Early Mountain Vineyards

This weekend was a real treat. With a quick 2.5 hour drive, my friend and I were able to make it to Madison, Virginia (just outside of Charlottesville) to enjoy Early Mountain Vineyards. Owned by Steve and Jean Case, the grounds of the winery are spectacular filled with colorful flowers, lush vines, and stunning views of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

The tasting room is a wide open space that evokes rustic elegance in a chic barn-like setting. Every detail is beautifully done, and the back of the tasting room opens up to a patio with expansive views. Early Mountain Vineyards offers flights rather than a traditional tasting, and they also offer table service to create a more upscale environment. However, even with this approach it still attracts such a nice mix of people. This past Saturday we saw families playing board games, couples enjoying a romantic day, and groups of friends kicking back and relaxing. It was clear that Early Mountain appeals to just about everyone.

I started the day with their rosé which is a favorite of mine, made of Merlot. I then shifted to one of their flights of white wines which included the Early Mountain Pinot Gris and Chardonnay as well as tastes from other Virginia wineries including Ankida Ridge. This is another unique element about Early Mountain as they work hard to promote the wines from the Virginia region, not just from their own vineyard. Winemaker Ben Jordan began his winemaking career in Sonoma, California and has been in Virginia for the past few years, and most recently came to Early Mountain from Michael Shaps Wineworks. Early Mountain produces many of the grapes that grow well in the Virginia region: Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Chardonnay. In addition to the great sips we enjoyed this past weekend, we also enjoyed delicious snacks including charcuterie, cheese, and dips. The bresaola and chevre were our favorites-- and the cheese came with a sweet creamed honey that went perfectly with the snack.

This past Saturday night Early Mountain hosted "Music at the Mountain" which allowed guests to purchase tickets for $10 and enjoy the bluegrass band Gallatin Canyon. Wine bottles were for sale outside, and people showed up with picnic baskets or purchased snacks like a baguette with gouda cheese to enjoy during the concert. It was such a lovely atmosphere, and the band played until 9pm as the sun was going down on the mountain.

In addition to the regular flight tastings offered on a daily basis, Early Mountain also has beautiful space that works for weddings, corporate events, or just about any occasion. My experience at Early Mountain Vineyards was a great one. So much so that I decided to join the wine club which includes quarterly shipments, winemaker dinners, and discounts on future tastings. While it's a bit further from D.C. than the wineries in Loudoun County, the atmosphere, the people, and the wine make the trip to Early Mountain Vineyards well worth the trip.

Early Mountain Vineyards
6109 Wolftown-Hood Road
Madison, VA 22727
@EarlyMountain
 

The Winery at Bull Run

I love to explore Virginia wine country on the weekends. Yesterday, our team at work took an offsite to a vineyard I had never visited before, The Winery at Bull Run. It is located in Fairfax County, Virginia, and it is the closest winery to Washington, D.C. with only about a 45 minute drive from the city.

Our guide explained the rich history of the land, and also the passion that the owners have for Virginia wine. The winery pulls together artifacts and storytelling from the Civil War era along with a modern wine making process which creates an educational and enjoyable experience. We tasted 10 wines throughout our tour of the beautiful grounds, and my favorite of the day was the 2014 Chardonnay. As The Winery at Bull Run's first ever stainless steel Chardonnay, it had hints of lemon and lime flavors with an easy finish.

I also enjoyed the 2014 Pinot Gris with its fruit forward flavors and citrusy notes which was refreshing on a hot summer day. Our team had a great time out in the grass at the winery playing cornhole and sitting on the picnic tables overlooking the gorgeous property. The Winery at Bull Run hosts many events including live music, wine pairing dinners, and sipping and painting to name a few. The winery offers a limited food menu including dips, cheeses, and charcuterie, but they also invite food trucks out on the weekends to provide heartier meals for those who are sipping the day away.

I loved the setting at The Winery at Bull Run, and it's a quick and easy day trip from downtown D.C. A great option for those looking to enjoy a nice day with wine, food, and friends.

The Winery at Bull Run
15950 Lee Highway
Centreville, VA 20120
@WineryatBullRun

Spaghetti Pomodoro at Centrolina

If you were to ask me what my favorite meal is, I would probably say spaghetti pomodoro. It sounds boring, and it's rare that I'd order spaghetti with tomato sauce at a restaurant in the United States, but it's generally the most common thing I order when I am in Italy. It's so simple, but when it is done right with fresh ingredients, there is something so perfect about this Italian classic.

I have been following Chef Amy Brandwein since her days back at Casa Nonna in Dupont Circle (it closed in 2012.) She did a wonderful job with delicious classics like spaghetti and meatballs and chicken parmigiana. In 2013, Chef Amy opened Alba Osteria with a focus on northern Italian cuisine. I'm thrilled to see that this talented chef has opened Centrolina on her own in City Center which is part osteria, and part Italian market. The space is open and airy which bridges both concepts, and the market offers everything from cheeses to charcuterie to pre-made single portions of lasagna. It's exactly what the new downtown complex needed.

Upon dining at Centrolina for the first time, I decided to be bold and order the spaghetti with cherry tomatoes since I am well versed in Chef Amy's ability. The dish arrived in a white bowl with ribbons of basil and I added a generous sprinkling of Parmesan cheese. I was very pleased with the sweet flavors of the tomato sauce, and Centrolina's rendition of one of my favorite classics. It's nice to know I have a place to go when I'm craving this comforting staple. I look forward to experiencing the other delicious dishes Chef Amy Brandwein is cooking up at Centrolina on a future visit.

Centrolina
974 Palmer Alley NW
Washington, DC 20001
@CentrolinaDC

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Portland, Maine

It doesn't get much better than Maine in the summer. And it's the perfect escape from the Washington humidity. I flew up this past Friday with a few girlfriends, and we slowly ate our way across this charming and unique town. We enjoyed a walk along the Eastern Promenade, the cool summer breeze, and the absolute best lobster rolls.

EVENTIDE OYSTER CO.

This place was everything I had hoped for and more. In fact, we ate here twice in less than 36 hours. It's a bright aqua filled restaurant with a casual vibe and a super friendly staff. There are a few outdoor tables which are perfect on a sunny day, but there's also a great bar lined with seats, and a counter along the window which is perfect for perching. On our second day at Eventide, Andrew Zimmern was filming a segment for the Travel Channel. Needless to say, Eventide is getting the recognition it deserves from the food community.

The menu focuses on raw seafood, but also has many small bites and rolls that make it a great place for sharing. We enjoyed local Oxbow beers and glasses of Tempranillo rosé while we worked our way through the menu. The best dish on the menu is lobster roll drizzled in brown butter. The "roll" is more similar to an asian style bun, and the chunks of lobster are generously doused in butter.

Rosé and Lobster Rolls at Eventide.jpg

Every dish we ordered was better than the next: the tuna tartare, the fried chicken bun with buttermilk ranch, and the massive ice cream sandwich that is fit for two. The next time I am in Portland this will be the first place I go. Eventide Oyster is located at 86 Middle Street and can be found on Twitter @EventideOyster.


CENTRAL PROVISIONS

We stopped here for lunch on Saturday and filled up on delicious small plates. Our favorite was the toasted bread with farm egg and hazelnut butter. It was a perfect combination.

The roasted cauliflower with ras el hanout, chickpeas, and feta was warm and crispy, and the caramelized sheep's cheese with pears and balsamic was crepe-like and provided a touch of sweetness. On my next trip to Portland I will be sure to check out Central Provisions for brunch on Sunday-- the fried chicken sandwich with a fried egg on top is calling my name. Central Provisions is located at 414 Fore Street and can be found on Twitter @CtralProvisions.


Hugo's Restaurant is the fancier sibling to Eventide Oyster. In fact, they are directly next to each other as well as their third establishment, The Honey Paw. Owned by Andrew Taylor, Michael Wiley, and Arlin Smith, Hugo's offers a tasting menu experience across three curated columns: foraged & farmed, from the sea, and forest & field. You can choose any five courses from all three menus for $90, so as a trio dining at the restaurant we opted for one of everything, and instructed the waiter to "run the menu." Paired with a bottle of the Commanderie Peyrassol rosé, our meal was off to the races. Every dish was beautifully crafted and thoughtfully plated. The atmosphere inside of Hugo's is sophisticated yet rustic, and the restaurant provided a wonderful dining experience. Hugo's is located at 88 Middle Street and can be found on Twitter @HugosMaine.


We loved dining at Piccolo which is a tiny and charming Italian restaurant offering a limited menu. The cavatelli pasta with lamb neck ragu, eggplant, orange, and Pecorino was a hearty and filling meal. The appetizers including bruschetta with peekytoe crab and creamy straciatella were elegant and matched the simplicity of the restaurant. After dinner we went over to the Portland Hunt & Alpine Club for drinks as instructed by the owner of Piccolo. The bar offered craft cocktails in a lively environment on an otherwise sleepy night in Portland.

If you're looking for an awesome breakfast... look no further than Becky's Diner for an old fashioned dive. It was nothing short of perfect on a rainy morning. Corned beef hash, pancakes, french toast, eggs, potatoes, you name it. Standard Baking Co. is a great spot for coffee and baked goods while exploring Portland, and we liked The Speckled Ax on Congress Street for coffee in the morning before heading out for the day. We did not make it to Duckfat or Fore Street on this trip which were both highly recommended. Next time!

Eating Quietly

I promise I haven't forgotten about you! I'm sorry I've been so quiet lately, but things have been busy and I have been traveling a lot. In the last two months I've been to Paris, Lake Como, San Francisco, Napa, Chicago, and Virginia Wine Country. But don't you worry... even though I've been quiet, I have still been eating. Here are some favorite recent eats.

Eggplant Parmesan at Il Cavatappi in Varenna, Italy

Eggplant Parmesan at Il Cavatappi in Varenna, Italy

Tomato lasagna at SPQR in San Francisco

Tomato lasagna at SPQR in San Francisco

Fat Rice at Fat Rice in Chicago

Fat Rice at Fat Rice in Chicago

Tacolicious in San Francisco

Tacolicious in San Francisco

Cheese plate at Le Relais du Comptoir in Paris

Cheese plate at Le Relais du Comptoir in Paris

Pasta at Rich Table in San Francisco

Pasta at Rich Table in San Francisco

Lunch in the Marais in Paris

Lunch in the Marais in Paris

Brunch at The Publican in Chicago

Brunch at The Publican in Chicago

Spaghetti Pomodoro at Centrolina in DC

Spaghetti Pomodoro at Centrolina in DC

Linguine with Clams at La Barchetta in Bellagio, Italy

Linguine with Clams at La Barchetta in Bellagio, Italy