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Jan 20, 2014

Drinking our way through Boston

Not gonna lie, if the winters in Boston weren’t so brutal, I would pack our bags and head up north! Last September, Jared and I celebrated our 3-year wedding anniversary in Boston. We’ve never been that far up north before, and have always wanted travel there. Trust me when I say, this will not be our last trip to Boston.

Boston is beautiful, historic, fun, entertaining and quaint. A place where big feels small with all the surrounding neighborhoods. We did everything and anything during our 4-night stay in Boston. We were the typical tourists. We walked the Freedom trail, took a tour of Fenway Park (a must!), ate a cannoli at Mike’s Pastry, drank our way through all the brewery tours, and so much more.

This post isn’t really about every single detail about our trip, but a fun part of our trip entailed drinking our way through Boston. If you find yourself in Boston, do what we did and check out both Sam Adams Brewery, Harpoon Brewery and grab yourself a local beer at a neighborhood bar. Here’s what to expect along the way.

Our first stop on our first full day in Boston was the infamous Sam Adams Brewery. We’re huge Sam Adams fan so this was a must. Sam Adams Brewery is off the beaten path. We took the T to the stop and walked a few blocks through a neighborhood. Use your tour book to get you there because it’s easy to get turned around if unfamiliar with the location.

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Sam Adams Brewery

We arrived in the tail end of the hour, and was able to get on to the next tour group surprisingly because apparently it gets crowded. Just arrive early if I were you. We donated some money and got a golden ticket. I felt like Charlie from Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory.

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Sam Adams Brewery

The tour started in a separate part of the brewery. The guy in the photo below was our tour guide. He was a little dry during the “lecture” portion of how beer is made and how they brew their beer. He passed around some hops and barley that they use to make their beer and encouraged us to try some. No thanks. Haha. After the 20-minute lecture, we moved to the room where the beer is actually made. It wasn’t as grand as I imagined, probably because I learned they only do test batches at this brewery. The bigger manufacturing/distribution center is located in Ohio and Tampa (i think).

Sam Adams Brewery

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Sam Adams Brewery

Now, on to the reason why we came. Tasting time! They moved us once again into the tasting room that had several long tables. They gave each of us a souvenir tasting glass to keep and drink out of during the tasting. We tasted about 3 or 4 different beers in a 20-minute time frame. With a few sips in, our tour guide was much more funnier and comfortable at this point :)

Sam Adams Brewery

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Lets just say, by the end of the tasting, Sam and I were BFFs :)

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After the brewery tour was over, we didn’t get on the party bus that you will be asked to at the end of the tour. If you decide to go on the party bus, it’ll take you to the first bar that served Sam Adams (allegedly). We decided to skip it and go back into the city to continue our quest for more beer. This time we found ourselves in the North end of Boston, and stopped for some wings and Harpoon’s Oktoberfest with a cinnamon sugar rim at a bar called Vito’s Tavern. The bartender introduced us to the cinnamon sugar rim, and we were hooked. And just so you know, there are no happy hour specials in the state of Massachusetts. We sadly found out that day.

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The next day, we didn’t tour any breweries. We walked all the live long day and did the Freedom trail walking tour on our own. With no tour guide, we were able to go on our own pace and even speed past through some sites. This Freedom trail is no joke. You will be walking for several hours throughout Boston. So wear some comfy shoes. After the trail, we wanted to check out Harvard in Cambridge. I found the school itself not so impressive, but Cambridge was very impressive. Tons of neighborhood restaurants, shops and people! We randomly found an affordable restaurant to grab some dinner and beers called Grendel’s Den. They had a wide selection of beer, which made us happy. Come to find out later that night, a scene from The Town was filmed right on the patio!

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Our last full day in Boston, we woke up bright and early to travel far and away to Harpoon Brewery. Not the most convenient place to get to, we took the T to our stop and continued to walk for what felt like to 2 miles or so to the brewery. It was a hike, but totally worth the long trip. We learned after our tour there was a bus to take us back to the T, and so that was helpful for the way back. Just a head’s up, Harpoon’s tours get booked up fast, so arrive early! They usually sell out by early afternoon. When we arrived for the first tour at 11am,  there was already a line forming.

Harpoon Brewery is definitely not the prettiest on the outside. It’s a warehouse since they brew and distribute their beer here. However, they also have this beer hall inside that overlooked the water. It’s a great space to hang out with some friends and enjoy some quality beer and homemade pretzels.

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Harpoon Brewery

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We had two tour guides that described the process of how their beer is brewed. They took us through certain areas of the the brewery. It was vast and enormous. Now this is a brewery! Both tour guides were super outgoing and informative. This part of the tour took roughly 30 minutes.

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Now onto the fun part. Literally all you can drink in the time left over. Each tour was an hour long, about 30-35 for the lecture and the rest for the tasting. They take you into a separate room with all their taps. They give you a tasting glass and you can literally have a healthy sample of every single beer if your stomach allows. It was unlimited tasting in that time frame. Totally worth the $5. This was by far the best tasting of any brewery tour.

Harpoon Bewery

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Look! Jared made a friend! Jared’s wardrobe in Boston consisted of Manchester United jerseys so it was definitely a conversational starter with other tourists. He made a lot of friends that week. Haha.

Harpoon Brewery

Harpoon Brewery

Harpoon Brewery

After the tour, we went to the brew hall and helped ourselves to more beer and pretzels. Mind you, we started before noon. Needless to say after the brew hall, we were pretty toasted. One of the most fun and best experiences ever.

Harpoon Brewery

Harpoon Brewery

Harpoon Brewery

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After a morning of beer and pretzels, we took the T back to Chinatown. If you can imagine, we were starving so we tried dim sum for the first time and loved it. Since our bellies were full of beer, pretzels and dim sum, we took a much needed nap in Boston Common. Overall, a great finale to an amazing trip to Boston. Thank you Boston for being so awesome and tasty.

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Jun 5, 2013

Broad Appetit, Round 3.

Broad Appétit is not new to me or Richmond. Now in it’s fourth season, it draws a huge crowd of Richmonders eager to try what local restaurants have to offer. And for $3 a sample, you can’t beat that! I’ve been to Broad Appétit three times now, and I’m sad to say that this year was a little more of a disappointment. Don’t get me wrong, I had some good dishes this year, I just wasn’t impressed with any one in particular. I would have loved to see more of a variety and more restaurants not doing the same dishes each season. Even so, this is one of my favorite food festivals in Richmond. And if you haven’t been, you should definitely go next season!

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Now lets take a look at the dishes we decided to try out:

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1. Tomato and mozzarella skewer from Bistro 27:
Very refreshing on a hot day. The mozzarella was super fresh and soft, covered in basil and olive oil. A nice way to start off the festival.

2. Chicken and waffles from Tarrant’s Cafe:
I am not new to this dish at all. I’ve had it before and was amazed that they were serving this. Portion size was awesome and the waffle was very crispy. As always, it’s one of my favorites at Tarrant’s.

3. Crispy shrimp over polenta:
I totally forgot where this dish from. I liked the concept, but surprisingly it was on the bland side even with all the sauces. The polenta was very creamy and the shrimp had a nice tempura-like batter. Just needed more salt or seasoning!

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4. Crab cake sandwich from Martin’s:
Martin’s crab cake was as just as good as last year. Lumps of crab meat and not a lot of filler always makes me a happy camper.

5. Asian beef taco from Boca Truck:
One of my favorites from the Boca Truck, I knew this would be good. I just love the kimchi!

6. Fried green tomatoes from Comfort:
I probably shouldn’t have gotten these because I’ve had them many times before. I was just a little underwhelmed with the lack of creativity from Comfort. Wish they did something different this year!

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7. Truffle pizza from Grate:
There were so many different flavors on this pizza that I wasn’t sure if I liked it or not. It had corn, mushrooms, caramelized onions, two different cheeses and truffle crema. Maybe one too many ingredients on the pizza? The crust was a little soggy too, but overall a very creative pizza.

8. Beef empanada with rice from Happy Empanada:
Really, really solid empanada. The dough was light and crispy. Perfectly baked. The beef filling was flavorful and moist. The rice though was bone dry. I took one bite and was really disappointed about that.  

9. Pork belly from Savory Grain:
Who wouldn’t love this tender piece of pork covered with a sweet and savory sauce? Executed really nicely and the arugula salad added a nice pop of color.

10. Pork lettuce wrap:
By far my favorite dish from the festival. Loved the contrast of textures and flavors. The crunch from the vegetables, with the tender pork and herb sauce was outstanding. It was the epitome of Thailand. And of course, I forgot where this came from! Sorry!!

After 10 dishes, we were spent. We ate like champs and enjoyed the company with our family. Did you go to the festival? If so, what was your favorite dish?

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Remember this kid? Look how big he’s grown since last year’s Broad Appétit! Kiernan is with his mom, Sheila, pictured above. My other sister, Sharon, and her boyfriend, Jeff, came along as well and they’re pictured below.

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Oct 21, 2012

Two food comas within one week…life is good.

September was a big month for us as far as celebrations go. Within one week of each other, we celebrated Jared’s 30th Birthday and our 2nd year anniversary as a married couple. I know this is long overdue, but I wanted to share with you where we dined for both occasions. For Jared’s birthday, we went to a favorite of ours, Tarrant’s Cafe in downtown, Richmond. For our 2nd year anniversary, we wanted to stick with tapas and Spanish food since we went to Spain for our honeymoon. However, we tried something different since the place we wanted to go to had a private event. We went to Mezzanine in Carytown, which happened to be a new favorite (when we have money) Haha.

Tarrant’s Cafe is not knew to us at all. We’ve eaten here several times and every time, the food never disappoints. They serve a variety of classics with twist. They have a strong Richmond following. It’s always crowded so I suggest reservations.

We started with ordering soups since it was a pretty gloomy day. The She Crab soup is a favorite of the locals. Sadly, I wasn’t too much of a fan. Don’t get me wrong, it was good, but my one big issue with it was the strong alcohol taste it had. It was probably the sherry or liquor in the soup that overpowered the whole thing. I couldn’t even finish it and passed it along to Jared, who didn’t seem to mind.

Jared ordered their soup of the day, which was hearty and filling on a cold, rainy day. We don’t remember what it was, but it was a cross between a soup and a chowder.

With our meal, we got toasted bread soaked in deliciousness of garlic, herbs and olive oil.  This was great to dip into our soup. I could have eaten all four pieces by myself!

And the real reason we decided to come to Tarrant’s Cafe was to try their infamous chicken and waffles. Before we ordered, we thought we’d get maybe 2 pieces of fried chicken with a plain, thin waffle. Boy were we wrong. Our waitress set our plates in front of us and we were both floored. What came out was three huge pieces of chicken (a leg, thigh and breast) on top of a freshly cooked, thick Belgian waffle. We were in heaven. Just look at how much you get for less than $16!

The chicken and waffles came with freshly cooked green beans that were perfectly seasoned. There was also this syrup that was both savory and sweet. We found out it was a combination of maple syrup, tahini and whole-grain mustard. Who knew that combination would work so well. So, even though we tried to finish our plates, we honestly couldn’t. Jared even had to throw in the towel. We had leftovers for lunch the next day, which made us even happier.

Within the same week, Jared and I celebrated our 2-year anniversary! We really ate pretty damn good that week. We decided to go to Mezzanine because our first choice fell through and I saw they had a Living Social coupon. $20 for $40 worth of food, not bad at all. I’m really glad our first choice didn’t work out because Mezzanine was a pleasant surprise. Hands down, it was by far the tastiest food I’ve had in a while. There’s something about this place that made us not care about how much we spent because the food was THAT good. The quality, the flavors were impeccable.

First on the list, order the cheapest bottle of red they had one the menu. It was infact cheaper than buying by the glass. This was a solid Pinot Noir, light and crisp.

We ordered the fried green tomatoes appetizer, which came with a red onion vinaigrette crab salad. The fried green tomatoes were exactly how I would cook them. They were sliced thickly, the exterior was super crispy. It was fantastic. The only thing I hesitate about this appetizer was the dressing, I wish there was more of it. The crab salad was a nice addition, but it was on the dry side. Just needed more sauce!

We ordered two small plates and shared between the two of us. The first plate was braised short ribs with a hoisin jus over top Byrdmill grits. We were both speechless. What else can I say about this perfect dish? It was buttery, tender, silky, flavorful, moist, sweet, succulent, rich and amazing. It was perfection on a plate. I don’t even think we said a word to each other since we were so focused on our meal! Haha. You know the food is good when it’s quite.

What could probably top the braised short ribs was their Carolina shrimp and grits. Seriously, I have never tasted something so delicious and so flavorful. I think Jared and I were fighting for the last bite. It was THE best meal I think I’ve ever had. It was certainly one of those kind of meals that leaves a mark. It was the kind of meal I live for.

We finished our meal with my favorite dessert, creme brulee. A nice finishing to end our dinner. All in all, our tab was a little high than we wanted to spend. But with a living social coupon and the fact that the food was INCREDIBLE, I couldn’t care less. Thank you Mezzanine for a memorable food experience!

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Jun 21, 2012

Charlottesville “Lipstick” Wine Tour

If you haven’t done this before, I highly recommend it. First things first, pick a person who doesn’t drink that much. They can be the driver. Haha. Pick 3-4 wineries in the Charlottesville, Virginia area. Map them on Google, copy and paste the map into something like the “Paint” application on your computer. With the spray can tool, which comes out looking like lipstick, connect the wineries. That’s how we designed our wine tour with our friend, Aaron, coining the term, “Lipstick Map.” Not as complicated as you think.

We went on our wine tour with another couple. It was actually their fabulous idea to go to Charlottesville and check out a few wineries with a brewery mixed in there. Our journey started with Veritas, then Blue Mountain Brewery for lunch, King Family and saving the best for last, Pippin Hill Farms. It was one of the best Saturdays with good wine, good friends and some beautiful Virginia mountains you’ve ever seen.

First stop: Veritas Vineyard & Winery {151 Veritas Lane  Afton, Virginia 22920}

I know a few people that have gotten married at Veritas. They have a beautiful indoor reception covered in lace drapery. I’m also very familiar with their wines because Veritas always makes an appearance at wine expos in the Richmond area, and I’ve actually bought a bottle or two of their red. The winery was really nice and sweet-looking. There was a wrap around deck that allows guests to sit outside to enjoy the scenery and weather. We went inside because it was a hot May day and we needed some wine to cool off. When we walked inside the tasting room, it was a drastic change from the exterior. The colors were bold. The atmosphere was very rugged and quite masculine. The wine itself was quite impressive. We sampled 8 very lovely wines, all I really enjoy. One in particularly we loved and got a glass of was the Mousseux. It’s a sparkling wine in a deep pink color. It was crisp and refreshing on a very warm day. The strawberry, cherry and raspberry flavors were clean and fresh. I could have drank a whole bottle.

Verdict: The wine here definitely didn’t disappoint. I highly enjoyed both the whites and reds, especially the Mousseux. The flavors were bold and distinct. The scenery though was not my favorite of the trip, mainly because it was a little hilly. Other than that, I’d go back for their wines! One recommendation, I wish they had ceiling fans outside…note that Veritas!

Second stop: Blue Mountain Brewery {9519 Critzer Shop Road  Afton, VA 22920}

As far as food and beer experience are concerned, Blue Mountain Brewery was our least favorite on the tour. We rolled up to the Brewery, packed as can be for a typical Saturday. They even had parking attendants directing traffic. Getting seated was not an issue, which was surprising. We ordered a flight of beer for everyone to share and ordered lunch. Well, sadly the beer was very very disappointing. I’ve drank my fair share of beer, good beer, and these Blue Mountain beers were terrible. There were about 8 different brews, all of which we did not enjoy. Jared, Mr. beer drinker, had to fight through to finish the beers. The food itself was just OK. My crab cake sandwich was tasteless. Didn’t have that fresh crab cake flavor that I love so much. Jared thought the description on the menu was tastier than his actual burger. The couple that did score was Aaron & Cyndy who ordered the pizza. If you do go there, just stick with the pizza.

Verdict: Not a place I would recommend nor have any desire of returning. Sorry, Blue Mountain. I wish your beer and food were better!

Third stop: King Family Vineyard {6550 Roseland Farm Crozet, VA 22932}

One of the coolest thing about this vineyard is the fact they have polo matches on the property. So, off behind the building were the horse stables. I was surprised as hell to see actual horses just chilling in the stables. It was pretty entertaining. But back to the wine. We arrived at the vineyard and immediately went inside the tasting room only to be bombarded with tons of people. It felt very touristy especially with the several bachelorette parties and tour groups. It felt crowded inside, so I wish it was a little larger and not as cramped. I guess we weren’t in the mood to compete with the loud crowds. But, we found a spot at the bar, started to taste and soon we couldn’t care less about the noise. The wines were solid. They went with fewer wines and perfected them really nicely. In this situation, their philosophy was “less is more.”

Verdict: The wines were solid, maybe not that memorable, but enjoyable. I think the bachelorette parties inside the winery annoyed me a bit. I did love the endless view. The mountains and a well-maintained property with the greenest grass would probably make me give this place another shot.

Fourth and last stop: Pippin Hill Farms {5022 Plank Road North Garden, VA 22959}

There aren’t any words to describe my love for Pippin Hill Farms. Literally, I am in LOVE with this place. Pippin Hill Farms is probably two years old. Because my day work involves weddings, I’m always looking at wedding photos and I’ve seen some gorgeous ones taken at Pippin. First off, the owners definitely designed this vineyard correctly. They were smart about the placement of the building. It sat on a hill overlooking the most breathtaking view that I take for granted living in Richmond. They certainly planned this place with weddings in mind. When you arrive, they have a deck overlooking the mountains with chairs facing outward. Couples can get married right on the lawn. There’s a reception area inside the barn. And then a tasting room where you can eat, drink and relax. If you don’t believe me, just look at the photos!

Verdict: If I were to renew my vows, I would do so here. If I were to get married for the first time, I would do so here. If I wanted to visit just one winery in Charlottesville, I would go here. Everything about this vineyard is absolutely breathtaking. From the views, décor, furniture, food and wines, this place is freakin’ unbelievable. Hands down, Pippin is my ultimate favorite.

We decided not to do a tasting of all their wines, rather just ordered a glass and ate more food. They serve small plates with seasonal local items designed to pair with their wines. We ordered a cheese platter which had some candied nuts, several fig jams and an orange marmalade. Besides the portions being a little small, there was nothing to dislike. I just wish there was more! We also ordered the hummus which was incredible fresh. Definitely tasted like it was made that day. As you can see, we left nothing behind. I will be honest with you, this place is not cheap. A glass of wine was $9. I recommend buying a bottle and splitting it.

Thanks so much Cyndy and Aaron for inviting us to Charlottesville! We had a wonderful time and I’m already thinking about the next 3-4 I want to visit next. This time, Jared can drive :)

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Jun 7, 2012

Sampling Broad Appetit $3 at a time

One of the best food festivals that I love the most in RVA is the annual Broad Appétit. I look forward to it every single year. My sister from D.C. even makes it down for this event. I’m serious when I say, it’s one of the best. The concept of this festival is very simple. Each restaurant prepares $3 mini-dish favorites for you to try. You go up to to a booth, read their menu and pay $3 if you want to sample. It’s a great way to try restaurants that you’ve never been before and finding some gems that you would definitely revisit.

My mother-in-law was in town for the weekend, so this was one event Jared and I brought her to. From past experience, getting to Broad Appétit early is important. As soon as it starts at 11 a.m., we were there. That way, we can get our sample with no line and hang out for the rest of the afternoon. They even had local beer to sell, which I would have partaken in, but was full from all the eating. We tried 9 different dishes, lets take a look at each one!


1. Korean barbecue on a scallion pancake from Ginkgo:
Our first sample of the day wasn’t too bad. It was a good idea, but the scallion pancake needed some work. I’m assuming it was prepared the night before or the morning of, so it tended to be on the dry and tough side. However, the Korean barbecue on top of the pancake was super tender and sweet. The relish was crunchy adding a nice texture overall.

2. Pulled pork over a bed of gnocchi and apples from Community Kitchen:
This was our first time eating gnocchi and it was heavenly. I believe they were making the gnocchi on the spot. All the flavors in this dish were nicely balanced. It was salty and sweet with a creamy, light sauce.

3. Spicy shrimp and grits from Mansionfive26:
So highly disappointed about a dish I typically enjoy eating. Really lacked on spice and flavor. The shrimps were small and the sauce was too watery. I wanted it to be good, but I’ve had better (at Balliceaux). The grits were cooked very nicely though.


4. Ribeye taco and Teriyaki beef taco from Boka Truck:
I’m not a Boka truck virgin anymore!! All the times I wanted to try a taco from the Boka truck, the line was a mile long. This time, it wasn’t! The tacos were very different in taste than the typical Mexican-style. These were more Asian-inspired with loads of spice and texture. Solid tacos!

5. Salmon over rice from La Parisienne Bistro & Cafe:
Not one of my favorites, but my mother-in-law enjoyed it a lot. For me, there was just too much going on. There were so many different kinds of flavors in the rice, sauce and salmon that I felt a little overwhelmed and sadly, underwhelmed at the same time.

6. Crab cake from Martin’s:
One of my favorite foods is a well-made crab cake. Surprisingly enough, the crab cake from Martins’ (of all places) was all crab and done really well! The presentation lacked, but the aioli and side vegetables complimented the crab really nicely. The cake was lumpy with lots of crab and not a lot filling, which is my kind of crab cake. Very nice.


7. Salted Chocolate Caramel cake from Shyndigz:
Best damn slice of cake I’ve ever eaten. Hands down. The combination of chocolate, salt and caramel was UNBELIEVABLE and inspiring. They also had a key lime cheesecake to sample, which was equally as good. I will honestly check their bakery shop on Patterson to try more! LOVED IT.

8. Pork belly with slaw on a steamed bun from Sticky Rice:
It was our first time eating pork belly, and boy, I’m in trouble. May not be the healthiest, but ironically, it wasn’t too salty or oily. I do wish the cut was a tab larger because the steamed bun was kinda big.

9. Seared scallop with roasted corn and bacon from Spoons:
Can’t leave the festival without eating a perfectly cooked scallop. Spoons offered this super fresh scallop that just melted in my mouth. The sweetness from the corn and saltiness from the bacon added so much flavor. A favorite.

And so that wraps up our food experience at Broad Appétit. If I had to pick my favorite dish from all that I sampled, it would be the salted chocolate caramel cake. I know it’s a dessert, but it was to die for. My second favorite would be pork belly buns. If you missed out this year, definitely make an attempt to remember next year. Look, even this kid (my nephew) had a great time at his first Broad Appétit experience!


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