Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Wine Wednesday - Paradise Springs Winery

One of the benefits to living in the northern VA area is all of the wonderful local wineries that we have so close to us.  Unfortunately, we don't take advantage of these enough.  So when my friend Kathy called and wanted to meet me at Paradise Springs for Friday Happy Hour, I jumped on it!  

They have a huge beautiful, new facility with barrel room, tasting bar, tables and huge covered patio.  The place was pretty crowded, and only got fuller as the evening went on.  K and I did a tasting when I first arrived since I'd never been before.  Since they were so crowded, the tasting took forever - the poor girl behind the bar was by herself most of the time and was totally overwhelmed! 

They taste 8 different wines for $7 - 4 whites, a rose, and 3 reds.  My favorite was the Cabernet Franc, but it was a little too warm for me to want a glass of that to sit outside with! 

After the tasting, we decided to get a bottle of their sparkling wine, Apres, to share on the back patio.  As the most expensive wine on their list, it's $43.  Most of their others fall into the $20-30 range.  

It was delicious, and perfect for the 80+ Friday afternoon!

Every Friday they have 'happy hour' where they have live music on the back patio from 5pm-9pm.  The acoustic music this week was provided by Natalie York, and she was awesome.  

While the Apres, music, and atmosphere was all good, the highlight of happy hour was this little giggly bundle of adorableness - K's little girl, Caroline :) 

What a fun afternoon!  I always am reminded how lucky we are to have great wineries so close when I visit one - and can't wait to go back!

Friday, March 16, 2012

Spring Training in Orlando

Since we had such a great time at Spring Training last year, we decided to start making this an annual tradition.  So after our fun couple of days in New Orleans, we took the quick flight over to Orlando.

Our first stop was to the Four Rivers Smokehouse.  The line was out the door and all the way out to the street - and it was totally worth it.  We got the beef brisket and pulled pork sandwiches and shared jalapeno poppers, corn bread, mac and cheese, and fried pickles.  AND sweet tea, yessir!

After you get your food, they have a covered patio in the back with tons of picnic tables.  The place was packed, and understandably so - everything was delicious!  Once we were stuffed, we headed back to World of Beer to catch the Carolina vs. Dook game...and I regained some bragging rights over M, as he's a dookie fan... Go Heels!

Sunday morning we headed over to the eastern coast of Florida to Viera, where the Nationals' home spring stadium is.  What a gorgeous day it was!  

Strasburg was the first on the mound that day - it was fun to see him pitch for a few innings.  

We were both in the mood for wings, beer and basketball so we headed to BWW.  Elon was playing in the semifinals of the So Con tournament that night...and while it wasn't on one of the big tvs, thanks to their free wifi and ESPN3, I still was able to watch the game on the iPad!  I love technology

Monday we ventured down to Lakeland and the Detroit Tigers stadium to see them take on the Toronto Blue Jays.  Another beautiful day at the park!

Monday night was the night I'd been so looking forward to!  Dinner at the Ravenous Pig.  We ate there last year when we were in Orlando, and I've been thinking about it ever since.  

And yes, as our server asked, it did live up to my dreams!  The charcuterie plate was amazing, the salad...ah the salad... was as good as last time.  The Gatherer salad.  Roasted beets, avocado, goat cheese, pistachios...I could eat it every day.  

And the gnocchi.  I wanted to lick the plate.  It's really one of my favorite places!

We finished the trip with a game in Disney at the ESPN park, the home field of the Braves.  They were hosting the Nationals, who pulled out the W!

Disney does things right - and this was definitely the best park of the trip. 

Lots of Nats fans were in attendance!

Great trip to Orlando for Spring Training!  This has become one of our favorite things to do in the spring. If you're a baseball fan and haven't made the trip, you should definitely try to get down there!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Fun in the Big Easy

New Orleans is one of my favorite cities in this country.  I know some people don't care for it, but I love it.  You really have to see it for what it is.  Yes, some parts are better than others, but the food, culture, community and people are just fantastic.  

I was so excited that this year's Conference was returning to New Orleans...and we planned for a little down time post show to play in The Big Easy!

When we first arrived, a group of us walked into the Quarter for lunch...and this...

Blue drinks in fancy plastic glasses with fruit make everything better!!

Conference was fantastic.  Everything was great - including our staff dinner on the last night.  The Executive Chef hosted our entire staff at a Chef's Table in his kitchen.  It was fantastic.  An enormous crab cake, wedge salad, huge steak, and 2 (yes, 2) was great.  We finished the evening with a fun night out on Bourbon - even though we were all exhausted, we had to celebrate the end of a great week!

Husband arrived Wednesday afternoon, just in time for us to head to Cochon Butcher for lunch.  

A massive Carolina pulled pork sandwich and Abita Strawberry was just what I needed...

After lunch and a good nap, I was ready to go.  I passed on going to Mardi Gras World, which I heard was fantastic and definitely something to see for next time, because I wanted to be ready for dinner that night and not fall asleep in my plate!  

We started by having a drink at the beautiful Quarter hotel, the Hotel Monteleone in their famous carousel bar.  It moves around at the rate of one rotation every 15 minutes.  It's expensive, and touristy, but still really cool.  It's a must see next time you're in town! 

After a few spins around the bar, we headed just a couple of blocks away to the highly acclaimed Restaurant August. I was fortunate to eat there in November when I was in town for the site visit, but was dying to go back.  It was even better than I remembered, which is hard to imagine.  Everything was absolutely amazingly delicious.  Please bear with my iPhone photos...I hate pulling out a full camera in restaurants but try to sneak out the iPhone when I can!

We shared a crawfish salad to start - crawfish is in season right now.  And I had lamb with roasted brussel sprouts.  A. Mazing.  

And some outrageous hazelnut chocolate desert. 

Every bite was better than the last!  It was a very memorable dinner, and we decided probably one of the top 5 meals we've ever had!  I can't wait to go back just to go back to August!  

This doesn't even include our surprise celebrity sightings while we were there!  Both Morgan Freeman and Harrison Ford were also dining, separately, at August that evening.  I'm not a big celebrity person, but you certainly take note when Morgan Freeman walks in the room!

Thursday morning we went from fine dining to bike tour!  A drinking bike tour.  See the blue straw in the photo below?  We had cup holders on our bikes.  

We took a 6 mile tour of the quarter and Marigny Bywater area.  The tour started at Washington Square just past Frenchman Street.  We stopped into 2 Irish pubs, the famous Napoleon House, and the classic Roosevelt Hotel bar, The Sazarac.    

There were only 2 other people on the tour, which was nice - I didn't feel like we were taking up the whole road, even though after a few drinks we probably were!   

Roosevelt Hotel

After the bike tour, we also did a walking food tour.  We have done similar tours in other cities - New York, LA, Chicago.  This one was a pretty good one - we tasted muffulettas, gumbo, red beans and rice, and several other traditional New Orleans dishes.  We also toured some of the more famous restaurants of the Quarter.  Lots of people were still decorated from the very recent Mardi Gras celebrations!

Apparently we hadn't had enough to eat, because after a quick stop in the hotel to freshen up, we headed to Mr. B's for dinner.  A fantastic surprise that we'd found out the night before - M's best friend from college, KT, was in town on business!  It had been a long time since I'd seen him, and it was a great treat for him to join us for the evening!  

The BBQ Shrimp are the specialty at Mr. B's, and that's what M had - bib and all!  The place was packed and very noisy.  While good, it was the least favorite of the 3 dinners that week.  After dinner, we headed back to the Roosevelt Hotel to enjoy their signature cocktail, the Sazarac, before heading to Bourbon for some live music fun.  And REALLY big beers.  

Friday morning we jumped on the street car and headed towards the Garden District and lunch at Commander's Palace.  A bit more casual, less expensive, and featuring 25 cent martinis, we thought lunch at this famous Nola restaurant would be a better fit for us.  The service was amazing and food delicious - but I'm definitely glad we chose to go at lunch.  

After lunch we wandered around the area, did some shopping on Magazine Street, and rode the street car back a bit to The Avenue Pub.  We don't go anywhere without finding the one true beer bar in town - and this one is it.  We had a great time chatting with the owner for a while, and enjoyed sitting upstairs outside on their balcony, overlooking St. Charles Street.  

After some time at the pub, we went to Dante's Kitchen for dinner.  Dante's is at the end of St. Charles Street right on the river.  It's in a small, unassuming house that you'd go right past if you weren't careful.  It was amazing.  Absolutely to die for.  

We had the shrimp and grits (a bit of a theme of the week) and they were the best we had all week.  I wanted to lick the bowl, the grits were just delicious.  We also shared the "Chicken Roasted Under a Brick" - unbelievable.  After August, this was the second best meal of the trip.  Everything was just delicious - make sure you plan to go there!!  

Well you can't have a trip to New Orleans without stopping at Cafe Du Monde for some beignets.  We went (with the rest of the world) on Saturday morning before heading to the airport.  

If you go on a Saturday morning, go early and be ready to stand in a loooong line!  But it's so worth it.

What a fantastic 11 days in New Orleans!  Amazing food, great drinks and so much fun.  Definitely a trip to remember...and I can't wait to go back!