Friday, February 20, 2015

Table for Eight

If, as Robert Louis Stevenson said, marriage is one long conversation, then I would argue that so is a wine dinner.

Take eight people, place them at a community table at Amour Wine Bistro and proceed to serve four courses of food and wine and see where the conversation goes. I certainly had no idea.

I'd begun by asking the wine expert how it was possible that he was still using his outdoor shower given the sub-zero temperatures. He admitted he'd had to stop when the time it took to unfreeze the pipes became longer the the length of his shower.

Knowing my affinity for outdoor showering, he teased me with pictures of his shower in the snow and one of him the other day mid-shower, snow along the ledge of the stall. I don't know about you, but I can't help admiring a man who showers outside practically year round.

The wine dinner called "Walking Through the Vineyards of Burgundy, Languedoc and Loire" began with 2012 Domaine Jean Aubron Muscadet Sevre & Maine paired with mussels in a dazzling broth of Chorizo, espelete and tomato.

It turned out one at our table didn't like the texture of mussels and was ready to hand them off when she reconsidered, saying she likes to retry things periodically to see if her palate has changed. She got halfway though the bowl before deciding she'd had enough.

Most of us had sopped every last drop of that tasty broth with our pleasantly acidic Muscadet while listening to tales from the couple who'd spent two years living on a boat in the Caribbean.

In Curacao (or was it Grenada?), they told of a guy on a boat who had come ashore and shucked oysters for them as fast as they could eat them until they were full. Another time, he told of being on a tuna fishing boat in the Atlantic and no one catching anything. The captain wanted to know who had brought a banana aboard (a sure omen of bad luck, apparently).

So that you know, other unlikely totems when fishing: whistling and women. Needless to say, the latter caused an entire discussion to ensue on the subject of women and luck.

I happen to think I bring luck.

When we were informed that the next wine, 2013 La Galope Sauvignon Blanc, was from Gascogne, the Romanian-accented women at the other end of the table pipes up, saying, "That's where D'Artagnan was from." It's a worthy crowd when people are referencing Dumas' classic, "The Three Musketeers."

I shouldn't have been surprised. Her husband turned out to be a professor at VCU of theoretical and comparative literature with an appreciation of music. Smart people abounded at this table.

As we sipped the full-bodied wine with salmon, clove-scented sauerkraut and fingerling potatoes, the woman in the adorable leopard-print bolero regaled us with the time she and her husband had bought "Dinner with Ed" at a silent auction benefiting Save Our Shelters.

The Ed in question was Ed Vasaio of Mama Zu who showed up to make dinner at their house. She said he brought an enormous rockfish (which he cleaned in the alley behind their house), two cases of wine, steak and two kinds of pasta.

"He had to fold that rockfish in half to get it in my oven!" she said, laughing. It sounded like a memorable meal, but then, how could it not have been?

When the third wine arrived, 2010 Promesses de France Pinot Noir, our wine guru took us on a tangent about the difference in French and American wine drinkers. Explaining that the French could not care less about the varietal they're drinking or how it's made, he assured us they only consider how it tastes and what it does for food.

"Ask a French winemaker what grape you're drinking and he'll say what do you care?" It was interesting to hear that some smaller producers (say, less than 1,000 cases) have gone back to foot trodding again. Of course I'd like to try it once.

The lovely Pinot Noir smelled like cherries and did a fine job complementing the NY strip, asparagus, mashed potatoes and greens that accompanied it. When I couldn't finish my steak, I slid the last chunk ("I hate that word," the Brit said) onto the wine guru's plate and his face lit up. "Nothing like some steak nuggets to finish off a meal," he said appreciatively.

The group got off on a discussion of music and dancing, a subject that seemed to interest everyone and in no time, were comparing notes on who'd seen what videos and performances.

Willie Nelson had been impressive on guitar but couldn't recall lyrics (too much weed, no doubt). Dylan had surprised and impressed. Annie Lennox and Hoosier had blown minds.

Bolero and her husband had gone to Ft. Meyer to see a stellar Johnny Mathis show and he shared fond teenage memories of making out to Mathis. He also recalled an interview where Jeff Beck was asked why he didn't use a pick. His response was that if he used a pick, he'd have an unemployed finger.

More than a few people at the table had taken dancing lessons to learn to waltz, foxtrot, cha cha cha and tango (described by the guy who took a summer's worth of lessons to learn the sexy dance as "slide, slide, drag"), something which impressed me since I'd like to do the same before I die.

All of us had seen the monthly group of tango enthusiasts dancing at the VMFA and marveled at their finesse dancing with touching shoulders and hips so far apart.

One guy admitted that dancing was how he'd learned to drink in Philly. Apparently going to coming out parties ("That doesn't mean the same thing anymore," someone else pointed out) and debutante balls teaches a young man how to dance quickly. Or at least it did back in the day.

The topic of pillows came up (no idea) and the charmingly accented woman said she'd gone online to find some nice ones, only to find a Swedish company who makes a $100,000 version made of horsehair, cashmere and springs. From this, we assumed she meant mattresses, not pillows. But seriously?

It struck her as funny because she recalled that the mattresses of her youth were made of horsehair so it seemed like a throwback. The history nerd in the group knew that at the end of WWI, there were half a million horses in Philly but by the start of WWII, there were 1,000. I'm guessing that explains all the extra horsehair.

I'm not sure these conversation would have been possible without the walk through the vineyards.

I was tickled pink to see that the dessert course was paired with La Galope Cotes de Gascogne Rose, not at all like a delicate Provencal Rose, but rich with lots of fruit to stand up to dark chocolate-covered profiteroles filled with vanilla cream. Not many Roses could hold their own against a dessert.

A discussion of women and chocolate naturally followed with one woman observing, "Men think we're so difficult. Just tell us we're beautiful and give us chocolate. It's so easy." She made a good point, but how many men actually bother to do that?

One of the guys immediately cracked wise, saying, "Just give us a beer and the remote. We know we're simple." We know it, too.

The Brit regaled us with a favorite travel story from Key West. A street performer - a guitarist - had been in costume as Darth Vader. His sign read, "Don't forget to tip your Vader." Maybe it was all the wine by that point, but she got a lot of laughs with that.

Over Armagnacs and coffees, we batted around the topic du jour - Brian Williams - many saying that he's probably no more an embellisher than most news people. Someone posited that John Stewart would make a fine replacement for Brian, especially given that there's an entire generation who didn't realize he was doing satire.

It was some time after the leopard bolero told us of the difficulty she'd had finding peach brandy for punch one holiday season (the ABC guy said hunters buy it up and stash it in hollow trees for between-kill nips) but before I got the professor to admit that some semesters he assigns his students "Finnegan's Wake" just to be perverse, that we all raised a glass to each other and a fine night of wide-ranging conversation.

Maybe the secret to a happy marriage is excellent food and well-chosen wine, like what we had tonight. Or, more poetically speaking, maybe it's walking through vineyards together.

Hell, just tell us we're beautiful and give us chocolate. It's so easy.

No comments:

Post a Comment