3 Day Weekend Essay

Dinner on my first night was at the Shack () in Staunton, an easy 45-minute drive from the Clifton Inn along Route 64.This tiny place is unprepossessing—a shack not in name only, modeled on the home of the grandmother of chef Ian Boden's wife—yet culinarily brilliant.

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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.

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.

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 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 has operated it for nearly 40 years, and it is better than ever, an almost inconceivable accomplishment these days, when restaurants tend to peak within six months after opening and never improve.Those who want to make a night of it can stay at the inn's hotel, which is spread over several buildings in the tiny town ().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.(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.(Okay, the staircases are a little narrow.) If you love Jefferson, as we all do, you will try to forget that much of the work was done by slaves; it's hard to understand why he never found that unacceptable.Less than a hundred years later, with nearly a third of its population in slavery, Virginia left the Union and Richmond became the capital of the Confederacy. In beauty, significance, and even tragedy—about a third of the Civil War's battles were fought there—Virginia is unrivaled.With a crucial national election coming up, and one of its sitting senators, Tim Kaine, running for vice president, it is the perfect destination for an American road trip.


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