Sunday, October 28, 2018

Puttin' on the Ritz

When it comes to a fancy pants gala, we're that couple who don't have to worry about what to wear.

And by that I mean, when Mr. Wright invited me to join him for Historic Richmond's "A Night on Grace Street," I knew immediately what I'd be wearing. It wasn't hard because I only have one dress that's black tie-worthy and while it was purchased in 1996, it's my automatic dressy default.

I just hadn't had to pull it out since 2013.

Now it turns out I may have met my match because Mr. Wright showed up in his tuxedo which he assured me was a good two decades old. So, basically, he put as little effort into his attire as I had, 'though I'll give him credit for freshening it up with a new bow tie. Nothing else about my ensemble was remotely new, either, since I acquired the necklace, bracelets and satin evening bag during Jimmy Carter's administration.

We must have looked good because our Uber driver told us so, followed by a directive to "have fun and get crazy." Um, why do you think we took Uber?

In what was a brilliant choice, the dinner and dancing parts of the gala took place right on the stage of the Dominion Energy Center, which is what Virginia's shadow government is trying to call the building we know is really the Carpenter Stage, or, at the very least, CenterStage.

Still, eating and dancing onstage, that was a new one for me and I liked it. What other talent besides eating is going to get me onstage?

But the evening actually began in the alcoves off the lobby where two bars did our alcoholic bidding and uniformed servers passed by with trays of oysters Rockefeller, beef wellington in pastry and, tomato tarts - and probably other things I never even noticed - while everyone mingled and got into the gala spirit.

Ladies and gentlemen, start your buzz.

When we trooped into the theater for dinner, men were stationed at the stairs to the stage to offer their hand or arm so that women teetering on high heels (not me, I had on dressy platforms) had the support of a non-drinking man. As the night wore on, it undoubtedly became a better and better idea since a trip to the ladies' room required a descent and ascent to remount.

One could say it was the only pitfall of stage dancing.

At the front of the stage were Big Ray and the Kool Kats providing early evening dinner jazz and swing to the many tables arranged on the stage. Only six of the eight chairs were filled at table six where we sat, but they were a nice enough group. There was an architect from Chicago - that made two - and his lawyer wife, residents of Chevy Chase, Maryland, next to us, leading to chatter about the development of Anacostia, the SW waterfront and how D.C. is no longer the city I left 30 years ago.

He's currently part of the team working in Richmond on the renovation of Old City Hall and you could hear the reverence in his voice talking about taking the interior back to its original look. Apparently. that means it's going to be far less colorful than what it's been for decades, so he's prepared for Richmond to take issue with the changes.

His wife spoke of how busy he was, so busy that the renovations he sketched on a bev nap 14 years ago when they bought the Chevy Chase house are still nothing more than doodles on a napkin because he's been too busy to work on his own house. Or, as Mr. Wright pointed out, perhaps home remodels are just not his thing.

Meanwhile, what was listed on the menu as an amuse bouche was far more than a bite. Enjoying a first course of golden beet trifle layered with trout caviar and George's Mill goat cheese, I watched as another diner pushed the beets aside and ate only the cheese. Who does that?

The gala chair gave a stirring speech about the good work of Historic Richmond, followed by a short video and when she mentioned Jackson Ward, I raised my fist in solidarity for my adopted neighborhood every time.

She also mentioned that the chef for tonight's event was Carlos Silva, whose food I've eaten since I first moved to Jackson Ward a dozen years ago. After hearing that piece of information, I asked our server to tell him hi, but she did me one better by delivering him to table six so we could chat.

A salad of micro greens and assorted root vegetables was topped by a confit quail, a satisfying rich note for the earthy and bitter underpinnings. What was funny was watching people trying to figure out how to eat the quail.

Another speech, another video, more fist pumping and it was time for braised beef in Barboursville Cabernet Sauvignon and Rockfish braised in Upper Shirley Chardonnay over Byrd Mill cheese grits and wax beans, an entree guaranteed to please multiple palates. The beef especially tasted like something Carlos used to make at Bistro 27 when he was nodding to his Brazilian roots.

As we were finishing up, Big Ray took to the floor as the emcee for the donation bidding (on the back of everyone's program was a bidding number for this purpose) to keep the good work of Historic Richmond going. It was fascinating to see how one person at a table bidding often caused someone else at the table to retaliate with a bid of their own, which made Big Ray very happy.

Once $30,000 was raised (and, mind you, that didn't even include the ridiculous price of the tickets), Big Ray shared that the bar included 12 year Glenlivet, a fact which caused a small stampede as men from nearly every table headed to the bar for some single malt. Since he was still on the clock, Ray's Scotch had to wait, so he returned to the bandstand, only to be joined by two female singers in sequined dresses and one dapper-looking man. Their job it was to take the music from big band to full on dance band and that meant Motown to start and very soon Bruno Mars and Walk the Moon.

Because everyone - I'm looking at you, girl crush and carrot cake man - loves "Shut Up and Dance" after a few drinks, even the preservationist and architect types populating the room.

Between Glenlivet and dancing fools, table six was mostly absent when dessert began arriving, so I waited for no one to try it. Miniature Nelson county apple pies with mascarpone apple butter and - a nice touch - apple slaw provided a sweet ending and a proper sugar buzz to get on with the business of the night.

After all, how often does a woman get to go dancing in her fanciest dress? I may have danced to "Brick House" scores of times during and since the Carter years, but I'm not sure I ever had a better time doing it. I know because I didn't even hold it against Big Ray when he chose to end the night with Journey's hackneyed "Don't Stop Believin'."

How could I? If I'm honest, it's my new mantra, shared already with friend, doctor and interview subject anyone who will listen. Hang on to that feeling long enough and you just may be rewarded. Mightily.

And though he'd never tell me to "shut up" - what would be the point? - the "dance with me" part is a given.

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