Friday, July 12, 2019

Learning to Crawl

Sip, savor, crawl, repeat.

And, when needed, offer occasional pro tips en route. Having been a regular on Secco's annual Rose Crawl since the first one in 2011 - that was the one where a thunderstorm knocked out the power, forcing us to drink our final pink in darkness - I like to think I'm uniquely qualified to spread my wisdom with any crawl virgins seeking aid.

My raspberry sherbet-colored sun dress was meant to identify me as a professional.

After a quick stop at Secco to nab my Rose passport, Lady G and I started the festivities at Acacia with a handful of other pink-clad women. Claiming seats at the bar, bartender Kenny looked at me and jokingly demanded to know where I'd been on recent Tuesday evenings, since clearly I hadn't been drinking half priced wine with friends at his bar.

After explaining I'd been at the beach for a week, he responded, "Okay, you're off the hook for one week. What about all the other Tuesdays you weren't here?"

You never know who's going to note your absence.

With plenty of appealing Rose options, G went with a perennial favorite of mine, Francoise Montand Brut Rose, while I opted to show her the pleasures of a Rose made of Pinot Noir, specifically Henri Bourgeois Petit Rose. I'm not sure if it was the tangy fruitiness or just the major shift in palate from her pink bubbles, but, after making a surprised face, she saw the light.

Kenny and I meanwhile exhorted the pleasures of German and Austrian Roses of Pinot Noir, while the pink maxi skirt-clad owner pledged her allegiance to the hard-to-find Sinskey Rose, which I love.

Acacia's bar menu for the occasion was spot on, so we indulged. First was fried squash blossoms stuffed with crab, ricotta and corn drizzled in tzatziki, with a piquant cucumber/red onion side salad riding shotgun, the delicate flavors a perfect complement to our wines. Next up were fried local softshell "bites" (actually, miscellaneous soft shell legs) enhanced by a spicy chili garlic sauce, making for a decided contrast to the squash blossom's muted flavors.

After getting Kenny to stamp my passport, we bid him adieu and walked outside to a sky filled with angry-looking black clouds threatening action. Fortunately our next stop, Cask Cafe, was a mere block away.

Taking up stools at the end of the bar near owner Dave (who let us know that Cask is now making their own sausages), we scanned their pink list, with G deciding on Domaine des Terrisses Rose solely because Dave described it as the heartiest and, at her core, G is a red wine lover. I chose Domaine de Mus Rose mainly because it was from Languedoc, not that I wasn't rewarded with a wildly refreshing wine with notes of citrus and red fruits.

A customer replaced Dave at the end of the bar, so naturally I eventually turned to him and asked if he was there for the Rose crawl (he wasn't). So I asked if he lived in the neighborhood (he didn't). Naturally I asked if he was a regular, to which he responded, "Why do you ask so many questions?"

Um, I'm a journalist, sir. And nosey.

When I came back from the loo, there was a newly-arrived Irishman sitting next to G and she was already asking where in Ireland he was from. "The only place in Ireland: Dublin," he informed her with a grin. Looking to converse with us more, he leaned in and shared that actor/director Ethan Hawke is currently living in the house next to his while he scouts a project about the slave John Brown.

Needless to say, our Irishman wasn't sharing where he lived beyond the Fan, but he didn't hesitate to mention that Mandy Patinkin had also lived in the house next door while in Richmond. Since G and I had long since finished our Rose, we got up to leave, causing the Irishman to entice us by suggesting, "Come back and I'll tell you how it goes."

Not sure I'm enough of an Ethan fan to care.

Walking toward the door to leave, we saw that the roiling skies had cracked open and torrents of rain were coming down, but luckily I'd insisted on us both bringing umbrellas for just such an eventuality. Just as we made it back to G's car, I realized that my pink-addled brain had forgotten to get my passport stamped at Cask.

G inched the car through driving rain, pulling up right out front so I could run in and get stamped by bartender Dash (best bartender name ever, no?). As he perfunctorily stamped me legit, a couple at the bar began teasing me that I had to drink pink before I got a stamp. Explaining the situation to them, they then gave me an A for effort. "That was dedication!" the woman said, noting my dress' wet parts and my dripping umbrella. "You didn't have to come back!"

Ah, but a Rose Crawl pro doesn't cut corners, young 'un.

It was still pouring rain as we drove to our next stop, so I reminded G that I'd warned her there was a 92% chance of precipitation tonight and wasn't she glad she had her umbrella. "I'd say this is 100% precipitation," she corrected me, only slightly loopily. Hilarious.

When we arrived at Secco, there were exactly two available seats at the community table in the back by the kitchen and no more. We gratefully took them, only to find ourselves sandwiched between two young mothers who were crawl newbies and an Indian couple drinking Rose but who had no knowledge of the crawl.

After ordering glasses of Raventos i Blanc Brut Nature Rose "de Nit" - a reliable Spanish favorite of mine - we turned our attention to the first-timers, both Moms with young children, to see how they were faring.

Secco was their first stop and now they were debating where to go since neither had brought an umbrella (rookie mistake). Their dilemma was where to Uber next in order to stay dry. G immediately piped up, telling them how cute and funny Kenny had been at Acacia, hoping to steer them to a good time.

But they wanted to know where we were headed next and that was Amuse. "Maybe we'll see you later!" they said as they took their fresh faces out into the storm.

Thoroughly digging our pink bubbles, we accompanied them with to-die-for gnocchi smothered in Twenty Paces Ricotta, peas, basil, green garlic and fennel, into which we added crispy fried chickpeas just because they were a worthy addition.

The Indian couple's cheese and charcuterie plate arrived (when debating what meat to get the server mentioned Sopressata, which they'd never heard of, necessitating me insisting that Sopressata was the way to go, so they ordered it) and they began chowing down, although the hunk of Madame di Bufala, a creamy, tangy water buffalo cheese from Italy, defeated them.

"It's the stinkiest cheese I've ever had and I thought I liked stinky cheeses," she said. "But this actually tastes like a buffalo after being on a treadmill in this hot, humid Virginia heat. Help yourselves, we won't eat it all." You don't have to offer G and me stinky cheese twice, so we cut off pieces, finding it a mouth and noseful, but delicious, too.

I reassured the couple that their palates would undoubtedly develop with age and that one day, Madame di Bufala would be right up their alley. When I was their age, I eschewed blue cheese because I thought it smelled like stinky feet and look at me now. They were wide-eyed acolytes by the time I finished with them and said goodnight.

Amuse was our final stop and while we'd originally had plans to see the new American art show while we were there, we had only enough time for two final glasses of Rose and dessert. Taking seats at the end of the bar, I didn't even bother asking for my passport to be stamped, I just reached over next to the absinthe fountain, picked up the stamp and stamped my own passport.

A pink-clad girl's gotta do what a girl's gotta do.

Our bartender had no recommendations beyond steering clear of the Indian Rose, even giving us a taste to show how oddly the Shiraz-based Rose finished. Instead, G went predictably straight for the heartiest , Clos la Coutale, a Malbec Rose, while I went directly (do not pass Go, do not collect $200) to Daniel Reverdy et Fils Rose, a Sancerre from the Loire Valley.

Some choices are unavoidable yet heavenly at the same time.

A chocolate pate with one perfect raspberry, one perfect blackberry and a mound of vanilla whipped cream accompanied our wines as we watched the storm dissipate over the VMFA's sculpture garden. Regrettably, we hadn't made it downstairs to see "Transatlantic Currents," though we did have a  cursory look at Carl Chiarenza's abstract photographs from the 1930s en route to the loo, for what that's worth.

By the time we'd wound down our 2019 Rose Crawl, the VMFA was closed, staff were vacuuming the floors and the Boulevard door we'd come in had long since been locked. Walking out the other entrance, we ran smack into the two Moms we'd met at Secco, who had made it only to Amuse and no further. Awed that we'd had our passport stamped at all four locations, they bowed to our superior crawling skills.

Someday, ladies, you'll have the life experience to do the same, maybe even with some Madame di Bufala along the way.

With a nod to the probability of precipitation and apologies to Matthew Sweet, tonight was what we pros call 100% fun.

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