Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Talk to Me

If I was going to jump back in, it might as well be whole hog.

The first thing that meant was dinner at a new place in Scott's Addition, namely Perch, because Mac had gotten a gift certificate for her birthday and wanted to share her good fortune. The funny part is, it was the women at her job who'd given it to her because they know she's an adventurous eater and they're not.

As in, they wanted to all take her out for dinner but she had so many celebrations going on that it couldn't be worked out, so instead they gave her a card for a restaurant none of them wanted to eat at anyway.

I call that a win/win.

Perch is located in the former Joy Garden space and while I'd only been there once (maybe 5 or 6 years ago), my memories of it were of a dark, divided up room and not that it was the rare Richmond restaurant with a parking lot. The new interior pays homage to the Joy Garden roots in a stylish way with all sight lines leading to the gorgeous green wood-fired oven in the back.

We dove right in, Mac with a Rust and Stardust cocktail (Woodford reserve bourbon, tamarind,  vanilla, lemon and bitters, with an egg white froth) that was to die for, which is saying a lot coming from a non-bourbon fan. Having just come off a vacation involving enough wine and rum to choke a horse, I abstained with a mocktail involving guava and pineapple, among other things, called the Sound.

That it arrived in a glass resembling a carved coconut head was pure gravy.

The first thing to dazzle us post-drinks was arroz caldo, a thick soup of rice, huge pieces of shredded chicken, preserved lemon, garlic, chicken skin and egg. And while you might presume that the chicken skin was the star, it was actually the soy-marinated hard-cooked egg that had me moaning and Mac copping to a sudden love of eggs (she usually avoids them).

Every bit as stellar and with the chef's Filipino heritage on full display was pork lumpia, fried springroll-like cigars stuffed with local spiced pork and fried so lightly that I could almost forget that I shouldn't be eating them.

I always appreciate a place that sells oysters individually (even if they are overpriced that way) and Mac and I are oyster hounds, so we had to check out the offerings. Our bartender told us that the bivalves from Tom's Cove -coincidentally where he often went camping as a child - were less salty than the Ruby Salts, which was all I wanted to taste, but Mac insisted we needed to try both and who am I to argue when she's treating me?

Verdict: Ruby Salts took the prize, no surprise.

On a 34 degree night, shrimp bouillabaisse with parsnips, carrots, leeks and bread sounded like a warm dream come true. That it took the server multiple tries to figure out how to pour the broth from the little pitcher over the bowl of seafood and vegetables was more amusing than anything else.

To our surprise, it arrived with not just shrimp, but scallops and mussels too, a nice bonus but more bread would have been even better. I ask you, what's a good broth without sufficient sopping vehicles?

We had just enough time for a flourless chocolate torte with orange sorbet, a combo that's not one of Mac's favorites, but fortunately the two flavors were in separate dishes, so she didn't have to suffer the citrus/chocolate co-mingling that so offends her.

Meanwhile, we discovered on separate trips to the bathroom that they were frigid due to ongoing insulation problems and a sign on each stall informs the customer that their contractor is "working to correct the situation."

In the meantime, that's some mighty cold porcelain under a girl's tush.

We left giving a thumbs up to the industrial but softened interior, high marks to the soup and lumpia and passing grades to the bouillabaisse and dessert. The Ruby Salts worked for us but the Tom's Coves left us unmoved, so we'll call that a draw.

The second thing jumping back in whole hog meant was seeing "Talk Radio" at the Basement, a play about a character named Barry Champlain, an '80s shock jock a la Howard Stern. You know, the kind of on-air personality who will tell a handicapped caller, "Gotta run! I know you can't, but we can!" and hangs up on the guy.

For that matter, he hangs up on just about everybody, just for different reasons: they're boring, they're whining, they're missing the point. Fair enough.

His engineer wears an '80s-style sweater worthy of Bill Cosby, his producer wears a red silk blouse and flat gold necklace I can vouch for as being entirely era-appropriate and there's a never ending supply of tequila at the station.

As someone who worked in radio for a few years, albeit in the '90s, I can assure you that tequila is a mainstay, both in the general manager's office and in the sales manager's office.

A play with a central character who sits at a desk talking into a microphone the entire time has to rely on his facial gestures, eye direction and subtle head and hand movements to convey any sense of action, all of which the masterful Scott Wichmann as Barry did to keep things compelling.

And just to prove that shock jocks weren't animals, he manages to reference William Blake and Richard Speck, expecting his listeners to follow along and get every rapid-fire comment, no matter how pointed or downright rude.

For me, it was full immersion back into my regular life via a new restaurant and a solid play that brought to mind the kind of DJ birthed from the '80s.

When I lived in D.C., my husband managed a video store directly under DC 101 and Howard Stern used to call regularly to ask about XXX-rated movie titles or make crude jokes about porn stars, so I remember when people were transfixed by these new radio voices that sought to offend.

Maybe that was the beginning of the end of civility. Or maybe we didn't know how good we had it then compared to the daily depths of human discourse which have now become the new norm.

In either case, my brain seems to be engaged again, my palate teased by new dishes in a recently-opened restaurant. Mac keeps reminding me that I had my warm time and now I have to get used to winter again.

Life is returning to normal. Icy toilets aside, I can do this.

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