Sunday, September 30, 2007

Captain Buzzy and Libby Hill

After the Italian Festival we stopped in at Captian Buzzy's Beanery. We did not want our day to end, and we discovered that we were thirsty. As we entered we were greeted by a marvelous coffee aroma. But neither of us felt like coffee. I ordered a Limeade. This was more like a limeade extreme. Very sweet and very tart (the juice of an entire lime for the small size!). I loved it. My husband wanted an Arnold Palmer (1/2 tea and 1/2 lemon). Alas, no lemons. But the Captain's crew member suggested a Tiger Woods - 1/2 tea and 1/2 lime. A fitting substitute.

With beverages in hand we strolled over to Libby Hill Park and admired the view.

Richmond Italian Street Festival 2007

Another Saturday, another festival. This time we took ourselves up to Church Hill to the Italian Street Festival at Broad and 25th. A fantastic day for food and wine.
The festival featured an Italian wine tasting with three different distributors pouring. The wines from Kobrand turned out to be our favorites. Winners included 2004 Salviano Turlo, 2004 Setti Ponti Crognolo, 2001 Michele Chiarlo La Court Barbera D'Asti, and 2004 Agricola Punica Barrua. We also liked the 2001 Mocali Brunello Di Montalcino. Although these wines were not available to drink at the festival, Strawberry St. Vineyard, Wine Lovers, and Wine Cellar all carry these hearty nectars.
After the tasting we wandered up and down the two blocks trying to decide what to eat for lunch. We were tempted by the Italian sausage sandwich, but we had experienced that delight last year and wanted to expand our experience.
So, it was Cheese Tortellini with a mix of pesto and marinara for me from the Italian Kitchen West. My hubby choose the lasagna from Cavanna Pasta along with a bowl of meatballs with sauce. We washed it down with Castell d"Albola Chianti Classico. All good, but very rich.
We roamed around the booths and activities area watching traditional dances, enjoying the petting zoo, and admiring the brightly painted wagon.
Now time for gelato - a combination of pistachio and nutella.
We then hoofed it up to St. John's Church. What a lovely spot.
Before our festival day ended we stopped to pick up dessert, Sfogliatelle. A pastry filled with orange flavored cheese surrounded by crisp strips of dough. We had marvelled at this delight last year and had to have more this year.

What a marvelous day. I heard that this year may be the last for the festival. I sincerely hope not.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

A Hearty Aussie

Last night we enjoyed an extremely scrumptious Aussie wine - 2005 Rutherglen Estates "The Reunion." Hearty and in your face, but not jammy. The red blend contained 60% Mourvedre, 20% Shiraz, and 20% Grenache. Where was it purchased you might ask. Beats me would be my reply. But wonderful all the same.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

The 49th Annual Armenian Food Festival

We attended the Armenian Food Festival today for a quite yummy lunch. St. James Armenian Church located at the corner of Patterson and Pepper Avenues put on quite a spread.

Of course, we were interested in food, but the festival also featured Armenian wine. And we were allowed to taste before buying. The first wine tasted was a Pomegranate. We were impressed by what it was not - not sweet and not tart. For a fruit-based wine, it comes very close to tasting like a grape-based wine. And while not something I would imbibe every day, I would serve it as an aperitif and as a conversation starter. We also tasted two dry red wines. Both dry with smoky undertones and with labels that were unreadable. Bottles were either $20 or $15. We chose the $15 option.

As for food, we had lots of choices. We decided on Armenian Style Rice Pilaf ($2.75), Fasoulia - String Beans Braised in Tomatoes and Herbs ($2.75), Cheese Boureg Triangle - Philo with Cheese Filling ($2.75), Lahmajoun - Armenian Meat Pie ($3.00), Beef Shish Kebob ($8.00), and Chicken Shish Kebob ($6.00). Our favorites turned out to be the beef kebob, rice pilaf, and the cheese boureg triangle. For dessert we had a couple of Khourabia - Armenian Sugar Cookies ($1.00). The cookies were in between a sugar cookie and shortbread with almond flavoring.

While we ate we were treated to traditional dancing and music.

This was the first Armenian festival for us and we thoroughly enjoyed the food and festivities. The volunteer staff were extremely hospitable. The festival continues through Sunday. Go if you get the chance.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Sandwiches for Dinner

Tonight dinner will be fairly simple, but (hopefully) very yummy. We are having sandwiches! Okay, not your average sandwich. I had some proscuitto languishing in the refrigerator. Shame on me! Proscuitto should never ever languish. Anyway I stopped by The Metro Bakery and procured a loaf of peasant bread. I then trotted over to Ellwood Thompson's and picked up a red bell pepper, about 1/3 of a pound of fresh mozzarella, and a head of garlic. When I arrived home I resisted the temptation to break into the bread. I consoled myself with a glass of 2002 J. Garcia Merlot. I roasted the pepper over a gas stove burner. Upon cooling, I skinned it, got rid of the seeds, and cut it into delectable strips. I peeled one clove of garlic, cut it into little chunks, placed it in the bottom of a mortar, added a little salt, and pestled the garlic to a juicy pulp. I went outside and snipped a few fresh basil sprigs, and chiffonaded the leaves (about 1 tablespoon). The leaves and pulped garlic were placed in a little bowl. I then drizzled olive oil (about a teaspoon) into the bowl and mixed thoroughly. Okay prep over. Time to savor more wine...

When my hubby arrives home, I'll slice the bread and assemble the sandwich. Of course, the basil mixture will be brushed over the bread. I haven't decided what will go next. In any case proscuitto and roasted red pepper will be laid on and then sliced fresh mozzarella. The sandwich halves will be placed in a pan on top of a rack (I want the bread crust to become crispy) and popped into a 450 degree oven until the cheese is nicely melted. We generally eat these concoctions open faced.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Northside Grille - We Like Our Neighborhood Watering Hole

I've seen lots of comments about Northside Grille. Some good, some so-so. But this little bustling boit on Bellevue has become our favorite bar. Here are some reasons why:

  • Non-smoking - since most bars allow patrons to light up, we avoid them. Being able to get a drink at a non-smoking bar is heaven for us.
  • Walking distance - we do not have to limit our drink intake. What fun!
  • Monday evening $2.75 rail drinks (and no skimping on the liquor!) - I'm not sure when happy hour occurs, but we were sure smiling.
  • Decent onion rings - a whole pile for $4. Add some mozzarella sticks and we had dinner.
  • Local people watching - between 6:30 and 7 PM the place began to fill up. I liked watching the couple at the bar enjoying beers. He drank from the bottle and she poured hers in a wine glass.
  • Laid back yet attentive bartender - one day soon we'll learn your name.

Thank you Northside Grille for opening up and giving us a safe place to imbibe and a menu with a variety of food options at affordable prices.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Highland Getaway

Last weekend we decided to avoid Race Weekend altogether and we trekked to Monterey, VA for some rest, sightseeing, and cooler weather. Well, we managed two out of the three. We secured reservations at the Highland Inn located smack in the middle of the tiny hamlet of Monterey along Route 250, just 7 miles shy of West Virginia. On Friday we forsook all interstate travel and drove along Route 250 to our destination. Friday mid-day traffic in Charlottesville, even on Route 250 bypass was frustratingly slow, and, alas, no interesting eating establishments appeared. But never fear, the Greenwood Gourmet Grocery delighted and surprised us.
A truly gourmet establishment with organic goodies, fresh eggs, a fantastic wine selection, and deli sandwiches featuring Thuman meats. Me with my roast beef, arugula, and horseradish mayo on foccacia and hubby with an Italian on a homemade sub roll ate on the side porch picnic table surrounded by a bounty of gourds. Welcome to autumn despite the 89 degree weather.

We motored through Waynesboro, Fishersville, and Staunton. About 30 miles east of our destination the road wound up over mountains through national forest land. The road itself contained curves and turns that roller coasters would covet. At the top we stopped to admire the Highland County scenery.

We arrived at the Highland Inn mid-afternoon. Duly listed on the National Historic Register, this spot used to be an early 20th century stopover on the way to West Virginia. Our quaint little room on the third floor provided comfort, but no air conditioning (none of the rooms had AC). Thank goodness for the large windows with screens and the fan. Once again, we had hoped for cooler mountain climes, but were met with near 90 degree weather every day. We experienced a few saving graces – cooler nighttime temperatures; even though our window faced Main St., the sidewalks rolled up early; and BBC America available on the television (we have neither cable nor satellite at home). The Inn belongs to two cats: Isabel, of Persian extraction and Clementine, an enormous orange-striped cutie. They graciously allow other pets (yes, even dogs) to rent out rooms.

The little town of Monterey held some surprises. Two high quality arts and crafts galleries graced Main St. A cute garden gift shop was located behind the Inn. Up the street Evelyn’s Pantry lured us in. The pantry contained shelves of plastic bags filled with practically any kind of flour you could possibly want, as well as wheat germ, gluten, yeast, baking soda, etc. Another aisle contained bagged candy. The stuff that peaked our interest was maple candy coated peanuts. Similar to maple nut goodies, but containing a peanut instead. Yummy, but very addictive. Across the street we encountered a country craft store and while most of the items did not interest us, the maple syrup from Highland County and the crabapple jelly caught our eye. Highland County is apparently the southernmost maple syrup making area in North America. But let’s turn our attention to the crabapple jelly. When I was growing up my grandmother made crabapple jelly with almost apple-sized crabapples from a huge tree in her brother’s backyard (about three doors down from her house). This was the only jelly we ever ate and it was heavenly. She always put the jelly in small baby food jars. I never thought I would run across it once she ceased to produce the sweet stuff. What delicious memories. As the stores began closing for the evening we headed over to the VA ABC to pick up a bottle of Virginia wine for later. The two women running the store were the friendliest ABC staff we had ever met. If you travel to Monterey, make sure you stop by to at least say “Hi” to these lovely ladies.

We dined at the Highland Inn. The Inn contains a dining room of fairly ample size and The Black Sheep Tavern. Unfortunately, the Tavern is used mainly for continental breakfast in the mornings for guests and as an overflow dining room. While the Tavern houses a wonderful rustic bar with a gleaming brass rail, alas, no mixed drinks or bartender. But, as I said, the dining room is of a nice size with white tablecloths, fresh flowers at each table, and a wood stove for cold winter nights. Our waiter was quite young, but very polite. It was his last night employed at the Inn. The following day he was heading to Orlando to go to motorcycle repair school. We were pleased to find a tiny, but adequate wine list. About half of the selections came from Virginia. We opted for a Rosenblum Zinfandel to accompany our broiled Highland County trout and coffee and herb roasted T-bone steak. The meal came with a mixed green salad, rolls, honeyed carrots, and a baked potato. I enjoyed the trout and discovered that eating the skin of the fish made the fish seem very fishy. No skin, no overwhelming fishy taste. Although advertised as boneless, I found a few of the needlelike skeletal features still attached. The T-bone was another story. It arrived more medium than medium rare (which we later discovered was probably de rigueur for this area). The coffee overpowered the herbs and quickly grew tiresome. A shame for a nice piece of meat. Oh well. We still soaked up the quaint atmosphere and enjoyed observing both Inn guests and locals. Near the end of dinner, some local women were finishing their meal and the husband of one popped in to say hello replete in an Akido practice outfit. Wow.

On Saturday we headed south toward Warm Springs and Hot Springs travelling along the Sam Snead Highway. We stopped at the Dan Ingalls Overlook and hiked the Nature Conservancy trail that followed the Warm Springs Mountain ridge.
The 2.4 mile round trip hike was about our speed and distance. The trail featured wonderful rock formations and was shady most of the way.
We noticed that the ground was extremely dry. Even the ferns were curled up and shriveled. By the end of our short journey the temperature had soared and the humidity reminded us of Richmond.
Thus, onward to find a bathroom and lunch. Warm Springs held no viable lunch options, but a possible spot for dinner and a couple of interesting art/craft galleries. But later, later, we still needed restrooms. Hot Springs and the Visitor Center/Chamber of Commerce former railway station provided for our restroom needs and recommended a couple of lunch options (outside of the Homestead). We ate at the closest spot – Lindsay’s Roost Bar and Grill for Woody Burgers (bacon cheese burgers), fries, and iced tea. The TV churned out the top 20 CMT videos and the rooster bedecked abode accommodated both locals and visitors alike. If you go, bring cash or check. No credit cards accepted.

After lunch we happened upon a wonderful little wine shop and were treated to a South African wine tasting. We then strolled through the grounds of the Homestead. We had visited here many moons ago and had fond memories. The Cottage Shops that had been such a delight were all closed, unfortunately. We did glimpse the Crystal Ballroom – large, airy, and magnificent. Many moons ago we were unable to eat dinner in the dining room due to a lack of proper dinner attire (coat and tie required and not packed). We had tried to make dining reservations for this trip, but policies at the Homestead have changed over the years and only guests staying at the Inn were allowed to make dinner reservations ahead of time. We needed to call the day we wanted to dine to see if anything was still available. Thus, we decided not to bring proper dining attire. When we strolled through it seemed like the Homestead did not have that much business this weekend. What a shame, they lost revenue because they did not want to make a reservation for us a week in advance. We did enjoy walking through the Spa Garden. I even dipped my feet in the waters.

So, back up to Warm Springs and a stop at the Seven Oaks Gallery. Basically, a three story house turned into an arts and crafts gallery containing paintings, pottery, jewelry, rugs, and some magnificent wood tables from sculpturer turned wood artisan Tom Sternal worth drooling over. The Seven Oaks Gallery was located on the main road.
Warm Springs Gallery was discovered on the turnoff towards the Bath County Courthouse (with the obligatory Confederate soldier memorial complements of the United Daughters of the Confederacy). This Gallery occupied a former general store. We arrived just in time for a reception for artist Kevin Beck who was displaying pastels of the local area. What an unexpected treat. Kevin also began a new pastel as we sipped wine and nibbled on cheese and crackers. I was amazed to learn that the medium holding the applied pastel chalk was akin to sandpaper. Fascinating.

As we walked back to the main road to get our car, we espied two large deer roaming the strip of woods beside us. As we headed back to Monterey we saw a few more deer; a lot of cows, including some very shaggy ones sporting very long horns; sheep; goats; horses; and a trout farm (could this be where my local trout from last night came from?).

After a rest and change of clothes we backtracked to Warm Springs again for dinner at the Waterwheel Restaurant. The Waterwheel is the restaurant attached to the Inn at Grist Mill Square.
Very picturesque.
We decided to eat outside on the deck beside the millstream with a view of the mountains to the west.
Part of our company (albeit on the other side of the deck fence) included Buster, a neighborly black lab. What a life, our waitress even carried dog biscuits in her apron for him. At dusk Buster’s owner whistled and away he went back to his nighttime abode. We really liked the “wine list” at the Waterwheel. Instead of having a printed list, the restaurant kept a cellar that patrons could peruse. After some deliberation we chose a Neyers Merlot (at $40 it seemed a downright bargain). Oh, such a yummy, yummy wine! For dinner we shared a smoked trout filet with a horseradish sauce. The smokiness added even more character to the local fish. Unfortunately, once again, a boneless filet turned out to be not so bone free. The finishing of the trout led to rolls and a mixed green salad. For the entrees I ordered prime rib and hubby, the tournedos in a brandy peppercorn sauce. Both entrees were more on the medium side with one of my spouse’s tournedos approaching medium well. He also did not really like the sauce, thinking it lacked the addition of the stated brandy. On the other hand, my prime rib tasted very nice, and it was extremely tender. Both were presented with steamed red skinned potatoes and slightly sautéed French green beans. Upon the finishing of dinner we headed back to Monterey with an ever vigilant eye for deer on the road. We celebrated our successful navigation by sharing a bottle of South African Cabernet Franc in our room.

On Sunday, we took ourselves over the border to West Virginia. Once again we encountered roller coaster twisty mountain roads. Our first stop was Green Bank, WV. This “quiet zone” boasts the National Radio Astronomy Observatory and the world’s largest fully steerable radio telescope.
What a wonderful site! We caught the free tour that occurs every hour consisting of a short video, an overview of the tools used, and then a bus tour drive by of the various-sized radio telescopes. Because of the sensitivity of the instruments, the area within a 10 mile radius was declared a quiet zone, thus, cell phones do not work and no radio stations are available. Even digital cameras cannot be turned on within a mile of the telescope. Usually, when I have viewed massive constructions, it has been for business or military purposes. To come across something for scientific research only with open public access was awesome. We ate lunch at the Starlight Café – Polish sausage and chicken salad sandwich with chips and cookie.

After lunch we briefly stopped at the Cass Scenic Railroad Depot.
Train times did not suit our timetable so we took a gander at the gift shop which we could have skipped and then headed to Snowshoe. Snowshoe is located literally on top of the mountain with the requisite roller coaster turns. And more extensive than we imagined with continued new construction. Although not crowded, not a ghost town at this time of the year either. Maybe a future destination?

On our way back we made a brief stop at the Highland Maple Museum. The unstaffed exhibit portrayed maple syrup making through time highlighting the various changes in technique and technology.

Sunday evening back in Monterey turned out to be even quieter than normal. And the only place in town to eat after 6PM was the Mountain Hideaway Restaurant and Tavern. The Tavern did serve beer and wine, no mixed drinks and the place mainly resembled a diner. We settled at a table near the small TV to glimpse the current NFL game and to listen to the locals discuss the black bear problem. Because it has been so dry bears have been wandering into yards and making nuisances of themselves. And a park ranger was seen releasing four bears into the woods (probably captured in Richmond). We hunkered down and ordered a bottle of Redwood Creek Pinot Noir and raised a few eyebrows. The waiter even apologized that he did not have a cold bottle available. We then proceeded to enjoy a hamburger steak with grilled onions, mashed potatoes (fake, unfortunately), and applesauce. Once again cash or check payments only.

On Monday we headed back to Richmond. We made one detour to Veritas Vineyard and Winery located west of Charlottesville. It had been quite a while since we had visited a Virginia winery. Veritas hadn’t even been on the list. So, we took a chance.
They happened to be open on a Monday and we ended up being delighted with the encounter. We liked the grounds and loved the open, airy, welcoming feel of the tasting room.
The pet Weimaraner could open the doors and wander around or just plop on the floor to rest.
The winery produces a variety of both reds and whites along with a Provence-style rose (which was sold out over the weekend). Except for the dessert wines, all dry wines. Tastings were free except for the three reserve wines which were $1 for each taste. Three wines stood out – Viognier, Claret (a blend of Cabernet Franc and Merlot), and Cabernet Franc. The winery was running a very good special indeed on the Cab Franc - $100 for the case – about ½ the retail price. We could not resist. Veritas does not serve food (although they have a fully equipped industrial kitchen for special events and private parties), and they do not sell anything other than wine. For a spur-of-the-moment detour, we were quite pleased. A nice cap to our mini getaway.