Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Away We Go

Sometimes it's good to put Richmond in the rear view mirror for a couple of days.

The trip began in the center of the universe at the new Jake's Place in Ashland. Located in what was built in the 1920s as an auto garage and a decade ago was a gas station, the little restaurant was plenty busy and already out of pulled pork when we got there, the owner recommending brisket instead. They're already planning to buy a bigger smoker to keep up.

Listening to the Sly and the Family Stone Pandora station driving up toward Culpeper, Lake Anna and its tributaries were frozen in every direction. Boat slips where I've seen colorful kayaks in past years were noticeably empty next to the iced-over water. It was a landscape of silver and white.

At Old House Vineyards, the tasting room was in an 1890 house, making it not even as old as the house I live in (1876), but with places to sit and enjoy wine in many of the Victorian-looking rooms.

Our pourer, an affable former mid-westerner, told us he used to commute to D.C. two and a half hours each way to live there. It would take more wine than they could make to get me to agree to that horrific commute.

A drive to the Marriott Ranch followed, where we met some guests from Maryland and enjoyed welcoming wine and cheese (although not Virginia wine to my surprise, given the ranch's location in wine country) - after changing the music from Mahler to vintage R & B - in the piano room of the manor house before setting out for dinner.

A helpful valet at the Inn at Little Washington in the blink-and-you-miss-it town of Washington helped us locate Tula's off Main, a quaint restaurant nearby with a window table waiting for us.

I don't know how the meal could have kicked off more beautifully than with Scharffenberger Brut Rose and butter-poached lobster and avocado in Dijon dill cream sauce.  My second course was Tasso ham and Brie crepes with creole mustard aioli and more of those lovely pink bubbles, with chocolate coconut cake for dessert.

Some of my favorite tastes in the world were contained in that one meal.

We somehow managed to be the last diners of the evening and walking out, saw that the staff had gathered to watch the Oscars at the bar.

I was a little curious myself this year since for a change I'd seen almost all of the nominees and even the animated shorts, so once back at the ranch, we opened a bottle of Old House Vidal Blanc and joined another couple in the big living room to watch.

It's probably the first time in decades I've seen the awards, but never let it be said I'm predictable.

After a night sleeping with a fire in the bedroom's fireplace (possibly a first for me since I can't recall doing it before), we began the day with a three-course breakfast in the sunny yellow dining room downstairs. Highlights: blueberry scones, asparagus and goat cheese omelets and perfectly cooked grits. A view of snow-covered horse trails didn't hurt, either.

Fully fortified, it was on to Fox Meadow Winery located at the top of a mountain in Linden and boasting a view of (count 'em) seven mountain lines.

There was still some haze, so I only counted five, but the owner assured me on a clear day I'd  see more.

He turned out to be a hoot. A fortunate man who'd gotten into the right industry at the right moment (the '70s on, working for a company that built the machines that make microchips), he seemed to be enjoying the winery life.

Discussing the recent legal mess with our last governor, he said that there used to be a photo of the governor hanging in the tasting room and, "Then one day it was gone." Funny how disgrace will do that.

The takeaway bottle was the 2010 Le Renard Rouge, a Meritage-style blend described as "rich, elegant, savvy and suave" (or is that just the ideal man?) and a fine example of a Virginia wine that could impress skeptics.

And because this was a weekend devoted to the grape, then it was onto a big wine tasting in Winchester. There I ran into friends and restaurant types from Acacia, Secco and Metzger and sipped through sparklers, Chablis, Sancerre and Roses and that's just what I recall.

The food  is reliably good at this shindig and I didn't hesitate to partake of oysters from New Brunswick, Alaska, Washington, Maine and Massachusetts before moving on to larger prey. Wild boar taco bites were among the tastiest thing I've put in my mouth in recent memory.

All that sipping required a nap at the historic George Washington Hotel in Winchester, where we arrived behind a busload of men from Pennsylvania who'd come down to tour a factory. But of course, plenty of the wine extravaganza people were also staying at the hotel, making for an interesting mix of wine geeks and plant workers.

Walking through the downtown mall looking for a restaurant for dinner, we decided on the Village Square, attracted to its dim interior on a night hovering at 12 degrees (they'd also gotten snow two days before).

Once inside, it was a different story with a large party (complete with a squawking baby) celebrating a birthday off the main dining room and a woman named Bambi with a voice that could cut glass holding forth non-stop from the lounge area nearby. The kind of person who, unasked, talks loudly to strangers about herself and her love of apple crisp.

It got better, though, as people kept arriving, many of whom I recognized from the wine tasting. It's funny how strangers can seem so familiar simply because you've spent the afternoon tasting ridiculous amounts of wine next to each other.

Add in bone-warming spicy chicken and wild rice soup and killer pot roast with exactly the right fat-to-meat ratio (and once Bambi left) and it turned out to be a satisfying and pleasurable meal.

Once back at the hotel, we joined the buzzing crowd at the bar and here were even more familiar faces from earlier. No doubt we'd not been the only ones who'd done a disco nap after the event and were now ready to have a nightcap or two.

But wine-weary at this point, many were drinking beer and cocktails and since I do neither, I inquired what tequilas they had.

"Patron, Cuervo and Suaza 901," she informed me, as I sat in a cushy armchair with a view of the theater of the bar crowd laid out in front of me. Raising an eyebrow, she said, "The 901 is Justin Timberlake's favorite."

How could I possibly consider not drinking JT's fave, even if my server had pointed out that just the smell of tequila made her want to throw up?

For the record, I've never had a problem with Sauza, although there are often better priced tequilas like Cazadores or Espolon, but what the hell? How often am I going to be in Winchester, home to the Shenandoah Apple Blossom festival, being offered Justin Timberlake's favorite tequila?

Maybe this was my chance to bring sexy back to Winchester.

Smoother than it had any right to be (but also triple distilled), I had more than one as we watched the goings-on at the bar. A woman who looked like Donatella Versace put the moves on a local man, who escorted her out of the bar and returned later alone.

The wine guys on the facing couches debated whether they'd be getting up today at 8 or 11, but kept on drinking as if 11:00 had been decided upon. It hadn't and that could hurt come morning.

An older gentleman came in with a date and then proceeded to regale the bar with stories about his former girlfriend from Guam and the annual Guam picnic they attended in D.C. every year. His present company looked uninterested in all this.

Since the wine contingent was staying at the hotel, people were doing some industrial strength drinking and more than a few people looked unsteady when they finally left for upstairs. Because I was sitting at the front of the room nearest the doors, many tipsy guests waved or said something to me on the way out.

When one guy mumbled something, I told him to have a good night. "I already did," he slurred.

Me, too. Credit goes to Justin Timberlake and being out of Richmond.

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