My second stop was a three-night stay in Charlottesville, VA, home to Dr. and Mrs. Hmnahmna, and about 45 minutes from Waynesboro, home to Mole, Moladette and their baby boy. The first order of business was tagging along with Mrs. Hmnahmna to pick up a bureau drawer, which in and of itself was not noteworthy except that on the way back, we stopped at a Mennonite grocery. The majority of the groceries were homemade and were very inexpensive. I don’t know whether this was due to low costs of production, massive tax exemptions, or an aversion to profit. I do know that they made some pretty good pumpkin bread, and I eated it.
That night, the Hmnahmnas, the Mole family and I met for dinner at a downtown Charlottesville restaurant, cleverly named the Downtown Grille. It was a pretty good meal. An expensive one, but a pretty good one. We almost got off to a rocky start, because Mole’s niece wanted to order her steak well-done with ketchup. We talked her down to medium well and got her to leave out the ketchup, and called it a win. We also convinced Mole’s nephew to try a crab cake, which he liked well enough, I suppose.
Anyhow. We ordered an appetizer of calamari, crab cakes, fried oysters, and shrimp cocktail. I tried a little of each; the calamari was good, but since I don’t eat much seafood, I don’t know whether the rest was good or merely average. We ordered several side dishes, family style: mashed potatoes, fries, zucchini mixed with squash, and asparagus doused in what turned out to be the low point of the meal, a bland Hollandaise sauce. They should’ve just gone with a teensy bit of butter and lemon juice. Overall, the sides were decent enough.
The entrées came with a wedge of iceberg lettuce and a choice of two dressings. I didn’t like either option, and asked if they had any other dressings. The waiter responded, “Blah blah blah tomato basil–” and I said, “That one. Tomato basil.” This led to the evening’s happiest accident. I was expecting the wedge with a tomato basil dressing. What actually came out of the kitchen was the best caprese salad I’ve ever had–huge slices of mozzarella (the best and most important part of the salad), tomatoes, basil leaves that looked puny next to the other ingredients, and just the right amount of balsamic vinegar. Later, I checked the restaurant’s website to look at the menu, wondering how I could possibly have missed the caprese salad. Turns out it wasn’t listed as “caprese.” It was “Fresh Mozzarella, Tomato & Basil with Balsamic.” Maybe there was some essential ingredient missing that kept them from calling it caprese, but it was more than close enough for me.
Onto the entrée. I ordered the special: a 16-ounce boneless ribeye, cooked medium, with chunks of crab. Long story short, it was the best steak I’ve ever eaten. It was actually quite an emotional experience for me; at most restaurants the steak is a letdown, overshadowed by a really good appetizer, or it’s a little bit overcooked, or it isn’t cooked medium throughout, or it cools off too quickly. Not this steak. This steak was the belle of the ball. It had just the right amount of fat on it. The center was reddish-pink and stayed warm throughout the meal, and I took my sweet time savoring every single tender, juicy, buttery bite, and following each one with a sip of the Shiraz chosen by the teetotaler-turned-drunken-louse Dr. Hmnahmna. I almost wept when it was all gone, but I stayed strong.
I don’t know whether the ribeyes are always that good at the Downtown Grille. It may be that the stars and planets lined up just right when this particular meal was concocted. I don’t know. But rest assured that I’m composing an epic poem about this steak so that its story may be known to generations yet unborn, and I’m going to find out exactly which cow died for my culinary pleasure, so I can lay a wreath at the entrance to the abattoir.
I’ll get to the rest of the visit, which included meeting the closest thing I have to a nephew right now, in part 2B tomorrow.