Thursday, February 26, 2015

Out on This Town

He stepped down, trying not to look long at her, as if she were the sun, yet he saw her, like the sun, even without looking. ~ Leo Tolstoy "Anna Karenina"

Because that's what girlfriends do, they discuss the language (or absence) of romance when they meet for dinner. She got to the Roosevelt first and I joined her at the bar, bemoaning the fact that it had been far too long since we last met up.

She took one look at my skirt and said, "You are wearing two pairs of tights, right?" Fleece leggings under tights, yes, ma'am. A good friend checks to be sure.

Scanning the wine list, we sought something that neither of us had ever had before, deciding on the 2011 Stinson Vineyards Tannat. Although I'd visited the winery in January two years ago, the Tannat had not yet been available, although what had stuck with me was that winemaker extraordinaire Gabriele Rausse had planted the first vines there 40 years earlier.

It was a big wine, with a nose of blueberry and a peppery finish, a fine choice to sip as we got caught up amid the clamor and bustle of a busy dining room on a cold night.

While it had been a while since I've eaten at the Roosevelt, it didn't take many bites of my arugula salad to remind me what I'd been missing. Topped with fennel, beets, country ham, bleu cheese and buttermilk dressing, the abundant salad kept me busy while my friend shared gossip, cold weather woes and fashion secrets.

She had on a fabulous fashion statement of a necklace, something I wouldn't even attempt, and I envied her ability to pull it off so well.

While she went with the bone-in Berkshire pork chop (sharing a few heavenly bites with me), I chose local lamb neck ragout over fregola with pickled onion and mint. On a chilly night, the earthy lamb over nutty pasta made for a hearty, comforting dish, just what the Roosevelt does best.

When I inquired of the bartender where he'd eaten well lately, his response was, "I had a religious experience at Metzger last week." While I'd fallen hard for the liverwurst, his downfall had been the lamb three ways (because who can resist lamb belly?) which was still haunting his dreams.

At the end of the bar, a couple seemed to be struggling with conversation. Only after they left did we learn that they'd been on a Tinder date, one hindered by him arriving totally drunk and then having four rounds. This had so unhinged the girl that she'd gotten testy, accusing a server who was staring into space of ogling her.

Whoever thought that swiping right was a good way to begin a relationship should have seen the look on the faces of these two as they struggled through a pseudo-date. Such a waste of time.

Not so our get-together, where we chatted about our devotion to John Currence, our indifference to Elvis and our latest cooking accomplishments (my ragout, her paprikash). There aren't many women I discuss cooking with, but she's one.

Three hours in, she began to fade, no doubt attributable to an early morning wake-up call, causing her to push the last of the bottle of Tannat in my direction before heading home.

So what am I going to do with the end of a bottle and no friend? Oh, please. It took about five minutes for a guy to come in and sit down at the bar near me before I had fresh conversation.

After asking about spirits, he said, "Nobody has Chivas in this town," but was seduced anyway into trying Virginia Highland malt whiskey by the savvy bartender. But I had all the information I needed to start talking.

His reference to "this town" meant he wasn't from around here, so where did he live, I wanted to know. Shanghai, it turns out, but he's here on vacation (and escaping Chinese New Year) visiting his parents. Within moments, his father showed up after parking the car.

Dad wasted no time in extending his hand and introducing himself, unlike his son, and he turned out to be a delightful fellow.They'd just come from Dutch & Co, so we discussed food for a bit - Edo's, Lehja, Nora Lebanese - during which he let slip that he was in the music business.

Opening #2. How so? Turns out his career had consisted of making the percussion devices that strike things such as drums and xylophones. He grabbed a long cocktail mixer to demonstrate the kind of sticks and mallets he makes.

Coincidentally, at the table behind us was big band leader Samson Trinh from whom my new friend had taken ukulele lessons. It's a small world in Richmond.

Along about then, the bartender looks at the visitors, raises an eyebrow and asks, "Is she bothering you gentlemen?"

"Yes, she's bothering me and no, don't make her stop," he responded, extending our conversation to my work, my neighborhood and my history. His son sat there, apparently bored by us, saying little, although he admitted to liking the Virginia Highland.

By the time I finished my wine, they'd finished their whiskeys and another satisfying night begun with a friend had ended in the hands of a stranger. As I left, the kitchen guys smoking on the porch outside gave me one last laugh before heading into the Church Hill night.

Language wins every time. Romantic language, even better.

She wasn't doing a thing that I could see, except standing there leaning on the balcony railing, holding the universe together.~
J.D. Salinger "A Girl I Knew"

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