Saturday, August 2, 2014

You Don't Even Have to Say It

Don't be so sure I have plans.

Everybody assumes my schedule is jam-packed every minute of every evening - it's even been referred to as CSS, as in "crowded social schedule" - but in reality, many nights  find me with multiple options but no actual commitments.

Which means when a friend phones at 3:30 saying he's decided he wants to celebrate his birthday eve tonight and asking if I can join him and a favorite couple at 6, I enthusiastically say yes.

Think about that question. Can I join three good friends in two and a half hours for an evening of good food, drink and conversation? Must be a rhetorical question.

The plan was to meet at Rappahannock and I was the first to arrive, staking out seats on the far side of the bar and soon joined by the birthday boy toting two bottles of French Chardonnay (2006 and 2009) to enliven the festivities.

Before long the happy couple arrived and we learned that tonight was also the 13 year anniversary of their first date, so everyone had something to celebrate. For me, Friday night with friends was plenty.

Jumping right in with the intimacy of good friends and some vague details about the birthday boy's recent sex life, the 2006 wine was poured, revealing a very slightly oxidized nose and leading to discussion of wine and women past their prime but still worth savoring.

You know I had a few things to say on that subject.

It was the birthday celebrant's first time at Rappahannock so we began by diving into oysters on the half shell: butter Rapphannocks, slightly salty Stingrays, Old Saltes and, as a treat from the great north, Blue Hill Bay oysters from Maine, tasting like a mouth full of saltwater when a wave knocks you down. Divine.

Half of us (okay, me and the birthday boy) thought that the wine paired better with the saltier oysters while the other two thought the opposite.

It didn't matter what anyone thought because in no time at all, both were history.

We took an educational detour for a lesson in oxidation with a glass of sherry (but made no converts in the process) and the pork and pickles plate with pork rillettes and country pate, both nice enough but safe tasting.

"Needs more liver!" the celebrant pronounced and I agreed. Both seemed to have come from innocuous cuts like pork shoulder and lacked any real earthiness or rustic qualities, tastes well seek out.

Opening the 2009 Chardonnay, we found far more minerality, a much lighter color and a lovely choice to go with first a ceviche and then rockfish and barcat oyster bourride, a satisfying bowl with potatoes, garlic and a poached egg in a sop-worthy broth.

Sopping vehicles became the topic as the merits of Billy Bread and Sub Rosa were compared.

As usual with this crowd, a lot of the talk centered on food, drink and going out and before long we found ourselves listing future occasions for get togethers.

An authentic Ukrainian meal. A guest bartender competition party. A blind wine tasting. A trip to Merroir for the one who's never been. A mezcal tasting.

We could come up with countless reasons to hang out and put things in our mouths. And, no, we're not creepy swingers.

By then Rappahannock was completely full, so we decided to hit the road, with our first stop being Art 6 to see Helena Magnusson Ogburn's vibrantly colored, texturally dynamic painting show.

Funniest thing I was told about the artist? "She was so happy when she discovered hinges," a reference to several pieces that incorporated sections of brass hinges into the exuberant works.

My second favorite thing was that she paints every single day, a tenacity I respect.

The show was large with paintings of many sizes and we took our time seeing them all as they wound up the staircase, each of us choosing a favorite and explaining to the others why.

It's not enough to have an opinion with this group. You have to be able to defend it, too.

At one point, a girl walked by wearing abbreviated shorts she had no business wearing and before I could even form the words, my friend grinned and said, "You don't even have to say it."

It's a good friend who already knows how you're going to judge a stranger's shorts with just a look.

From Art 6 it was a quick hop, skip and a jump through the rain showers to Saison which was hopping, too. Perhaps too much so because all three of my companions were disappointed with their cocktails while I had no problem whatsoever with my Espolon.

Sometimes keeping things simple is the way to go.

Somehow a discussion of making moonshine led to my friend sharing some Russian history about Peter and Catherine the Great (who, I have to admit, sounded pretty interesting), at least until her man insisted on saving me from the educational tangent.

What? They don't teach us that stuff in America.

We nibbled on oxtail sopes before finding our passion in tender and fragrant chicken a la brassa, its smoky broth a sensory delight we drank with spoons until it was gone.

Our final stop of the evening was for dessert because what's a birthday without sweets? The birthday boy was presented with obscure beers from the happy couple while accepting nothing more than sincere wishes from me.

Standing on the sidewalk under umbrellas saying goodnight, I reminded my friends that it never hurts to check with me at the last minute to see if I'm busy.

Hey, I've got no problem chucking my CSS when the party's this good.

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