Tuesday, June 4, 2019

All Aboard

Fourth time's the charm apparently.

It's not like I hadn't been on the canal boat tour before because I had, dating back as far as 2008 and as recently as 2017. But this was the first time that it was just me, my date and the boat's captain and who am I to complain about a private tour?

You know me, I'll revel in it.

Even better, our captain was a Scotsman, complete with accent ("goods" sounded like "gutes") and tales from his recent trip back to Glasgow, where improbably, he experienced only one hour of rain over ten days. I'm here to tell you I was only in Scotland for three days and, with the exception of one hour, it rained, snowed, hailed or sleeted the entire time. When I mentioned I had a friend who lives in Barrhead, we were instant buddies.

But I digress.

The idea of taking the canal boat tour had been based solely on the glorious weather which was mid-70s, sunny and breezy without a drop of humidity in the air. And while I love my humidity, it gets mighty hot on the canal when it's hanging in the air. Besides, if a boat tooling along the canal wasn't the ideal place to be from 6 to 7:00, it was pretty darn close.

Since I'd been on the tour before, one thing I'd learned was that each captain has his own spiel and they differ. Our Scotsman, for instance, made no mention of the canal as a natural habitat - great blue herons, turtles - as several past guides had.

Instead, he was all about the history, some of it old hat (the spy Elizabeth van Lew posing as a mumbling homeless person to gather intel) and some of it new to me. Captain Dave explained that Tobacco Row had come to be because all the tobacco companies wanted the easy access to boats bringing in tobacco leaf, so they all built warehouses long the canal.

Seems it didn't take long for everyone to realize that the warehouses were prone to flooding and the companies fled for higher ground. All, that is, except Philip Morris, who stayed put. Interesting how that decision played out in the long run. I mean, let's not forget that as recently as 1984 (!!), Richmond held the National Tobacco Festival, complete with parade and Tobacco Queen and who do you suppose helped finance the festivities?

Call for Philip Morris (how's that for dating myself?).

The best part of being on a private tour (even if it was accidental) was having the ability to move around the boat to see whatever we wanted to or escape the sun while Captain Dave regaled us with obscure information, his enthusiasm for the local history evident in every obscure fact he shared. That and not having strangers' bodies blocking the breeze.

After disembarking, we headed up the hill toward Elizabeth van Lew's old estate (now a school) and onward to Dutch & Co. for dinner. The dining room was filling up but the bar was wide open except for a couple of women discussing what's wrong with men and relationships at the far end. And rather loudly, I might add.

Fortunately, nothing that a little Rose of Cinsault couldn't blot out.

Turns out it's Crabcake Week in Richmond and it's to benefit Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay, a worthy cause if ever there was one. Given my childhood in Maryland, I couldn't help but order Dutch's version given that they were baked, not fried, and served with succotash. I believe I've gone on record as saying that good succotash makes me weak in the knees and this was the first I've had this year.

But before that came an amuse bouche of a tiny pea shoot meringue with cilantro cream, followed by fave bean crostini, a fine starter that layered Sub Rosa bread with mashed fava beans, spicy Capicola (oh, how I've missed you, Capicola!) and a drizzle of honey. The bread and spread made a glorious backdrop for the killer one-two punch of the meat's spice and the honey's sweetness.

Then the crabcakes showed up and the swooning began. Two fat filler-less crabcakes (as in gluten-free, so zero bread binder) looked more like lump crab patties than traditional crabcakes, bound only with a little mayo, mustard and egg. To take them over the top was lobster roe butter sauce and a healthy helping of bacon-studded succotash with fresh fava beans and sweet corn.

Be still my heart (and belly).

I'd have scarfed them down even if it didn't aid the Bay, though I'll admit I felt a little more virtuous for knowing it did.

When it came time for dessert, I passed right over the regular dessert menu for a special of phyllo dough-wrapped chocolate cake, topped with chocolate ganache and orange marmalade. After I ordered it, the bartender double-checked to make sure I understood about the phyllo dough part, aka the buttery, crispy "leaves" surrounding the chocolate center. Seems several women have ordered it and then been upset that it's not just chocolate cake.

It reminded me of that time I ordered Spam at Ste. Ex in D.C., only to have the sever ask if I knew what Spam was. Well, duh. Why do you think I ordered it, son?

Anyway, the dessert was a brilliant take on an old standard, the phyllo's outer crispiness a satisfying textural contrast to the soft, dark center it encased. At my date's suggestion, we savored it with glasses of Ten Year Old Tawny Port, all but ensuring that we weren't going anywhere anytime soon.

But as Captain Dave had told us at the beginning of the cruise, what's the hurry? We'd sailed the seas, had a private history lesson, saved the Bay and outlasted the men-bashers.

I'd say that's more than enough for a Monday night.

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