Sunday, January 25, 2015

A Winter Night

Truth be told, it was not how I would have wanted to celebrate Robert Burns' birthday.

In a perfect world, I'd have been eating haggis, neeps and tatties while listening to "Address to a Haggis," followed by a dram of whiskey and the singing of "Old Lange Syne."

But in the true spirit of making the most of a Saturday night, I got myself to Dutch & Co. instead. There, I spied a barkeep hand-bottling eye-catching "adult sodas," for a function tomorrow. The deliberate motions of squeezing the simple device to put orange bottle caps in place was very satisfying to watch.

Our conversation revolved around his backyard gardening with plans for a greenhouse and hoop houses to extend the season for vegetables for the restaurant and herbs for the bar. Honeysuckle for syrups, is already in abundance, as it tends to be all over Richmond.

A major reason for my affection for Dutch & Co. is their $5 menu which reliably offers some of the most creative small plates in the entire city. My first tonight was a dreamy salmon tartar, sunny and orange in color and accompanied by salmon skin blinis and chive yogurt.

While I was savoring every bite, I was busy discussing tomorrow's big Elby's party, which had everyone abuzz with its disco theme. As I explained to the several on the staff, my ensemble for the party is almost exactly a copy of the dress I wore New Year's Eve 1977 when I was headed to a waterfront restaurant and, yes, a disco to ring in 1978.

Don't tell me what disco was because I was there.

My second course was duck liver mousse on grilled bread, two generous slabs that almost certainly shut down my arteries after the first few bites. The tang of pickled carrots and onions, the crunch of nuts and the spice of gremolata made for perfectly balanced flavor in every decadent bite.

Meanwhile, a couple came in and joined me at the bar, then another while behind me, the dining room was filling up quickly.

My final course was venison pastrami atop warm turnip risotto, a glorious combination that the kitchen took over the top with balsamic mushrooms to add a sweet complement to the savory.

As I was declining dessert for lack of room, the woman at the bar nearest me looked over and said she recognized me. One well placed question and we recognized each other as friends of a certain man known for prodigious restaurant-going and spreadsheets devoted to finding the ideal woman.

They live in the Museum District and it was their first visit to Dutch & Co., and she was already proclaiming the duck breast the best she'd ever eaten. I assured her that its liver was every bit as fabulous as the breast.

Before I left, we made plans to have our mutual friend set up an evening so we can all get together and gorge.

On my way to the car, I passed a couple walking two of the liveliest beagles, both adorable. The smaller one had so much personality I couldn't help but squat down and spend some time rubbing its velvety ears. It was almost as satisfying as dessert and far less filling.

Then it was over the river to Crossroads for a little night music. Garden and Gun magazine had recommended Another Roadside Attraction for its vaudeville take on Americana and that was enough to lure me.

I found a seat at a table with a couple who lived one house away and we wiled away the time until the band began chatting. They highly recommended I come sometime for Sunday's Bland Street Jam, where they'd recently seen a bill so diverse it included R & B, opera and Hank Williams covers. "You never know who will take the stage!" she raved.

Another Roadside Attraction - husband and wife Lucy and Jordan- was a colorful duo with a distinctive array of instruments including a guitarron like you see mariachi bands play ("also a flotation device for small children," he joked), three banjos, guitar, washboard, kazoo, harmonica and drums made of plastic buckets and suitcases.

Both had terrific voices, enthusiasm and the ability to trade off instruments all night long. They started with songs with country-like titles, meaning they included parentheses, such as "If My Baby was Made of Strudel (I'd Eat Strudel All the Time).

They did a kids' song called "Johnny Rebek" that had Lucy playing a washboard outfitted with tin cans for drumming, bells and whistles using metal-tipped gloves to strike everything.

Mostly, though, they did original material like "The World Ain't No Oyster," following that line with, "but it's yours to hold." Jordan, in homemade striped pants, gave a short dissertation on loons and then followed with a song about the birds, competing with the milkshake maker as he sang.

One of my favorites was "Breakfast with You," a song listing just about every breakfast food ("The waffle iron's hot") and why he wanted to share them with his honey. I think it had to do with sleepovers and happily ever after.

Wayne the Train's "Juke Joint Jumping" seamlessly segued into "Blue Suede Shoes" and Jordan's hip shimmying, to the delight of the crowd.

Hands down, they got the most laughter from "Roadside Miracle Mustache Wax," partly with lines like "Those stray hairs will be a thing of the past" but probably also because of Jordan's magnificently waxed beard and 'stache. Lucy, in a colorful handmade skirt. more than held her own on xylophone despite the absence of any facial hair.

You know what, Garden and Gun had been right on. With their amalgamation of ragtime, mariachi, vaudeville and Americana, Another Roadside Attraction was one of a kind entertainment. By the end, they had us all singing the refrain "Fancy pants" while doing jazz hands on the chorus.

That was after Jordan insisted we all pick up one of their hand-stamped books of matches. Or a CD. "They're marked $15, but it's donation based. Pay $7 and you win. Pay $20 and we win."

Hell, we'd already won by showing up and letting them go full tilt at us cabaret-style. Jordan, with his Kona coffee-fueled energy and Lucy, with her low-key presence and exquisite voice, were the best thing Roanoke has sent to Richmond in a while.

With apologies to Robert Burns, my heart might have wanted to be in the Highlands tonight, but I couldn't have had a better time than I did.

Longing for haggis was a thing of the past.

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