Friday, September 14, 2018

For the Good Times

When you get back to J-Ward at 1:35 a.m. during a hurricane watch, you can be sure the 'hood will be lively. And not a parking space in sight.

The strange part was, when I'd left home nine hours before, it had been like a ghost town around here. I figured with VCU out until Monday, some students had skipped town. And it wasn't just the kids, either, because walking through downtown in the morning had revealed an unusually low number of worker bees and traffic.

Oh, Richmond, you handle bad weather predictions so poorly.

Never one to sit at home and wait for bad weather to arrive, I was on my way to Church Hill by 4:45 for a girls' night out with Pru and Queen B. Usually when it's the three of us, we head directly to Merroir, but given Flo's looming presence on the coast, we decided on Alewife, with its focus on the bounty of the sea, instead.

As a bonus, we only had to drive six blocks instead of an hour.

No one wants to be the first group taking a table when a restaurant opens, but we had a 7:00 play to make, so we were those rubes sliding into our seats in the nearly empty dining room just after 5:00. That said, within 45 minutes, people began to come through the door at a steady pace and the noise level rose exponentially.

The menu had changed almost completely since I'd been in the week before, so there were plenty of new temptations. After staking our wine claims in Languedoc (my Rose) and the Loire (Pru's Chenin Blanc), we dove into the menu, stopping only when we hit food coma stage.

Crab claws with roe mayo arrived unexpectedly fried when I'd presumed they'd just be steamed, but that was the only wrinkle. Spaghetti squash jazzed up with oil and Szechuan spices was a new take on an old favorite. Even more unique, a fluffy olive oil pancake was the pillow on which rested translucent wisps of tuna, everything dip and bonito, a surprisingly rich starter. Pattypan squash from local Bowtide Farms got the glam treatment by being topped with tomato gravy and Caramont cheese.

When the subject turned to my blog, Pru asked why I'd been blogging less lately. Short answer: too happy and no time. Her complaint was that my blogging had stopped when I was low, too. That's because my readers don't want to hear about my giddy highs or last winter's lows.

"Not true, your readers love to ride the roller coaster with you," she insisted. Do they?

Meanwhile, back at the feast, Queen B couldn't resist Wagyu flank steak with fingerling potatoes, shitake mushrooms, shishitos and steak sauce, even if her preference for well-done meat had to be compromised. But the undisputed crowd favorite was a special of orecchiette with clams Fra Diavalo, the spicy tomato garlic sauce resting in the divot of each "ear" of orecchiette. So satisfying we all ate like field hands it was our first meal of the day (it wasn't) and obliterated any dessert lust I'd been harboring.

Midway through the meal, Chef Lee came over to welcome us to his new place in the former Blue Wheeler Market & Deli, which is a fancy name for what was a bodega. That they left one window still painted with a Coca Cola advertisement to acknowledge the building's history was a nice touch. Raving about everything we'd tasted so far, I looked up at him and asked, "You know how long I've been eating your food?"

Smiling, he acknowledged, "A looong time." I'm thinking I fell for his cooking somewhere back in the dark ages of 2006 or 2007, even driving out to Charlottesville once he was cooking there. In restaurant years, that's devotion.

The other familiar face was the former New Yorker who stopped by the table to say hello and acknowledge she'd seen me from afar when I was in last week. "You're hard to miss, sitting at the end of the bar like you were," she said of my favorite bar position.

When the discussion turned to the newest restaurants in Church Hill, she was quick to acknowledge that Jackson Ward is where it's at. East End residents, she and her husband (who has a business in J-Ward) are music lovers like me, but unlike me, they can't walk to Strange Matter or Gallery 5. I appreciate the praise for my 'hood, but no one has to remind me how centrally located I am.

By the time we left Alewife, it was seriously hopping and we had a play to make at CATheatre. And not just any play, but a French farce translated into English and on record as the most performed French play throughout the world.

Personally, the attraction for me was that "Boeing, Boeing" was set in the 1960s and involved an architect and the three flight attendants - "My international harem" - he was "engaged" to. As for why he had three, his claim was that less than three was too monotonous and more than three was too much work.

Then the play went on to demonstrate that even three was dangerous if all three were in town at the same time.

And make no mistake, I know perfectly well we weren't calling them flight attendants back then. As someone who went through the tedious process to become one in the '70s (a process that included a weigh-in), let me assure you they were called stewardesses. And no, I didn't take the job.

I also know that when one of the women in the play holds up a molded bra and pair of pantyhose to ask who they belonged to, neither were accurate to the 1960s. That actress should have been holding one of those cotton Playtex bras and a pair of stockings, assuming there's a continuity god in the theater.

At least the reference to the Kinsey Report rang true.

The architect Bernard's long-time friend Robert from Wisconsin comes to visit and gets to meet the three stewardesses: Gloria from the U.S., Gabriella from Italy and Gretchen from Germany. Conveniently for the story, Gloria has found an American millionaire devoted to his work and Gretchen falls for Robert, leaving Bernard to finally commit to Gabriella and marriage.

Robert (after Gloria unwraps her bath towel to them): I've never seen a woman freshly bathed. It's really quite something!

Because what good '60s romantic farce could possibly end with anything other than a walk down the aisle? For reference, see every Doris Day movie ever made.

The three of us laughed throughout at the antics of the two men trying to keep the three women from finding out about each other so Bernard's duplicity in having three fiancées wouldn't be discovered. Tres French, non?

We closed out the evening on Pru's screened porch listening to Al Greene, sipping Cotes des Roses Rose and awaiting Flo's arrival. Oh, sure, there was the occasional capricious wind and periodic bouts of light rain, but nothing vaguely worthy of even a category 2 storm. The air was damp and beach-like, appropriate since we're all on pins and needles about whether the Outer Banks will be reopened for our getaway.

So far, lots of list-making but no packing and all the good vibes we can muster.

Posh, my future is so bright, I have to wear sunglasses. If you haven't seen my freshly renewed optimism, it's really quite something.

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