I love the variety of in DC. The different flavors you can get by going from one neighborhood to another. Not wild about one area? Go several blocks in any direction and you're likely to find something with at least a slightly different vibe. I've only recently begun to dabble a bit in the musical offerings along the U-Street Corridor. I'd heard of the many locations with live jazz to add to that must-check-out list (that's ever growing and only very slowly being whittled down) along that strip. I did dinner once at Sala Thai in that area and was pleasantly surprised that the jazz ensemble which was performing was such a highlight, and the restaurant wasn't even a location I'd noted as a must-hit for live music.
Saturday I had plans to go to a friend's birthday, but when Rio texted to say that he and a couple of friends in from out of town were going to go to U-topia (one definitely on my list), I said I'd figure out a way to make it all work. U Street is such a fascinating area to me. I love all of the history there. I always forget that it has a longer standing history than NYC's Harlem. I wish that live music was as plentiful in DC as it is in say Austin.
Walking into the restaurant, I could tell it was going to be rich on many levels. The walls were a deep crimson and there were satin curtains framing the doorways between the different areas of the restaurant. There was a small bar area with some seating around it and then another room, which was primarily more tables with some couches and plush chairs in the back righthand corner. The walls were covered with vibrant paintings of all sorts, all for sale. I really love to see it when the work of local artists is put on display (and also for sale) like that. I didn't check out the price tags associated, but the combined effect with the surroundings made for a rich atmosphere.
The flavor carried through to the food as well. Their traditional gumbo was delicious. The blackened shrimp was good, although it could have used a bit more of the traditional blackening "umph". The sauce was really good though, even if not quite what I'd anticipated by the whole blackened label. Even menu items not touted as spicy came out with a little extra kick, as Rio found when his lamb chop arrived adorned by a big fat jalapeno pepper. Knowing his lack of affection for things mega-spicy, I made sure to point out the pepper before he dug in.
I was supposed to be at the party by then, but I drug my feet in leaving to be able to hear the ensemble kick off their set. We were seated towards the back of the restaurant. This proved to be a plus for saving us from that neverending draft you get by being close to the entrance, but not such prime real estate for enjoying the music. They set the performers up in an alcove torwards the front, so if you ever go to check out the scene there, keep that in mind. I only was able to stay through the first couple of songs. The clarinet had a rich, soulful sound that cut crisply through the room, but yet gelling perfectly with the percussionist and the others in the ensemble. Finally 15 or so minutes in, I had to excuse myself to head to stage two of the evening. But I was quite impressed with U-topia. It's a stop I'll definitely have to make again.
And speaking of soul, I picked up the new Joss Stone album on Friday during mine and Sassy's "suburban" shopping run. If you haven't heard it, I highly recommend it. It's R&B with sort of a dance/pop twist. Her first single is a catchy tune.
I figured I'd start my pre-concert prep-work now, having already picked up tickets to her upcoming show at Wolf Trap. I'm not a big fan of attending concerts and not knowing the music. I have her first album, but that's it. This third one though has definitely been on repeat in my office. I think my co-workers think I have a multiple personality disorder. Just a week ago, I was listening to this classical channel on streaming radio all day long. Now it's Joss. Sing it, girl.