Friday, January 9, 2015

Foie Gras and Philosophy

Oh, yes, I have been ridiculed for my eclectic taste.

A friend used to joke about it, saying things like "Who are you off to see tonight? Portuguese hula hoop chanters? Norwegian midget clown poetry? Senegalese haiku dancing girls?" As if.

One friend who does not mock me for my varied interests was more than happy to make plans to meet at L'opossum tonight, although she had one concern. "Supposed to be oh-so very cold on Thursday. Not sure your legs will make it out of your apartment!"

Assuring her that my legs always make it out of the apartment, we were welcomed warmly as the bar's first occupants. You have to appreciate a bartender who remembers an infrequent customer.

Since it was our first 2015 get-together, we decided to begin with glasses of the oh-so dry Treveri Brut de Blanc to toast our nearly 20-year friendship and the new year. And, let's be honest, because we just plain like sparkling.

Because it was my friend's first visit, we took some time for her to get the lay of the land, surveying the visual splendor that is L'opossum. As an artist, she couldn't help but be taken with the colorful light fixtures, the Andy Warhol wallpaper-covered bar, even the beautiful votive candle holders along the bar. No detail escapes the owner's discerning eye, making it a pleasure to behold, no matter where your eye lands.

After admiring the most unique menu design in town (she and I originally met when she was making her living as a graphic designer), we got down to ordering so we could move on to social intercourse.

Like me on my first visit, she was understandably immediately drawn to the el Dorado low rider, a lobster taco with truffled guacamole, although, unlike me, she decided we needed to splurge and have the chef's surprise (silky foie gras) added on.

Since that combination was guaranteed to close our arteries mid-conversation, we balanced it with the polyamorous hippie three-way because the two of us are, after all, products of the '70s (which should not necessarily be construed to mean that we were polyamorous...or that we weren't).

Eating the plate of toasted papadoms with quinoa tabouleh, hummus and baba ganouche first, the bright, fresh flavors made it difficult to keep in mind that this was our healthy choice.

And while I knew how flavorful and well balanced the lobster and tomatillo taco was, the addition of the foie gras pushed it into all new territory, something at once obscene and glorious. And with the Treveri, an absolute indulgence.

Several times while we ate, my friend paused and cocked her ear toward the speaker, taken by the noticeably well-chosen music playing. I assured her it's always that good. It's no exaggeration to say that there's no more unique or compelling restaurant soundtrack in this town.

Midway through eating, a friend came up to say hello and I almost didn't recognize her. She was dressed to the nines and looked absolutely fabulous, but I'd never seen her in anything but jeans or a bathing suit. You just never know how beautifully some people clean up, I teased her. For that matter, her happy husband looked tres dapper in a suit, something else I'd never seen and I've known him far longer.

Not long after, the couple who'd taken up residence next to us at the bar, turned to my friend and greeted her by name. He was someone who used to date a co-worker of hers and his companion was the set designer for a local  theater company's upcoming production.

Always in Richmond you may be guaranteed that even in a tiny restaurant on a freezing Thursday night, people will know you and say hello.

Rather than leave our palates hanging on a savory note, we closed out with la petite mort au chococlat en flambe (because what woman doesn't want to die by chocolate?), admiring the finesse of our server as he poured 151 rum over the chocolate brick and ignited it for a bit of dessert pyrotechnics.

That left us no choice but to inhale the cayenne-infused delicacy and moan a little.

By the time we reached for our coats, the dining room was full and we were up to date on each other's lives. My dressed-up friends were still waiting on the couch up front for a table, so we paused to chat, meeting their charming friend who's about to embark on a two-year motorcycle trip through South America. Last year, it was the Yukon.

My only question was, "You don't have a girlfriend, do you?" He grinned and said no. With his accent and winning smile, I doubt he'll lack for company south of the border.

As she is wont to do, heading out my friend inquired what my next stop would be.

Duh. What else but Balinese Wayang shadow puppetry with Master Gusti Sudarta and musical accompaniment by members of the Gamelan Raga Kusuma?

Laugh all you want, but the back room at Balliceaux was crowded with spectators when I arrived. It was a diverse group - I spotted three berets in the room - from a child to a very old-looking man. The shadow screen was set up in the center of the room, with people sitting on both sides of it for very different views.

Those in front saw a traditional Balinese shadow play. Those behind could see the master as he chose colorful cardboard figures to manipulate behind the screen, as well as the three musicians playing behind him. Those on the sides could see bits of it all.

I began on the side next to the sax player I know, listening to the Gamelan leader explain what would happen and that it was okay to move around during the performance for varying views. He said we could expect everything from fart jokes to philosophical observations, meaning the narrative was going to be as wide-ranging as the audience.

During the "overture," I chose to move to the bar and take a yellow stool so I could watch from the traditional view, while still having a clear shot of two of the musicians playing. It was ideal for me, but plenty of people moved around throughout.

Parts of the story were in Balinese with others in heavily-accented English, such as when one character called out, "Happy New Year, everyone!" to the audience. There were traditional Balinese songs followed by cracks about Mick Jagger and Michael Jackson. During a fight scene, there was a crack about Bruce Lee.

It was after our hero, the prince, had gone to the woods for enlightenment that we got to see the creatures of the woods: giraffes, kangaroos, frogs (with background mouth harp accompaniment), big cats and rabbits. At one point, a character pulled out a cell phone puppet, to the crowd's delight. My favorite element was the hair ponytail on certain "devil" puppets because it flew around wildly when they were fighting.

At the end, the moral seemed to be that life was happy in the forest because there was no stress.

While some people in the audience looked at their phones throughout, most people seemed pretty into the performance and there was lots of applause when it finished. The master came out to take a bow, wearing only one sock, the other foot barefoot.

Maybe this is an ancient Balinese custom.

Holy cow, maybe I'd just seen semi-barefoot Balinese Wayang shadow puppetry, an even more culturally rarefied way to spend an evening.

I don't care how frigid it is, I'd have to have the stupidest legs in Richmond not to leave my apartment for that.

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