This week, July 12-19, is Restaurant Week at the newly renovated Springfield Town Center in Springfield, VA. You can check out the menus for the 5 participating restaurants here. As a member of the NoVA Yelp Elite Squad, I was invited to try out the restaurants ahead of time. We had such a fun time and ate SO MUCH FOOD, it was insane. Check out what we were served below, and make sure to stop by Springfield Town Center this week for great deals on yummy food!
Our first stop was Yard House, an American restaurant with a huge menu including a big vegetarian section, and tons of beers on tap.
They served us an Ahi tuna salad, mac and cheese, and a Moscow Mule. The tuna was really well seasoned and perfectly cooked, but I didn't care for the greens. The mac and cheese was AWESOME - the pasta was the perfect texture and it was loaded with chicken, bacon, mushrooms, and truffle oil. So good - I definitely recommend it. The Moscow mule was light and refreshing, and really lovely on a hot day.
Next up was Chuy's - OMG CHUY'S!!! Words cannot express my excitement. You see, I am from Texas and this Austin based chain is my jam. The fact that it has migrated with me to VA is just the best. The manager here was super on point and spent a lot of time talking about how they make everything fresh in house. And yes, that is a giant strawberry margarita and pina colada swirl you see there.
Last week I had the opportunity to attend a breakfast in order to meet the finalists of the Launch Pad Culinary Entrepreneur Competition. Before I tell you about that breakfast, I need to explain what it was for, and that may get a little convoluted - so stick with me! Launch Pad is a competition sponsored by Mess Hall, Ris, and Union Market.
Union Market is a revitalized indoor market area and collection of restaurants near Gallaudet University in DC. It opened in September 2012 and has about 40 shops. There are plans to add multiple levels and expand it greatly to include retail, restaurants, hotel, entertainment, and incubator space for new food concepts, as well as wholesale space.
Mess Hall is the aforementioned incubator space for new food concepts, which opened in October 2014. Their mission is to "support up-and-coming food entrepreneurs by providing commercial kitchens, combined with institutional knowledge and extraordinary opportunities."
Ris is a restaurant in DC that also has a satellite location in Union Market, it is owned/operated by chef Ris Lacoste.
Are you still with me? Great!
Back to Launch Pad - it is a competition for food entrepreneurs to launch a concept in a quick service space in Union Market. The winner of the Grand Prize will receive (according to the Launch Pad website):
- 6 – 12 month opportunity to launch a dream concept using a built out space in a prime location at Union Market
- Free Mess Hall membership
- Full Service Restaurant Pop-up opportunity at Mess Hall’s event space
- Mentorship from Ris Lacoste
- Consultation on lease negotiations with master DC restaurateurs the Hilton Brothers
- Business plan vetting and design services from EDENS
- A luncheon organized with successful restaurant investors
- And a growing list of unique prizes and opportunities courtesy of our event Sponsors.
- PLUS – All finalists will have their knives sharpened by DC Sharp.
Pretty great, right?! This is the second year for the competition, and last year the winner was Mason Dixie Biscuit Company.
You know what else is great? The list of judges and advisers for the finalists:
Al Goldberg – Founder, Mess Hall
David Hall – Investor, Revolution
Ris Lacoste – Chef / Owner, RIS
Drew Nieporent – Restaurateur, Myriad Restaurant Group
Patrick O’Connell – Chef / Owner, The Inn at Little Washington
Aaron Silverman – Chef / Owner, Rose’s Luxury
Audience Vote – Each member of the live audience will receive a single vote. The Audience Vote will count as 5% of the overall vote.
Richie Brandenburg – Directory of Culinary Strategy, EDENS
Terrell Danley – Chef, DC Central Kitchen
Eric and Ian Hilton– Restaurateurs
Kathy Hollinger– President and CEO, Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington
Eric Kessler – Founder / Managing Director, Arabella Advisors
Mike Lenard – Owner, Takorean, Former Head of the Food Truck Association
Winston Lord – Co-Founder, Venga
Spike Mendelsohn – Good Stuff Eatery, DC Food Policy Council Chair
Nick Stefanelli– Chef / Owner, Masseria
Now, let's talk about the finalists and the meet-and-greet breakfast event at Ris restaurant! There were lots of bloggers and media people there, but plenty of opportunity to speak with the finalists individually.
We didn't have any plans for the holiday weekend, but we heard that our favorite local winery (Fabbioli Cellars) was having a 10% case discount, so we decided to do a little wine trip.
We started with Fabbioli, and got a tasting. Apparently it's been 4.5 years since we last went out there, crazy. We normally just order online or through Whole Foods. In that time, their tasting price has gone up from $5 to $15, and the pours are much smaller. But they now include a small bite of food with each wine, encouraging you to sip, eat, and then sip again to taste the difference. I loved that. And the bites were delicious, too! So I'd say it all works out for the better. The tastings are still run in small groups, so that you get personalized attention, and our girl was very friendly and knowledgeable.
The first wine was Una Pera - a sweet white made with Asian pears (they actually place the bottle around a young pear and let it grow inside the bottle, it's pretty cool). This was paired with a pea puff topped with honeyed goat cheese and a sweet potato crisp.
Next was Something White (a joke from people asking the owner when he was going to start making "something white") - a Viogner and Vidal Blanc blend, paired with mascarpone and sea salt caramel on a cracker.
The first red was a light Sangiovese, that is good for hot weather and as a table wine - pared with grilled asparagus and garlic cheddar, wrapped in prosciutto.
Next was a dry Zinfandel (our least favorite), paired with a roasted beet crisp and salted ginger thyme butter.
The Tre Sorelle was also dry - Jasper liked it, I didn't. It was paired with goat cheese, rosemary, and smoked sundried tomato on a saltine.
The first of the dessert wines was the Raspberry Merlot, made with raspberries grown on property. I'm fond of this sweet table wine, Jasper is not. It pairs beautifully with chocolate, and the bite they provided us was, in fact, a dark chocolate truffle.
Last was Jasper's favorite (he orders it by the case, and has been known to drink a whole bottle in one evening) - Rosa Nera, a black raspberry port. They served it with a lemon honey truffle - I wouldn't have thought to go with such a bright lemon flavor, but it really worked.
I love the small bite tasting idea, it makes me really want to host a tasting at my house and do something similar.
We brought some salami and cheese with us, to have a picnic lunch before moving on to the next winery. We got a late start, and spent so long at Fabbioli, that we only got to visit one other place before heading home.
That place was Sunset Hills Vineyard, which Jasper chose because it had won some awards. It was hopping when we arrived - people camped out everywhere, picnicking, listening to live music, playing frisbee. The grounds are large and beautiful, so it's a great place to hang out, plus they had a BBQ truck! There was a wedding going on in the main building, too.
The tastings were in a barn-like structure with some big fans that I appreciated greatly in the heat, making it shaded and breezy. They were $10 and featured 6 wines. Unfortunately, we weren't a fan of any of them. There was one white that I liked (Sunset White - tasted like a sweet Gewurztraminer) and one red that both of us liked (the Cabernet Franc blend), but not enough to warrant buying anything or returning to the winery.
They had these big frozen slushee machines making "wineritas" with Chardonnay and margarita mix. So I tried one of those and it was actually pretty good. We also got some ribs at the BBQ truck and they had good flavor, but weren't very tender. So I think this would be a fun spot to have some wineritas with girlfriends and listen to live music, but it's not really worth it for the wine alone.
You guys - I have a computer again! Yay!!! We are still in the process of settling in, but I at least have a place to post from now. Right before we moved was my 30th birthday, and I was kind of bummed because I had wanted to do a big trip to New York but the timing with the new house meant that we couldn't. Jasper told me that he was going to plan a smaller trip to a surprise location, so right in the middle of packing we hopped in the car and head to... The Inn at Little Washington! What a great surprise!
It also worked out nicely as a pre-anniversary trip because it was almost to our 5 year wedding anniversary! I can't even believe it - time flies!
We arrived just in time for afternoon tea, which was lovely. Both the sweet and savory bites were delicious and I love that they make all of their own accompaniments. I had a delicious caramel tea that I ended up buying from the store because it was so good.
You guys, I have been in such a writing funk since I have gotten back from vacation. I don't know what is going on! But I do want to tell you about the restaurants we visited while we were in San Francisco, and I will try to post more frequently from now on. Kailey, my sister-in-law (who we were visiting), is a chef in SF (here; that's her at 0:35 and 1:35), so we let her take us on a culinary tour of her favorite spots. But I determined on our first day that I was just going to enjoy the vacation and not worry about taking photos. So I don't have any food photos to show you, sorry!
Before we get to food, I should mention that we stayed at the Hotel Drisco and really enjoyed it. We had a corner room on the top floor and the views were amazing - we could see Alcatraz, the Golden Gate Bridge, and most of the city. All the windows really helped because, like many older buildings in the city, Drisco has no air conditioning. Opening all the windows made for a lovely cross-breeze, though it was too noisy to leave them open at night. The hotel includes a continental breakfast, and I am not talking about just cereal and muffins. They have all kinds of pastries with homemade jams, spreads, and toppings. Also fresh juices, cereal, yogurt, bagels, fruit salad, hot oatmeal, smoothies, salami and cheese, hard boiled eggs, and antipasto style veggies. In addition to various coffee blends, they will also make espresso drinks to order. It is a very nice perk. They also have a wine tasting every evening with cheese and salami, coffee all day, free wifi, free bikes, and the staff are very friendly and helpful.
So, I'm kind of obsessed with the new shopping area called Mosaic District, I spend a lot of time there. It has a lot of restaurants, but not many of them are sit-down type places. Of the few that are there, I like Matchbox the best. The food is good, the drinks are decent, and it's right next to the movie theater. For these reasons, it tends to always be crowded. But don't let availability on Open Table fool you - every single time it has claimed to have no reservations, we have walked in and been seated in less than 15 minutes. It's billed as a pizza joint, but more than half the menu is other types of food. I'd say it's pretty comparable to Chef Geoff's, but in a better location.
One thing that is pretty cool is that they have wines on tap, so you can order by the glass pretty easily. But what's even cooler is a deal with Swirl and Sip where if you buy a bottle of wine from them, Matchbox will waive the corkage fee!
This is one of my favorite pizzas - the prosciutto and black mission fig with black pepper, arugula, and honey.
Another favorite (for Jasper, as well) is the chicken pesto pizza.
This is the crab and avocado salad with roasted corn and tarragon aioli.
I have an obsession... with a salad shop. This must be what being an adult feels like. I never used to like salads AT ALL, and then I tried Sweetgreen and now a salad is my treat to myself after working out. Not like, "oh don't wanna ruin that workout, so here's a salad;" but like "good job, now you GET to eat this salad." Weiiiiiiiiird. Who am I?
Anywho, Sweetgreen is awesome. It's like any fast food joint (Chipotle, Subway, etc...) where you travel down the line and build your meal, in this case - a yummy salad made with local ingredients (check the blackboard to see which vendors they use).
They have a number of pre-designed salads (my favorite is the District Cobb) and one seasonal salad per month (above photo is the May 2014 salad), or you can go custom. You can also customize a menu salad. For example, I like to get the District Cobb but swap sweet potatoes in for tomatoes and change the dressing to balsamic vinaigrette (which is super good). You get to choose how much dressing you want (light, medium, heavy) and also if you want bread (the bread is really good, but I try to resist).
San Antonio has become a really hip place since I moved away, and that is due in large part to the Pearl Brewery area. The original brewery was opened in 1881 and ran until 1985 when Pabst Blue Ribbon took over, and then shut down in 2001. The land was purchased and slowly developed into a shopping area, which is now booming. With a weekly farmers market, boutique shops, new apartments, and amazing restaurants - this is now the place to be. It reminds me a lot of Mosaic District, actually. They even built a new section of Riverwalk nearby!
Anyway, when I came to visit - all the places my family wanted to take me to ended up being at Pearl, so I have lots of reviews for you!
The night I flew in, my family took me to Cured, located in the historic administration building of the brewery. As you can guess from the name, cured meats are a large focus of the menu, but they also have cooked main dishes under the categories vegetable, seafood, fowl, pork, beef, and goat or lamb. My dad ordered a selection of cured meats for us, and they were delish - especially the country style pate and lamb/citrus terrine. I also had the pork cheeks poutine, which was AWESOME. The pickled cauliflower they put in there is totally unexpected and is what makes the dish, I think. For dessert I had a beet twinkie with meyer lemon curd - yum. The drink menu includes cane sugar sodas from much-beloved Dublin, TX; craft cocktails; and a killer beer list. My brother is going to have to get on here and tell me what local beer I had, because it was fantastic.
The next night, we went to The Granary - a modern BBQ joint located in the original brewmaster's house. I have never seen a concept like this before - super modern, artistic BBQ - very cool. Apparently my father comes here for lunch at least once a week, because the waiter greeted him by his nickname and knew his favorite dishes. We thought that was pretty funny.
We had two different events planned in two different states in the weeks before Christmas: a weekend-long birthday party in the Outer Banks and a family get-together in Nashville, TN. We decided it would be fun to connect the events via a long roadtrip, stopping at the Biltmore Estate in NC before continuing on to TN. Biltmore is HUGE. The house is the largest privately owned house in the US, and the grounds cover 8000 acres. It takes 30 minutes to get from the Inn on the property to the house.
We stayed for two nights at the Inn, which is a really nice hotel and spa. They were all decked out for Christmas, and had a gingerbread house replica of the Inn. There are multiple restaurants on the Estate - we ate at the Inn Dining Room the first night, and like it so much we decided to eat there the second night too!
The Dining Room is seasonal, farm-sourced fine dining. I really liked their small plates and respectful treatment of produce. The amuse bouche was a different cream based vegetable veluote both nights and they were both outstanding. I could have eaten a bowl of that for dinner and been happy.
My favorite dish was the fried brussels sprouts with a farm egg, frisee, and bacon. This is seriously the BEST brussels sprouts dish I have ever had. It was eye-rolling good. I ordered it both nights and asked for the recipe, which they gave me! I'll post it at the bottom.
Another standout was the roasted corn and lobster soup with piquillo peppers. This has been added to my list of favorite lobster dishes, and is in the top 3 lobster bisques for sure.
The pork belly with apple tart and goat cheese ravioli appetizers were also very good and I would highly recommend them. The gnocchi with brie, figs, and bacon was not enjoyable, though. The brie overpowered everything else and the bacon was way too salty. It sounded great on paper, but didn't work.
The artisan meat and cheese platter was very satisfying, with lots of variety and good portions. I didn't order any entrees, and Jasper ordered specials both nights. He really enjoyed the seafood special the first night, but did not like the steak special the second night.
Overall, the good outweighs the bad here and I would recommend trying it out if you are ever in the area.
I don't really know what to say about this place. The reviews were all great, and my husband really liked it, but I wasn't impressed.
We tried plenty of sushi, as you can see, and I thought it was just average (especially for the price). Taro and Kushi are way better in my opinion.
I was more impressed with this creamy lobster and scallop dish, but not enough to make me come back.
There was nothing really wrong with any of it, but it didn't stand up to my expectations. My husband might disagree, but I found it to be overpriced for average sushi. The pear martini, however, was delicious.