Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Tasting and Touring Through Alexandria

The Alexandria Tourism Board had arranged for me to have a private tour of this historic area. Whitney met me at the Visitors Center in the morning for my walking exploration.

We started walking by Market Square and continued through the area’s highlights, talking about the history and the founding fathers.  Since it’s also the location of the longest running continuous farmer’s market in the nation, Whitney explained how the area had evolved from a seaport to a functioning town.

I was fascinated with the cobblestone street of Sea Captains Row, once inhabited by a large family (20 children – all girls!!) that spread from one house to raising their own families in the others.  I was also surprised to see how tiny the house owned by George and Martha Washington was, though Whitney explained that they sent extra guests there most of the time while they stayed at Mount Vernon.

We walked by the headquarters of the Alexandria News Gazette, the longest running daily newspaper in the country. Some other landmarks have also stayed put, such as Gadsby’s Tavern, and others that have remained as more of a museum than a working business, like The Apothecary where our first president filled his prescriptions.

I thanked Whitney for a wonderful tour and headed to Restaurant Eve. It was just beautiful and I especially loved the long, comfortable, couch-like table settings. I was there to meet Todd Thrasher, partner in the Eat Good Food Group, which has various establishments all over Alexandria, Virginia. I settled in for a great discussion about his restaurants and views on mixology (full story to come on my interview).

Lunch was at Vermillion, the same restaurant where President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle celebrated Valentine’s Day this year.  I met with the Megan, the restaurant’s PR rep, and started with one of their great cocktails, a Fennel Fizz Classic (house made fennel, pomegranate, fennel-infused simple syrup and sparkling wine).

I started the meal with the Carrot Ginger Soup and then had a beet salad, made with local beet varieties, feta, dill, pine nuts and Greek yogurt. Both courses were fantastic.  The Garganelli Pasta was my main course and it was quite flavorful, with roasted mushroom, mascarpone cream and garlic bread crumbs.  

The pastry chef here is as inventive as the chef. I have never seen (or tasted) anything like the Cookies & Confections Plate at Vermillion. It was like a trip back to all the childhood favorites, with his version of a Hostess cupcake, Snickers, oatmeal cream pie and a pudding pop – with mint chip ice cream!

I had a short break before my friend and colleague Julia Cooney picked me up to go to Grape & Bean. This wine and coffee bar has a huge selection, but we decided to just relax and enjoy an aperitif we knew we enjoyed, namely the2011 Vietti Moscato d’Asiti from Piedmont, Italy.

We went to dinner at Virtue Feed & Grain, a property of Todd Thrasher’s restaurant group.  The drinks – including some beer cocktails – were rather eclectic and we sipped them while we tasted the wonderful Potatoes Stuffed with Short Ribs and an order of Baba Ganoush.

For a main course we shared the Chicken Pot Pie and the Skaggers Pie, both of which were not quite what we expected, but the restaurant certainly made it up to us as they filled our table with a selection of the restaurant’s best desserts. The chocolate fudge cake was one of the best I’ve ever had, but the bread pudding was spectacular, as was the chocolate crème brulee.

After dinner we headed to the PX Speakeasy. It was a small place up a flight of stairs and I loved the old fashioned, cozy décor. The drinks, however, were modern and well-crafted, with unique names. We tried and liked two: I Promise This Cocktail Will Make Your Belly Feel Better with Menta Branca, Cruzan Black Rum and house made mint bitters; and a Norfolk Dumpling made from house made duck sauce soda, house made cherry bitters, Maccho Pisco and Don Julio Anejo Tequila.

I then enjoyed an old standard – at least I thought it was one. As a gin and tonic drinker, I was blown away by Todd Thrasher’s homemade tonic, made with lavender and a bit sweeter than most and served with ice cubes made from the tonic so it wouldn’t dilute.

It had been a very long and filling day so I was anxious to head back to the Sheraton Suites Old Towne Alexandria before the new day came and Julia and I would be off to George Washington’s Distillery at Mount Vernon.  

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