Thursday, November 23, 2017

Mmm, Nice

If the hour we started was uncivilized, surely the hour we ended was.

For weeks now, I'd had plans with Pru and Beau for dinner at Secco followed by a screening of "Double Indemnity" at the Byrd. When I messaged Beau asking what time they'd be picking me up, his response was, "Ridiculously early at 4:45."

I patiently explained that it was Thanksgiving Eve and thus rules of civility don't apply. Plenty of people were starting happy hour mid-afternoon. I invoked the beach, where happy hour starts anytime you like, but he said the beach doesn't count. Also, it should be noted, he was the one who'd made the reservation.

A few hours later, he notified me that Pru was under the weather so it would be just us two. "You down with that?' he wanted to know. As long as you can provide sufficient conversation, I sure am.

We got to Secco just as the sun was setting at the ungodly hour of 4:54 and before they officially opened, but the owner was gracious enough to let us inside the warm building (where the staff was doing last second prep) rather than waiting outside in the suddenly frigid air.

Once seated with our coats checked, Beau realized he'd left his phone in his jacket, making it easy for us to qualify for Secco's unplugged happy hour, although we had nothing to put in the lidded box on our table, which is where customers are supposed put their devices to qualify. It was all window dressing anyway since Beau's smart enough to keep his phone pocketed when he's with me.

To assuage his concerns about the early hour, I suggested we begin with a civilized glass and not rush into ordering like senior citizens at a Golden Corral. Given that it was a holiday eve, I opted for festive with Hillinger Secco Sparkling Pinot Noir Rose, while Beau couldn't resist an offering from the Secret Stash chalkboard, Ostatu Rioja Blanco, with which we both were quite taken.

Normally, that's the point at which he'd pull out his phone and take a picture of the label so he could reference it later for purchasing purposes. With his device unavailable, he had to settle for me writing it down with a pen on paper, to him the equivalent of a chisel and stone tablet.

Glasses in hand, the likes of LCD Soundsystem and Steely Dan playing overhead, we were easing into civilized effortlessly, if I do say so myself.

Now that his job requires frequent travel, he has plenty of out-of-town restaurant stories to share, including one about a former theater being converted into a restaurant. And while the decor and set-up impressed him, the food didn't compare to what he eats in Richmond all the time, forcing him to acknowledge Pru's prior explanation that we're spoiled because Richmond is such an outstanding food town.

Our server, young and fresh-faced, won our affection for allowing us to determine the pace of our evening and eating. When I mentioned his beautiful skin, guessing that he moisturizes daily, he admitted he did. "And I got a facial mask this afternoon," he shared, surprising neither of us. Beau says he'll be happy with how his skin looks when he's his age.

Once we'd finished our wine, we looked the menu over for our next selections, deciding on an old favorite, Chateau de Roquefort Corail Rose, for me and Steininger Gruner Veltliner Reserve for Beau. The nose on his made me wish for a dozen oysters to magically appear in front of me.

That was the cue that we needed to get serious with the menu and as we bantered about what we wanted, I reminded Beau that like Pru's immortal comment about choosing a wine, "Why would we ever leave the Loire?" in my world, the question is, why would we ever leave the starters and small plates?

Indeed, we began ordering, choosing roasted carrots that got the star treatment with smoked beets, fermented honey, the nut and spice mixture known as almond dukkah, housemade rye crackers and the mildest goat cheese we may ever taste. We followed that with a special of rabbit soup that we both loved, as much for a clear broth heavy on shallots as for the abundance of rabbit, not to mention carrots and pea shoots on top.

Because 'tis the season, we went with a roast squash tostada, fried corn tortillas layered with salsa macha, hummus, cabbage and sprinkled in pepitas. Overlooking the fact that it was a main course, we got mushroom potstickers, which announced themselves with a heavenly aroma of black garlic dashi and were accompanied by roasted pumpkin under a flurry of sprouts.

Replete with savory and having discovered a mutual fondness for butterscotch, we moved on to a decadent butterscotch pudding with whipped creme fraiche and candied pecans that was only made better with H & H 5-Year Madiera to sip along side it.

I'm here to tell you that no matter how uncivilized we felt walking in, full civility was restored by the time we took our final sips of Madiera. Good thing, too, because the classic film noir we were off to see at the Byrd was more about brassy dames and malleable men than civilized behavior.

Manager Todd introduced the Billy Wilder-directed film (I'd had no idea), explaining how Raymond Chandler had done the screenplay from James Cain's novel, which probably explains why Fred MacMurray said "baby" at the end of every sentence to Barbara Stanwyck.

Shut up, baby. Good bye, baby. I love you, baby. Every time he said something like that, the millennial couple sitting next to me went into fits of giggles. For that matter, there was plenty of inappropriate laughter at some of the more dramatic moments in the film, as if certain audience members had no familiarity with acting norms circa 1948.

Personally, I loved Fred's easy-going California charm, like when he's offered iced tea when he really wants something stronger ("Unless you got a bottle of beer that's not working"). Holding the glass up to look at it, he muses, "I wonder if a little rum would get this up on its feet?"

Oh, I bet it would.

Turns out Beau enjoyed it, too, and not just because neither of us had seen it before. It was atmospherically shot, surprisingly dense with loads of '40s humor and revealed California before it was the hip state. Besides, it's on AFI's list at #38 of the 100 Best American Films of all time, so we got to check off a box.

As we're walking back to the car, Beau commented what a fun evening it had been with such a  fantastic meal and fascinating movie, as if it were over. Instead, I rang Holmes and Beloved and we landed there shortly after procuring holiday pecans for Pru's yams.

I should've known better than to bring another old soul to choose records with Beloved because she and Beau were soon knee-deep in "Moonglow." That changed when Beau got up to peruse Holmes' stack and asked ever-so-casually, "Oh, do you have any Mungo Jerry?"

Sure, the band name was familiar, even a hit song, but who asks for Mungo Jerry and who has it? Well, a few minutes later, we found out Holmes did when he returned from a back room with an album in hand and put it on. The sound of kazoos filled the man cave.

"Thanks for suggesting this," Holmes said to Beau. "I didn't know I had it." While this should have led to incredulity, it instead led to a conversation about the power of alphabetizing and jokes about the Dewey Decimal system.

Part of the blame for that undoubtedly goes to the Whispering Angels Rose then being poured into Holmes' mother's short champagne coupes as we listened to Bob Thompson's orchestra and chorus on a fabulous 1960 album, "Mmm, Nice!" that provided the ultimate party soundtrack.

Rose may also have been the culprit in discussing Beau's ring tones, one of which is from a Muhammad Ali commercial for D-Con, which Beau mimicked for us until we were laughing (so hard Beloved was in tears) at how spot-on his Ali imitation was, right down to inflections.

Imagine, if you will, the whitest of men, one who moisturizes, wears bow ties and has a fabulous swoop of hair, intoning, "I don't want you to live with roaches!" and sounding, for all the world, like the heavyweight great.

That led to Beau showing off other ringtones, until Holmes tried to compete by pulling a miniature toilet off a shelf and pushing its tiny handle down for a ridiculously loud flush sound. Game over.

And we were up on our feet, like rum-spiked tea. As in, back to a complete lack of civility. Time to go home, Gracie.

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