Dark night, black sheep. Bright cake.

Vanilla Chiffon and Apple Custard Cake at The Black Sheep (Vergennes VT)

It’s almost graduation time.  Everyone is in a rush to do all the things they always said they would do.  Check-list mania isn’t really my style.  Instead, I’m mooching from everyone else’s check lists and accomplishing what I think is more important: spending these last days with friends.  For the last time in our lives the only substantial geography separating us is the ‘annoying,’ windy (and now icy) slope of hill between Atwater and Ross residences.

At my weekly wine tasting class — yes that does exist as a January workshop, and another thing I’ll miss about my privileged life  as a student — two old friends, Alicia and Caroline, told me they’d never been to the Black Sheep. With admitted self interest, a craving for their famous free frites and three dipping sauces with dinner, I announced that this missing check mark next on their  pre graduation Midd check-lists was a travesty.

And aren’t they lovely looking bistro fries? Who can blame me…

Caroline and Alicia have something special, or perhaps dubious, in common.  Caroline was my first roommate at Midd and Alicia was my first NYC Roomie.  They’ve really known me from the beginnings, all of them, in my adult life.  My relationship to them holds a kind of record of everything that has happened in four years.  A lot.  But in some ways, nothing at all.

The Black Sheep is a perfect place to take good, constant friends.  With a ‘new’ dinner friend communication is sometimes tricky, they don’t know your classic turns of phrase, jokes, indeed, they cannot look down the menu with an eye for your favorite foods and types of wine.  When I eat with Alicia, by contrast, she often says, “oh I knew you would want that,” or picks a first course with one of my favorite ingredients, pasta or cheese (!). Caroline knows my sweet tooth, I always let her pick dessert.  Eating with a new person introduces new tastes on the menu, and in conversation topics, I love it, but I look forward to eating with old friends. They always ‘know what I mean,’ if you know what I mean.

The Black Sheep also knows what it means.  The elegant and simple menu, with roughly six appetizers (all $12) and six entrees (all $22), paired with an equally easy wine list offering bottles that never cost over $35, does change, for each season and for available local ingredients, but some points are refreshingly impervious to the times. There are, as I already mentioned, table fries, and there is always balsamic cream chicken stuffed with brie. I rarely order chicken, it’s boring.  This one sounds overdone, too rich, ‘not-worth-it’.  You can tell a good restaurant when a dish you would ‘never order’ is a favorite.  I’ll admit, I didn’t order it.  The first time I had that delicious balsamic cream sauce my Mom was responsible for the choice (she also ordered chocolate cake, another of my ‘don’t order’ rules for reasons that most people… and sometimes me.  I was happily defeated a number of times that night!).  With everything I have ever tried at the Sheep–clean veggie spring roles, apple glazed pork, the Filet, and buttered lobster ravioli–the sauce is another constant. It is constantly perfect.

Unfortunately, this most recent trip included some missteps.  First, scallops came out a little overcooked, then venison ‘cigars’ were too ordinary, too fired.  The sauce on the scallops, deep red and orangey sweet, was up to usual standards but the scallops were rubbery.  A maple-ranch dipping sauce came on the side with the cigars, delicious, but not enough to rescue them from layers of dull crunch.

This tinge of imperfection in the food was actually, almost appropriate given a certain shadow of sadness that hovered on the entire dinner: the  unavoidable fact of separation.  Alicia discussed her plans for job interviews in Australia, a place romantically, but inconceivably, far away.  Caroline talked about taking time to spend with her family before officially setting off for difficult years at law school.  Usually our conversation would be bounded by the common ground of life at college.  When I don’t know the name of someone they know, I ask what that person looks like.  We sat at the Black Sheep talking about a ‘real world’ that used to be fanciful, now it’s just real.

Leaving college is scary.  Getting a job is scary.  I know in the back of my mind that is now stuffed with leaving anxiety, that when I see Alicia and Caroline after graduation it will blast us, if just for a dinner, back to old selves.  I’m not worried that we’ll remain friends, we’ve already survived a lot of time and change.  But I am sad when I imagine that in just two weeks these selves sitting right here, reaching for their desert forks and then out to their cake, will be ‘old.’  We have a bright future, from right here the cake looks good, but I’m having a little trouble seeing any further.

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