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(I hadn't tried a Virginia wine in a decade, and I wasn't fond of what I had sampled back then.) At King Family Vineyards (), which has so much unplanted land it occasionally hosts polo matches, my favorites were the 2014 merlot, fragrant and bracing, and a lip-smacking port-style wine called Seven 2013, made from petit verdot.At Veritas Vineyard ( The Skyline Drive, my glorious (if slow-moving) road to the north, winds along ridges through Shenandoah National Park. At one gift shop I bought a keychain that incorporated a compass, a thermometer, and a photo of a black bear—everything the fretful traveler needs.) The exit at the northern gateway, Front Royal, brought me within a half-hour of my base in the north, Salamander Resort & Spa (), which is nicely set on 340 acres in the town of Middleburg (pop. I stayed two nights, particularly pleased with the view.(He wasn't our only penniless president, just the smartest one to end up that way.) Nevertheless, Monticello was worth all the money spent to construct it, so exquisite are the details.
My late lunch was at the Goodstone Inn, in Middleburg, which was a recommendation from Virginia's First Lady.
The website () doesn't do justice to the loveliness of the dining room or the precise cooking of executive chef John Leonard.
The only challenge is deciding which part of the state to visit, for it is of formidable size, the largest of the original 13 colonies—although it shrank somewhat after West Virginia broke away to remain in the Union in 1861. The battlefields, mansions, restaurants, and wineries are in a class by themselves, and of particular interest to me was the fabled Skyline Drive, 105 miles on a mountaintop road.
When I announced my itinerary to Dorothy Mc Auliffe, wife of the state's governor, Terry Mc Auliffe, she said that I had picked a "sweet spot" but added (as a First Lady who can't play favorites must), "We have so many beautiful parts.
I had a meltingly soft beef rib in a devastating brown sauce that tasted mostly Southern but a little French, and something called Southern Fried Sugar Toads, which reminded me of crispy, juicy frog legs (they are in fact the tail of the Atlantic puffer fish).
Boden summed up his philosophy succinctly: "It's about no pretense." DAY 2 I was curious about Virginia's vineyards, because they have suddenly risen in prestige to become part of our national oenological conversation.It nicely complemented Leonard's pancetta-garnished leek and potato soup.My final dinner of the trip was a pleasingly simple affair in the tiny, semi-underground taproom of the Ashby Inn (), an early-19thcentury hotel and restaurant in the minuscule town of Paris.The dining room is lavish, excessive, and wonderful and the food matchless, because O'Connell's version of fine dining is not grounded in French technique. A friend and I tried tiny potatoes with osetra caviar, beer-battered asparagus tempura, impossibly light gougères (cheese puffs), minted pea soup, lamb accompanied by a Caesar salad that nearly floated off the plate, and morel mushroom meat loaf enhanced with jalapeño-accented stewed tomatoes.If French cuisine had never existed, O'Connell would have invented the next best thing without ever leaving Virginia.I was fortunate to meet a diner by the name of Aida, 85 years old, who was wearing pearls ("real pearls, dear") and having such a fine time she planned to celebrate her 86th birthday there.When you get past such relics of the South as fried bologna and cheese sliders, the food is startlingly sophisticated.(But brace yourself for the psychedelic decor.) Culpeper's main shopping street has a store unlike any I've encountered: La Bee da Loca, which specializes in honey and the education of visitors in the ways of bees.A tunnel allows them to come and go from outside to the hive inside the shop.DAY 3 ), which has a remarkable modern winery building, is open by appointment only and makes just two wines, both Bordeauxstyle, both expensive, and both promising.The weekend I was there the 2010 Rendezvous was being poured at a White House state dinner.