Monday, March 28, 2011

An amazing meal at Zynodoa

I have long heard and read raving reviews about Zynodoa in Staunton. The executive chef, James Harris, is famed for having been a chef at the Inn at Little Washington and a contributor to state dinners in D.C. We have been meaning to eat at Zynodoa since our first visit, but circumstances have always prevented it. We were in town for the whole weekend this time and it coincided with Staunton Restaurant Week, so we made sure to make reservations at Zynodoa. Zynodoa, unlike many restaurants in town, made their whole menu available for the same price as Restaurant Week pricing, so we had a great deal of choice. The value was amazing: $25 per person for a three course, very large portioned, fresh, local meal. Diners were also given the option of paying $18 for a three course Virginia wine pairing. I was taking some cold medicine, so I didn't partake.

The atmosphere in the restaurant is nice, clean, contemporary, even a bit chic. The lighting is low, but not dark. It is not a large restaurant, so it fills up fast. I would always recommend reservations. I hate that I can't remember our servers name. He was a wonderful server, quick to answer any questions about the menu; he explained the dishes well and not like a robot. As I said, the menu choices were extensive. I selected the Polyface Farm Chicken Liver Mousse. I didn't used to like liver, but as I have matured so have my tastes. The mousse was served with a layer of bacon fat on top. It provided an almost tangy taste to complement the taste of the liver. The mousse was paired with a selection of olives and some miniature grape leaf pickles (at least that's what they tasted like-they were great). My wife ordered the grilled flatbread pizza that featured house made mozzarella, Harvest Thyme micro-greens, and surryano ham. It was delicious. For our entrĂ©es, I selected the Buffalo Creek steak frites. It featured an enormous ribeye with a perfect wall of fat. I ordered it rare, and it was perfectly prepared to my liking. The fat provided an amazing flavor. It was accompanied by yukon gold frites an horseradish aioli, and some amazing caramelized turnip slices. My wife selected the Caramont ricotta gnocchi with a potato mushroom buerre monte and Harvest Thyme micro-greens. The gnocchi were large, and looked like scallops. They were delicate tasting but very filling. We finished our meal with dessert selections. My wife enjoyed a selection of incredible Gearheart's fine chocolates. I was able to try one of the dark chocolates and was amazed with the taste. I selected the Virginia artisan cheese plate. The plate featured a wonderful phyllo crusted Meadow Creek Appalachian, a rich Oak Spring Brown Cow gouda, and a very offensive smelling but great tasting Meadow Creek Grayson. The cheeses were paired with sliced pears, apples, walnuts, and two dates.

I am so glad we decided to enjoy a night at Zynodoa. We will be sure to visit again soon.

Monday, March 21, 2011

A Trick to Catch the Old One by Thomas Middleton

A Trick to Catch the Old One. Photos by Tommy Thompson.
Over the last couple of weeks I attended rehearsals for Thomas Middleton's "A Trick to Catch the Old One" at the Blackfriars Playhouse. It was really interesting to see how this play was put together by the actors at the American Shakespeare Center. By chance, I was also able to attend the dress rehearsal along with a half-dozen other lucky souls including ASC Artistic Director Jim Warren, and Leet Shakes/Golden Duck Productions actors/ASC employees Jennifer Jones and Carmel Clavin and Jennifer's husband and Golden Duck owner Noah. We were little but we were loud! We saw it again on opening night, and the Playhouse was close to full with a spattering of ASC veteran Who's Who veteran performers throughout the crowd. This crowd was definitely raucous and loud, one of the more lively I've seen at the ASC.

The play is a laugh a minute satirical city comedy. The main character, Theodorus Witgood, played by the always excellent Greg Phelps, is in up to his ears in debt and must figure out a way to keep the creditors (Jeremy West, Paul Jannise, and Jeremiah Davis) from getting his "carcass." He enlists the help of his friend Host (Chris Johnston, funny as always, this time in a more subtle comedic role) and a courtesan (Miriam Donald in a great performance, and possibly her best role this season) to outwit (pun intended) his conniving London merchant uncle Pecunius Lucre (John Harrell at his usual conniving best) and his hated nemesis Walkadine Hoard (Ben Curns in full Rich Uncle Pennybags mode with an upper crust accent to match). To complicate matters, Witgood is in love with Hoard's niece Joyce (Sarah Fallon). Essentially, Witgood's ruse is to convince Hoard and Lucre that Jane the Courtesan is a rich country widow, to have Hoard marry her, and to have Hoard and Lucre pay off Witgood's debts and restore his lands. Of course, the plan works. Hoard marries Jane, and accepts her even for her low standing and his own bruised ego, and Witgood and Joyce are also betrothed and all Witgood's debts are forgiven.

The funniest character in the play is that of the userer and trampler of time, Harry Dampit. Tyler Moss is brilliant in this role. He swaggers onto the stage in his first scene in a bad, pimp suit with lots of gold jewelry and hands out business cards to the crowd. Dampit is a vile, profane, drunken rogue and heaps abuse upon his loyal servant Audrey (played by Allison Glenzer in a great costume). His diminutive friend Gulf is played and voiced hilariously by Jannise. Be sure to watch for their confrontation as Harry gets ready to head to the Damp Pit.

Patrick Midgley is riotously funny as the old man Kix, friend of Walkadine Hoard's brother Onesiphorus (Jannise) and Jeremy West has another cameo part to remember as Hoard's tailor.

Music for this show is especially good with Donald performing lead vocals on "To Sir with Love." Curns tackles lead vocals on a rollicking version of The Pogue's "Sunny Side of the Street" and the Pietasters' "Girl Take it Easy." Johnston and Donald are brilliant in a duo of Wakey Wakey's "Dance so Good," to lead the play off and Johnston also performs a great version of Ray Lamontagne's "Trouble."

There aren't many opportunities to see this production, so I would advise heading to Staunton to check it out. Middleton was a very good playwright, maybe not quite in Jonson's, Marlowe's and Shakespeare's league, but at times he's brilliant and he's pretty close to that trio. This is probably his funniest play, so if you enjoy a good laugh, check it out.