Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Cheers to You on New Years Eve!

Boulevardier by pjpink

Boulevardier a photo by pjpink on Flickr.
I hope you celebrate safely but deliciously. Boulevardier from Rappahannock (Bulleit Bourbon, Campari, Cocchi, Vermouth di Torino, Brandied Cherry)

Dinner at Le Yaca: A Cautionary Tale About Food Service ...or maybe our bad luck with waitstaff whose names begin with K

Last night we ate at Le Yaca in Williamsburg. This traditional French restaurant has been around for years. We dined on superb cuisine. The pureed onion soup, divine. The beef filet perfectly cooked to a medium rare with a peppercorn and cognac sauce, yum. A crab cake piled high with succulent lump crab meat and drizzled with a light butter sauce, mmm. The apple tart, sublime. The molten lava cake mixed dark chocolate with a cake approaching a souffle consistency, masterful. A glass of an Oregon Pinot Gris to start and a delightful Bordeaux for the main course.

Yes we loved the food. Usually, the food spurs our conversation with expressions of delight and how talented the kitchen is. What happened last night? All we talked about was our waiter. And unfortunately his name began with a K. Here in Richmond we had multiple bad experiences with a waiter whose name began with a K at Amuse. This K was abrupt and not customer-focused, perhaps a bit arrogant. We avoided Amuse until we were sure this person no longer worked there. Thankfully, he has left and we frequent Amuse regularly - all of the other wait staff at Amuse have been delightful (so go enjoy lunch or brunch or dinner or cocktails).

So our K from Le Yaca was not rude or arrogant. Just slightly inept and ungraceful. We kept trying to move past the foible only to encounter another one. Basically, a series of unfortunate incidents.

As we were seated K began clearing dishes from another table and it sounded like they were dropped in a bin, a dissonant clash to the quiet and cozy atmosphere. This clash repeated itself whenever K cleared tables.

Per usual we discussed what to drink and eat. We were asked about cocktails. We weren't sure. We were told about the wines by the glass menu and we ordered a Pinot Gris. We only discovered a cocktail list when we left. If K had offered us the list, we probably would have selected a cocktail with a higher price point than the glass of wine.  No big deal. The Pinot Gris was a classic expression of the Oregon style and very enjoyable.

We ordered the meal and a bottle of wine. K was attentive in keeping our glasses filled through the life of the bottle of Bordeaux (something most restaurants here in Richmond could take note of), but when opening and pouring he was a bit fast leading to a drip on the pristine white tablecloth (no big deal, this happens all the time) and a big drip on our dish of butter for our French bread. No apologies and no offer to return with a new dish of butter.

As we finished our soup and the bowls were being cleared K also cleared our white wine glasses. Hubby had finished his; I had not. When I objected he placed it back and then realized he had placed his fingers inside the glass. He apologized and plucked a napkin from a neighboring table to wipe the glass. Really? Am I in a French restaurant?

We get through our entree and still had a glass of wine to enjoy from our bottle of Bordeaux. While we had finished out entree our plates had not been cleared and dessert arrived. Is this really a French restaurant?

With our wine still to drink and desserts cooling, K asked us if we wanted coffee. Hubby just looked at him and at our glasses of wine and looked at him again and said "Not yet." K finally got that we still had wine to drink.

We finished our wine and enjoyed dessert. As we took our last bites K presented us with the bill. No opportunity to order coffee (we ended up going to Starbucks across the street). So no after dinner coffee at a FRENCH restaurant.

And then I realized we were at a French restaurant in an American TOURIST town. We were herded like tourists, not treated as patrons or customers. What a shame. I did not skimp on K's tip. Maybe he had a bad night, but he did miss a couple of opportunities to earn more. And Le Yaca missed an opportunity for me to wax poetically on their food alone.

For all of the hard-working servers in the RVA area. Thank you for what you do. Thank you for allowing me to focus on the food and the lovely dining experience. Thank you for allowing hubby and I to take our time to decide upon what to drink and eat and to have coffee after dinner and dessert if we wish. And if your name begins with K, please prove my theory wrong that K waiters may not be up to snuff.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Pan Roasted Pork Chop at Pasture

Pan Roasted Pork Chop by pjpink

Pan Roasted Pork Chop a photo by pjpink on Flickr.
Pasture features a pan-roasted pork chop with a savory spoon bread.

Friday, December 20, 2013

A Brief Taste of Rappahannock

Oh, Rappahannock. Your sister introduced me to Virginia oysters, but you turned me into a fan. I am now an Old Salts fan and a true believer. Thank you for showing this middle-aged woman the true deliciousness of a raw Virginia oyster.

And then there is the cocktail menu and the awesome bartenders. I am completely smitten.

The bar is large. The vibe, upbeat. Go experience it for yourself.


Sunday, December 15, 2013

A Little Bit of Heaven in West Virginia

After belting back a few rounds long the Bourbon Trail in Kentucky, we stopped for a couple of nights of recuperation in West Virginia. For me West Virginia has always been an enigma. I look at maps and unless I see the Greenbriar (which I can't afford to stay at) or Charleston, I'm not sure what is around. Will I encounter breath-taking scenery or am I just in the middle of nowhere? My task was more difficult since we wanted a place for Thursday and Friday night only.

After some internet research I started contacting various B and B's and sell-styled Inns. I discovered Brookside Inn in Aurora. Nestled along a windy two-lane road, far from what we might call civilization, the Inn sits on what was once a popular 19th century retreat. Arts and Crafts decor populate the sprawling two-story structure with lots of art and knick-knacks to peruse. And the wrap-around porch was a delight for relaxing or enjoying an after dinner nightcap.

Brookside Inn




Gathering Spot

The Inn provides a lovely offering of small plates Thursday-Sunday evenings. The food was delicious and the place has a bar and a small but decent wine list. The evening meals proved to be a wonderful asset. With the roads being so windy and wildlife (deer) in abundance, we were content to remain at the Inn after dark. The restaurant is also open to the public and locals venture out to eat in the charming dining room. Be aware that the Inn takes cash or check only.

Cozy Bar
L de Lyeth
A fine Cabernet with dinner
Salad with Kohlrabi Apples and Cranberries
A salad with kohlrabi, apples, and cranberries
Italian Tomato Soup
Italian tomato soup
Flatbread Pizza
Pizza on homemade flatbread
So besides relaxing at Brookside Inn what else is there to do? Right across the road is the entrance to Cathedral State Park which features a hemlock grove. Due to storms in 2012 - both hurricane and ice - some of the trails still need to be restored, but a lovely peaceful setting to contemplate nature.

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Our main focus was to go to Blackwater Falls State Park. As we drove along the curved mountain lanes we encountered beautiful scenery. The town of Thomas offered picturesque views of the Blackwater River.

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We also had to stop at Our Lady of the Pines Church whose claim to fame is that it's the smallest church in the 48 states.

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Blackwater Falls State Park features lots of trails from easy to hard. The falls are spectacular and photos ops abounded.

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One of the easy trails leads to the town of Davis where we stopped in at a few of the shops and enjoyed pizza at a little hole-in-the-wall called Sirianni's Cafe (cash only).

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Even in mid-September the trees were starting to show their fall plumage. We stopped at one other place - Ben's Old Loom Barn. Nestled in a little valley the barn houses numerous looms where locals weave blankets, rag rugs, place mats, scarves, coasters, etc. It was so great to see this vibrant outpost preserving traditional arts.

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We really enjoyed this little bit of West Virginia heaven.

Sunday, December 08, 2013

Kentucky Bourbon Trail Stay and Eat Options

For a slice of small town friendliness I recommend staying in Bardstown, Kentucky. A delightful little place with some unique shops dotted along Main Street. Everyone we met exuded genuine warmth and charm. Bardstown is located halfway between Lexington and Louisville making it a perfect home base for visiting distilleries. Every restaurant from mom and pop diner to family/country cooking to upscale establishment boasted 50-90 different bourbons to imbibe.

Main Street - Bardstown

Eat Drink and Be Married

Bardstown Clock

Town Offices

If you are going to be drinking that much bourbon you need to stay within walking distance of your temporary watering holes. We stayed at the Colonel's Cottage Inn. A 6 room cottage with a huge jacuzzi, living room, dining room, kitchen, bedroom was $99 a night and just two blocks from the center of town. And the Colonel and his wife Margaret Sue were a delight to meet.


The Colonel and wife also own the Kentucky Bourbon House where they serve meals on the weekends and offer bourbon flights. The flights were a great way to try different brands. We sat on the front patio with the Colonel while we tasted. (We then could walk to the drive-up liquor store to purchase our favorites). During this tasting I fell in love with Old Pogue  - very smooth and Templeton Rye - very floral nose and made in Iowa.

Bourbon Flight

For lunch or dinner stop at the Old Talbott Tavern. They have served up food and housed travelers since the late 1700's. There are rumors of ghosts as well. We had delicious sandwiches for lunch.

Old Talbott Tavern

Kentucky Club Sandwich

It's hard not to take advantage of Southern comfort cooking when in Kentucky. We had dinner at the Kurtz Restaurant one night which began operations in 1937. The place oozes colonial revival. All entrees are served with hot rolls, green beans (the ones cooked to death with a large dose of ham hock), and spiced beets. They satisfied me with roast turkey and all the trimmings. Hubby raved about the skillet fried chicken and fried chicken livers - best livers since his mom used to fry them when he was a kid. And then came dessert - Chocolate Meringue Pie. This was the real deal people! A fluffy cloud of soft meringue with the peaks just-browned and the creamy chocolate filling that rivaled anything that my aunt used to make when I was growing up. After dinner and dessert we could do something at this family dinner restaurant that we could never do at our childhood restaurants in Virginia - have a shot of bourbon to cap off the evening. The Willett Pot Still Reserve made me very happy.

Kurtz Restaurant

Roast Turkey and Mashed Potatoes

Fried Chicken and Chicken Livers

Chocolate Meringue Pie

If you tire of comfort food, hit up Circa, but make reservations. This is an upscale boite and can fill up quickly. Circa was the only place in small town/rural Kentucky where we found a selection of good wines (as well as bourbons). The Cakebread Zin paired well with our meal. We enjoyed starters (shrimp rolls), entrees (bourbon-laquered short ribs and duck roulade), and an after dinner drink with my new-found friend Old Pogue.

Circa Patio

Cakebread Zinfandel

Shrimp Rolls

Bourbon Lacquered Short Ribs

Duck Breast Roulade

Hospitality, good food, and bourbon. Bardstown is definitely the heart of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail.

Willett Distillery

My favorite distillery turned out to be Willett which is a craft distillery (although they still crank out a goodly number of barrels). Three reasons why I liked these guys the best:

  1. While we were waiting for the tour we could wander around the property as long as we did not go into any of the buildings. Lots of leisurely photo time.
  2. For $10 we got a tour, a taste of two bourbons (2nd one our choice), and a souvenir sipping glass (kin to a Scotch glass). Our tour guide was young, but she was very knowledgeable and took us through the distillery itself with the copper pot still, the building where the barrels are filled and then one of the rickhouses.
  3. The Willett Pot Still Reserve was my favorite bourbon out of all that I tasted. The aromas of vanilla and caramel as well as the smooth taste were impressive. I prefer to drink this elixir neat after dinner. The bottle shaped like a pot still was cool, too.
Here are a few of the photos from the visit:





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