Thursday, November 20, 2014

Broad Appeal

A person can only celebrate so many beverages in one evening, but I tried my best.

Seeing as how it's Cider Week, who better to give my attention to than our own urban cidery, Blue Bee?

Upon arrival at Camden's, I was given a seat at the bar, next to the cider maker herself and on my other side, a guy whose first choice of beverage is cider. I don't think I've ever met anyone of that opinion. Like me, he eschews beer, but cider beats wine for him (to each his own).

Looking around the room, I recognized a few faces - the beer geek, a couple I'd met at Secco and chatted for hours with, a woman I'd once interviewed for.

One thing was clear, though, this wasn't a millennial crowd for the most part, so I suggested to the staff that the music be adjusted accordingly and we got shifted to the Luther Vandross station ("I'm liking these slow jams," one of the servers observed, bobbing her head).

The cider lover turned out to be a fine conversational partner as we ate and drank our way through five courses, beginning with house-smoked salmon with dilled cream cheese, red onions, capers and sippets. When our plates arrived, he looked at me and asked how we were supposed to eat it. Like a bagel, I suggested.

Paired with the mouth-watering salmon was Blue Bee's Hopsap Shandy, a hop-infused cider that did nothing for me because I don't care for the taste of hops. It wasn't hard to find someone to take it off my hands, though.

Aragon 1904 was paired with roasted buttercup soup with pepitos, house-smoked bacon and cumin cream which had been drizzled into the shape of an "A" and debate ensued as to whether the letter was a nod to the cider or the chef's initial.

Meanwhile, I was gleaning all kinds of things from my dinner partner. A metal fan since elementary school, it had only been in the past five years that he'd begun exploring other kinds of music - Bastille, Explosions in the Sky  - to great success, despite lingering Pantera adoration. He'd even been asked to tour as part of the Trans-Siberian Orchestra.

An Oregon Hill resident and proud of it, he allowed that Jackson Ward had its charms, too, but admitted being skittish about Church Hill.

When we got to grilled swordfish over apple and napa cabbage slaw with Charred Ordinary, he told me it was the first time he'd ever had swordfish. Considering we'd been talking about restaurants and he'd been to almost every place we discussed, it was a tad surprising.

When he overheard me mention that I didn't have a cell phone, we got off on the topic of device overuse and he surprised me with his disdain for how common that is among younger generations (younger than him, that is). As an example, he talked about seeing parents out with their kids and all of them were on phones or using games with no real interaction.

He was of the opinion that we've already raised a couple of generations without any measurable social skills and that this does not bode well for the future. So he was preaching to the choir. The coolest thing he told me all night was that when he goes out to eat with friends, he insists on a "no Google" rule throughout the evening. Delaying gratification is impressive.

The course he'd most been looking forward to arrived next with chipped duck on a shingle (roasted duck stew on puff pastry with grapes and micro greens) alongside the lovely pink Mill Race Bramble, a beautiful pairing.

When I asked him where he worked, he told me upstairs as a graphic designer, something he'd enjoyed doing since he was young. The only problem had come about when he tried to work at home for a while, finding it lonely because he's so social and unproductive because there were always distractions (guitar).

Since I'm also social and work at home, I suggested that he might feel differently down the road after working a regular job for years like I did.

I also mentioned how I walk first thing every day to get out and about and go out every night for socializing, two things that keep the walls from closing in on me and that he hadn't been doing.

Dessert was pumpkin cheesecake with Gorgonzola whipped cream and a glass of Harvest Ration, a dessert cider made from bittersweet apples. The name comes from a time when Virginians working the harvest would get a daily ration of cider (for hydration) and brandy (for aches and pains). Why do I guess that this is no longer the case?

One of the servers made my day when she told me that a very cool writer she knows who lives in Austin had just posted a link to a Style Weekly story on her Facebook page. When she'd checked the byline, she'd seen it was one of my pieces. "So you've got broad appeal," she said.

The beer geek had come with photos from his sojourn to Maine and New Hampshire, sharing dozens of images of breweries, a sculpture garden, a wedding he attended, a Frank Lloyd Wright house he'd visited and some beautiful shots of Portland and the bay, a place I still recall from a childhood vacation there.

One of the organizers of Fire, Flour and Fork stopped by to chat, soliciting my opinion of the classes and demonstrations I'd attended. Like me, she'd been terribly impressed with the lunch counters screening and discussion.

The happy couple I'd met at Secco came by, too, again suggesting that we meet up for more conversation, something I'd relish given how much fun they'd been last time. "The only reason we came to the cider dinner was to make contact with you again," she joked.

As the crowd began to thin, some of us turned our attention to "The Whistler," the 1944 movie showing on the screen. When one of the servers commented on how old the film looked, he was told it was from before he was born.

"Thriller" was before I was born," he announced, silencing the room. Wait, there are people legally drinking who were born after Nirvana's "Nevermind"? Wow, just wow.

By then it was getting on to time to head to Amour Wine Bistro for their annual Beaujolais tastings. They're smart; knowing that the Beaujolais Nouveau can't legally be released until the third Thursday of November, they always hold a party beginning at 10:30 on the Wednesday night before.

The idea is to savor some of the Cru Beaujolais before doing the requisite sipping of the bubblegum-flavored juice that is Nouveau. A plate of charcuterie was the ideal beginning.

Arriving about 10:45, there were already a dozen people in place and over the next hour, the restaurant all but filled up with people out late on a Wednesday night, including the cast from "Mame." Lots of familiar faces, in other words.

We began with a flight of four half glasses that included a Domaine des Carra Beaujolais Nouveau from 2013, aged a year until it was not only drinkable but delicious.

My favorite of the bunch was organic: Chenas Cave Saint Cyr 2010 but I also enjoyed sips of Brouilly Joseph Drouhin 2011 from someone else's glass.

Restaurant friends showed up unexpectedly, joining us at our little table in time for tasting of the Beaujolais Nouveau 2014 and the high spirits that permeated the room by that point. A restaurateur stopped by to pour a taste of a Beaujolais Blanc made from Chardonnay grapes, a uniquely lovely wine to experience.

Glasses were swept from the tables before 2 a.m., but a group of dedicated wine lovers lingered, chattering about all the good things we'd tasted and how much fun the party had been before spilling out into the cold, empty Carytown streets.

So, I've officially done my part to celebrate the arrival of Beaujolais Nouveau. I've spent a meal saluting cider.

It's up to the rest of you now.

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