A Moving Feast
May 2, 2012
|It has been a notable week since last Wednesday: Attending the Nobis Foundation “Galaxy of Stars” luncheon where Rick was honored for his contributions to the disabled; Visiting with Lynda’s nephew John, wife Kim, and son Ben in Winston Salem, NC; Spending the weekend with David and Cris in Bowie, MD and taking him on his last ride home as an employee of Potomac Valley Brick (PVB); An overnight with our dear friends Peter and Conni in St. Michaels, on Maryland’s Eastern Shore; Revisiting downtown Washington, DC to see some of the monuments on and adjacent to the National Mall; and Staying with one of Lynda’s former colleagues, and a dear friend Cary, at Watergate at Landmark in Alexandria, VA – our present location - where Lynda lived for 22 years, mostly as a single-person until I swept her off her feet. Throughout this busy and very enjoyable seven days has been our indulgence in a continual feasting on fine epicurean delights which I will summarize a bit below.
Our seven-day extravaganza began last Wednesday morning when we loaded up the car once again for the next overnight stop at the Spring Hill Marriott in Winston Salem. Before departing Greater Atlanta we circled the city to the Renaissance Waverly Hotel on the north side to honor Rick by our presence. We have not stayed at a Renaissance – a Marriott property – at least not in recent memory. It reminded us of a Hyatt Regency Hotel like ours in Tokyo, and we look forward to our stay at the Renaissance in Philadelphia this coming weekend. The event was well organized and Rick’s proud mother and stepfather got to see him ride onto the stage on his Segway to receive his award in the management category from famed football star Tommy Nobis. It was a grand finale to our stay in Atlanta; even the chicken lunch far exceeded the standard “rubber chicken” meals at similar events.
Facing a five-hour drive in time to dine that evening with John and family we said our goodbyes to Rick and Deb shortly before the curtain came down and motored off for our next meal at Sweet Potatoes in downtown Winston Salem. John, Kim, and Ben met us at our hotel and we headed to town to their recommended eatery in Winston Salem’s Downtown Art District. This would be what I consider the first stop on our seven-day “Moving Feast.”
Sweet Potatoes is touted as an “award winning restaurant … where they serve unique, southern inspired uptown, down - home cooking.” Although “southern cooking” is not my genre of choice or even high on my favorite list we seldom hesitate to go along with what is offered or recommended by our hosts; that would be poor form. Besides, although we certainly have our preferences, we will eat virtually anything; picky eaters we are not!
John ordered a “Fried Green Tomatoes and Okra Basket” as an appetizer that was hastily devoured by the others. I demurred so as to savor my cabernet and not spoil my main meal. I do admit, however, that neither of these two items appears on my desire list; they’re edible but not particularly satisfying to me. If I’m going to risk heart disease by eating fried foods I’m very selective; or as my friend Jim back at Jojoba would say “high maintenance.” Consequently I waited for my entrée called “Smothered Yard Bird - Pan-fried chicken breast and melted Brie smothered with chicken gravy served over rice” with a side of “Spicy Greens” aka kale. They were both terrific! Lynda chose “Southerly Fried Chicken - Two boneless fried chicken breasts served with sweet and roasted garlic smashed potatoes, peach marmalade;” another excellent choice as she reported. I also ordered sweet potato cheesecake for dessert which we shared; another winner! AND – I (Lynda) certainly enjoyed the fried okra and green tomatoes! In the video the chef showed how her mother taught her to fry chicken adding a piece of fat back to the frying pan. Her mom lived to be 94 so I figured one piece of fried chicken wouldn’t hurt as I got the smaller portion with only one piece. It was delicious!
Besides a wonderfully different dining experience we also had a delightful time catching up on our respective lives. It has been seven years since the three of them visited us in Chattanooga while on “home leave” from their lives teaching English in China. Kim lived there for 17 years and John joined her after their marriage in 1997. Ben was born in China and still calls it home even though there are no plans to return as a family. Ben, on the other hand, is said to be saving up to go back sometime in the future; an interesting juxtaposition for a tall, blond-haired, blue-eyed Caucasian boy of ten. I asked Ben if he was interested in sports. He responded, “It may appear so, but no I’m not;” presumably a reference to his size at age ten. At Kim’s prompting he went on to describe his new found musical interest in playing the trumpet.
After a good night’s sleep we continued our conversation during breakfast at their home. Ben was already off to school but John had arranged to arrive at work later in the morning. Kim prepared a wonderful casserole (like a quiche) with all the trimmings in keeping with our superior cuisine journey begun the previous evening. (Oops, we didn’t start taking photos of food yet.) About 10AM as thunder boomed and rain began to fall we pulled out of their driveway and headed for the DC area. For the next two hours or so we drove through a proverbial carwash. I was grateful not to be driving the dually truck and pulling our 18,000 lbs. rig. The heavy rain finally let up as we approached Virginia’s southern border.
We reached Northern Virginia about 5PM so we decided to have dinner at LaPorta’s Restaurant on Duke Street in Alexandria rather than fighting rush hour traffic getting to our hotel. I was introduced to LaPorta’s in 1988 by one of my clients and it has been a favorite dining spot ever since. It became a regular venue for Lynda and me when we lived nearby. Since moving from the area we pay a visit every time we’re in town. We love the food, the ambiance, and the service. It is a family-owned and operated establishment that has survived for nearly 27 years. It is now in the hands of the second generation who always greet us by asking where we are living/staying and what we are doing now.
This evening Ralph, Jr and Doug, the chef, were there so I had the opportunity to share David’s new career as a chef. Ralph sat with us for a while and said positive things about David’s new employer and the Head Chef Chris. He also told us that David would probably become a head chef in 18 months. I won’t elaborate on the details of dinner that night or this entry will go on and on. Suffice it to say, it was exceptional as always. Doug has learned his craft very well!
On Friday last we arrived at PVB shortly before 2PM; David’s last day after nine years. Alan, the owner and CEO, was a client of mine for several years so I wanted to see him and thank him for giving David the opportunity. When we arrived David was at lunch with his boss, Rich, the VP of Operations, who had prematurely anointed David as his heir when Rich retired in two or three years. Both were very gracious in wishing David well in his new career and expressed sadness in his departure, especially Rich. For David leaving was somewhat bittersweet; most likely it was leaving the known for the unknown.
On our way home to David’s we learned that he had already worked four shifts at Rustico, his new workplace, even though he was not yet on the payroll. He said he wanted to get a jump start on his learning curve. On Sunday he was scheduled to assist Chef Chris at a special fundraising “cook-off” for a local homeless shelter. When we had lunch with him on Monday David said that Sunday provided his best opportunity yet to get to know Chris better and talk about plans in the Rustico kitchen. Since most of the kitchen staff are Hispanic, apparently David will take a leadership role in improving operational performance because of his management skills and near-fluency of Spanish. Yesterday, May 1, son David officially became Chef David. I haven’t gotten any feedback as yet, but I’m certain that all went well. Both Alan and Rich applauded David for “grabbing the brass ring” and Lynda and I join the applause!
Last Friday night David prepared a fine chicken dinner (see photograph) with his homemade squash sauce. Saturday evening the four of us drove to Downtown DC for an exquisite dining experience at David and Cris’ favorite new restaurant Oyamel, Cocina Mexicana
I will not try to share what the four of us ordered collectively for that would overwhelm this entry. What follows is a sampler of the five dishes I ordered sans the unusual chocolate dessert that Lynda and I shared. It too was a relatively small portion, he says with a wink. I will leave out the Spanish names in the interest of brevity:
Hawaiian ono with fresh Hamakua Farms hearts of palm, baby cucumber, passion fruit, vanilla and rose.
Crispy brussel sprouts with an arbol chile sauce, pumpkin seed, peanuts and lime.
Seared scallops with a pasilla chile and pumpkin seed sauce, orange segments, pumpkin seed oil and toasted pumpkin seeds
Pasture-raised Shenandoah Valley pork belly fried until crisp and served in a house-made tortilla with chihuahua cheese and a sauce of five chiles
Braised beef tongue with radishes and a sauce of roasted pasilla chile, tomatoes, onion and garlic
Brave Lynda ordered the legendary Oaxacan speciality of sautéed grasshoppers, shallots, tequila and guacamole
An hour or so after David left for his “cook off” event the next morning we departed for St. Michaels leaving Cris to her studies, a regular weekend activity as she works her way toward her Bachelor’s Degree in Environmental Management. She is scheduled to finish in 2013. We were greeted with a Wine Festival in town but were there to visit Peter and Conni, not wine tasting. As I have mentioned in the past Peter is an excellent cook but, as far as I know, has never worked as a chef. We first met in the 70s when we were both working in the criminal justice field. Conni, a native of Liberia, worked for the World Bank until a few years ago; now she is a coach on leadership and management and travels the world conducting training sessions. They have become dear friends particularly during the past ten or fifteen years since Lynda and I became a duo.
Besides being with good friends and catching up on the latest goings and comings we continued our “Moving Feast” in style. Starting with Peter’s Boodles gin martini’s for us guys and Almond champagne from Wilson Creek for Lynda and Conni, we segued (not a riding machine this time!) into a lovely chicken, rice, and vegetable dinner (see photograph) followed by two of Peter’s cake creations; the current subject of his blog, 60 Years in the Kitchen
Bidding our friends au revoir we drove to Alexandria, VA where we are now. When we come here Cary relinquishes his condo – his mother’s while alive – and stays across the hall with his partner Armando. It is always a peaceful break in our travels allowing private time as well as time with good friends. Both are still fully employed so visiting time is limited to evenings that always include good food. On Monday night we all went to Rustico to check out David’s new workplace. He didn’t want us to be there on his first few nights; added pressure I suppose. Thus, we went unannounced and all were quite satisfied with the food and service.
Lynda and I had wonderful rockfish; Cary tried the pea’s ravioli and loved it; and Armando had his own personal pizza, another hit. I also had a steak tartare slider and some French onion soup; both were excellent. Rustico also is known for its beer collection, over 400 brands on drought or in bottles. I saw a long list in the $20 - $60 range but there are many at the more normal price. It is thankfully not a Bud Light venue! Besides a nice meal with friends, being there was most important for me to experience David’s new work home. I’m thrilled! How could we have forgotten to take photos of this meal?
Yesterday morning we took the car to our friend Don Allen’s service center nearby for its regular service and some repairs. This is where we traded our dually truck for the Mercedes a year ago last April. From there we walked to the nearby Metro station to go downtown DC. Our primary mission was to get two “rubbings” for Lynda’s cousin Elaine in Albuquerque from the Vietnam Memorial Wall; her son and a nephew.
Arriving at the National Mall we walked to the Vietnam Memorial Wall and completed our primary task with help from a Park Ranger with information about the location of the names in question. Being in the area for the first time in many years I realized that several new memorials had been added. Therefore we walked first to see the WWII memorial and then across Independence Avenue to the Tidal Basin adjacent to the Jefferson Memorial to see the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial and farther around the memorial to FDR, an impressive sight. I haven’t walk this much in several years but it was worth it.
While walking back toward the area where a late lunch may be in the offing, we received two phone calls, one good and one not so good. First Armando called to inform us that he would provide a pasta dinner. Next, Don Allen called to inform us that we needed new front wheel bearings for the added cost of $800. That’s what you get when you own a Mercedes!
After an adequate sandwich at the Old Post Office Building we walked (I trudged!) to Lynda’s old office from the late 90s in hopes of seeing one or more former colleagues who are still there. Happily, we found her friend Bruce and they caught up on the latest. I had met Bruce on a few occasions so I was not an uninterested listener. Ironically, Bruce’s office was Lynda’s when we reconnected in 1997. “Seems like old times!”
Finally, after paying our $1800 repair bill to Don Allen – he obviously had to make a boat payment LOL – we returned to Cary’s and awaited Armando’s culinary delight. That it certainly was (see photograph) thus culminating the seven-day “Moving Feast.” It may not have always been healthy but it was consistently grand. Our plan is to make up for it by cooking in during the fourteen days in Pittsburgh, PA while focusing on my family history. We’ll see!