center of the bar.

I chose a La Torre Rosso di  Montelcino, billed as a "baby Brunello" from the secret stash chalkboard list while the visitor went with a Spanish Rioja.

The first thing that caught friend's eye was their newest crostini of egg slices, marinated white anchovies and fresh herbs.

While waiting for that to arrive, he saw the squid ink bucatini with sea urchin carbonara, so he ordered that and it arrived in no time.

He was surprised at how much pig it contained, but I'd had it before and knew.

Parsnip soup was poured over an over-sized rye crouton, apple butter and celery and had a deliciously creamy mouthfeel without the sense that we were eating a bowl of cream and the understated touch of apple butter on the finish was lovely.

The tardy crostini was well worth the wait, a very Italian and rustic combination of eggs and briny little fish that we both gave the thumbs up.

I'd had the lamb sliders with date relish and Cambozola cheese before, but the visitor couldn't help but be impressed with the savory little burgers, mentioning how surprisingly filling they were.

Or maybe it was just the four dishes we'd consumed in short order.

I'd have quite there, but my friend wanted dessert and chose the cream puffs with caramel sauce, four mouth-filling bites drizzled in a dense caramel.

I was pleased that my big city friend had been so impressed with secco, saying how much better the food was than it typically is in a wine bar.

Clearly he hasn't been to the right Richmond wine bars.

Then it was time for him to head back up I-95 (he had my condolences) so that I could move on to something that only happens once.

That's right, I'm talking about the Ghost Light Afterparty one year anniversary party.

Theater types in Disney-inspired costumes singing the corniest songs ever written.

Of course, it's their childhood, so they didn't see it that way.

But as a neighbor said to me in the lobby before things got started, "I hope someone tells us what's what when they sing because I don't know any of these movies."

The costumes, on the other hand. represented a broad swath of Disney movies.

Snow White (1937). The Little Mermaid (1989). The Lion King (1994). Alice in Wonderland (1951).

Even pianist Sandy was Esmerelda (Aladdin 1992).

"Dueling Minnie Mouses!" I heard a guy say.

The first order of business was introducing the three judges. who were presented with slap watches to give them magical judging powers.

"Go out into the wold and judge!" host Matt instructed them.

As befits a Disney extravaganza, the first song was a singalong to "Circle of Life," complete with bongos, tambourine and someone placing a stuffed tiger on the mic stand for the whole room to sing to.

And, believe me, the majority of the room was also singing along to every word.

Afterwards, Matt announced, "For those of you who are here for the first time, that is just what this is about."

As in, sing anything, make mistakes, crack up mid-song, sing into your drink instead of the microphone.

Anything goes, in other words. And no judgments (other than for costumes).

There's usually a raffle at the Afterparty and while showing the prizes, hostess Maggie held up a piece of art and said its name, "Flower Shower" and its year (2006).

"It's vintage, y'all," Matt said about an object not even seven years old. Hysterical.

Lots of newbies sang tonight, a portly sultan sang an Adele song, and one song got sung twice.

Sarah (in Mouseketeer ears) and Matt (in a Mad Hatter teenage girl costume) got up to sing "A Whole New World," with Sarah saying that she'd sung that song by herself in second grade for the school talent show.

She also mentioned that she'd grown up in the trailer park capital of the country, somewhere in Florida and even took a bow for that.

Deservedly so.

Themes are always loose concepts at GLAP, so we also heard "Summer Nights" from "Grease" with the audience enthusiastically contributing the "tell me more, tell me more" refrain.

Maggie admitted to a Juice Newton obsession and gave us "Queen of Hearts," her karaoke favorite.

Mid-show there was a surprise 20 questions for hosts Matt and Maggie on the occasion of the GLAP's first anniversary.

Some of the more fascinating nuggets?

Maggie's first role was as the carrot in "Stone Soup."

Matt's dream role is Hedwig, he admitted, "And if anyone in town wants to hire me for that role, I'll blow you."

Now, that's what the Ghost Light Afterparty is about.

In the middle of the questions (Mickey Mouse or Donald Duck?), a lit birthday cake was brought out and the whole room sang happy birthday to the GLAP.

After learning a few more things in the last of the 20 questions (both would rather be mute than deaf because giving up music would be impossible), it was intermission.

That means two things: dance music and pizza.

Tonight it also meant chocolate birthday cake, so Sunday slid into Monday while everyone got their munch on.

The break always yields great eavesdropping, none better tonight than, "You're a wonderful dancer. And you're beautiful," to a man with a wonderful and beautiful back, at least from where I stood.

The second set began with all the costume contenders onstage and it was a colorful bunch.

Merlin, Ursula, Snow White's evil queen, Cruella deVille. Belle.

And then back to so many songs sung from so movies I'd never seen.

I did recognize when Mouseketeers Matt and Katie got up to sing Walt Disney's favorite Disney song, "Feed the Birds" from "Mary Poppins."

Katie forewarned us that she'd be singing in a fake British accent while Matt played the guitar.

What she failed to mention was that she'd be making asides throughout the song ("tuppence, that's like a penny").

All at once Brittney and Matt walked onstage and they'd switched costumes.

"This is just something we thought needed to happen all night," he said, incandescent in Brittney's sea foam blue gown and flipping the long red curly wig, while she now wore his Mad Hatter guise.

"Thanks for playing with us for one whole year!" Matt said to the audience just before the last song.

Bartender Evan got up on stage in his costume of green cap with red feather and green t-shirt.

"People keep asking me if I'm Peter Pan or Robin Hood," he joked. "Neither! I'm Chase Kniffen!"

It wouldn't be a GLAP if there wasn't some local theater humor.

Evan took over keyboard duties for "Kiss the Girl" from everyone's favorite "The Little Mermaid," while half the room joined him to shake things (balls, tambourines), sing along or dance.

That closed out the show on one solid year of GLAP shenanigans.

Damn, the Ghost Light Afterparty started in 2012 and you know what that means.

That's vintage, y'all.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Pheasants and P.Y.T.s

Brunch for me usually means lunch.

But not today because a visiting friend wanted to meet at 12:15 and I didn't get up in time to have breakfast before walking over to Magpie.

Good thing, too, because it's a very egg-centric menu on Sunday, something I hadn't known since, despite many dinners there, I'd never done brunch.

I chose a bar table by a sunny window so we had a view of Leigh Street and new arrivals.

Not eating breakfast at home meant I'd missed my morning grapefruit, so I lucked out finding fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice on the beverage listing.

Before ordering it, my friend inquired of our server whether it was sweet or tart and she answered honestly that it depended on the grapefruits squeezed on any given day.

Today they were sweet and pink and the glass of juice was a worthy substitution for my usual.

I warned my friend that the music usually skewed '80s at Magpie, but in addition to the expected Depeche Mode and INXS, we heard a superb acoustic and folksy cover of MJ's "P.Y.T." that launched a discussion of Richmond's overall vibe versus that of Washington.

We're just not trying as hard in Richmond, making for a far less intense way of life, something readily apparent to a visitor like my friend.

For our very Richmond breakfast, we chose chicken-fried pheasant with cheese grits, collard greens, poached eggs and popcorn cream.

The collards were nicely done, not overcooked and generously studded with hunks of bacon.

I'm a sucker for any kind of fried bird, especially when the crust is so well seasoned and as my northern friend noted, the grits were a thing of beauty, long cooked and with just enough cheese to make them an indulgence and not just a breakfast staple.

Huevos Rancheros delivered housemade pheasant sausage, black beans cooked in beer, poblano cream and fried eggs on a grilled tortilla.

The three patties of sausage were stellar, but then the chef is a hunter and a master with game, so that was a surprise only to the visitor.

While eating, we geeked out on linguistics, because that's not an interest I have in common with many people and my friend has been researching a book, so he was full of recently discovered phrases dating back to the American south in the 19th century.

I was especially impressed that he was planning to use them as a matter of course without explanation in his book, a method that's catnip to word lovers like me who want to research what they don't recognize.

One thing I know is that it was my first all-pheasant breakfast and that it had taken me way too long to try the Magpie on a Sunday.

Considering I can walk over (and did) and that they'll already have the grapefruit squeezed for me, I'm thinking it'll happen again.

The other thing I now know is that language nerd chatter is harder to find than pheasant on Sunday.

At least in laid back Richmond.

Dizzy in the Head

Only an idiot would go to the Roosevelt at 6:30 on a Saturday night.

Guilty as charged, but that's what the bench by the kitchen is for.

Eventually a seat opened up at the bar and White Hall Cab Franc in hand, I appropriated it while my partner in crime stood nearby.

I watched as the woman next to me tasted a wine, rejected it, tasted another and rejected it and finally gave up, saying, "Maybe it's my taste buds. Can I see your cocktail list?"

Or maybe it's that she wasn't aware of the all-Virginia wine list and was expecting a big California or Australian wine.

Silly woman.

Bartender Brandon, whom I'd seen play with his band, Sea of Storms, for the first time the other night, thanked me for coming to his show.

I felt reassured seeing him back as the mild-mannered guy I used to know.

Our order of crispy fried spicy pork rinds arrived on baking parchment, much like the fried onions we'd been served in Florence before dinner one night, and they got everyone's attention at the bar.

One guy immediately pointed and asked, "What are those?" and I barely answered before another guy asked me the same.

When I told him, he responded, "Not too worried about fat, are you?"

It's Saturday night, I reminded him.


The airy rinds had an addictive spiciness to them so we tore through them.

I don't want to brag, but it wasn't long before two more plates of rinds came out for the people on either side of us.

Next came lamb neck crostini with pickled cranberries and it was like in those romantic movies where all of a sudden time slows.

The combination of earthy, spicy lamb set off by the piquancy of the pickled cranberries on toasted bread made the conversations around me go faint and the lights dim.

I have been and continue to be Lee Gregory's unabashed groupie for all these years for just that reason.

It was so good it gave me nerve.

One of tonight's specials was rockfish with pork cheeks, farro, red cabbage and Parmesan, but I wasn't in the mood for rockfish, having had an all-seafood lunch yesterday.

A polite request to bartender T. resulted in a big yes from the kitchen to deliver the cheeks and farro without the fish.

I don't care if you like cheeks or even know what farro is, the dish was out of this world.

Even the micro-greens on top enhanced the deep flavor of the cheeks and the nutty, toothsome texture of the farro.

Meanwhile, the dining room was bustling non-stop and the well-chosen music of the hillbilly/rockabilly variety kept the energy in the room  going musically.

For the next course, we chose the pork belly over refried black lentils with a soft-cooked egg and salsa verde.

Some might question why two people would order what we did, but bartender T. never wavered. "All pork all the time," he chuckled. "I like it."

Later, the woman next to me mentioned it was her first time there, and asked what I'd eaten.

After I told her, she looked surprised, saying, "Boy, you must really like pork."

Oh, does it show?

"Is this woman bothering you?" bartender Brandon asked tongue in cheek of my new curious friend.

Everyone's a comedian at the Roosevelt. Maybe that's why I like it so much.

I saw the director of the VMFA patiently waiting for a table and came *this* close to going over and telling him about the unbridled enthusiasm I'd encountered at the museum yesterday, here, but refrained.

After all, the man was out on a Saturday night and who was I to talk work with him?

So I did not become the woman that bothered him, just for the record.

Our meal had been just another reminder of how the Roosevelt kitchen just keeps on knocking my socks off, even on a stupid busy night when I had no business being there to add to the mayhem.

For shame, I'm a more experienced eater than that.

But, alas, we couldn't eat dessert there because the night was young and the Blood Brothers were both in town.

That required a change of venue to Ipanema, where the Brothers promised, "Wax sides to move your back sides!"

Irresistible, right?

Jamie and Duane used to do a regular gig before Duane abandoned River City for the Big Apple, so I have to catch them when I can.

Driving to Ipanema, Grace Street was backed up like a funeral was going by, but we don't do those at night, so it had to be something else.

We'd timed it perfectly; the VCU game had just ended.

Some of the game-goers decided to drown their sorrows at Ips, so the place was filling up quickly.

I grabbed a stool and my fellow criminal waited patiently for another to clear.

Then it was on to mixed berry pie a la mode with a couple of glasses of Franco Serra 10 Dolcetto d'Alba while waiting for the brothers to get set up.

Ah, simple pleasures.

The place was getting mobbed with distraught fans, a large birthday group and people like us who'd come for the wax sides.

I overheard a guy behind me tell his friend, "Dude, I'm telling you, in another 20 years, Richmond is going to be like a real city."

Someone needs to sit that boy down for a talk and tell him a thing or two, but it wasn't going to be me, at least tonight.

Finally the music started and because they're playing vinyl, the sound was wonderfully distinctive, even more so given the low-slung ceilings, so reminiscent of listening to records in somebody's basement.

Fact is, I only recognized a very few of the '60s and early '70s garage/soul/psych/pop rock they played, but I can totally wiggle my backside to almost all of it.

But I pat myself on the back when I hear the Who's "Can't Explain" or the Yardbirds "For Your Love," and recognize them on the first few notes.

Soon people begin dancing over by the turntables, but we are tucked into a corner by the brick wall, so I content myself with dancing in my seat, a fact my companion points out.

Better here than not at all.

It's like the fatty pork rinds.

It is, after all, Saturday night.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Guns 'n Gowns

All I wanted was a little Noel Coward.

But when I got to Movieland to buy my ticket , I couldn't remember the name of the movie.

Asking what the Movies and Mimosas feature was, I was told, "Logan's Run."

Wrong answer. I knew for sure I hadn't come out for a '70s sci-fi flick. No way I'd screwed up that badly.

A check with her manager revealed that it was, in fact, 1933's "Design for Living."

But when I hand her my card to buy a ticket, she charges me $7.50. Wrong again.

After a call to her manager asking why the Mimosas feature was coming up at full price (instead of the reduced price they wisely charge for people willing to be up at the ungodly hour of 11, she got it corrected.

Am I the first person to buy a ticket for this show, I inquired. It was 10:59, so it seemed unlikely.

Nope. I was the first, hence the wrong title, wrong price and general confusion.

Inside, I had the theater to myself.

The Paramount picture began with a credit saying, "N.R.A. Member, We Do Our Part."

Who knew the gun lobby was in bed with Hollywood in the '30s?

The film begins on a train in France and the 3rd class car where the characters met looked surprisingly like the train I'd been on Italy a few months ago.

The entire first conversation between the three main characters took place in French (sans subtitles), perfectly appropriate but unlikely now in ADD-driven Hollywood.

Ten minutes into the movie, two women joined me in the audience. My private screening had been violated.

Frederick March and Gary Cooper played a playwright (of un-produced plays) and a starving artist, respectively.

Miriam Hopkins, the girl they met, was an artist for an ad agency who responded to their attentions and quickly took to both men.

And as all women know, it's problematic when you like two men.

A thing happened to me that usually happens to men. You see, a man can meet two, three or four women and fall in love with all of them, and then, by a process of interesting elimination, he is able to decide which he prefers. But a woman must decide purely on instinct, guesswork, if she wants to be considered nice. 

I feel your pain, honey.

The three become fast friends, ignoring that both men are attracted to her and want her for their own.

They live in a little flat near Montmartre where the painter paints and the playwright types and they welcome people to their home saying, "Welcome to Bohemia."

I intend to start saying the same when people come to visit me.

Miriam's character decides that her role will be as muse and critic to make them better artists ("I'm going to be the mother to the arts").

The movie walked a fine line between Depression-era decorum and innuendo-laced dialog and situations.

The Edward Everett Horton character was the fuddy duddy who tried to provide the moral compass, no doubt because he really doesn't play any other type of character.

Immorality may be fun, but it isn't fun enough to take the place of one hundred percent virtue and three square meals a day. 

Actually, I'm pretty sure that it is.

The film was pure '30s Hollywood escapism, with Hopkins wearing feathered satin dresses at breakfast after which March asks her, "What shall we do after lunch? Take a long walk for our digestion?"

Oh, yes, darling, let's do, I'd answer.

Since it was pure Hollywood, the playwright sold his play and became a sensation and the painter got commissions (although he stood true to his art and refused to paint women with double chins) and Hopkins gave up her own career to support the men she loved.

The sorrows of life are the joys of art.

By the end, she'd tried marriage (unconsummated, naturally) to her boss but had returned to Bohemia and hr two favorite guys.

But no sex; this was a gentleman's agreement, despite one of the trio being a lady.

And they all three lived happily ever after, with Hopkins promising to continue using her "baseball bat" of criticism to make them better men.

Sigh. They sure don't make 'em like they used to.

The two other women in the theater clapped when the movie ended and as I joined in, I went over to say hello to the only other people in Richmond interested in seeing Noel Coward on a sunny Saturday morning at the crack of dawn.

Both raved about the movie and I agreed, chiming in about what an ideal platonic arrangement it would be to have two very different men to mold.

The look on their faces was borderline appalled, so I smiled and exited.

Not bohemian types, I'm guessing.

An Experimental Life

So here's my experimental memoir for the evening.

It's not easy finding an appropriate way to celebrate Burns' Night, at least in Richmond.

There is no haggis, so there can be no reading of "Address to a Haggis."

But there must be a way to have a poetic January 25, I felt certain.

So when a friend from Washington lets me know he'll be in town today, he stipulates, "If you know a spot that's open and does a great lunch - one of the best in RVA- I'm all ears."

I suggested several personal favorites and then threw out Rappahannock, telling him I'd had dinner there but never lunch.

It was there that we met, just as the snow began to fall, and with its two sides of windows, the restaurant turned out to be prime snow-watching vantage point.

Instead of offal and oatmeal in a sheep's stomach, though, we stayed strictly nautical.

Oysters with pearls (caviar) came highly recommended by our server who said he didn't usually like caviar.

I tried not to judge.

They were followed by a generous serving of fluke ceviche with toasted bread.

Our order of Barcat oyster chowder had thoughtfully been split into two bowls and one taste told me that a full bowl would have put most people in a food coma.

Cream plus flour = zzzzz.

And speaking of, our last order was rockfish brandade, an ideal winter dish of potatoes and fish spread on bread, but we barely put a dent in the large crock of it.

As far as honoring Robert Burns went, our meal from the sea was a far cry from what the bard himself would have expected.

But the company was good in that way that only someone who grew up where you did can relate so comfortably.

After he learned I wasn't a  coffee drinker, he joked, "So you're just naturally high," which he then translated to, "You've got great energy," a compliment, I felt certain.

It was still snowing when we walked outside, making Grace Street look as picaresque as a citified Currier and Ives print in the gray, late afternoon light.

I wasn't sure how the weather would affect the evening's activities, but enough places seemed to be promising to stay open to risk going out.

A slow but crunchy drive to Chop Suey for a poetry reading seemed as Burns-like as I was likely to get tonight.

Reading was Kate Greenstreet from her new book, an experimental memoir called, "Young Tambling."

Not many people had braved the weather for the sake of poetry (I have to assume they'd forgotten it was Burns' night), but Kate immediately honed in on three of us, thanking us for coming out in the bad weather.

Looking at me, she questioned, "Why did you come? I know these other people, but what brought you out?"

Nothing like having the teacher call on you the minute class begins.

I told her that I came to lots of poetry readings. That it was Robert Burns' birthday. That I thought snow was perfect for reading poetry.

"That's a good answer," she said, smiling.

She said she usually uses a mic, but for the half dozen of us, she eschewed amplification and just read.

He voice was tiny but her reading expressive and the overall effect was of someone very curious (or wise) and observant asking questions and drawing her own conclusions while we listened in.

We heard that she'd had a Catholic upbringing and for a while had considered whether she had a "calling" to God and she also compared addiction to having a calling.

An interesting woman.

Sometimes she would begin reciting a poem before she'd even located it in the book.

This was a poet who made the reading seem effortless, although I got the impression she was an introvert, so even small performances are likely anything but for her.

Someone asked her about the pictures in her book and she said they were from her own photographs and paintings.

Now that's impressive, having talent with words and images.

After she finished reading,  Kate said that it felt like we were in church and now was the time for refreshments.

I almost hated to leave such a welcoming little group on this cold night.

But my fellow poetry lover (and Catholic school attendee who didn't have the "calling") and I left, me feeling pretty good at this point.

Then it was on to the VMFA for no particular reason other than they'd insisted that they'd be open despite the snow.

Walking up to the members desk, I told the woman that I was a regular at the museum but wanted to know if there was anything new to see.

Her face lit up like a kid on Christmas morning. "Have you seen the new Rembrandts?" she inquired enthusiastically.

Bingo. Upstairs we went to find the Baroque gallery and see some early Dutch masters.

But you can't just jump into something like that feet first, either, so we did a spin around the French and Italian Baroque gallery first.

Then it was on to the two new small works, "The Stone Operation" and "The Three Musicians."

In one, a man is having a stone removed from his head to cure his craziness. It looks pretty painful.

In the other, three musicians, young, middle-aged and old, try to sing together but judging by their looks, the result probably wasn't terribly harmonious.

Compositionally, they were similar with three figures arranged in a triangle, but with more vivid colors than the master used in his well-known later works.

I saw that these two were early, early Rembrandts done when he was only eighteen and hadn't yet been taught by his best teacher.

Even so, the basics of a Rembrandt were there.

Striking contrasts between light and dark. Exaggerated facial features. Thick layers of paint.

Shoot, that's Rembrandt 101 stuff. And here was proof of just how early he'd come to that major talent of his.

Surely Burns, who had been only fifteen when he was inspired by a girl to write his first poem, would see the poetry in taking in Rembrandts on his night.

Surely Burns would understand wanting to hear a quiet poet read on that snowy night.

Surely Burns would concede that haggis is hard to come by in Virginia and sometimes seafood shared with the kind of friend you can discuss politics and quality of life with serves a similar purpose.

You weren't forgotten here, old man.

If I start on my "Rebuke to a Fluke" now, I could have it ready by next January 25.

I'm afraid my experimental life memoir will take a good while longer.

Friday, January 25, 2013

I Got It

Not sure which was more random, Stonewall Jackson or The Stranger.

With a show in Charlottesville tonight, the plan was to hit White Hall Vineyards, eat dinner and hear fuzzed out music.

Kind of a perfect day, actually.

By a lucky coincidence, it had snowed lightly last night  so heading into the mountains was a visual treat.

Fields and pastures were covered in a thin layer of snow so barns sat on white against the brilliant blue sky.

In some shadier patches of curving back roads, there was even still ice on the road at late afternoon.

Arriving at White Hall, we found neither cars nor people.

Apparently the weather had closed them down tight, which wasn't a problem except I'd been hoping to use their, ahem, facilities.

Back up the road we went to Stinson Vineyards, a tiny boutique winery at the foot of the mountains.

The kind of place where you pull up to the tasting room and the owners come running from their house across the driveway.

It was that 1790 house, the one they're busy refurbishing, that had hosted Stonewall Jackson during the Valley campaign. His troops had slept on the lawn.

As if that historical tidbit wasn't cool enough, it turned out that the original vines had been planted 40 years ago by Gabriele Rausse, one of my very favorite Virginia winemakers.

The Mrs. did the tasting with us, saying that she and her husband had moved down from Bethesda and that their daughter was the winemaker.

When her husband heard I was a native Washingtonian, we compared births only to find that we'd been born in the same hospital.

Small world.

We tasted through a Provencal-style Rose, a non-oak monster Chardonnay, both red and white table wines, a lovely Meritage, a late harvest Petit Manseng and a port-style Imperialis, made with Tannat, a rustic grape I'd discovered through a Uruguayan winemaker and loved.

Unexpectedly, we also had a bonus red, Tusk Mountain Vineyards' La Tour d'Afton, a Bordeaux-style blend.

Tusk's wines are not available to the public, but the engineer/winemaker allows Stinson to round out their list with his.

So a pit stop at Stinson had served up all kinds of unexpected treats.

Dinner followed at the Blue Moon Diner, mainly to avoid the downtown mall and because they had so many great album covers in the window.

I'm not going to lie, it was a little cool at our window table, but the vibe was relaxed and clearly most people were regulars with names the staff knew.

Shrimp dumplings came with cabbage and angry mayo, an apt name for a habanero-infused mayo.

While eating them, we realized that Billy Joel's "The Stranger" album was on.

Not a song, or two, but the entire album, which I'd never heard.

When I asked, our sever said he'd been "grandfathered in as the DJ" and he'd chosen the music, gesturing to the long rows of record albums in the two front windows.

I gotta say, any time a Richmond restaurant wants to jump on this trend and play records during dinner service, I will be your devoted fan.

Given temperatures in the teens, I wanted the chicken pot pie, made with Polyface farms organic chicken, carrots, peas, corn, celery and onions with a puff pastry crust.

Personally, I'd rather have  traditional biscuit crust on a pot pie, but the choice wasn't mine.

Digging in deep to the little Dutch oven, I found a bottom layer of mashed potatoes under the meaty pot pie, a filling and welcome addition to a dish that easily served two.

We finished with Barry White on the stereo and the grills-wich, as classic a diner dessert as I could imagine.

Grilled Krispy Kreme donuts were topped with Chaps ice cream (a local thing) and chocolate syrup.

It certainly wasn't ice cream weather, but the grilled doughnuts turned out to be far tastier than you might expect.

On the other hand, I don't need to eat them again any time soon.

As I got up to leave, I heard my name called and there were two Richmond friends having dinner at the bar.

Smaller world.

From there, we headed to the Jefferson to see Yo La Tengo, where I was certain I'd see more people I knew.

I didn't even get inside before spotting an "old rocker" (his words, not mine) at the box office.

Inside, I found a couple of young rockers I knew.

The pace was crawling with familiar faces.

Not enough to sell out, which surprised me, but a good-sized crowd nonetheless.

The stage was set with three green wooden trees before the three members of YLT came out.

"Our Way to Fall" set the tone for the first set with a simple acoustic bent that carried through till intermission.

All slow songs, no screaming feedback. Highly suspicious for YLT.

And the devoted audience got it, shutting up entirely.

It was beautiful.

In between songs, a fan called out a request and leader Ira said, "That doesn't exactly fit the format," before pausing.

"Although I don't know why I said that. We have an a capella version of that song that would knock your socks off."

Of course they do. Only Yo la Tengo.

A few songs more in and Ira told the crowd, "I'm sorry to see the Jefferson go."

What was this?

"Every venue Yo La Tengo has played in Charlottesville has closed. So either this is Yo la Tengo's last show in Charlottesville or this place is closing."

Yo la Tengo humor.

But come to think of it, I'd seen them five yars ago at the Satellite Ballroom and that was long-gone. Hmmm...

Before their last song, Ira said they were going to take a break, move some shrubbery and come back for a second set.

As my guitarist friend had guessed after the very first song, the plan was for the second set to be full on electric.

They came screaming back with "Nothing to Hide" and all the fuzz the crowd had hoped for.

Well, we're gonna wait, wait
See what comes after
Wait, wait, harder not faster

As I heard the first notes of "Sugarcube," my guitarist friend leaned in and beamed. "That's my guitar."

I'm sure he meant the brand not that instrument.

"Little Honda" got cranked up until it exploded into a guitar solo with Ira playing his guitar in the air, on the floor and swinging it 360 degrees around to make sound.

First gear, it's alright
Second gear, hang on tight
Third gear, ain't I right?
Faster, it's all right

Only Yo la Tengo cover a Beach Boys motorcycle song.

Meanwhile, a distressingly large number of twenty-somethings around me plugged their ears with their fingers.

Really, kids? If not now, when?

Haven't you heard that youth is when you destroy your hearing with loud shows?

After feeding our feedback frenzy, the band said goodnight and stayed away until it seemed unlikely they'd come back.

When they did, it was  as their alter-ego, Condo Fucks, a proto-punk band who played "Whatcha Gonna Do About It?" with snarl and volume.

Explaining that Condo had been on hiatus, Ira announced some new material and they did "Bastards of Love."

Because there's nowhere to go after a Condo Fucks set, they finished with a simple version of The Troggs' "With a Girl Like You," sung simply by Georgia.

It was as far away from their screaming guitar sound as could be had, making it the perfect finish.

Only Yo la Tengo.

Completely satisfied, we went to leave, only to have them return for one last song before calling it a night.

A cold night. It was thirteen degrees on the way home from the show.

And totally worth venturing out on such a frigid night.

At least with a girl like me. Ba ba ba ba ba ba ba.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

I Like My Strumpets

I was told more than once that I'll go see anything, no matter how obscure or obtuse, just to go out.

Tahitian acrobat cymbalists? Sure.  Moroccan throat singing mimes? Okay.

So naturally I perked up when I saw that the next in the Richmond Shakespeare Bawdy Bard staged reading series was just such a hybrid.

Improv comedians and Shakespearean actors doing, what else, Shakesprov.

Shoot, I was at Capital Ale House an hour before doors opened.

Don't tempt my sense of humor and my intellect unless you mean it.

I'd brought along an improv master (or so he claimed) to laugh with me.

When the host said we had to wait until 7:30 to go in, I asked of him the time.

Glancing at his watch, he told me it was 7:11, much to my amazement.

That's so cool that you wear a watch, I told him.

He instinctively went to thank me and instead got a knowing grin on his face and said, "Right?"

Right, indeed. We had a ten-minute conversation about the lost art of watch-wearing and I got a peek into why a 25-year old chooses to daily wear the watch his mother gave him for his eighteenth birthday.

Pulling it off his wrist, he pointed to the back of the face proudly. "No battery!" he boasted. "It's got a spring."

Just like in the olden days.

But food waits for no time talk, so we sent him on his way and began by scoring white chicken chili at the bar while waiting for the doors to open.

On the plus side, the cannelini was toothsome and the bits of fresh jalapeno added a nice heat to each bite. On the minus side, it wasn't nearly hot enough, especially on a frigid night like this.

Once the doors opened, it was an easy walk to a front table in the music hall.

Part of the beauty of comedy and iambic pentameter intersecting tonight was that it was happening in a bar, meaning we were supposed, nay, even encouraged, to eat, drink and chatter during the show.

You don't have to tell me twice (Cobb salad, chocolate cake and any number of asides).

The Shakesproving jumped right in with a game where two people had to argue the pluses and minuses of an issue thrown out by the audience.

You now, stuff like, global warming (yea or nay) or lead paint poisoning (good or bad?).

I see now that was just to warm us up, get our laughing muscles loosened up.

Next came a game called Replay where crowd suggestions formed the device, in this case, cross dressing, murder and love, all then executed Shakespearean-style.

The replay came in when they then had to redo that scene through other lenses.

We saw it done with hate, as a coking show and Al Capone gangster-style.

You might be surprised at how the same scene was funny all four ways.

The next game, Playwright, used technology, so I would have been useless to them.

Each of the four onstage had their phone set on the script of one of three plays (Othello, Taming of the Shrew, Julius Cesar), ready to use whatever lines from it they chose.

With an improv comedian to facilitate the scene between them, each actor had to use only lines from the play he'd been given to further the dialog.

When Adam grabbed himself and uttered, "I fear it is too choleric a meat," the audience about lost it.

There was a game where they had to mime pre-determined components of a murder (dog park, painter, gouging out eyes and then poisoning) and get the contestant to guess the scenario, "Clue"-like.

You can't imagine how amusing miming eye gouging can be until you've seen it.

Buzz/Ding, the next amusement, required the Bawdy Bard's guiding light, Kerry, to come onstage and, much like with Richmond Comedy Coalition's "Richmond Famous" nights, share tidbits about her life, job and friends.

It's overshare and then be skewered for it, pretty much.

From there, four of them improved Kerry's life while she sat there with a human "buzzer" and a human "dinger" and hit the appropriate one depending on how accurately her life was being depicted.

Hysterical as their depictions seemed to the audience, most of the time she was buzzing.

And now all the room knows her boss likes booze humor and bathroom jokes.

So, yes, laughter always comes back to potty humor, even with the Bard.

The longest game was Story, wherein we helped create a many-chaptered book while eliminating people from the stage.

"The Dark Prince Emerges," became the title by default when a man yelled it out first.

He continued to announce the name before each new chapter, varying his voice for dramatic value.

From there we had eight chapters, including a particularly enthusiastic and protracted one on breasts, nipples and milk.

The guys could have run with that all night, but Katie tried to curtail them eventually, suggesting we moved on from mammaries.

Aw, do we have to, their faces seemed to say.

There was a different component added in for each new chapter and whichever person lost the thread (sometimes in mid-syllable or final consonant) was eliminated.

Stacie ended up being last breasts standing, no small accomplishment.

The Dating Game used stock Shakespeare types - Ophelia, a rich father and sad blood (the most melancholy Thomas ever)- as the bachelors while the lusty bachelorette asked animated questions to find her Mr. Right.

Only occasionally did things get a little skeevy.

"We'll edit that out later," host David said to the studio audience more than once.

Soliloquy required any of the four people in the skit to stop and do a monologue when pointed to.

To their credit, each one was fearless about taking center stage with made-up words while all froze around him.

After so much effort on their part (all we'd had to do was cackle), we closed with a fun game, a little number called I Like My Strumpets.

We'd throw out something (clowns, chainsaws, Julius Cesar, ruffled shirts) and they'd take turns making analogies.

"Shakespeare used a lot of puns," host Matt said, "But he also talked about butts a lot."

So you can imagine where that took us.

I like my strumpets like I like my chainsaws...with teeth!

The women in the group quickly tired of strumpets and began using lords instead to convey their points.

I like my lords like I like my ruffled collars...a little rumpled and stiff.

Wah, wah.

So here goes.

I like my evenings like I like my dark princes...funny, smart and good kissers.

And they can mime their choleric meat, but I don't need to see it.

Of course, with Shakesprov, we can always edit that out later.

Take It Easy

So, Holmes says and the night is on.

I am curious about Dutch and Co. and he and his beloved agree to go along for the ride.

I'd tempted Holmes and Co. out to Church Hill to check out the handiwork of Aziza's former chef, whose food I'd introduced them to almost three years ago, here.

We arrive to find three bar stools empty, although they are not three adjacent bar stools.

The hostess makes an adjustment and we are seated together, not surprisingly near someone Holmes knows..

Initial impression: it looks surprisingly like the Roosevelt, right down to the ceiling and chandelier.

My small group requests  Brandbourg Pinot Noir, all the more enthusiastically when we hear that its limited distribution means Dutch & Co. is one of the few local places offering it.

Who doesn't like to be exclusive? Some of us are so easily led.

SubRosa Bakery (mere blocks away) bread arrives in a napkin charmingly closed with a clothes pin stamped D & Co.

Second impression: the vibe is low-key and there is no need to be cool here.

Like we could if we tried.

Even Holmes had to admit that the vibe was terribly comfortable, demanding nothing more than admiring the tin ceiling, slurping the Pinot Noir and savoring every bite that came from the kitchen.

I couldn't resist beginning with what the kitchen called porridge.

Please, sir, more.

It was a savory/sweet concoction that involved malted barley, smoked maitake mushrooms, roasted pear, kale and almond cream.

The mushrooms are so earthy as to be like chewing dirt, a much tastier thing than it probably sounds.

As someone who eats oatmeal every day, let me just say that this porridge was the exact opposite of oatmeal.

Predominantly savory, the dish had occasional flashes of sweetness with the pear and almond cream, but mostly stuck to the savory side. Every bite delivered savory where I expected sweet, an exquisite play on my taste buds.

It didn't taste like anything else in Richmond.

Both my companions had the perfect egg (a former Aziza staple and aptly named) with cured salmon, herbs, sprouted quinoa, braised cabbage and cumin yogurt.

As Holmes pointed out, it sounds like a lot, but once you break it down, it's mighty satisfying, especially that buttery salmon.

Tonight's special was three Anderson's Neck oysters for five bones, so Holmes generously ordered oysters for everyone.

It's been a good week for tasting brine, that's all I'm saying.

After another bottle, I ordered the pork and winter squash rillette with honey-roasted nuts, pig skin cornbread, cabbage and cumin yogurt.

Creamy rillette and hot and dense cornbread were a match made in heaven.

Meanwhile, the hanger steak and smoked pork belly with celery root, persimmon, bitter greens and ginger herb sauce impressed Homes and the missus no end.

"I thought those were carrots," Holmes said of the brightly-colored persimmons.

At one point, Holmes turned to me and had to admit, "I like the relaxed vibe here. They didn't spend a million dollars redecorating and it's comfortable."

True that and the food was just as impressive as when I'd first taken them to Aziza.

For our next course, we looked at the dessert menu, deciding on the honey pot and the chocolate.

The winter's honey pot was made of warm milk, honey, pound cake, lavender ice cream, assorted citrus and candied nuts.

Holmes' beloved had spotted it before she'd even decided on dinner; it was that appealing and unique.

It arrived in a little ceramic honeypot decorated with bees. When the guy next to us ordered it, his came in a straw-colored honeypot sans bees.

I forsook the caramel waffle (for which our server gave us hell) for the chicory chocolate toffee cake with orange ginger Chantilly, candied fennel and olive oil anglaise.

By the time we finished, most of the room had cleared out and we had little desire to be the "campers" of the room.

Abandoning Church Hill, we headed back downtown for a nightcap.

By default, Tarrant's won out, offering one last glass and a couple of sassy barkeeps.

A bottle of Prosecco greased the wheels for a discussion of the 130 herbs in Green Chartreuse, reminding me of covering that topic recently with another bartender.

This one suggested we add the Green Chartreuse to our bubbly, an unlikely but totally doable combination.'

"Green Chartreuse is like Lalique glass," my comrade-in-art-history observed.

Well put, my friend, even if no one else besides me knows what you mean.

We sipped the 130 herbs in a very un-monk-like fashion, but quite appreciative of the unusual flavors.

It was almost as satisfying as finding a relaxed vibe in a trendy, new Church Hill eatery.

Fact was, I owed them one after our last meal out a few weeks ago where I'd chosen a dud and we'd all paid the price.

You ebb and you flow, my friends. It's all an experience, right?

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Like What I Love

The message was clear.

Meet me tonight for dinner...TONIGHT...I say.

You'd think it had been a while since we'd been out together.

Oh, wait. It had.

Between a perpetually busy job, a move and massive house redecoration, he'd had no time to catch up with a friend since I don't know when.

All of a sudden, we were on for tonight.

Once we got together, his conversation focused on how a favorite restaurant had disappointed him the last three or four times he'd gone.

In fact, his beloved had stated for the record that they'd made their last visit there.

So naturally, the first place he suggests is that restaurant.

Fortunately, it's closed so we soldier on to Julep because, as he says, "I haven't been there in 100 years."

And I hadn't been there since Bobby's last night as mixologist there, back in 2011.

We chose the bar to eat, in the process meeting a visiting Chicagoan getting his southern chowhound on.

Despite it being a Monday night, Julep had a steady stream of people the whole time we were there, making for a lively vibe.

Friend chose a Louis Jadot Pouilly-Fuisse because he only likes white wine and doesn't care for new world varietals.

It was a lovely choice, medium bodied and elegant, and set the tone for the first course.

I began with a crabcake appetizer, not on the menu, but I figured if you can make a crabcake entree, making an appetizer couldn't be that hard, while my companion got the crispy fried oysters.

Both dishes showed a deftness with seafood that no doubt serves them well with visitors from places liked Chicago.

We shared a salad of local baby red romaine lettuce with Parmesan curls, grilled garlic butter croutons, white anchovy and a Creole-Cesar dressing.

Truth be told, the curls were flat, but the flavor was good.

Our conversation was all over the place because it had been so long since we'd been out together.

The service at Julep is always so professional, if a tad old school with only male servers, but we had to laugh when the hostess came behind the bar.

As she was refilling our water glasses, my friend spoke to her and when she didn't hear, she came back with, "HUH?"

It was the kind of loud, honking "huh?" that has grated on the nerves of parents, teachers and anyone who'd ever heard it come out of the mouth of a clueless youth.

So we'll say the staid atmosphere was tempered by the honking of the hostess.

My friend is a beef lover so the grilled dry-aged New York strip called to him and with good reason.

The perfectly cooked piece of meat (one of his complaints at the place that had been disappointing him so much lately) came with horseradish mashed potatoes, grilled rapini, ham hock demi glace and whole grain mustard butter.

He was so impressed that he couldn't wait to bring his long-suffering mate in for that steak.

I went with the cassoulet of Sausagecraft lamb sausage, duck confit, pork belly, white beans and vegetables with an herb bread crumb topping.

It arrived in a ceramic bowl holding enough heat to warm the room, so I had to be patient before going in.

But it was worth it for the succulent bits of lamb, duck and pig, although I thought the crumb layer a bit dry.

In my book, a good bread crumb topping has as much butter as bread, but not everyone feels that way.

Meanwhile, my friend was telling me that he and his main squeeze are trying to plan a vacation where neither of them checks messages for a week.

Wow, I remember when people planned vacations where their goal was just to relax and have a good time.

Clearly, we are now setting the bar much lower.

On the other hand, I was just happy to hear that the two workaholics were attempting to get away.

It was during our discussion of all the club-hopping we'd both done in Washington in our twenties that our server inquired about dessert.

Nothing on the menu grabbed me, but my companion insisted that we needed the Bananas Foster served tableside for two.

Amazed that I'd never had Bananas Foster, he told me it had been all the rage back in the '70s.

I was game, so next thing we knew, our server brought over his mobile kitchen and was sauteing bananas in butter and brown sugar, adding spiced rum and pouring the flaming mixture over pound cake and vanilla ice cream.

All I could think of was how key it would have been to keep all that flaming away from the polyester clothing of the '70s.

Or were there tragic Bananas Foster incidents back in the day?

And while my favorite desserts are always of the chocolate variety, the bananas Foster was a fine, sweet finish to our meal.

We stayed a while, sipping more wine and talking about recent parties and new restaurants before I deposited him back and went on with my night.

Making a bee-line to the Camel for an evening of new bands, I arrived as Sea of Storms was starting their set.

I knew nothing at all about the band beforehand, but I was stopped in my tracks when I saw them.

The lead singer/guitarist was Brandon Peck.

I bought one of Brandon's prints back in 2008 before I ever knew him. It's the largest piece I own and still hangs front and center in my living room.

A couple of years later, I met him when he bartended at Ipanema and then served at The Roosevelt.

I've had many conversations with Brandon, but I'd never seen him in his music guise.

I was riveted.

You think you know someone and all of a sudden, he's part of a post-punk/hardcore trio, spitting out lyrics three feet in front of my face and it's so awesome I can't move.

Thanks, Sea of Storms, for the welcome into the night's activities.

During the break, I found lots of people I knew and the general buzz was how excited everyone was that the Camel is hosting more free shows lately.

For some of us, it was two in a row after Sunday night's Scolaro show.

I think we can all agree that more free shows allow the attendees to spend more on the bands' merch as well as adult beverages.

Headlining tonight was Hens, the new project by Josh Hryciak (formerly of Mermaid Skeletons) and David Shultz (...and the Skyline).

With no idea what to expect from them, I was thrilled when the foursome came out with guitars blazing like Band of Horses.

Josh is a stellar songwriter and we were treated to song after song from a band playing out for the first time.

"This is an awesome turnout for a first show," Josh beamed.

"We 're lucky hens," David observed drolly.

But I'd already run into any number of friends who'd said they were there to see what Josh's new project was.

The fans of Mermaid Skeletons are legion in this town

But even better, the band was more than just Josh (I'm a big fan of David's, too) and with three people trading off lead vocals, I wouldn't be surprised to learn that others, like David, are doing songwriting, too.

Josh announced a couple of personal songs, including, "Like What I Love," a concept as necessary to me as it must have been to him to write the song.

Stylistically, the set varied with one song as smooth and mellow as an old R&B groove, while a particular favorite was keyboard-based with few vocals, an almost post-rock dreamscape, and others were full on guitar and drum rocking.

But apparently, that's just how Hens roll.

As my photographer friend observed later, "Dang that was a good show."

I'd go even further.

Dang, that was a good meal. Dang, that was two good bands I needed to hear.

And only TONIGHT...I say.

It's so easy to like what I love.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Celebrating a Survivor

I couldn't make it to the inauguration, but I could celebrate MLK Day.

The Maggie Walker historical site always does something to honor the day and today's program featured a documentary.

Being a documentary dork of the highest order, I made the short trek over to Leigh Street to claim a seat in the visitors' center.

Sydney Shavers was showing her recently-completed film, "Elvira's Eyes," about her great-great-great grandmother.

The film traced the process of seeking information about Elvira Sophia Abernathy, a former slave who lived to be 106 years old.

Sydney had done her research, taking the few documents her family had and using them as the starting point for a road trip to North Carolina to see what she could uncover.

Plenty, it turned out.

Using census records, death certificates, newspaper articles, visits to graveyards and previously unknown relatives' houses, she pieced together an amazing story of Elvira.

Like the fact that she'd been sold for $900 ($21,000 in today's dollars) originally.

That she'd married a mulatto slave in 1864.

That unlike the other slaves on the plantation where she worked, she and her husband had remained after emancipation, eventually becoming sharecroppers.

That she'd had six children and worked as a seamstress.

That up until she turned 100, she was considered to have "retained a remarkable spryness."

A North Carolina newspaper article about her 106th birthday said, "The old darkie can walk without aid and thread a needle."

As part of her research, Sydney attended a family reunion in N.C., meeting relatives and interviewing them for the project.

Several spoke of Elvira's insistence on education, learning to read at a time when slaves weren't allowed to read and insisting on literacy for her children and grandchildren.

After sharing his memories, one older man praised Sydney, saying, "Somebody got to remember what went on in the past."

That message resonated even more poignantly when Sydney said afterwards that two of the older relatives shown in the film had died since she'd filmed them.

She stressed the importance of everyone capturing their family's oral history before it's too late. "Their stories would have been lost otherwise," she said.

It was wisdom out of the mouths of babes, because Sydney is only seventeen and still a high school student.

During the Q & A after the film, someone asked her, "What are your plans for the future? I'd like to vote for you someday."

The whole room applauded.

Wouldn't Dr. King have been proud to hear that remark directed at a young African-American woman on the day our African-American president takes the oath of office to begin his second term?

Even as a complete stranger, I felt pride sitting there, knowing Elvira had handed off the torch to Sydney and her generation.

As Sydney put it, her eyes would be smiling.

A Day with the Gentler Sex

Praise be for sunny January afternoons.

The kind that inspire a person to get in the car and drive to the norther neck to eat at Merroir.

Yea, I know Rappahannock is 3/4 of a mile from home, but it's not the same.

And getting there is a whole different thing, too.

Getting gas at the station just before the bridge in West Point (where a friend once did a sudden U-turn, announcing to the three surprised occupants of the car,"I can't drive over that bridge"), I saw  a sign on the fence.

Dangerous Tree Removal 

Clearly this was an enterprise that doesn't mess around removing benign trees.

And don't we all feel safer knowing someone is on top of this risky task?

Crossing the bridge, it occurred to me what a shame it is that the picaresque billowing smoke coming out of factory smokestacks is a bad thing.

Seeing the six smokestacks all putting out cartoon-like puffs of white smoke against the white and gray buildings and bright blue sky was a study in shades of gray and blue, a lovely thing.

When my oyster-loving companion and I rolled up, we found the porch at Merroir draped in plastic and nearly every seat taken.

With back-up sweaters, we took a picnic table out back with a view of the bright blue river with its surface choppy in the afternoon breeze.

But it didn't last long; our server got as far as trying to set the wineglasses on the table when the wind demonstrated why drinking outside was not an option.

A sunny table on the porch provided a stellar view of the marina and a safe surface for the bottle of Thorny Rose and wineglasses.

We'd caught the end of the lunch rush, so the porch got progressively emptier as we ate and drank.

Given the stiff breeze, we started with the lamb and clam stew, a perennial favorite no matter the season.

Honestly, that tomato-based broth thick with bits of ground lamb is a thing of beauty and required extra bread for final sopping.

The eclectic music (The Fray to John Lennon) was much easier to hear inside, but sunglasses were still required.

In the spirit of a sunny afternoon and hopes for warmer days, we did the Wagyu beef and cheddar sliders with bacon jam, meaty little burgers that were going to a lot of tables near us.

About that time, it occurred to us that we'd be lying to ourselves if we didn't get some oysters, so a plate of them soon followed.

The briney liquid in the shells tasted a lot like I imagined the salty wind that had been whipping around the point outside did.

Say what you want about Rappahannock in the heart of Richmond, but it'll never beat the price or relaxed vibe of Merroir.

During a trip to the bathroom, I found my sex's room occupied, so I took advantage of the empty men's room next door.

Walking out afterwards, a short man in boots was lounging against the door frame.

Seeing me emerge, he raised an eyebrow over his mirrored sunglasses, but didn't say a word.

I quickly explained what had happened, hoping to mollify him.

"I'd've done the same," he drawled. "Have a nice afternoon, girl."


He and his aging Madonna-lookalike girlfriend circa 1986 (right down to the scrunchy, sunglasses and boots) soon drove off in a little, red Corvette.

It was as satisfying a moment as seeing the dangerous tree sign.

A walk down to the dock is de rigueur after a lunch at Merroir, the better to admire the distinctive winter color palette of a January day on the northern neck.

But eventually, city slickers have to motor back to the city, so as to enjoy cultural activities, or they wither and die.

My chosen culture for the evening was the Silent Music Revival at Gallery 5.

What used to be a monthly event has become a much more occasional one as organizer Jameson has spent more time touring and traveling and less time teaching us neophytes about silent movie history.

Everything I know about silent movies I owe to Jameson and while it's not sizable (my fault, not his) it at least taught me how much I enjoy silent film.

But part of the magic of the SMR is that Jameson chooses a band he thinks will best complement the movie he's showing.

He's very, very good at this, which is really what makes the whole event so special, and tonight was no exception.

Sonic Nectar was hiding behind the movie screen, ready to improvise a score to "Hands: The Life and Love of the Gentler Sex," essentially an interpretive German film about romance using only hands

The hands met, flirted, grabbed and one even rescued the other's suicide attempt.

I thought the band's psychedelic instrumental rock was a fine match for the story of hands in love.

Usually at the SMR, there is one band and one movie, but tonight we got a double feature.

"Hands" ended up being merely the prelude for the main event, "Meshes of the Afternoon," an American avant-garde movie from 1943.

The film was a collaboration between Maya Deren and her husband Alexander Hammid and she starred in it.

While that may sound egotistical, the woman was an exotic beauty with a face you couldn't take your eyes off of, so watching her dream experiences that blended in with her real life was riveting.

Brilliantly, Jameson had chosen a woman to score this female-driven film in the form of Nelly Kate.

As many times as I've seen her perform (and not nearly enough in recent months), I love hearing her work magic with her voice, keyboard and a loop pedal.

Tonight, she used her voice to make all kinds of sounds and since we couldn't see her behind the screen, sometimes it was difficult to know whether she or her keys were responsible for what we were hearing.

Only afterwards did I hear from a photographer who'd been backstage that most of that had been created with her voice.

But having a woman's voice and words over a woman working her way through an interior life was nothing short of mesmerizing.

That was the great part. The less great part was that there won't be another SMR for months, probably not until April.

Leave 'em wanting, Jameson. Well done.

Because the SMR starts early and on time, it ends early, there was time to head to the Camel to see Scolaro, a band I had seen only once and that was a year and a half ago, here.

Not one to rush things, they were tonight doing their second live show.

I couldn't risk missing it since it might be mid-2014 before they bother to play out again.

I could tell as soon as I walked into the Camel that a lot of people must have tomorrow off because it was a fat crowd for a Sunday night.

There are two things you can count on at a Camel show: it won't start on time and all too often the sound is muddy.

Tonight we were two for two.

So much so that I changed locations, hoping for a better mix if I stood dead center in the room.

Sadly, no.

Scolaro, a sextet, has three vocalists and yet it placed a serious strain on my ear to hear the vocals in the mix, especially over the drums.

Not fair.

Josh, the leader and a long-time music buddy, began by saying, "I now it's silly to introduce ourselves 'cause I know most of you, but we're Scolaro."

I recognized several of the songs they played, including "Innervention," from some tracks Josh had sent me a while back.

They did a song so new it's still untitled, although they were referring to it as "Megan's song" because she sang it.

Although there was some question about Megan remembering all the words, we agreed as a group that it wouldn't matter since none of us had ever heard the song before.

It turned out to be one of my favorites tonight, with both women singing.

"Regift" shone brightest, sounding for all the world like well-produced, smooth R&B, a very good thing.

By the time they got to the end of their set, guitarist/vocalist Josh was obviously hot, wiping sweat from his face.

"Who'd like to hear another girl song?" he asked, steering the band toward his sister Megan singing again. "I would."

I would have too, although it would have been even better with the vocals higher in the mix.

But I'm not complaining because I was just happy to come back from the river and have so much fun stuff to do tonight.

I'd overheard a woman at Merroir today tell her friends that the great thing about visiting Richmond was that there was so much going on, that you could walk to bars, restaurants and music any night you go.

Isn't it the truth?

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Everybody Dance Now

Luckily, you didn't have to be 100 years old to attend.

Tonight was the album release show for the Low Branches, that band that had been a duo when I first started paying attention to them two and a half years ago and has now grown to a quartet.

They grow up so fast, don't they?

It was a cold but fast walk three blocks to Gallery 5 to find all kinds of favorite people there: the stylish friend and her cute husband, the music buddy sans boyfriend, the scientist, the beekeeper, the musician and light show wizard.

All the fun kids.

Starting the show was Dogs on Main Street, also known as Mac, looking particularly dapper tonight in a shirt and vest.

I've seen Mac probably half a dozen times, but I continue to be impressed by how his craft has developed over time.

His interesting growl of a voice always commands the room and inevitably, when he pulls out his harmonica, someone near me notes, "I love harmonica."

Tonight it was two different female friends. I'd work that if I were you, Mac.

"This song is new. It's about me It's called "Sledgehammer," he announced with no further explanation.

The audience was surprisingly quiet for his set, no doubt caught up in his earnest songs.

Partway through he said, "I'm going to switch it up," and put down his acoustic guitar for his electric.

Favorite lyric: Love don't depend on the time of day.

Before his last song, "Reckoning," he said, "I want to thank Christina for asking me to play tonight. Annousheh is next and she's gonna be great. Much better than listening to me up here bleeding."

Mac's self-deprecation skills continue to develop right along with his music, a humorous bonus for his audiences.

During the break, the scientist came up to say hello and I immediately asked if he had chocolate (he usually does) in his pocket.

Instead he was carrying Gummis and proceeded to pull out a pocket knife to open the bag and willingly shared with the group.

All at once, a friend came trotting over, saying she was hungry and had seen the candy.

Another friend introduced me to his date, who surprised me by knowing who I was, having read my blog all last summer.

"I felt like I was in your life," said the lovely stranger.

Now there's a 21st century situation.

Next up was Annousheh and my love for her well-crafted pop songs is a matter of record.

It had barely been three weeks since I'd seen her play at Balliceaux, but the set list was rearranged for us groupies tonight and Depeche Mode was nowhere to be found.

That might have been just for the pretty people crowd.

A girlfriend and I had taken up spots right in front while another friend perched on the steps leading to the stage.

From the first notes on her keyboard, it felt like time to dance.

Friend and I proceeded to bop in place to the hook-heavy songs until the beekeeper came over to say she wanted to dance but her boyfriend didn't.

Isn't that always the way?

A glance around, though, proved that while there was some female swaying going on, most males were rooted in place like oak trees.

Given how dancey her new album "The Trouble I Find" is, it was tough to comprehend.

After the set, I asked a guy near me why more people hadn't danced.

"Everyone wanted to," he said seriously. "But you never know what people's reasons or reluctance are about."

Is there anything better than a Saturday night philosopher? I think not.

A friend came up during the break and joined our little group and before you know it, she was talking about her youth.

When she reminisced about smoking weed in her bedroom with her girlfriend and exhaling through a sock out the window, another friend about lost it.

"I don't know what we thought the sock would do," she said, laughing just as hard.

Memories light the corners of our minds.

It seemed to me that the crowd was even bigger by the time the Low Branches started their set.

Tonight was their first time playing as a foursome with the addition of Blasco on drums, so a fuller sound was inevitable.

Singer Christina, looking lovely with a rose in her hair, began by saying the unlikeliest of things," I know we don't exactly seem like a dance band, but you can dance if you want. I love to dance!"

I'm here to say that nobody danced, but then the achingly beautiful songs don't really have a dance beat, if you know what I'm saying.

"Our new album is called "100 Years Old" and it's dedicated to my parents," she said, then realized how that sounded. "But they're not 100 years old. Ooh, I'm glad they're not here."

The band sounded terrific with Josh on electric bass, Matt's full attention on guitar and Blasco filling things out on drums.

In fact, there were several songs which he took to a whole new level with his drumming.

At one point, feedback became an issue and Christina stopped singing so Josh could check the amp, meanwhile telling us, "Our bass player Josh is our technician," causing Josh's girlfriend to yell, "Woo!" from the middle of the floor.

In a perfect world, technicians would get as much audience love as musicians.

Their last song was a show-stopper, not because it was their last, but because the song was so incredible that the room felt like it stood still.

Favorite lyric: You can't stop a storm, can you?

Afterwards, everyone around joined me in raving about how strong/breathtaking/catchy the last song had been.

"I feel like that was like '70s A.M. gold," the photographer gushed.

Well put, my friend. Just don't ask me to exhale through a sock.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Chicken and Biscuit Piazza

Amazing what a finger or five can do.

Witness Michael Graves, the architect, designer and subject of the new exhibit at the Virginia Center for Architecture.

"From Towers to Teakettles: Michael Graves Architecture and Design" opened Thursday and somehow in the hubbub of the snow, I forgot all about it.

Snow gone, it seemed like a perfect way to spend a sunny Saturday afternoon.

I was familiar enough with Graves to have one of his whistling bird teakettles from Target, albeit a secondhand version I got at Diversity with the bird missing.

But I honestly had no idea of the sheer breadth of the man's work since the sixties.

So in addition to seeing his mega-resort projects in Singapore, there was also a collection of some of his stunning chairs (the lounger being my favorite, with the Milan chair a close second for its sheer beauty) and images of everything from a coffee and tea piazza (coffee pot, sugar and creamer on a tray) to jewelry to lighting fixtures.

Clearly the man's vision extends to practically everything.

I was impressed to read that he was an advocate of drawing by hand, something I have heard is becoming a lost art in the architecture world.

The show referred to his partnering with Target in 1998 as "the democratization of the design movement," surely a boon to all us little people who could never have hoped to own such beautifully designed objects otherwise.

Looking at the panels featuring some of his building designs, his predilection for color was obvious, whether in Washington, D.C., Louisville, Kentucky or Singapore.

Walking into the main gallery provided an unexpected moment of beauty and warmth as the late afternoon sun shone through the leaded windows, warming my legs and necessitating sunglasses indoors.

There I learned he also painted murals and did artwork to accompany his architecture and design work.

Was there nothing this guy couldn't do?

Well, let's see, he designed the scaffolding for the Washington Monument's restoration back in 2000, coming up with a unique blue semi-transparent fabric that mirrored the shape of the iconic monument.

Pure genius. And as many times as I'd seen the monument when that scaffolding had been up, I'd had no idea that Graves had designed it.

And in a classic example of fate shaping destiny, when Graves was partially paralyzed from an infection, he turned his genius to designing patient rooms and furniture in health care facilities.

Let's just say I left with a new-found appreciation for the genius of my teakettle.

Admiring genius works up an appetite, though, so I headed the car across the river for some finger-licking.

I have a complicated relationship with Dixie Chicken.

The first time I tried to go, they were closed due to illness.

The second time I went, I got my fried chicken, but it was seriously overcooked and the skin was dark brown and brittle, not at all what I'd been hoping for from all the online accolades.

The third time I tried, they were suddenly closed on Mondays, although the Facebook page I'd checked before leaving said otherwise.

No telling what today would hold.

Score. They were open, I had a companion so we could try multiple things and life was good.

Wagner was playing dramatically on the little boom box in the window on entering and it smelled of long-cooked collards.

Unfortunately, they were out of the pork belly sandwich I wanted to try, but a barbecue sandwich was substituted, sides of mashed potatoes and gravy, slaw and collards acquired.

The only thing left was to sign the phone screen with my fingertip to pay for the meal and we were off.

It was a most 21st century way to obtain decidedly old-school food.

Given the hot food and the sunny day, a stop at Forest Hill Park seemed like a no-brainer.

I had to admit that despite two decades in Richmond, I'd never been to this park until today.

There were families on the tennis courts, families on the playground and dog walkers all around, so we found a picnic table away from the fray.

From the second I opened my styrofoam box, I knew that this chicken wasn't going to disappoint again.

No siree, this was golden brown and moist-looking, still steaming from the fryer.

The batter had a decidedly peppery bent and I only reluctantly shared a few bites with the barbecue eater who was offered me a bite of the meaty pig sandwich.

Sides were challenging only because we had no utensils, but a trip to the car resulted in a spoon and the cole slaw remained as tasty as I recalled from the first time, with the mashed potatoes and collards executed in typical southern style.

As someone who grew up in a household with a southern grandmother who made from-scratch biscuits at least twice a week, I am too spoiled to find anyone else's biscuits as good as hers, but only because I like her style better than others.

Dixie's biscuits were definitely good, although I'd always prefer a biscuit I have to butter to one that seems a little buttery to start.

Just for the record, I inhaled the biscuit. Sorry, Grandma.

I'd say Dixie Chicken and I have resolved our differences.