Thursday, December 6, 2018

There's Bound To Be Talk

The problem with this town - besides snow flurries on the fifth day of December - is that the restaurant scene hasn't caught up with the theater scene.

How else to explain having to have a 5:15 dinner reservation in order to make an 8:00 curtain? To start with, that's an ungodly early hour to begin the evening meal (I've had lunches where I didn't get back until 5:15 and there's no shame in that) and secondly, I hang with serious food warriors who don't want to be rushed as they eat through nearly everything on the menu.

But, alas, eating after the play ends is challenging at best in Richmond, especially on a Thursday night, so we were gathering at the front table in the window at the Roosevelt, shortly after the clock hit 5. With a new chef in place, I was especially eager to revisit one of my long-time favorite eateries.

My hopes of beginning with a bottle of Virginia Fizz - the first wine I ever drank at the Roosevelt -  were dashed when our server got a stricken look on her face when I ordered it, went to check and returned with bad news: all gone.

I am nothing if not adaptable, so we instead requested a bottle of Dr. K. Frank Gruner Veltliner while Pru and Beau went with Illahe Pinot Gris because they're fans of Willamette. dammit. Queen B, as usual, abstained, although how she puts up with us sober is a miracle.

First topic: the banishment of "Baby, It's Cold Outside" from the holiday songbook canon because of its suddenly now questionable lyrics. The consensus seemed to be that applying current standards to lyrics written in 1949 is a clear case of political correctness gone amuck.

Everyone seems to forget that in the original film where the song debuted, it was sung by two couples: a man to a woman and a woman to a man and nobody was forcing anyone to do anything. Somewhere, songwriter Frank Loesser is rolling his eyes in disgust.

Food arriving derailed any further discussion.

With the exception of the Queen who couldn't resist the braised boneless short ribs entree, the rest of the table made our meals of snacks and small plates. Chicken liver mousse with huckleberry jam seemed appropriate given that this week is Hannukah, while chicken wings with Alabama white sauce - which, I swear, have been on the Roosevelt's menu practically since Day One - were life-changing for Pru and Beau, who'd never had them before.

I foresee many future orders of those wings procured and devoured at the manse.

Perfectly Fall-like was roasted butternut squash with buttermilk ricotta and sunflower seeds, while Beau moaned over the creamy parsnip soup with apple butter, nutmeg, sage and peanuts.

Apple butter became the next topic when I recalled that "Have a slice of bread with apple butter" was my Mom's go-to suggestion when my sisters and I wanted a snack growing up because there was no junk food in our house. For Pru, apple butter conjured up memories of boarding school, since its location in the mountains meant she was in apple country.

She and Mr. Wright both got the roasted honey-glazed baby carrots with sumac, orange and dill, although I seemed to be the only one who appreciated how toothsome they were. "Just this side of raw but with a honey glaze, but I like them" Pru decreed, but that was a slight exaggeration.

When the owner, a long-time friend, came over to say hello, I introduced her as the woman who also owns Garnett's, Laura Lee's and Ipanema. She was surprised, announcing to the table that I usually introduce her as "the woman who taught me to drink," which is 100% true, but not my favorite way to introduce her, as I reminded her.

"Oh, yea, she usually tells people that if I were a man, she would have married me," she said grinning, to the surprise of everyone at the table, not the least of which had to be Mr. Wright.

Roasted beets got a boost from bleu cheese, pumpkin seeds and our old friend apple butter vinaigrette, but it was their arrangement resembling a Christmas wreath that got everyone's attention. An enormous bowl of mussels swimming in cider broth with bacon didn't even get finished, but the two green goddess salads with cornbread croutons sure did.

With an eye on the clock, we ordered chocolate mousse and corn cake with buttercream frosting to accompany Pru and Beau's requisite liquid final course, although Pru did jazz things up a bit by two-fisting caffeine with an Irish coffee and a regular coffee.

I had all the caffeine I needed in that mousse.

And while we rushed out of there and up 301 to Hanover Tavern, a series of badly-timed lights ensured that we all arrived moments after the play had begun. The Greatest Generation usher who greeted us informed us that the director stipulated that no one be let in late until the initial "play within a play" ended, which took until we heard a shot being fired.

In the interim, he filled us in on what was happening onstage, assuring us, "You're not missing anything important." Whether it was true or not, it made us feel better about our tardiness.

Then we scampered to our seats for "The Game's Afoot: Holmes for the Holidays," a story set in 1936 of a group of touring actors who gather for a Christmas eve party at the Connecticut home of the actor who plays Sherlock Holmes in their production.

On a side note, what is it with Connecticut and the holidays? You know, like that Barbara Stanwyck movie "Christmas in Connecticut," or "Holiday Inn," which also takes place in Connecticut? Discuss.

The ensemble of actors was incredibly strong - and really, what play with Scott Wichmann starring is ever anything but outstanding? -  making for a fast-moving and hilarious story about the unexpected murder of a theater critic (prompting the question, does anyone really care if a critic is killed?) after dinner.

The ensuing comedy results from William Gillette, the actor who'd played Holmes, thinking his mother, played by the bombastic Catherine Shaffner, is the murderer. No one wants Mom to be the perp.

The manse group has long loved a good drawing room mystery, while I was seduced by the frequent quotations from Shakespeare woven into the dialog at every opportunity. Audra Honaker played the quirky police detective who shows up to investigate, although it turns out she also has an acting bent and wouldn't mind auditioning should the right role come up.

Acting! (insert raised arm)

It didn't hurt that the story was full of twists and turns so that by the time the inspector arrives, every person at the party is a suspect. Characters come and go from the drawing room, just missing each other, but constantly delivering witty dialog. First a closet then a hidden bar is used to store the corpse, which won't stay put and on the wall hangs a collection of murder weapons: guns, swords, axes, you name it, within easy reach. And don't get me started on the gorgeous period costumes,

The charm was that the wacky antics were pretty much non-stop until the very last moment when we found out who'd really put a knife in the critic's back (and right through that stunning red velvet dress of hers).

In a perfect world, we'd have left Hanover at 10:00 and gone out for a lovely post-theater dinner at a little bistro somewhere where we could all discuss the energetic romp and laugh-out-loud worthy dialog we'd just experienced, but that's not how Richmond works.

Instead, we were split up into separate discussion groups. I don't know about theirs, but ours may have gotten a little off topic.

Cause, baby, it's cold outside.

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