California Wine Country

As I mentioned in my previous post, the “meat” of our Northern California vacation sandwich was Napa and Sonoma.  After our legs were sore from traipsing up and down the hills of downtown San Francisco, we were looking forward to the leisurely pace of its neighboring wine country.

We spent our first afternoon at Sonoma Plaza, the historic “downtown” square.  By recommendation, we had lunch at The Girl and The Fig, where we sat on the lovely outdoor terrace and enjoyed a classic Croque Madame and a pulled pork sandwich with a glass of wine. Dave and I love a good sculpture garden and not far from the square was Cornerstone Sonoma.

After checking into our hotel in Napa, we had pre-dinner cocktails at Cuvee, a nearby establishment that served wine out of barrels, reminiscent of a keg.

Since Dave was the reservations secret keeper, unbeknownst to me, our first dinner in Napa was at La Toque, located in the The Westin Verasa Napa resort. It was pretty empty when we arrived and stayed that way throughout our meal. We both tried antelope for the first time and their “drowned lobster” dish was excellent, but otherwise I’m not sure how this place has a Michelin Star.

The next day was filled with wine tastings at Silver Oak, Caymus, and Cakebread. We drove through Yountville on our way to the wineries, where the renowned chef Thomas Keller is basically the mayor. We grabbed breakfast at Bouchon Bakery, Keller’s Patisserie. This is where we started our love affair with French macarons. The other baked goods we ate, a piece of coffee cake and a blueberry muffin, were also to die for.

Our winery selecting strategy was based on which wines were expensive enough that we wouldn’t buy them at home. That’s where we want to go. We started out with a tour at Silver Oak, since Dave had never witnessed the wine making process and I find it fascinating.  These are the steel barrels where the grapes are processed and made into wine

Here are the oak barrels where the wine ages

Next was a tasting at Caymus, where we tried a Cab and Sauvignon Blanc from the original Caymus brand, and a Rose from their Belle Glos brand. After consuming plenty of wine for the morning, we took a break for lunch before our last tasting at Cakebread. We stopped in Brix, a restaurant on the main highway, Rte 29. Again, we were able to sit outdoors on the back patio and admire the beautiful landscape of Napa. As oyster lovers, we dined on Hama Hama oysters from the Pacific Northwest and a juicy lamb burger. One thing we noticed during our time in Napa is that the food was consistently fresh.

Cakebread was our last stop for the day, and it was our favorite. On our way back to the hotel, we happened to drive by the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone. I wanted to get a peek of what the CIA is like. The building and facilities put my culinary school to shame!  It was absolutely beautiful.

We loved Bouchon so much that we stopped there again for a late afternoon snack. More macarons.

Dinner was at Lucy Bar and Restaurant, in the Bardessono resort. This restaurant was the epitome of fresh. Some of the vegetables were picked straight from Lucy’s Garden on the premises, including the carrot confit salad I ordered.  The dungeness crab Thai coconut curry and lobster risotto were phenomenal, and Dave deemed his short ribs the best he ever had.

The theme of the day was “my favorite wine from the tasting was the most expensive.” We splurged on bottles at Silver Oak and Cakebread (both Cabs), and bought mid-range bottles of Rose and Sauvignon Blanc from Caymus.

The next day we headed back to San Francisco.  As Dave snapped pictures between winery visits, he kept saying the landscape in Napa doesn’t look real.

Doesn’t this make you want to go and visit?


Left My Heart in San Francisco – Twice

The last time I was in San Francisco was 2004, and I coincidentally left behind a small part of my heart. Eight years later, during my spring break from culinary school, I had the opportunity to reclaim it.

San Francisco is one of my top two favorite cities in the country (Philadelphia, my current stomping ground being the other), so I was thrilled to be able to share my love of SF with Dave, and retrieve that piece of my heart.

We split our 5 days in the Bay area between San Francisco and Napa.  The bread of our sandwich was time spent in SF.  The first night we stayed at the Hotel Vertigo in Nob Hill.  I am a huge Hitchcock fan, so I was excited to stay where they filmed the second part of the movie Vertigo.  During the filming it was The Empire Hotel, now it offers lodging in chic surroundings.

After checking in, we laboriously walked the hills from Nob Hill to Fisherman’s Wharf.  The only reprieve were the views from the top.

I was jonesing for some fresh Dungeness crab and assumed Fisherman’s Wharf would be the perfect spot.  I imagined it would be similar to what you can find in Maine; fresh lobster right off the boat.  We did see live crabs, but what we mostly saw was a big tourist trap.Thanks to modern technology, we searched Yelp for the best place to find fresh crab in Fisherman’s Wharf.  It referred us to Scoma’s, a long-standing overpriced Rat Pack-era restaurant, where even at lunch the servers are wearing white dinner jackets and tuxedo pants.  We still ordered Dungeness crab cocktail (which was admittedly fresh), a trio of Pacific Coast oysters, and two Stella Artois.  After a $50 lunch, I was over this place.

Next was on to the famous Ghirardelli Square, not far from Fisherman’s Wharf.

We quickly walked through the Original Ghirardelli Ice Cream and Chocolate Manufactory, that had rooms of gift basket and samplings of their famous chocolate squares.  No need for a souvenir since you can buy Ghirardelli nationwide.  Across the square is Kara’s Cupcakes which has a variety of creative cupcakes and is good for a sweet snack if you are in the neighborhood.

We trekked back to the hotel to get ready for the Counting Crows concert at the Fox Theater in Oakland.  We grabbed a bite in the neighborhood at Nob Hill Grille, where they offer decent gastropub fare.  I felt like a certified San Franciscan, eating at a local obscure joint.  When in Rome….

I love me some Adam Duritz, so I was excited to see the Counting Crows for the 7th time in the area where they formed.  The concert itself wasn’t one of my favorites, but the venue rocked.  I’m a sucker for an Art Deco theater, and The Fox Theater met all of my expectations.  The intricate craftsmanship on the ceiling alone was amazing!

After two wonderful days in Napa, (which I’ll tell you about in a subsequent post), we headed back to the City By The Bay.  We made a wrong turn somewhere, and ended up taking the Bay Bridge back instead of the Golden Gate as originally planned.  But it was a blessing in disguise.  I needed a pit stop, so we got off at Treasure Island, which turned out to have amazing views of the skyline (and bathrooms too).

Once we crossed the bridge, we headed towards the Golden Gate and snapped some obligatory touristy pictures.

We were getting hungry for lunch, and I was determined to go where the Tanner’s, Uncle Jesse, and Uncle Joey lived.  Turns out it is called “Alamo Square.”  We grabbed sandwiches to go at Alamo Square Cafe, and had a picnic in the square, overlooking the city, and the famous “Painted Ladies.”

Dave had made all the dinner reservations before we left and kept them a secret.  At the time of our trip I was eating mainly a plant-based diet, and he surprised me with dinner at what was touted on the internet as the “Best Vegan Restaurant” in San Francisco, named Millennium.  And it happened to be right across the street from our second hotel, Hotel Monaco.  They did a nice job of creating dishes that made the vegetables sing with flavor, plus Dave found a new favorite potato, the Kennebec potato.  But overall, we were underwhelmed.  Vedge in Philadelphia is much better for vegan fare.

For a night cap, we went to Top of the Mark, on the 19th floor of the InterContinental Mark Hopkins Hotel.  With beautiful views of the city, this is a romantic spot – perfect for a date or evening out with your special someone.

I purposely, I mean accidentally, forgot to take my heart back with me on the plane. Oops!  Ironically, Dave said he left part of his stomach in Napa, specifically at Bouchon.  I guess that means we’ll have to go back soon.

Julia with a dash of Ina

Between Christmas and New Year’s, Dave and I took a road trip to South Florida and as we headed back north, stopped in Tampa to visit my close college friend Joy, her husband Ian, and their adorable 2 year-old son, Jack.  When I spoke with Joy a few days before our visit, she was so excited and planned an exquisite meal for us, with a deal that it would make this blog. And it turned out to be more than worthy of a post!  As Joy said to me, “I introduced you to Ina (Barefoot Contessa); I think you are ready for Julia.”

We started with store-bought Foie Gras mousse, accompanied by Barefoot Contessa’s apple and prune compote.

The main event was Julia Child’s Coq Au Vin with her garlic mashed potatoes and buttered peas from her Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume I.

It was a lovely evening of good food, good friends, and good conversation.  Which is how I prefer it!  Take a cue from Joy and try this menu for your next dinner party.  Bon appétit!

Warm Apple and Prune Compote
Serves 6

3 large apples, peeled, cored and each cut into 12 wedges
2/3 cup sweet dessert wine, such as Sauternes
1 1/2 Tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 1/2 Tbsp honey
14 large pitted prunes (3/4 cup)
2 springs fresh rosemary
Freshly ground pepper

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Stir the apples, wine, lemon juice and honey together in a bowl.  Pour the mixture into one or two baking dishes large enough to hold the apples snugly in a single layer with the apples cut sides down.  Scatter the prunes among the apples and tuck the rosemary sprigs into the fruit.  Sprinkle with 1/2 tsp of pepper.  Cover the baking dishes with aluminum foil and bake for 30 minutes.

Remove the foil from the baking dishes and raise the oven temperature to 375 degrees.  Continue baking for 10 – 15 minutes, until the liquid has become syrupy.  Set aside.  (You can refrigerate the compote for 24 hours and reheat when ready to serve.)

Julia Child’s Coq Au Vin
A 3- to 4-ounce chunk of lean bacon
A heavy, 10-inch, fireproof casserole or an electric skillet
2 tablespoons butter
2 1/2 to 3 pounds cut-up frying chicken
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1/4 cup cognac
3 cups young, full-bodied red wine, such as Burgundy, Beaujolais, Côtes du Rhône or Chianti
1 to 2 cups brown chicken stock, brown stock or canned beef bouillon
1/2 tablespoon tomato paste
2 cloves mashed garlic
1/4 teaspoon thyme
1 bay leaf
12-24 brown-braised onions
1/2 pound sauteed mushrooms
Salt and pepper
3 tablespoons flour
2 tablespoons softened butter
Sprigs of fresh parsley

Remove the rind of bacon and cut into lardons (rectangles 1/4 inch across and 1 inch long). Simmer for 10 minutes in 2 quarts of water. Rinse in cold water. Dry.

Sauté the bacon slowly in hot butter until it is very lightly browned (temperature 260 degrees for an electric skillet). Remove to a side dish.

Dry the chicken thoroughly. Brown it in the hot fat in the casserole (360 degrees for the electric skillet).

Season the chicken. Return the bacon to the casserole with the chicken. Cover and cook slowly (300 degrees) for 10 minutes, turning the chicken once.

Uncover and pour in the cognac. Averting your face, ignite the cognac with a lighted match. Shake the casserole back and forth for several seconds until the flames subside.

Pour the wine into the casserole. Add just enough stock or bouillon to cover the chicken. Stir in the tomato paste, garlic and herbs. Bring to the simmer. Cover and simmer slowly for 25 to 30 minutes or until the chicken is tender and its juices run a clear yellow when the meat is pricked with a fork. Remove the chicken to a side dish.

While the chicken is cooking, prepare the onions and mushrooms (see below).

Simmer the chicken cooking liquid in the casserole for a minute or two, skimming off the fat. Then raise the heat and boil rapidly, reducing the liquid to about 2 1/4 cups. Correct seasoning. Remove from heat, discard bay leaf.

Blend the butter and flour together into a smooth paste (beurre manié). Beat the paste into the hot liquid with a wire whip. Bring to the simmer, stirring, and simmer for a minute or two. The sauce should be thick enough to coat a spoon lightly.

Arrange the chicken in the casserole, place the mushrooms and onions around it and baste with the sauce. Serve from the casserole, or arrange on a hot platter. Decorate with sprigs of parsley.

Brown-Braised Onions:
12 to 24 small white onions, peeled (or double the amount if you want
to use tiny frozen peeled raw onions)*
1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt to taste

* If neither frozen nor fresh pearl onions are available, substitute one large onion cut into 1/2-inch pieces. (Do not use jarred pearl onions, which will turn mushy and disintegrate into the sauce.)

While chicken is cooking, drop onions into boiling water, bring water back to the boil, and let boil for 1 minute. Remove from heat and drain. Cool onions in ice water. Shave off the two ends (root and stem ends) of each onion, peel carefully, and pierce a deep cross in the root end with a small knife (to keep onions whole during cooking).

In a large frying pan over medium heat, heat the olive oil, add parboiled onions, and toss for several minutes until lightly browned (this will be a patchy brown). Add water to halfway up onions and add 1/4 to1/2 teaspoon salt. Cover pan and simmer slowly for 25 to 30 minutes or until onions are tender when pierce with a knife.

1/2 pound fresh mushrooms, washed, well dried, left whole if small,
sliced or quartered if large
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 tablespoon olive oil

Prepare mushrooms. In a large frying pan over medium heat, heat butter and olive oil; when bubbling hot, toss in mushrooms and saute over high heat for 4 to 5 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove from heat.  Don’t crowd the mushrooms!

Garlic Mashed Potatoes
¼ cup roasted garlic cloves
½ cup milk {reduced fat is fine, but not skim}
½ cup heavy cream or crème fraîche
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
Kosher salt
2 pounds potatoes, preferably Idaho or Yukon Gold, peeled and quartered

Purée the garlic, milk and cream in a blender or food processor until smooth. Transfer to a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and stir in butter; cover and keep warm.

Meanwhile, bring a large a 3-quart or larger pan of water to a boil. Add 2 teaspoons salt and the potatoes.

Cook until tender, about 15 minutes; drain.

Arrange a potato ricer over a large heat-proof bowl and press the potatoes through it. If you don’t have a potato ricer {you should, it makes super-smooth potatoes!} just mash the potatoes in the bowl using a potato masher.

Dribble in the hot milk mixture beat until the potatoes are creamy. Taste and add more salt if you think they need it. I find that they almost always need some – start with ½ teaspoon kosher salt or ¼ teaspoon table salt and go from there.
Serve warm, sprinkled with some freshly chopped parsley or chives.

Buttered Peas with shallots
10 oz fresh or frozen peas
2 – 3 tsp butter
1 small shallot diced
salt and pepper to taste

Cook the peas in a boiling pot of water for 1½ – 2 minutes (if using frozen peas, less time is needed). Remove from the water and drain.

Heat the butter over medium heat then add the shallots and cook stirring constantly for 2-3 minutes. Add the peas to the butter and shallots, mixing well to evenly coat the peas in butter. Season with salt and freshly cracked pepper, to taste.

Travels: The Crescent City of Nawlin’s Part Deux

On our third day in The Crescent City, we took the St. Charles street car to the Po’ Boy Festival. The po’ boy is New Orleans version of a hoagie, grinder, or submarine. Dave and I agreed we would each pick a po’ boy of our choosing and share. Not surprisingly, Dave chose an oyster po’boy that was panko-crusted and had an asian-style aioli.

I chose a bbq shrimp po’ boy and fries.

Both were very good. Having to choose which one we thought tasted better, our loyalties lied with our own pick, so it was a draw.

That afternoon we had a remarkable private tour of the French Quarter from Leah, a friend and old colleague’s sister, followed by a cocktail at Arnaud’s bar, French 75. Soon, it was time for dinner at August, one of John Besh’s restaurants. While waiting for our table, we ordered dirty martinis at the bar, where we had another celebrity sighting – Jason Sedeckis from SNL.

Throughout the meal, we forgot to take pictures because we were so enamored with and absorbed in everything we ate. My conclusion of this restaurant is you MUST go if you are in The Big Easy! Dave thought it may have been one of the best meals he has EVER had.

Day 3 – our taste buds were singing…..

Our last morning in NOLA, we hit the famous Café Du Monde for beignets and café au lait. And literally that is all they serve. This place takes donuts and coffee to the next level. There are 3 beignets per serving, with a mountain of confectioner’s sugar.

And after

Seeing how much sugar was left after we scarfed down those deep fried squares of deliciousness, I couldn’t help but wonder how many pounds of sugar they go through in a day. And they are open 24 hrs/7 days a week! Leah took us behind Café Du Monde to peak in the window so we could see how the beignets are made. Here is what Dave captured:

We really enjoyed watching this.

Throughout the weekend, we were trying to figure out what’s the big deal about the Praline (pronounced praw-lean). It’s basically cream, butter and sugar melted with pecans. That’s exactly what it tastes like. It’s a cavity waiting to happen.

On our way to the airport, we stopped by Southern Candymakers to grab some praline souvenirs. Here is how they make them:

We were sad to say good bye to The Crescent City, since we thoroughly enjoyed eating our way through and learning about its rich history. We highly recommend going for a visit if you’ve never been, and definitely take a tour of the French Quarter with Leah. (here is her blog, she is fantastic!) Needless to say, we will be detoxing this week.

Travels: The Crescent City of Nawlin’s Part Un

Dave and I recently returned from a food-filled mini vacay in New Orleans. We had a fabulous time being tourists and were impressed with the flavors and quality of food the city had to offer.

On the flight out, our row mate recommended Acme Oyster House, which happened to already be on our list of places to visit. I had seen it on an episode of Man vs. Food and had intentions of going there while we were in The Big Easy. The world is my oyster since Dave made me a convert, and it seems we just can’t get enough of them. So, Acme Oyster House it was for our introductory NOLA meal.

I started with a Bloody Mary and Dave ordered an Abita Amber, a lager from a local brewery. On the glass rim of the Bloody Mary was what tasted like a Cajun seasoning – spicy and Old Bay-esque. We then shared a dozen raw and char grilled oysters along with Boo fries, all recommended by our travel companion. The raw oysters were milder and less salty than their Northeast brethren, but just as meaty. Our plate of char grilled oysters on the half shell was filled with garlic, butter, and cheese oozing goodness to be sopped up by the bread they provided.

And the Boo Fries – not sure who thought it would be a good idea to put roast beef gravy over fries with shredded cheddar cheese, but they knew what they were doing! (although my discerning palate quickly picked up that the gravy was jarred, but after a few bites I quickly let go of my judgment.)

By the end of our meal, we were still curious about what exactly the Bloody Mary seasoning was (and whether we could recreate it ourselves). So we asked the waitress on our way out. It was Tony Chachere’s and they were selling it next door. Guess where we went next!

Dinner our first evening was at Stella!, one of the finer dining establishments in the French Quarter. The atmosphere was upscale, with a touch of stuffiness. It is known for using molecular gastronomy, a modern cooking technique that includes creating foams and gels in a dish. As Dave and I perused the menu, only the appetizers seemed to really beckon us, so we got 4 small plates and a salad.  Our favorites were the deviled egg with caviar

and the foie gras, that was so creamy with compliments of bacon, peaches and fig

Day 1 – so far NOLA is living up to its culinary reputation!

Saturday, we headed uptown to the Sculpture Garden at the New Orleans Museum of Art and then took the street car back to the French Quarter. Adamant about trying local traditions, we walked over to Pat O’Brien’s, the place that created the infamous Hurricane. (Click here to read about its history). No wonder everyone walks around Bourbon Street drunk! 4 ounces of rum in one libation will do that to you. To fill our empty stomachs, we stopped for lunch at the Napoleon House, another recommendation from our flight friend and also on our personal list.

It’s called the Napoleon House because the building housed the mayor at the time, and offered his residence to the exiled Emperor as a refuge. Although Napoleon never made it to New Orleans, the name stuck.

They are known for their Pimm’s Cup, so Dave and I ordered one to share. Thanks to the Hurricane, one Pimm’s Cup each would have put us over the edge. Looking at the menu, we noticed it was primarily Italian-based and were confused how a place named Napoleon House did not offer French food. We later found out it is owned by an Italian family, and the significance of the name, obviously, has nothing to do with the food. We shared a Muffulatta, which is basically an Italian Cold Cut sandwich with olives and served hot, and a Meatball Sandwich.

Dinner on our second night was at Cochon, a restaurant our research concluded was highly rated.  We were eager to try alligator and this place fit the bill. Yet besides the fried alligator and the braised pork cheeks, we were disappointed. Our experience wasn’t enhanced either by our terrible service.

Fried Alligator with chili garlic aioli

Braised Pork Cheeks with sauerkraut potato cakes, goat feta & pears (tasted like brisket on Chanukah!)

Day 2 – we hit some well known local establishments, but the food did not hit the mark. We did however have a celebrity sighting that evening – Zach Galifianakis and Jack McBrayer (Kenny from 30 Rock)!

Travels: Empire State of Mind

No, Dave and I were not singing Jay-Z and Alicia Keys while we were walking through the concrete jungle of New York City this past weekend. But we gave our taste buds a ride all over town while visiting family and cheering on a close friend for the NYC marathon. Here is a quick rundown of our itinerary:

Friday night
Dinner at BYOB Kuma Inn in the Lower East Side with Dave’s sister and her boyfriend (this place was an obscure restaurant above a Bavarian bar, but the tapas style Asian food really stood out!)
Drinks at Elsa’s

Brunch at Petite Abeille in Stuyvesant Town with my cousin Jami
Being a tourist at the Empire State Building (spectacular views!)
Dinner at One If By Land, Two If By Sea

Brunch at The Standard Grill in the Meatpacking District
Quick walk through of EATALY in the Flatiron District (where Dave freaked out because Mario Lemieux walked by us)
Being spectators at the NYC Marathon

I’d like to shine a spotlight on a few activities from our weekend….

  • Dinner at One If By Land, Two If By Sea in the West Village. Dave’s research paid off for finding a romantic atmosphere for our Saturday night date night. According to press clippings displayed near the restroom, One If By Land has been voted Most Romantic Restaurant in NYC multiple times and apparently is an old carriage house once owned by Aaron Burr. This fact I thought was especially cool, because I am always thoroughly entertained by this Got Milk? commercial from a few years back:

I’m sure Burr was proud to have won the dual, but I would hope he would be proud to know that his former residence is now a pretty awesome restaurant. My love of dirty martinis has been elevated with their Horse and Carriage cocktail. It was a dirty martini with horseradish-infused vodka, olive juice, and a tooth pick spear of bleu cheese & onion stuffed olives. A first whiff smelled like a Jewish Holiday, but it gave the cocktail a swift kick in the pants, like the Jews did to the Egyptians.

Their menu is a Four Course Prix Fixe including a choice of a small, medium, large, and dessert dish. With this type of menu, there were many delectable bites, but my favorite dish was the Halibut, which sadly was not included in our photo shoot for the evening. It was perfectly cooked and surrounded by trumpet royale and Shiitake mushrooms, on a bed of roasted garlic potato purée. There was a lemon burst that really balanced out the flavors in the rest of the dish.

  • Brunch at The Standard Grill in the Meatpacking District. I first stumbled upon this place the summer of 2010 during my annual Girls Weekend with college friends. We had drinks here and it was a fun, happening place. When I came back to Philly from that trip, the Twenty Manning restaurant near Rittenhouse Square had been reinvented to Twenty Manning Grill. TMG eerily looked like The Standard Grill I had just been too in Manhattan; Beef, Fish, Fowl, Poultry sign and all. I had told Dave previously about Philadelphia’s venerable restauraneurs’ imitation of New York City restaurants; now he had had seen it first hand with this example as well as Pastis (Parc in Rittenhouse). Brunch didn’t really stand out for me, besides our celebrity sighting of Bridget Monyahan, the housemade raised donuts, and these really cute salt and pepper shakers.

  • I failed to mention the real reason for our visit to NYC, I opened a bakery!

    Just kidding……but if I did, I guess I couldn’t use this name. However, because this shop had my namesake, we popped in to taste the mini, and I mean mini, cupcakes they were selling. Apparently, each cupcake is less than 50 calories. They weren’t anything to write home about. The concept appeals to me, since I often need something sweet to cleanse my palate after a meal, but am not looking for anything filling. The frosting was good, but something about the cake itself was off, but we couldn’t put our finger on it.

With lots of reasons for frequent NYC visits and it being in close proximity to Philadelphia, there will plenty more Manhattan posts. Lucky for us, the city has boundless gastronomic options!

One last thing I would like to mention – while watching the marathon runners pass by us with less than a mile to cross the finish line, we saw a few amputees and individuals in wheelchairs. I believe completing a marathon when you are healthy is inspirational on its own, but this just blew me out of the water. Here is a picture of a female amputee close to finishing the race:

Dave found out more about her today. Her name is Melissa Stockwell and here is her Web site. The quote on the home page is “All of our dreams come true if we have the courage to pursue them.” I couldn’t agree more! I have decided to pursue my own dream and start culinary school part-time this week! Wish me luck!

Travels: Heading South to Richmond, Virginia

My close friend Jen recently moved to Richmond, VA with her boyfriend, Iain.  After picking a good weekend, Dave and I made the four hour trek (on a good traffic day) for a visit.  They live in Carytown, a cute little neighborhood outside of downtown Richmond.  Here are some edible highlights…..

Friday night for dinner they took us to ACACIA mid-town; one of the nicer restaurants in the area and around the corner from their place.  ACACIA certainly could have been plucked out of Philadelphia as both the food and décor rivaled restaurants of those in a more urban environment.  On a Philly-related note, the chef, Dale Reitzer, was named Best New Chef by Food and Wine Magazine the same year as Marc Vetri (Holla!).

As I mentioned, I love to taste, so Dave and I have developed a dining routine that consists of sharing 2 or 3 appetizers and then one entrée.  With Jen and Iain added in the mix, we ordered a few extra appetizers of crispy risotto balls, fried oysters, tuna ceviche, and a charcuterie plate.  The charcuterie plate included a foie gras mousse and beef tongue.  Being a member of the tribe, I’ve seen tongue in a lot of delis but have never actually tried it.  I didn’t think it was that bad, but my dining companions were not fans.  If I see foie gras on the menu, I’m ordering it!  I love the texture.  Ironically though, I don’t like duck meat.  I digress……….on recommendation from Jen and Iain, we got the crab cakes with cheesy grits and green beans.  As a born and bred Marylander, I have to say I know my crab cakes.  It should be all meat and hardly any filling.  And this crab cake was exactly that!  Broiled to perfection, lumpy, and the most interesting part was the cake included the mustard from the shell of the crab.  If you have ever sampled the mustard, it’s a very distinct taste.  I like it, plus it’s my mom’s favorite part of the crab.  However, others might say it is an “acquired” taste.

My Favorite Dish of the meal was the Crab Cakes

With an Honorable Mention to the Butternut Squash Risotto Balls

We then went to McCormack’s Whiskey Grill, a cool whiskey bar with a tremendous amount of liquor bottles behind the bar.  They even had one of those rolling library ladders to aid in reaching for all those bottles.

Dave is a whiskey/scotch/bourbon drinker, thanks to both his grandfathers, so this was a treat for him.  As hard as I try when I taste whiskey, I can’t help but associate it with rubbing alcohol and/or conjure up bad memories of drinking Southern Comfort in high school.  Both give me that “I’m disgusted” face, and the chills.  I asked the bartender for an “introductory” whiskey and he gave me Jameson.  It certainly didn’t go down any easier, but he described it with notes of caramel, and at least this time, I could actually SMELL the caramel, and not pure alcohol.

On a walk through Carytown, one of the coffee shops was advertising a Nutella Latte.

Um, yes please!  I made sure we stopped there on our way to Kings Dominion (my favorite theme park EVER!) for my daily coffee fix.  As I watched the barista put Nutella in the bottom of the coffee cup, I thought “This is going to be awesome!”  But my first sip tasted like a regular latte.  Even by the time I drained the cup, there wasn’t much hazelnut flavor.  Disappointment set in; I should have known better than to have had such high expectations.

So, if you are ever in the Richmond area, Carytown particularly, I would highly recommend ACACIA mid-town and McCormack’s Whiskey Grill, but you can skip the Nutella Latte. However, a visit to Kings Dominion is a must!