Wednesday, October 17, 2018

This Note's for You

The disadvantage of being a hired mouth is the intersection with my social life.

So after a road trip to Norfolk and a so-so meal in service of a review I haven't yet written, I said yes to dinner with Holmes and Beloved at Acacia even though I wasn't particularly hungry. That was mainly because the review meal hadn't satisfied my taste for something I wanted to eat and I knew Acacia would.

Beloved greeted me at Holmes' digs with an excited look and five pages of art history nerdiness. Seems that a Courbet painting entitled "The Origin of the World" that depicts the lower torso and girl parts of a mystery woman, a painting that was hidden from the public for years because of its scandalous subject, is big again. The painting is making news now because they have finally identified the subject: Constance Queniaux, a Paris Opera dancer, courtesan, mistress to rich men and companion to a celebrity composer.

Beloved had been amazed to learn of the piece and, wanting to share the information with a fellow art history nerd, immediately thought of me. That it now resides in the Musee d'Orsay, tragically the only major museum I did not visit when in Paris two years ago, makes it doubly intriguing for me.

Life goal?

Holmes quickly tired of our art geeking and suggested it was time to make our way to Acacia, where we took the center three stools at the bar and a smiling bartender introduced himself. Before the evening was over, we learned that he doesn't like to use his dishwasher at home, used to call a pair of twins by the same name in hopes of scoring points with the twin he liked and absolutely can not drink gin.

See: bar as confessional.

When we tried to order a bottle of Cremant de Loire, the sommelier steered us to Charles Bove Touraine Sparkling Rose instead, praising its fresh taste of berries. And when Holmes hears the word "berry," he's sold.

So sold, in fact, that he immediately made certain they had a second bottle on ice.

One of my favorite reasons to go to Acacia (besides reliably stellar food and top-notch service) is to watch the excitement on Beloved's face every time she verifies that they still have white anchovies over grilled Romaine and Forme d'Ambert on the menu. Then once they arrive, she always begins making the classic when-Harry-met-Sally noises until the last little fish is history.

It never gets old, at least for me.

Good as the escargot in garlic butter sauce was, it was the mushroom pancake underneath that rocked my world. An iceberg wedge with cubes of bacon, avocado, cherry tomatoes and red onion lost a bit in translation from a classic bleu cheese to a southwest ranch dressing, but maybe that's just me.

Although we talked about the pork cheeks, we also agreed that with a chef who is one with the sea, we needed to stay water-based.

Tempura flounder - the crust light and delicately fried - was everything fried fish should be and more and the two generous fillets over fried Brussels sprouts, shiitake mushrooms and crispy shallots in a Thai cilantro sauce was near perfection. Ditto the thick piece of mahi with roasted cauliflower, crispy potatoes and smoked paprika caramelized onion chutney under a Romesco sauce that tasted like it came out of the water this afternoon.

Whilst discussing how easy tempura frying is with our bartender, we finished with chocolate cremeux with caramel sea salt ice cream and chocolate crumbles bolstered by the last of the bubbles. By the time we said our farewells, the barkeep was lining up a row of Tecates to take to the kitchen staff. Night over.

For us, the record listening part of the night was just beginning. Holmes popped a bottle of Le Saint Andre Figuiere Rose and surprised us by starting, not with a record, but with a cassette tape that included Neil Young's 1988 big band record, "This Note's for You," his repudiation of the commercialism of rock and roll.

Oh, Neil, if you thought it was bad 30 years ago, you must be apoplectic these days.

But for Beloved and me, it was all those horns and woodwinds that spoke to us. Looking at what Holmes had written on the cassette box label dated June 19, 1988, there was the song listing, but also - and this is so Holmes - liner notes. On the back of the label he'd indicated where he'd pulled the songs from since they didn't all come from that album.

*BBC broadcast (1970)
Buffalo Springfield (1966)
Come a Time (1970) by Ian Tyson
Journey from the Past
Buffalo Springfield (again)

I especially enjoyed his editorializing - that "again" on the last notation - as if he was aware that he was indulging his own taste in sequencing the recording of the tape.

Our next musical selections came courtesy of me, or at least from a stack I had chosen from a crate of 45s last time I'd been over. Putting on Elvis' "Return to Sender," he explained that he'd chosen that because of a mail problem he's been having where mail that's not his continues to be delivered to his home.

"I'm just gonna write 'Return to sender' and be done with it," he said. "Just like Elvis." We're the kind of trio where there's always a story.

Reminding me that he's always insisted that Matthew Southern Comfort's version of "Woodstock" was the pinnacle, tonight he backed off that. Putting on a live 1974 jazz version of the song by the songwriter, he said, "Joni Mitchell crushes it. She reclaims her song with this version."

Granted, the L.A. Express can put their spin on anything they attempt and this version had all eh passion and energy her original did not. That said, what struck me as interesting was hearing Joni announce a 15-minute intermission after she finished the song. Somehow I never imagined that Joni had to announce her own intermissions, even back in the '70s.

There aren't enough words to describe Holmes' man cave, but the bar where we listen to music is the command central of it all.She and I sit on the outside of the bar. He sits behind it, with access to the records underneath and a complete understanding of where any particular CD and tape atop the bar can be found. It's eerie how he has the chaos organized in his mind so that he can put his hands on anything he wants in 15 seconds or less.

I know, because I heard Beloved count down until he located the Brass Ring last night. He came in somewhere between 13 and 14 seconds and it was in another room. Impressive.

Determined to further dazzle me, he called me into the library, a room overflowing with shelves of records and, as I was shown, drawers of cassette tapes. And while it's only two drawers, each one holds 140 tapes. I know because I counted one row and multiplied.

"These are a few of my favorites!" he said proudly, opening both drawers. I'm not sure 280 counts as "favorite," but I'm not here to judge.

While he and Beloved were busy dancing to some romantic song that he announced will be played at their wedding, I used the free time to apply a temporary tattoo on my thigh. You could ask why I'd do such a thing but I'd counter with why was there a tiny booklet labeled "Celebrate Your Holiday Week" with seven tiny presents in it on a stack of CDs?

Fair question, no?

After the smooching and romantic stuff, Holmes went back to playing 45s and we heard Bryan Ferry, Paul Carrick and Charlie Byrd.

I knew it must be getting late when Holmes exited the bathroom, asking Beloved what had happened to the second hand towel on the rack. "Karen had to use it for her tattoo," she explained nonchalantly, turning back to our discussion of whether the woman on the album cover was wearing a '50s or '60s jumpsuit.

And, always, there is the three way shared appreciation every time we hear a Hammond B-3 organ, an instrument we all love for its ability to place us in another part of our lifetime.

Back in the days before I would eat a full meal and then go out for a second one simply for the pleasure of  friends and music.

You know, my pre-tattoo period.

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