30 Blessed Years

Last weekend we celebrated my (Sarah) parents’ 30th wedding anniversary!

Yvette and Rick...30 years together and counting!

My sisters Lauren and Katherine and Ben and I rented a baller party bus through James Limousine (a fantastic local limo company that we highly recommend!- and no we weren’t perked to say that!) and planned a whirlwind wine tour through central Virginia!

About to board the Anniversary Party Bus!

Mom and Dad on the Anni Party Bus!

Many friends and family members joined us to celebrate Mom and Dad’s 30th: Vickie and Wes- neighbors of 23 years and counting; Ben’s parents Cindy and Philip, Mark and Myrna- friends from church, Mom’s sisters/family-Gina, Rodney, Shannon and Sharon!Once we got on the road we pulled out the game that the four of us (Lauren, Katherine, Ben and I) devised to test everyone’s trivia knowledge of Mom and Dad. That’s me playing moderator and Mark trying hard to beat his wife, Myrna who did end up winning the whole game.

These are the contestants trying to win: Myrna (the ultimate winner) on the left with curly hair, Vickie in purple telling everyone the answer, Cindy making up a story in lieu of the correct answer, Ben…sitting?, and Mom probably embarrassed by all the attention.

Philip next to Mom cheesing it up, Wes correcting Vickie’s answer so everyone gets it right, Dad telling Wes the correct details to announce.

For the record, this photo was taken before the first vineyard stop- Wes is just that fun! In case you can’t tell, that’s a ‘grill’ he’s fashioned out of a gum rapper wrapper.

After an excellent bus ride we made it to Cooper Vineyard in Louisa, VA. This up-and-coming vineyard boasts a swank new eco-friendly building and some excellent white wines. Philip (Ben’s dad) is a huge fan of whites and thoroughly enjoyed all the dessert wines.

Cindy, Philip, Lauren, Katherine (often confused as my twin) and Ben tasting at Cooper

Myrna, Mom, Mark, Dad, Vickie and Wes tasting at Cooper

After tasting all of Cooper’s vinos we hit the bus again this time bound for Keswick Vineyards. Mom’s sisters and family met us here (they live in Orange, VA-very close to Keswick) which made our party 16 strong!

Gina, Rodney, Shannon, and Sharon brought us all a delicious picnic lunch! It was so relaxing to sit outside on a beautiful fall day, sipping wine, eating lunch, and enjoying great company. Such a blessing!

Because we were so big, Keswick let us sit and picnic on the grounds and a Keswick sommelier treated us to a private tasting right at our picnic table!

Keswick’s wines were fantastic- the reds were particularly delicious and they had this heavenly wine-infused chocolate sauce that they let us try…enough said.

out-of-focus pic of the heavenly chocolate sauce...

Rebecca, our sommelier, making the rounds:

Ben, me and Lauren waiting to taste

Lauren, Gina, Shannon and Katherine waiting to taste

Gina, Shannon and Katherine

Keswick's tasting collection...yum

Picnic and tasting on a beautiful October afternoon!

Tasting like they know!

The whole Anni Party: Myrna, Mark, Sharon, Ben, Me, Lauren, Gina, Katherine, Cindy, Philip, Mom, Dad, Rodney, Vickie, Wes

Once we finished lunch, we hit the bus one more time to head to our last stop: Barboursville vineyard!

Single-double-fisting? (For the record only one of those was hers!)

We were running short on time, so we didn’t end up tasting at Barboursville (but we have before and they have some excellent wines!) Instead, we made our way to the ruins and did a little sight-seeing before heading back to the RIC:

And that concludes our trip! Happy Anniversary to the best role models anyone could ask for! (But maybe I am biased ?)ย  ๐Ÿ™‚


By trolley!

Hi all!

I’m back with a stroll through the Garden District of New Orleans!

I’m gonna try to keep it short and show mostly photos!

I got to the Garden District by streetcar which was the most fantastic way to travel!

My new preferred method of transportation

The little wooden seats with their shaded windows were so precious! They also flipped up and turned over for the return trip in the opposite direction so that passengers are always facing forward– Turn-of-the-century genius!

Little bare light bulbs lit the street car:

And on the way I noticed that the telephone lines were covered in Mardi Gras beads! (At home in Richmond kids throw shoes all over the telephone lines…the beads are much cooler!)

When I arrived in the Garden Districts I decided to just make my way around the neighborhood to enjoy the homes and gardens (with help from my Fodor’s map, of course!) The following pictures are what I got to see:

I thought this marble carriage step was so fun!

Because of how low ground level is in New Orleans, the cemeteries are full of mausoleums:

Aren’t the houses and gardens so beautiful!? I had such a great time walking around the shaded neighborhood on such a beautiful September day.

I highly recommend taking time to do this when you go to New Orleans- there are so many historic homes to discover… enjoy!

Gustation Creations

I know Sarah promised a Garden District tour next, but we’re going to skip ahead to food for a hot sec because that’s my (Ben) favorite and I’m pumped to write this post. That being said, this is a LONG post; prepare to get hungry! (Also, as it turns out, we didn’t take a lot of photos of our food- epic fail! We’ll do better next time…)

When you get down to it, New Orleans is most known for 3 things: Mardi Gras, jazz and FOOD. Since we didn’t have the chance visit in February or while a jazz concert was in town, we’ll discuss the food, one of my favorite topics!

It was, In a word, incredible. We had some good food, we had some great food, and we had some downright weird and exotic food while we were down there. New Orleans, at the intersection of the Mississipp and the Gulf of Mexico, has access to a ton of fresh seafood, and it is a staple in the region’s cuisine, as you’ll notice in most of the descriptions that follow.

A really neat regional practice that we picked up on was that at every restaurant we enjoyed, we were served by a team of waiters. Back home in Richmond (and mostly anywhere else in the states that we’ve visited) restaurants assign one waiter/waitress to an average-sized table. In the Big Easy, we were always served by at least 2 waiters, which gave every meal a fun, tag-team feeling. It was really unique and we thoroughly enjoyed watching the servers ‘play’ off their partner’s personality.

Anyway, here’s a quick chronological tour through our restaurant foray in the Big Easy, starting on a Tuesday night and going through Friday morning’s pre-departure brunch.

Palace Cafe, 605 Canal St

This was our first stop as it was right next to our hotel and I had eaten there before. I thought it would be a great choice for good food after a day of traveling. Palace Cafe is one of Dickie Brennan’s 3 restaurants in New Orleans and ended up being my personal favorite of the trip.

What’s good:

  • Chicken and Sausage Gumbo – great flavor with enough kick to tell it’s gumbo but not enough to stop you from eating! This one, along with the corn chowder, has my favorite presentation of all the dishes, served warm in a silver cup and flipped into your bowl after the waiters bring it out;
  • Corn chowder – this was the great soup Sarah ordered, and I tried. It was a little sweet, in a cream based broth with full kernels of corn and other vegetables. Again, it had fun presentation, as described above;
  • Diver’s scallops (with crab meat) – I cheated by putting this one on here because I didn’t actually eat this dish during the trip. I had it 3 weeks prior when I first visited New Orleans and stumbled upon the Palace Cafe. I had to mention it because the scallops were huge and fresh, and the lump crab meat on top was prepared to perfection. This dish comes as a special every so often, but the diver’s scallops are on the every day menu;
  • Tuna tchefuncte – this might be considered cheating, too, since I (nor Sarah) didn’t taste it, but it came highly recommended by my co-workers. Both loved the flavor of the tuna (sushi-grade, rare) and the presentation was nice, on a bed of greens and other things, that were also well cooked; and,
  • Banana’s Foster – the second best presentation of the night, and maybe slightly more impressive for the daredevils out there, was the Banana’s Foster, prepared table side as your waiter heats it, stirs it, cooks it and serves it right in front of you, with a flourish of fire as the rum heats the ingredients. It also tasted incredible, light but still sweet enough to know it’s dessert and you will be sorry when it’s over. (See photos of the display here)

What’s not: Nothing in my mind – everything we ate here was fantastic.

Things to consider: We did not experiment much with the wine, but there was a pretty decent selection. Also, there is a little bag on each table that contains bread. Don’t confuse this bag for decoration… eat the bread! Also, the decor of the restaurant was very classy and French-inspired, something we came to love while in New Orleans.

August, 301 Tchoupitoulas St

This was our second dinner restaurant of the week, suggested by a co-worker (it’s her favorite in New Orleans) and only a quick walk from the hotel. August has a much more sophisticated ambience compared to the other restaurants we went and quickly reminds you of an Old World French restaurant. The lighting was dark and the wood was darker, a very fun, moody place to eat dinner. It had great architecture, including an exposed brick wall in the “room” we ate in and a second story wine gallery.

What’s good:

  • Pralines – we have to skip straight to dessert for this place because I’ve never tasted a dessert made with nuts that you don’t have to chew. The pralines here literally melt in your mouth before you get a chance to bite down, and it has a wonderful sweet and smooth taste. Incredibly well made;
  • Dessert sampler – the pralines got their own line because they were just that good, but the rest of the dessert sampler deserves mentions. It had everything from spiced jellies to pralines to rich chocolate bon bons, all bite size and enough to quench the sweet tooth of just about anyone. I’m pretty sure they give this out after every meal, so if you’re too full for a whole dessert, you can still get something sweet out of the night;
  • Seafood mousse – this was not actually on the menu but rather a “gift” from the chef to start out the evening. It was a very interesting treat, basically a bunch of seafood whipped into a cream and served in the shell of an egg and topped with caviar. It was a fun surprise and tasted surprisingly good, if you can get over mousse tasting like seafood! The presentation expressed a lot of time and effort into this one small serving, which made it feel special for those around the table; and,
  • Wine selection – very wide selection, and the Malbecs we tried were very good. You could probably get lost in all the options, so I would certainly suggest people explore what it has to offer.

What’s not: Head cheese.

Things to consider: Make sure you know French or ask for a description of the food you are ordering. See Head Cheese (a.k.a. fromage de tete) above. I saw ‘fromage’ which I know means cheese and thought I was safe with that appetizer. Wrong. Also, this place is a fun place for food, wine, and ambience, and it’s reflected in the prices. Be aware if you are on a very tight budget; otherwise, take a night to splurge!

Nola, 534 St. Louis St

Our third and final dinner destination had a wonderfully fun atmosphere and was the most relaxed of all the dinner locations. The wait staff did a good job at making our whole party feel at home, and they were very well versed with the menu options, willing to make good recommendations while joking around with other waiters and the soon-to-be eaters. This is one of Emeril’s own restaurants and came highly recommended from another coworker.

What’s good:

  • Jalapeno corn bread – a great complement to the normal rolls served as your bread “course.” A little spicy with a nice, sweet corn flavor that I love. Don’t be shy, and ask your waiter for more; they are more than happy to oblige;
  • Barbecued Gulf shrimp – this appetizer came with the “Emeril” stamp in the name, so you know it’s going to be good. A very nice, spicy but mellow barbecue sauce flavors large, meaty shrimp, which is a great way to start a meal in New Orelans as the seafood is always superb;
  • Fried green tomatoes – served with arugula and soft remoulade, this appetizer is creamy, southern and good for the soul. This is actually the appetizer Sarah got, but I enjoyed the bite she shared with me. It was too good for her to let me have more!
  • Grilled Atlantic salmon – also, this wasn’t one that I got, but I did try. It was very fresh and flavorful. The sweet corn succotash was delicious and very well prepared.

What’s not: Sazerac. Well, maybe it’s more of an acquired taste, but it was like a weird kind of Manhattan to me, one I didn’t like because normally Manhattans are good.

Things to consider: Fun atmosphere that is almost jovial. The waiters are great, lively, and engaging. Also, Nola is not a far walk from Bourbon St, so if you are planning on a late night excursion, it’s a pretty easy jaunt to land you right in the middle of a street party.

Cafe du Monde, 800 Decatur St

The Cafe was the last place we ate in New Orleans, a midday bite to eat before heading on the plane to Atlanta then Richmond. This restaurant was the one mentioned by more people than we can count when we told them we were going to New Orleans. It’s a great French style cafe with lots of seating and a modest menu. It’s a fun, relaxed environment and should be enjoyed as such.

What’s good:

  • Beignets – this is an absolute necessity when going to the Big Easy, even if it is just a fancy word for funnel cake, which is really all I consider it. That said, it is delicious and what better way to eat fried dough in the morning, than with a pound of confectioner’s sugar on top! Be careful not to inhale, for your lungs’ sake, or exhale, for the sake of those around you, while eating.
  • Cafe americano – I normally don’t like coffee, but I really enjoyed the way this looked and tasted. I add a little sugar and cream to mine, but it had good flavor. It also wasn’t served scalding, lava hot, so I could enjoy it quickly (I’m impatient and frequently burn my tongue on hot food and drinks). Kudos to the barista for making it easy on me.

What’s not: Service. It took us forever to meet our waiter, and even longer to get our food.

Things to consider: This cafe is a cash only affair, so make sure to bring some unless you want to leave your friends to cross the street to pay $3.50 to pull money out of an ATM. Also, this place will get crowded, and as mentioned above, the service might be pretty lousy. I recommend going when you have time to kill or aren’t in a rush for anything. It’s also very close to the Mississippi and on the corner of Jackson Park, which is a nice green area with a plaza at the back where you can find local musicians and artists on Friday afternoons.

So happy

Leftover Beignet Sugar

To summarize, you can hardly go wrong with any food items in New Orleans, unless you mistakenly order a terrible cheese made of leftover “meat” products. That said, almost everything we had tasted uniquely “New Orleans” with a flavorful blend of spices, fresh seafood, lively atmospheres, and abundant character. Should you ever get the chance to visit, we hope this post will come in handy. In addition to the place listed above, we plan on enjoying the following restaurants when we return:

  • K-Paul’s – highly recommended by a friend as the best restaurant in New Orleans
  • Bon Ton Cafe – a great lunch spot where the crawfish etouffe is the hit on the menu.

Thanks for reading! Bon apetit!