Saturday, July 27, 2013

Sublime and Surreal

Saturday is the new Monday.

Or at least is is for those of us who had a raucous week and were finally ready to take it easy tonight.

For us, there was a dinner and a show with my best date gal.

I was craving some Restaurant of the Year action, so we drove east to Aziza's, arriving early enough to be the first customers of the evening.

Prudence went straight for the Vinho Verde while I went with something even less alcoholic. Agua.

Our arrival had apparently signaled the masses, as two tables followed us in shortly after, and we kicked back listening to Sirius' "Coffeehouse" station.

On a mock-Monday, acoustic music is just the ticket.

Despite Pru's objections to octopus, we started with fruiti de mare panzanella because if there's any  good time of the year for panzanella, this is it.

Chef Philip's was so much more than stale bread and tomatoes, though, with shrimp, mussels, feta, cucumbers, olives, mint, basil and anchovies besides two beautifully tender tentacles.

Our lovely server joined me in trying to coax Pru to eat something she was sure she hated, telling her that this would be incredibly tender octopus, like none she had ever tasted.

Midway through our panzanella, she reluctantly agreed to try a bite, even admitting it was far better than she'd expected.

From there we moved on to sharing an entree with a lamb kefta kebab and a marinated ribeye kebab with tatziki and house-baked pita.

The ribeye was perfectly rare and tender while the lamb sausage seduced with its vibrant spices.

Getting our meat fix led to a discussion with our server about our mutual need for meat and how we are happy to order it out when we can afford it.

"And not that petit fillet, either," she laughed. "I want a full eight ounces."

She admitted that on dates, she'll only eat part of her steak and bring the rest home so as to appear more ladylike.

I assured her she'd grow out of that nonsense.

For our final course, we had, wait for it, foie gras carpaccio with sliced brown turkey figs, rose hips and watermelon and cantaloupe balls.

Words can't describe this new-to-the-menu dish, but I'll try.

Obscene. Sex on a plate.

Sliced thinly, the rich, creamy slices of foie gras combined with the deep fig flavor and the delicate tang of the rose hips was exquisite.

The melon balls brought in another level of sweetness, but the overall effect was best summed up by Pru.

"That goose happily gave up his liver for this dish."

All I can say is tonight may have been the first night for Aziza's foie gras carpaccio, but please god, don't let it be the last.

The sublime combination of buttery and sweet made for an ideal last course, and that's saying a lot at a place that has the best cream puff around on the menu.

After sopping the plate clean with bread, we raved to our sever about our satisfaction with the dish, which led to a discussion of sex.

She was concerned that her sex drive seemed to escalate with age and wanted input from a couple of older women.

Conveniently, we had the experience to help her out.

"Wow, I'm so glad to hear that!" she said. "I thought there was something wrong with me."

Nothing that the right guy can't take care of, my dear.

She suggested we all needed to have dinner sometime to discuss the matter further.

Sex talk while eating? Glad to oblige.

Can we eat here, where the food is as good as the topic of conversation?

By then it was time to take our stuffed bellies and overactive libidos to the theater.

It was my first time at Dogtown Dance Theater in Manchester and I have to say it's a great space, high-ceilinged with comfortable chairs, so I hope to be back.

Playing tonight was TheaterLab's production of "Exquisite Corpse, a Devised Piece."

The name comes for a parlor game played by the surrealists where one person begins a drawing, poem or story and passes it on to the next guest, who does another part before passing it on.

We've all played that game where you add on fanciful tails and heads to an unseen creature, only to see the result once everyone's had a go at it.

Tonight's theater piece was a little like that in that it was collaborative (all the actors had contributed to the ideas and dialog) and didn't follow a linear path.

It began with humor, a skit about first year medical students witnessing a mock operation and morphed into a dance piece.

At times a group of actors would be lined up in chairs onstage, alternately spouting out confessions.

"I'm no magician, but I've had my fair share of being in a trunk," said the guy who claimed to masturbate in a trunk's confines.

A scene with  two people alternately telling a third, "I love you," segued then into the central person telling the other two alternately, "I love you," until his words were unintelligible as his head snapped side to side.

Music served the devised piece well (like Sinatra's "That's Life"), as did humor (a couple rush at each other to kiss, only to stop, putting on a sterile mask and gown before kissing) and even nudity.

One especially surrealistic scene involved three people and an operating table littered with gummy bears that they alternately gorged on and attacked each other.

There was plenty of commentary on contemporary life, like when the group came out into the spotlight, bouncing and shouting under the light and moving with the light to stay in the spotlight.

When the spotlight moved to the audience, they approached us, looking at us like animals in cages worthy of observation.

One particularly confessional scene had the group lying on the floor calling out their fears.

"I'm afraid of dying alone."

"I'm not afraid of getting older, just having an unfulfilled life."

"I'm afraid if people really knew me, they wouldn't like me."

Because the cast was very young, some of their fears were the kind that will dissipate with time and life experience, not that they know that now.

Others were universal.

What mattered was the truthfulness of the performance, which came out in every line of dialog, every improvised scene, every concern voiced.

It was theater that didn't give you the option of sitting back and being spoon-fed.

Whether confusing you, making you sad, reminding you of an old hurt or amusing you, the audience had to think. And feel.

That's a damn fine way to spend a Saturday or Monday night.

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