Eat Your Words

Life Between the Pages

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov was still front and center in my mind when I took a seat at the table for the monthly “Life Between the Pages” gathering last week at Evolve Chocolate + Cafe.

I’d just finished reading Amor Towles’ A Gentleman in Moscow that morning, and felt like I had a good grasp on the fictional story of a man who escaped the firing squad for writing a revolutionary poem, and was instead sentenced to spend the rest of his days at the sprawling Hotel Metropol Moscow—a luxury hotel in the heart of the Russian city.

Most of the 30 people who’d gathered for the sensorial dinner and cocktail book club at the eatery on the top floor of Village Books had also read the tome, and throughout the course of the night, we discussed what the ending meant, read passages culled from the inside of nesting dolls, and had spirited discussions defending our individual takeaways.

Set in the first half of the 20th century, the plot follows the charismatic Count as he makes the most of his decades-long incarceration by befriending staff and guests, falling in love, changing the course of his own history and enjoying superb, lingering meals and lovely libations at the hotel’s two restaurants.

I’d wondered how Chef Christy Fox and guest mixologist Vinny Shipley—who bartends at both Rock & Rye and Uisce—would join forces in this exploration of food, drink and literature. A glimpse at the evening’s menu proved they’d done their homework.

Each course played out like a chapter about one of the characters in the book, and each was a revelation. Our first, the “Girl in Yellow,” featured a divine drink comprised of vodka, lemon, orgeat, and egg white, and was accompanied by a blini torte stuffed with ricotta and topped with caviar and beetroot brittle dust. A plate of salt-cured king salmon and pickled fennel salad followed, along with the “Count’s Rooftop Rye,” a canny cocktail that managed to be both stiff and sweet.

Chef Fox came out to introduce the third course, “Confederacy of the Humbled,” explaining that while reading the book she realized it was set during a time frame when rations in Russia were scarce. Her “humble pie”—a warming and wonderful concoction of potato and onion topped with smoked butter and sea salt—was an homage to ingredients that could often be found in abundance.

Fox explained that “Life Between the Pages” is her and her wife and business partner Shannon’s attempt to open up the lives found inside the pages of books and interpret them in a different way. She doesn’t have time to read every book she wants, and this allows her to focus on one, and then share it her findings with those who procure a $60 seat at the table.

Typically, the guest bartender and Chef Fox taste each other’s concoctions for the first time on the night of the big event. “Vinny gave me his menu a week ago,” she said, “and I finished mine yesterday. If you’re collaborative and you understand the ingredients and the points of what you’re trying to do, it’s always a 100 percent match. Be honest and humble about it, and it works out and becomes a beautiful experience.”

Although the next “Life Between the Pages” isn’t until July 25, it would behoove those who are interested in discussing Joseph Cassara’s The House of Impossible and enjoying a five-course feast to sign up now. The 30 seats at the table fill up quickly, and it’ll force you to read the book on time. After all, it’s not every day you get to eat your words.

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