Friday, December 14, 2018

My Kingdom for Someone to Ride With

Some Christmas presents come early and arrive in the form of words.

A: I learned from your blog that X and Y had broken up. You are my conduit to the Richmond social, food and art scene. Thank you.
K: It pleases me no end that you still catch up on my blog on occasion.
A: I don't catch up on your blog "on occasion." I've subscribed via a feed reader and read EVERY SINGLE ENTRY AS THEY POST.

Some Christmas music is just a new song from an old artist that evokes memories.

Hearing on the radio that David Bazhan is back making music with his band Pedro the Lion, I immediately fell for their new song, "Yellow Bike" which is as much a tribute to Christmas past - the song begins with him seeing the bike next to the Christmas tree - as any "traditional" song...with a far better guitar line.

And speaking of music, as if it wasn't enough to be reminiscing about childhood bikes and holidays, I also heard a live version of "Never Going Back Again." It was recorded on the "Tusk" tour and is part of a new Fleetwood Mac box set because, somehow, someway, the Mac has apparently been a band for 50 years.

Granted, I didn't discover them until the mid '70s but, yes, I was that college kid who went to all the shows with her best friend when they played multiple night stands.

Holy crap, I'm old.

But not too old to appreciate seeing a piece of classic feminist theater for only the second time in my life. Back in 2010 when I couldn't afford a theater ticket and wasn't yet on the Theater Alliance Panel, I'd ushered a performance so that I could see Henley Street Theater's production of "A Doll's House," my first time seeing it.

Planning to see TheatreLAB's production of the same, Pru and Beau had expressed interest, although Pru changed her mind, deciding she was no longer in the mood for Ibsen. That left the odd couple, Beau and me.

We started the evening at Longoven, a place I'd been but he hadn't. Walking in, a favorite bartender greeted me with a smile and we were led to a table underneath a giant wreath that gave off the most delicious evergreen aroma.

Carrying the "pink bubbles fo-evah" banner, I stayed true to form with Montand Cremant du Jura Rose, while Beau furthered his Hungarian curiosity with Evolucio Tokaj, the latest in a series he's had from that region.

Naturally this led to a discussion of the Balkan restaurant Ambar, where he'd first fallen hard for Hungarian wines. I've been to the one in D.C., while Beau's been to the one in Clarendon and both of us had been intrigued and wowed by a wine list covering places like Hungary, Croatia, Slovenia, Moldovia and Macedonia.

So many grapes, so little time.

Everything we put in our mouths was exceptional and highly creative, leading Beau to dub Longoven "non-safe eating," a term I love. One of my sisters used to regularly proclaim that "Only boring people get bored," but I'd tack on an addendum of, "Only boring people prefer safe eating."

Knocking it out of the park was a dish of smoked duck, over which rested a mound of turnip slices and turnip confit and topped with a leaf of grilled radicchio and horseradish cream. Delicately fried cauliflower leaves added the final texture and flavor. It was a dish that got better with each successive bite as my palate absorbed the brilliant combination of rich and bitter, soft and toothsome.

Waiting for our next course, Beau did his best to toss a compliment my way, observing, "Your hair always looks good, but tonight's dishevelment is less." The backtracking that followed may have been the humorous high point of the evening.

Next up was a risotto of seeds - sunflower, chia, pepitas, millet and quinoa - arranged in a circle like a wreath and bordered with autumn greens, a dollop of Fontina fondue at the center. It was vegetarian comfort food of the highest order and our only regret was not having a piece of crusty bread to sop up the remains with.

More Cremant arrived for me as Beau made the switch to the Loire with Domaine a Deux Sauvignon Blanc Touraine and we geared up for our shared large plate.

We'd chosen a favorite for both of us, skate wing, seared and riding atop cauliflower puree with maitake mushrooms and dollops of soubise, which combines two of my very favorite staples, onion butter, into a sauce. The edges of the wing were seared to golden brown crunch perfection and our server (a transplant from Raleigh) commented on how clean we'd licked the plate.

We are nothing if not eaters, Beau and I. And, unlike Pru, we both need a shift to sweet after multiple savory courses.

Intrigued by the combination of black sesame ice cream with black sesame sponge cake, both dehydrated and fresh, and a pear sauce, Beau's dessert was a fascinating shade of gunmetal gray and pastiche of sweet and savory.

Meanwhile, I savored a glass of 20-year Tawny Port with hazelnut sponge cake and hazelnut praline with rosettes of hazelnut mousse and the thinnest of slivers of dark chocolate, a dish that took a turn for the obscene with Comte ice cream.

Whoever thought of translating Comte into ice cream deserves a major award. It also convinced both of us that even the dessert-avoiding Pru could have been seduced by its cheesy richness.

When our server came over to inquire if she could get us anything else, Beau piped up, "What else you got?" Clearly the wine had kicked in and it was time to motor.

Some plays may lack traditional Christmas characters - the Grinch, Scrooge - but the fact that they take place at Christmastime more than qualifies them for December entertainment.

Full as ticks from a meal of non-safe food, we headed east to the Basement for a lesson in female empowerment. In a play oozing male chauvinism, the production was a solid reminder of how revolutionary Ibsen's script had been when it was written in 1879, but how it still resonates today.

I wouldn't change the smallest part of you, not in any way.

Even the music chosen to be played before and between acts reflected the kind of strong women Nora found herself becoming: Aretha, Adele, Carole King, Dolly Parton, Marian Anderson. Director Josh Chenard had chosen groundbreaking women to establish the mood.

I hardly saw you for four weeks. I was never so bored.

Watching Landon Nagel switch seamlessly from adoring, sweet-talking lover to bullying husband was disturbing and unsettling, like reading about abused women who choose not to press charges against the men who beat them because they focus on his "good" side. Nagel's ability to convey both convincingly speaks to his well-honed skills as an actor.

Although whether the sweat on his face was due to his 19th century costume or his passion in portraying Torvald, I really can't say.

I'm your husband. It's your job to indulge me.

Katrinah Carol Lewis wrung every possible emotion from the character of Nora as we watched her abandon the fantasy of a strong and happy marriage to go from docile wife to a woman who is driven to understand herself and her own needs before she can address any other aspects of her life.

"A Doll's House," for me, is the kind of play that reminds a 21st century woman how fortunate she was to come up during a time when women could be themselves and follow whatever (convoluted, in my case) path they chose. The confrontational scene near the end where Nora tells Torvald she's leaving him - and why - remains a classic of female empowerment.

And that door slam as the story concludes? Has there ever been a more satisfying ending to a play?

Or to a day more satisfying than one that began with learning that there are some people who read my ramblings every single time they post?

Some Christmas season evenings, I'm just grateful that my dishevelment isn't an issue for everyone.

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