America Eating Abroad

Washington DC to Richmond, VA

September 28, 2014

What do I remember most about Washington DC? You might think it was peering through the gates at the White House or squinting against the sun to take in the Washington Monument… you’d be wrong, it was the cold. Oh-so-cold. Traipsing through inches of thick snow in some places, taking measured steps in other stretches to avoid slipping on the ice, there were many, many moments where I was wondering why we were outside and not just huddling by a fire somewhere sipping mulled wine.

Layered up in every thermal I packed, wrapped up in the scarf, beanie, and gloves I honestly felt like an arctic explorer heading towards the north pole when in actual fact we were trekking along the National Mall towards the Lincoln Memorial. About halfway, I almost had enough but I am glad we kept going- not many tourists can say they have looked out across the Mall and not seen anyone. Lincoln was overwhelming, though I could have also been silenced by the fact I was half frozen. I would have taken some snaps but my iPhone had given up by then…

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The cold even made an impact on our dinner choices; cuisine type and reviews took a slight back seat to accessibility but we still manages to dine at some local favourites. My favourite meal was at Mintwood Place, just round the corner from our hotel in the hip (so says the guidebooks) Adams Morgan area. At this posh neighbourhood restaurant we arrived in time for ‘happy hour’ where a couple of the wines and dishes are slightly cheaper!

We warmed up (quite literally) with a generous pour of red, maple pork cracklin’, and one of the most unexpected dishes I’ve found on a menu- escargot hush puppies! They were an interesting texture mix; fluffy fritters with a bit of bite from the snails, I’d definitely eat them again. We followed that up with a hearty beef bourginon, a lighter but equally satisfying pan fried salmon, an apple pie with vanilla ice cream, and of course… more wine. It’s good for keeping you warm isn’t it?

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The other meal which I remember was at Boqueria, a trendy tapas bar near DuPoint Circle. Again we arrived in time for happy hour- more because it coincided with a crippling temperature drop when the sun went down but it didn’t hurt that it was a little lighter on the wallet too. Looking around, it was clear that Washingtonians were also in favour of this plan as the restaurant was packed with people sipping sangrias or estrellas, nibbling on tapas favourites such as croquettes, olives, cured meats, patatas bravas, and various other pintxos such as quails eggs on chorizo or mini meaty bocadillos. Now that I’ve been to Barcelona I can say they aren’t a patch on the traditional but not bad for metropolitan DC.

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From here we moved south to Richmond, Virginia; once the Capital of the Confederacy, this city is a significant part of American history. This draws in a lot of tourists- this city has seen some battles, slaves, struggles but now it has another side to it, a much cooler side. The history is still there- following the Liberty Trail will take you to sights such as the State Capitol, Museum of the Confederacy, and Monument Church before leading you around the historic Shockoe Slip district towards the Canal Walk. If you’re looking to inject a bit of culture you should visit the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts or the Edgar Allan Poe Museum before strolling through some quirky neighbourhoods such as Carytown.

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It seems in recent years the Richmond food scene has reinvented itself; like many other hip young things, it’s jumped on that ‘farm to table’ bandwagon and we found ourselves a little spoilt for choice over where to dine. On our first night we went to Heritage in the Fan District- we got there early and were lucky to get a table in the jam-packed dining room. By this stage, we’d been travelling for close to 3 months and I’ll admit that I was getting food fatigue. I didn’t want any gimmicks or trendy cookery methods- I wanted comforting and well-cooked. Heritage delivered on all fronts. The smoked fish dip may have sounded like a simple way to start but it was wonderfully rich and smooth, a great contrast to the crisp pitas and sharp pickles. Our mains of roast chicken and hangar steak were the perfect hearty dishes for that cold winters evening, which we rounded off with the apple pie and vanilla ice cream. There were warm fuzzies that night.

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Dinner on the second night was less successful- let’s just say we should have ignored our cravings for Japanese, then we wouldn’t have been subjected to an overpriced bento box with dry, bland sushi. Thank goodness dinner on our final night in Richmond was a stand out; The Magpie has a dark, luscious atmosphere, and the food is not that dissimilar. Everything sounds rich, and meaty– vegetarians stay away, a menu which consists of crispy pig head torchon and rabbit tamale is not for you.

The amuse bouche was a nice touch and definitely got me in the mood to fight off a certain someone for my share of the silky sweetbreads and devour my venison main, paired perfectly with pears and berries. And as if that wasn’t enough to send our tastebuds into overdrive, we finished with a decadent chocolate mousse- yes, after this feast it was rather difficult climbing up the 2 flights of stairs to our room in the historic Linden Row Inn.

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No doubt you will have already visited or plan to visit Washington DC- after years of watching political thrillers or Hollywood action movies, the lure of seeing the White House in the flesh is undeniable, and then of course there are all those amazing museums. But… if you have some time up your sleeve, pop down to Richmond, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised- Frommer’s is definitely impressed, naming it a Top Destination for 2014!

Have you been? Let me know what you thought…

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