The Speakeasy Lives On

Grandstaff and Stein Booksellers

Front entrance on Main Street, Shockhoe Bottoms, Richmond, VA

Covid-19 has changed the way we dine out, but Richmond’s speakeasy makes it fun. Like any speakeasy, you can’t get in unless you know the password. This week’s password is elephant ears- code for policemen. Each week the website posts a picture and the password.

Elephant Ears
Secret Entrance

The speakeasy poses as a bookseller, so naturally guests enter through a secret door behind the bookcase. The interior of the restaurant evokes the roaring 20’s vibe with dark wood, low lights, chandeliers and period pictures. Masks are required and hand sanitizer is one of the new table decorations. Outdoor dining is also an option.

Signs of the Times
Outdoor Dining Option

The Libations list is extensive. It is after all a speakeasy. I chose the Crystal Radio, a sweet elderberry cocktail that was scrumptious.

Crystal Radio

We enjoyed the happy hour starters: stuffed mushrooms and coconut shrimp. The entrees were beautifully plated and delicious: Osso Bucco served with heavenly, creamy grits; Red Snapper with green beans and those same heavenly, creamy grits; Shrimp Andouille Pasta. My Osso Bucco was so satisfying that a cup of Chamomile tea was all that could tempt me to end my meal.

Our waitress was knowledgeable, engaging and attentive. Next time, we will have to come on a night that offers entertainment, or perhaps one of the brunches.

What did I have to lose?

As part of her birthday celebration, our eldest daughter wanted Eggs Benedict for breakfast.  One little problem.  I didn’t have any English muffins.  Doing my best to obey the stay at home order, I wasn’t going to the grocery for one item. I figured, “what did I have to lose?”  I had all the ingredients.

Bread is not usually my forte’.  The few times I’ve made it without using a bread maker, it’s been dense and heavy.  I don’t have a knack for kneading it enough, or letting it rise in the proper conditions.  Nor am I willing to practice so that I develop the knack.  But, it was a birthday and in our house, if it’s your birthday, you get to eat what you want all day long. bread-simple-one-hour-homemade-bread

I was happily surprised that the English muffins were so good that my family didn’t realize that they were homemade.  I even got the thumbs up from one of my friends who is a professional baker.

Don’t be shy.  Give it a try.  The recipe is surprisingly easy.  You can find it in my favorite breakfast cookbook:  The Breakfast Book by Marion Cunningham, published by Knopf (Julia Childs’ first publisher)

 

Later that day, I used the leftover homemade Hollandaise sauce for a roast chicken dinner.  FYI:  Don’t reheat the Hollandaise in the microwave:  it scrambles.

Jenny's birthday meal: tarragon chicken, creamed cauliflower, asparagus and hollendaise

When You Can’t Dine Out….

COVID-19 Has put the kibosh on dining out.  I miss the whole experience of going to a restaurant:  the ambiance of a new space, the attentive service, looking over a menu, leisurely enjoying a well prepared meal and leaving afterwards while someone else cleans up the mess.  I can order delivery, go through a drive through, or pick up curbside.  It helps keep our local restaurants going and I appreciate how they are serving our communities.  However, those options can be spendy, and I have no idea how long this will last, so I’m being judicious.

The good news is that I can cook.  The better news is that I LIKE to cook.   I found two family farm co-ops that deliver meat: Grassroots Farmers’ Co-op https://www.grassrootscoop.com, and Crowd Cow https://www.crowdcow.com.  Crowd Cow has a subscription option that I appreciate.  I love this because I can still support family farmers and get pasture raised, organic meats.  Grocery stores deliver, so I can stay at home and protect myself and others. Win, win, win.

I have a subscription to bon appetit magazine and a whole shelf of wonderful cookbooks.

bon appetit magazine inspired my first new recipe for this season of COVID-19.

The recipe calls for white potatoes and oyster crackers.  Since both my husband and I are following an anti-inflammatory food plan, white potatoes and oyster crackers are taboo.  No problem.  I just used turnips instead of white potatoes, and toasted pistachios instead of oyster crackers.  “Necessity is the mother of invention”, or in this case, improvisation.

Not being able to dine at a restaurant is a small sacrifice.  I know that it pales in the light of losing your job, your income, the ability to pay your bills, or experiencing the ultimate sacrifice of this pandemic: becoming one of the hundreds of thousands who become ill and perhaps even die.  I don’t make light of that.  I pray every day for our doctors, nurses, EMT’s, firemen, police, grocery store and other essential employees.  These are today’s heroes.  These are the people that Fred Rogers encouraged us to look for in times of trouble.  Today, I am full of gratitude for these heroes.

Food is one of my passions.  Looking for ways to indulge that passion helps me focus on what I can do.  It does no good for me to angst about what I lack the power to change.  I am re-learning the lessons of my cancer journey:  Sometimes, being still and being content is the more meaningful action of the moment. Food is edible art and digestible love.  When I cook something beautiful and delicious, I encourage my family as we sit together, have conversations and nourish our bodies as well as our spirits so that we can stay healthy.

 

Bookclub Biltmore

 

 

For the foreseeable future, we must bid adieu to weekend getaways.  However, I’d like to share my last hurrah before the pandemic COVID-19 storm began to sweep our country and send us into life saving hibernation.

I have the privilege of belonging to a bookclub extraordinaire. Since all of us are enthusiastic Downton Abbey fans, one of our members suggested a weekend getaway to the Biltmore Estate, so that we could take in its Downton Abbey exhibit.  We enjoyed the lovely town of Asheville, Tupelo Honey’s Southern menu offerings, The beautiful Biltmore Estate and its conservatory, the Biltmore Stables restaurant and of course, the amazing Downton Abbey exhibit.BC BLTMR LAWNThe lovely front lawn of the Biltmore.  Should have put on my sunglasses!

The entire mansion was gorgeous, but the library, solarium, conservatory and Stables restaurant were my favorites. I enjoyed the Kale Caesar with Salmon.

 

The Downton Abbey exhibit was phenomenal: well thought out, interactive, and beautifully displayed.  My favorite rooms were the kitchen and dining displays.

 

We decided to go to downtown Asheville, take in some of the fun, artsy stores and then eat Southern comfort food at Tupelo Honey.  The fried Brussells sprouts appetizer was a delicious way to begin the meal.  I opted for the trout dish and a tasty green salad.  One bookclub sister joined me in ordering the trout and two others opted for fried chicken and mashed potatoes, or fried catfish with fried okra.  So satisfying!

Tupelo Honey menu

The Inn at Little Washington’s five pillars of hospitality

ANTICIPATION, TREPIDATION, INSPECTION, FULFILLMENT, EVALUATION

Displayed prominently on the walls of Chef Patrick O’Connell’s kitchen, these words serve as the pillars for The Inn at Little Washington’s mission of extreme hospitality.  I must immediately declare, before any further description, that Chef O’Connell and his staff gave my husband and me the most beautiful and pampered 24 hours of our 33 years of married life.

Please allow me to use Chef O’Connell’s pillars to share our experience.

First, Anticipation:  A few years ago, I read an article in a regional magazine that highlighted some of Virginia’s top Bed and Breakfast spots.  Naturally, The Inn at Little Washington was one of the featured destinations.  Throughout our marriage, we have made it our practice to regularly get away and have fun together.  I think it’s one of the reasons we have been married for 33+ years and we’re still happy about it.  So, I immediately put The Inn on the short list of places we should explore while discovering our new Virginia home.  I began researching The Inn and discovered that this was an experience for which we’d have to “save up”.

The Inn at Little Washington

Which brings me to the the second pillar, Trepidation: I knew that I wanted to have this experience, but I didn’t know if I could justify that kind of a splurge while we were still paying tuition for the two youngest of our four children.  I also didn’t know if I would ever be able to book a reservation in such a popular spot.  The room rates generally begin at $649 per night and the likes of Warren Beatty and Annette Benning are among their vast array of high profile past guests.

I am a planner by nature.  The third pillar, Inspection is a natural progression for me.  I spent the next couple of years randomly checking The Inn’s website for specials and doing research about it’s history.  PBS featured a delightful documentary about Chef O’Connell’s 40 year journey creating the beautiful fantasy/reality that is The Inn at Little Washington. YouTube offers Chef O’Connell’s       presentation at The Welcome Conference: The First 40 Years, which details his personal odyssey to in his words, “find a clever way to avoid ever having to lead a normal life.”

As luck would have it, I happened to check theinnatlittlewashington.com and found that there was a significant reduction in price if I was willing to come during a week day. Huzzah!  I planned a belated anniversary celebration that would also double as an early Valentine getaway.

And now for the fourth pillar, Fulfillment:  If it were possible and in my power to give a hotel 6 stars instead of 5, I would bestow them on The Inn at Little Washington.

When we arrived, we were immediately greeted by a charming valet who took our car and promised to deliver all of our bags to our room. The concierge  welcomed us and led us to what I call, the monkey room, where the bartender graciously prepared and offered us a champagne cocktail.  We enjoyed our cocktail while our room was prepared.  To our delight, the concierge informed us that The Inn had taken the liberty of upgrading our room since they had a light booking for the evening.Welcome in the monkey roomThe room was opulent.  The view of the gardens, despite Winter’s sparse blooms was lovely and inviting.  An extravagant little box of treats and a handwritten note from Chef O’ Connell awaited our entrance.  Gorgeous magnolia aromas wafted through the air in the bedroom, bathroom and foyer. Bathrobes, slippers, heated towels, French milled soaps, BVLGARI toiletries also provided luxurious pampering.

After relaxing in the room, we decided to venture across the street to the gift shop where we were again greeted by charming, helpful staff.  The gift shop offered the chance to recreate at home the beauty we were experiencing at The Inn.  I confess, I took full advantage of the $25 discount…teapots, jams, granola, wine aerators, cookbooks, scented diffuser oils and reeds, stationery.  By 3pm, we decided to enjoy the afternoon tea that was included with our stay.  Our waiter asked if we had any dietary restrictions, and immediately made sure that every thing we would eat during our stay, met those restrictions.  The tea menu was extensive and offered some of the teas we remembered fondly from our 2 years in China.  The tarts, quiches, cucumber sandwiches, candies, dried fruit and wine jellies were fantastic little snacks that all paired well with the lemon curd, berry jam and herbed mayonnaise.  All this we enjoyed as we overlooked the lovely courtyard garden.

On our way back to the room, we wandered through the lounge and enjoyed the hearth’s crackling blaze as the red, yellow and orange of the fire released all of the wood’s wonderful aroma.  At the top of the stairs, a public living room offered comfy, overstuffed couches, books and magazines and plaques commemorating various dignitaries of the culinary world for which the suites had been named.  EVERY space at The Inn welcomes, nourishes, nurtures, using beauty and luxury.  It is evident that the “Pope of American food”, feels the same way about the healing power of beauty as the current Pope of the Catholic Church.

Dinner was a culinary marvel that will certainly be included as one of our most delectable food memories.  Again from beginning to end, every person on Chef O’Connell’s hospitality team was charming, gracious, informed, enthusiastic and clearly committed to his vision of what it means to restore, nourish and make someone feel that life is indeed beautiful.

I chose the Gastronaut’s Menu and my husband chose the Valentine’s Menu with the wine pairings.  I will let the pictures do the talking.personalized. dinner menu jpgIMG_7877

Amuse-Bouche and cocktail

Appetizer

Fish Course

Meat Course

Palette Cleanse

Dessert

Farah the cow was “udderly” delightful!  Knowing my love for chocolate, my husband lovingly offered his dessert. It was the BEST dessert I have ever enjoyed.

Dessert after dessert

Goodie Box

Afterwards, we were given a tour of the kitchen and honored to meet Chef O’Connell.  What a gracious, down to Earth man!

Take note that Chef O’Connell doesn’t just look out for his guests’ experience, but also his staff’s experience.  The kitchen staff has a wall of windows that let in light and overlook a courtyard garden while they work.  The kitchen itself is beautiful and not merely utilitarian.

After our leisurely meal and kitchen tour, we returned to our beautiful suite to find our room tidied up, a list of nearby activities and attractions, the next day’s weather report, individual boxes of ear plugs and a night cap of sweet port and chocolate chip shortbread cookies with a paw-print goodnight message from Luray, The Inn’s mascot.  The Inn’s astonishing attention to detail inspires me to up my game when we host monthly retreats for single moms!

After a great night’s sleep in a bed of downy comfort, I could have left The Inn feeling overwhelmed by all of the attentive pampering I had already received, but breakfast was included with our stay, and so the pampering progressed to an even greater degree. I love the philosophy The Inn has of using local purveyors and farms.

The A La Carte menu is extra, and well worth the additional cost.  However, the Continental Breakfast of a juice flight, breads, jams, lemon curd, honey, butter, yogurt/mascarpone blend, sausage or bacon, berries and granola would have been elegantly abundant.  We finished our stay with one last walk of beauty around the perennial and vegetable gardens, the sheep pasture, bee hives, and chicken coop.

garden patio between the Inn and the Parsonage Presidential suite

Finally, the fifth pillar, Evaluation:  Even with the reduced room rate, this is more than we have ever spent on dinner and a night away.  However, we felt that the experience, albeit perhaps a once in a lifetime experience, was worth every penny because of how EVERY single person, EVERY single detail, EVERY single sensory delight fed our souls.  I encourage you to stay, eat and bask in the world that Chef O’Connell  and his staff have created, even if you have to save up to do it, even if you only do it once in your lifetime.  My grandmother’s philosophy of life was governed by her maxim, “beauty feeds my soul”.  Chef O’Connell and his staff fully understand my grandmother’s maxim.

photos of the front of The Inn and the summer evening shot of the courtyard garden belong to Gordon Beall 2012

The Broken Tulip…Richmond’s best way to meet fellow foodies

David and Sariann created the Broken Tulip so that people could break bread together in community, and that’s exactly what they’re accomplishing. Go to their website and read their tremendous tale.  The Broken Tulip story

My husband and I decided to celebrate our 33rd wedding anniversary at this delightful eatery.  I know that most of the time, anniversaries are spent at a secluded table, just the two of you, but now that we’re empty nesters, we get to enjoy many uninterrupted conversations by candlelight.  It was our great joy to meet fellow foodies and share good food, good service, good drink and good conversation.33rd anniversaryThe eleven course menu is a surprise.  If you have dietary restrictions, the chef will accommodate you.  My husband decided to enjoy a few Bock beers called The Troegenator by Troegs brewery in Pennsylvania.  I went with the $42 wine pairings.  All of the wines were excellent, but my personal favorite was an “orange” wine from Italy: 2018 Raina Spoleto Trebbiano by Francesco Mariani Viticoltore.

Three white and three reds:

The dessert wine was a port, but I didn’t get to see the bottle.

The eleven course meal was truly a taste adventure worthy of our special occasion.  I am counting the homemade bread and butter as its own course.  If you taste it, I think you’ll agree that it’s a worthy candidate for a “course”.

Course #1  Warm Olives in Preserved Lemon sauce

Course #2  Grilled Chicken Hearts

Course #3  Stuffed Oysters

Course #4  Homemade Bread and Butter

Course #5  Pea shoots and Arugula salad

Course #6  Borscht

Course #7  **Pumpkin Ravioli, Kale, Pork Belly and Green Apple

Course #8  *Sea Bass, Fennel salad, Potatoes

Course #9  Chicken and Duck

Course #10 Mincemeat Strudel with heavy cream quenelle

Course #11 Chocolate Mint Truffles and Wine Jellies

Again, all of the courses were delicious, however, our two favorites were courses 7 and 8.    Course #7 tasted like winter on a plate…oh that Pork Belly:  bliss.  Course #8 offered perfectly cooked fish and made me a fan of fennel, and let’s not forget those potatoes: seasoned and crispy.

Such fun!  Thank you to our table mates for your restaurant recommendations.  I look forward to more food adventures in Richmond.  Until then, Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and may your New Year be filled with many meals around tables seated by your loved ones!

 

Pies and Pints and Pachyderms

As soon as you enter Pies and Pints, you cannot miss the giant white Pachyderm on the wall.  Naturally, I inquired what a white elephant had to do with pizza and craft beer.  Our waitress enthusiastically shared the restaurant’s history and pachyderm passion.   The original Pies and Pints location renovated an old speakeasy.  During the renovation, a giant mural of a white elephant was revealed and ever since, each new location gets its very own elephant wall.

The craft beer menu is extensive and descriptive.  If you’re a beer novice, the descriptions help navigate your options.  Samples are offered if you want a sip before you commit.  That extends to the wine selections as well.  I sampled the house cabernet, the Beso Del Sol Sangria and the Riff Pino Grigio before settling on the Pino to enjoy with my Mushroom and Garlic pizza.

My husband enjoyed the Donny Center of the Universe IPA and a Lagunitas A Little Sumpin with his classic pizza.

The atmosphere was casual and low key; the wait staff friendly and helpful and the prices were not outlandish.  If you’re on Broad street, near VCU it is definitely  a safe bet for dinner.

The Stables: Serving up great food; protecting Richmond history.

This week’s date night found us at The Stables, 201 N. Belmont Ave. in the Museum District.  I love that owner, Steven Gooch gave a nod to the building’s history as the former stables for the Richmond mounted police.  Gooch is no stranger to maintaining a historical feel.  His first restaurant, The Franklin Inn, pays homage to the fact that it was once a neighborhood bar in the early 1900’s.

I love how the restaurant feels like some of the beautiful old stables from the 1800’s. The booths that look like stall doors, the wood wainscoting, the iron hardware and lighting and the equine chalk art all lend an aura of being in the stable of a wealthy estate.  The substantial bar and kitchen invite diners to pull up a stool and enjoy the culinary show.  The back room provides a space for private parties, while the main dining areas provide cozy, comfortable dining for perhaps 40 people.

The Stables dining room and chalk art

The cocktails all have clever names, use house made liqueurs like limoncello, and feature fine bourbons, rums, gins, and moonshine.  I chose the colt 75, a delightfully tart way to enjoy happy hour, paired with the rich Baked Cauliflower “wings”.  My husband’s happy hour choices leaned to the sweeter side with the Larcency leading Beating a Dead Horse, paired with the Southern Scallops. Both appetizers provided layers of flavor: cauliflower baked in cheese sauce that pooled around the bottom of each floret, then coated with a spicy buffalo sauce, sprinkled with bleu cheese and garnished with ribbons of paper thin carrots and celery for added crunch; succulent scallops perfectly seared, placed on a bed of collard greens and crispy herbed polenta, then drizzled with a bacon beurre-blanc sauce:  AAHMAZING

I was in the mood for something homey and familiar, so I chose the roasted chicken, wild forest mushrooms, Swiss chard, swimming in the most delicious garlic parmesan creme.  My husband wanted something seafood and hearty, so Cioppino.  At first he thought the grilled bread seemed like an oversized portion for the dish, but once he dove into the stew, he found that the bread was the perfect way to sop up the rich broth and nudge the bounty of delicious shellfish, salmon, and andouille sausage onto his spoon.

Chef, Evan Campbell knows how to deliver New American Cuisine that is delicious, creative, satisfying and beautiful.  His time in Boston was well spent.  Clearly, Chef Campbell understands seafood. I love that he changes the menu every couple of months to reflect seasonal availability and local sourcing.

The dessert offerings of a chocolate cake or a seasonal fruit tart were tempting, but I opted for my usual cup of Chamomile tea.

chamomile tea(featured image by Joe Mahoney-Richmond Times Dispatch)

Max’s on Broad: a nod to Parisienne Brasseries

As soon as we pulled up to Max’s on Broad, I felt like I was back in Paris at one of the many street side brasseries so common there.  Of course, the complementary valet parking was a nice American touch.  The striped awnings, lighting, outdoor dining, nearby park benches and brick walk ways immediately reminded me of the many bistros that beckoned me as I wandered the streets of Paris. Every one of them offered delicious meals and Max’s, like those Parisienne bistros and brasseries, did not disappoint.

Max's outside viewOur reservations afforded us a beautiful view from our table in the upstairs dining room.  Even though the ceilings are high, the space is not loud.  The lighting is ample without being either too garish or too dim.

The service is attentive, informative and professional.  We came during restaurant week, but I just wasn’t in the mood for dessert and the WATERZOOI special was simply too tempting to pass up.  The fish was something new for me: Corvina, pan fried in butter, topped with lump crab over fingerling potatoes, leeks and carrots in a divine lobster-brandy sauce.

pan seared Corvina Waterzooi specialYou see what I mean?   But I digress.  We began the meal with a delicious bread basket, the French Onion soup and baby grilled cheese for my husband and the roasted cauliflower for me.bread basket

Both were excellent, but I preferred my lighter option of the cauliflower.  I have to say that the bread was exceptional: crispy, not hard or chewy crust,  warm and soft inside.  My husband went all in for the hearty options and ordered the Gnocchi Parisienne with mushrooms. and washed it down with two different craft beers: Tripel Karmeliet and Firestone Walker.  Both beers partnered well with his meal.  We shared a side order of the crispy Brussels Sprouts with Lardons.  Decadent!  I saved some to take home along with the leftover fingerling potatoes in that divine lobster sauce.crispy Brussels Sprouts with lardins

I opted for water with my meal even though there were some lovely wine choices available.  As usual, I ended the meal with a comforting pot of Chamomile tea.chamomile teaThank you Max’s for giving me a night in Paris.

Fabulous Foo Dog

We finally made our way to Foo Dog.  Wow! The Anime murals throughout the restaurant are spectacular.  They absolutely set the mood for fun, casual Asian street food.  The menu selections are imaginative and authentic.  Nothing is more than $15, so you won’t break the bank on a meal.  Great craft beer selections, beautiful, tasty food, friendly, attentive service and a themed atmosphere.  Once again, the EAT Restaurant Partners know how to entertain you.

The menu snapshot is just a few of their many selections.  My husband enjoyed the Firestone Mind Haze and Foreign Objects Cult Worship IPAs.

street food appetizers bao wow, shazam shrimp For our appetizer, we decided to try the Bao Wow (pork belly sliders) and the Shazam Shrimp from the street food menu.  Delicious!

For our entrees:  Malaysian Style Ramen with Shrimp and Singapore Curried Noodles with Shrimp. Flavorful and filling!  Thanks to our server, Lia for your helpful suggestions as we navigated our first, but certainly not last, visit to Foo Dog!

Foo Dog tab