Unexpected Visit To Sweet Sound Downtown

As mentioned in a previous post, I wasn’t too happy that I had to be on a business trip Monday and Tuesday this week, anticipating that I would have to miss today’s Jazz Festival in Westfield. I was originally booked on the 6:00 PM Acela from Washington, getting me back into Westfield at around 9:00 PM. Fortunately, my meeting in Washington was successfully completed much earlier, I made it to Washington Union Station in no time and was able to catch a train 2 hours earlier, got a great quiet seat in the train and the train even arrived early. This must be my lucky day. Usually, when I'm traveling I'm on the plane that is several hours delayed and then gets rerouted.

By the way, besides NJ Transit, I haven’t used many trains while here on the east coast, particularly not AMTRAK for intercity service. So my trip to Washington via train was a first and I’m actually quite impressed. It is certainly much better than flying. Even in coach you have more space and it is much more comfortable than a domestic first class seat on a plane. The Acela even has a dedicated quiet car which is great when you want to get some work done and you have standard power outlets for your laptop at every seat. There is less hassle to get to and from the airport as well as at the airport/station. If you need to travel up and down the north east, I would absolutely recommend AMTRAK.

Back to the Jazz Festival. We started at the PNC stage with Arturo. Relaxing, warm, sultry Latin jazz very well performed. The female lead singer (unfortunately I don't know her name, it is not given on their website) comes across as very convincing and authentic with her cool voice and confident performance. We enjoyed them quite a bit and our expectations for the rest of the evening were raised.

At the Baptist Church, Richard Reiter’s Swing Band provided a menu of swing classics. Judging from their web site Richard Reiter is quite a versatile musician, performer of many instruments and composer/arranger of very different styles. We only saw the swing side of this talented group. Certainly worth exploring more of his music.
We skipped the Bombay Store stage, as we didn’t particularly like the music, but that is certainly not a statement about the quality of the band.
So we went straight to the South Side Stage next to the train station where Jim Dean and the Solid Jackson Groove Cats played under the shady Christmas tree. I particularly like this stage that is typically only played at every other week. I have seen many excellent more classic or traditional jazz bands with solid performances play there over the years. This evening is not different. Jim Dean focuses on classic jazz tunes and renders them in a very skillful and sometimes innovative way. After spending quite some time with Jim Dean we got a bit hungry and headed back to the North side.

Fortunately, very fortunately for such a busy night, we had no problem to get a table at Xocolatz close enough to the stage north of the train station to see the band and listen to the music. We have been to Xocolatz many times before and IMHO, it is one of these underrated, overlooked places that are often referred to as "best kept secret".

The dining room is pretty small (but has a decent ambiance) and I guess they see themselves more as a catering business than a full restaurant. Nevertheless, personally, I think they are easily in the same league as some of the other places on the restaurant row. I like their menu which has lots of reasonably priced, innovative sandwiches and salads that are available even for dinner. (Note: Dinner after 7:00 PM is only served Thursday, Friday and Saturday and seemingly during the summer on Tuesdays for the Jazz Festival). In addition to that they have some reasonably priced more dinner type entrees (steaks, chicken pasta, etc.) And there are daily specials (available on the web site) that are typically worth exploring, sometimes quite creative ones like the "Cajun seasoned grilled swordfish over a bed of fresh mango, cucumber
and cranberry couscous" that my wife had.
Tonight, unfortunately, they didn’t have their full menu but a special limited one for the Jazz Festival. I was initially slightly disappointed as I had my appetite set on the steak with potato gnocchi that I had seen on the menu before. But the special menu also had a variety of interesting items. I had the Vegetable Focaccia which was an interesting take on a nicely grilled open-faced focaccia sandwich with a well-seasoned grilled vegetable medley. Excellent flavor profile and good execution. My wife also liked her swordfish. She remarked on the couscous with cranberries and mango to be an intriguing side dish.

The service is friendly, attentive, efficient and accommodating, trying very hard to make things right and proactively cater to the customer.
Xocolatz is a BYOB place so we got a bottle of Chard-No-Way (Chenin Blanc). I had this rather unusual wine before and liked it. Chenin Blanc (at least in the US) is a seriously underrated grape that has a lot of potential and when well made can easily compete with much pricier Chardonnays (assuming oak is not that important for you).

While at Xocolatz, we were listening to the band playing North of the train station: "Scott Hunter and the Soul Searchers" which had more Soul & R&B style music, some classic tunes and some innovative ones. Great finale for the evening.

Signing Off - The Westfield Blogger

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