Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Wedding House (Dana and Tom's Wedding Weekend)

Our latest adventure was something I had never been a part of...a wedding house. The goal of the bride was to bring the "band" back together again (all the kids from med school) and have them live together for 2.5 days. Throw in a wedding somewheres in between and there was the recipe for something...

Typically I HATE brides...they get all ooey gooey for THEIR day where everyone lavishes them with attention. Then they get uber bitchy and uppity and super proper (especially when you know they used to get railed in the local bar bathroom), pop out some pups, and well, you know the rest. Yuck, yikes, that's just what I HATE. H-A-T-E...those brides make me scared of marriage and children.

Over the years (early twenties until now) the weddings have come and gone and I have gotten a little more domesticated and used to the ideas of marriage and family. Only a few weddings have been stinkers (usually there is no alcohol and too much Jesus involved) this one piqued my interest because it was with good friends and this really neat idea actually housing the wedding party.

Success! Genius Success! I mean totally and amazingly's the rundown/back story/sprinklings of fabled fame.

So the bride rents out a HUGE McMansion in Reston, 5,000 square feet, totally furnished, heated pool, man cave, pool table, huge we hit the lotto on this one. And then everyone flies in from all corners of the earth. Partying, eating, and silliness ensues.

Friday: Wedding party arrives, everyone gets their own room. The bride announces their is no rehearsal dinner, just casually catered dinner with drinks. Whawhawhat? You heard it...

Then the bride's in-laws appear (all fifty thousand, think Irish Catholics), and they are all a hoot. Happiest people on earth. Drinking, talking, reuniting. EPIC I tell you, damn epic. I got the chance to get drunk, not drive anywhere, and hang out with a ton of cool people. Can we repeat that Saturday? Funny you might ask that...

Saturday: It's wedding day, I am required to do NOTHING. Seriously, the girls sit around getting their hair and makeup did. The bride asks one favor, "Can you put the warm beer in the fridge to make cold beer?" Done and done, I go for a run. At 2pm the limo picks us up. I opted to hang with the girls all there I go, hopping into the limo with beers and wine bottles. At one point in the ride a bridesmaid tells me it must be hard to hang out with the girls the whole time. I reply slyly saying, "Not that bad in a limo with a lot of upskirt action". My wife wife ever!

The wedding takes place, a lot of beer, a great menu (believe it or not, generally wedding food sucks)...seriously a medium rare fillet and crab cake. Then the DJ just rocks it and our good friend Rob did the worm. He always does the worm, like a worm expert. Honestly, he's an orthopedic doctor/worm dancing fool. Being that he's built a little like Cecil Fielder(little chunky but damn athletic). So everyone sits there puzzled saying, "How does that guy with the belly do those athletic feats?"

Everyone danced, even our friend's granny who is 90 cut a rug...then we got all the free accouterments(flowers baby flowers)...then we jumped on the mega bus and headed back to the wedding house for the after party. The youngest 20 somethings started shotgunning beers, and the 30 somethings attempted to replicate. I had NONE of that.

Saturday 10pm....Bus rolls home, sleepy I find my second wind. Flip cup, me repeatedly denying to play flip cup saying, "I can get mighty drunk here at the bar by myself, I don't need to chug".

11:30pm: Someone opens up the pool...drinking + swimming, not a great combo, oh well, what the hell...there are a ton of doctors here right? And one of the doctors used to swim competively in college? No problem.

Things ended for me at 1am, too tired, too much beer, time to sleep.

Next day, still doing nothing except relaxing and eating. We all leave, no drama, no cleaning up, and a great reunion and wedding with wonderful friends.

Who knows if the house made the weekend better, or the people in the house? But the idea, think about stop shopping. A wedding house to host parties all weekend? Yes, of course, why did I never think of that?

Accommodations Part 1

Instead of doing something expensive, we elected for five days and four nights of camping in celebration of our 3rd wedding anniversary. The goal, set up camp in Luray, Virginia (nestled in the beautiful Shenandoah's) using the camp as home base for cooking gourmet treats by night. All the while exploring the region's offerings by day. Included, a blow by blow storyline with general insights, praise, and warning for current and future offenders of hospitality.

Day 1: Lift off...Arrival

When you are in Annapolis and need a great steak, hit up "My Butcher". For our final meal camping we chose porterhouse. Yes, there is a Wal-Mart in Luray, but I would rather have a fresh cut Porterhouse from a reputable butcher. "Mike the Butcher" is that and some. Although his store doesn't open until 11am, we banged on the door and begged them to open early...done and done, we hit the road, off to better lands.

What says AMURCAN (but made in other countries) more than Wal-Mart of Luray, Virginia, our first real stop before camping. After getting my fishing license from the skinhead working in the hunting section, we jetset with our new wares straight from child labor camps for cheap. Meg gets winks and stares from all men wearing Camouflage...I get hate filled looks as I'm dressed in Madras shorts with a t-shirt saying, "Mr. Strong"...might as well say "Mr. Fruity"...shaking my head and happy I have teeth we move on.

Safely and securely we arrive at "Outlanders River Camp" which is completely empty but in a good way. We found this spot last year and it's a beautiful one. Nestled at the bottom of the valley, ten feet off the Shenandoah river, and bordered by a beautiful pasture, we are isolated from everyone. The constant theme each night was good cocktails, stories of old, music, fire, and food. I don't suggest you go here on the weekend in the summer unless you would like to hang out with the Wal-mart crowd. I dunno, everyone is into something different I guess.

Day 2:

The Splendor of Luray Caverns...

Seriously cool to hike 1.25 miles underground while carrying the dog. Note to foreigners traveling in this here country...

1) When the Ranger says "DON'T touch the rock formations, they are old and will decay with touch", please don't act like you can't speak English. I can see you know it's wrong because you touch the rocks and look around to see if anyone is looking (Your Headphones are also saying that in your native tongue). And your dad who should have a cane because he can barely walk upright, please make him use the cane, the rock formations are not hand rails.

2) Please wear deodorant

3) When the Ranger is talking, it is impolite to talk over them, especially while wearing your Eurotrash shoes...they call us rude?

The Wasmund Distillery, Sperryville, Va

So the whiskey maker/helper wasn't too keen on giving us any free tastings, and after thinking about it, it made sense. But we got a killer tour at a Single Malt Distillery literally housed in a barn. Scotland just ordered 150 cases from them...remember, Scotland is Single Malt Mecca. The secret behind their hooch? Cherry and Applewood Smoking their grain. You can taste the smoke in the drink. And it was a blast going from the grain growing room seeing the grain all raked out and germinating, then to the smoke room, climbing the ladder to the vat and getting a HUGE whiff of a 2 day ferment...nearly took our heads off, and then to the finishing room. I kept saying, "Seriously, in Sperryville?" This is world class whiskey, and it's being done in the middle of nowhere. The maker said, "Why not, have you looked around at the beauty of this place?" Check em out, Copper Fox Distillery, they have a Single Malt Whiskey and a Rye. Equally great depending on your mood.

The Rappahannock Disaster

Matty: "Where to next?"

Meg: "Let's find some wineries in the area"...

Matty: "Well, 25 miles later, here's one, Rappahannock Cellars, I hear it's supposed to be pretty good, haven't we been there before? Maybe not...hmm.."

Matty: (Outside of the entrance), "It says we have to leave the dog leashed in the courtyard, go in an see if we can maybe have a tasting outside".

Meg: "Okay, sure thing"

Meg: (Returning, steam starting to shoot out of her ears) "They wont let us taste outside, they wont let her inside, and it's too hot to leave the dog in the car. I'm not tying my dog up in the yard like a redneck in order to taste their wine."

Matty: "Was the lady snooty?"

Meg: "No, but she was totally unaccommodating, we are THE only people here, we're leaving, I will NEVER taste their wine".

THAT is how to lose our business. Yes, we respect everyone is a small business owner, and there are rules. But if you like to make money and run a successful business, go the extra mile. Had you actually tried to accommodate us, we would have stayed, we would have probably spent money. Meg and I are both suckers for customer service. We received none, thusly we left.

Remember, Virginia wine still isn't that's tolerable, and I've given it very favorable reviews. But your bottles are 22 dollars and up...I can buy pretty killer stuff for 30 from reputable well established places like Napa, or OTHER COUNTRIES...why waste my money on Virginia wine sentiment out of nostalgia and pride? I like your wine, I yet don't love it. Please don't take me for granted, no matter how many po dunk medals you won at the county fair last year. Henceforth, the title of this blog is called Accommodations in tribute to your lack of service.

Thirsty and hungry we headed back to Luray. And we land at this placed called "Victoria Inn Wine Bar". It has a porch, it's perched on the top of Main St, but I was not having high hopes after Rappahannock. Meg was steaming mad, and I was starting to smolder. At first glance, I saw this: Small menu, small wine list...losing hope fast.

As we walked on to the porch the owner was smiling, happy to have us. "Sure your dog can hang out on the porch" She says. As we sat we find out the following: This place is under new blood coming out of Orlando. Husband/Wife team, he cooks, she runs the front of the house. They just opened 2 weeks ago, so already she's apologizing for the small menu and small repertoire of wine. Oh, and she spent hours upon hours on the play list for the music playing in the background? Let's also mention they have Thomas Keller quoted at the Mast Head of their Menu...these people have balls and as we delved into our first glass of wine, we start realizing we found something special.

BLT: Local Pork Belly Braised in goodness with a beautiful sear, Tomato Jam, Micro Greens

Crab Cakes: Jicama Slaw, Chipotle Mayo, Fried Lightly with a nice Florida Crab Cake style to them

Shrimp Fry Rice: Pure Goodness, flavor profile well developed, not greasy, but greasy enough

Pork Chop: Roasted Medium, Sweet Potato Hash

Chocolate Mouse Cake, Toasted Pinenuts, Creme Anglaise

Bill: $108...and we had 4 glasses of wine, that's a deal.

Literally we ran out of this place telling everyone we could find to go here. I could potentially see them on Food and Wine in the "Best New Chefs" category in the popular trend of better food gracing smaller towns all over the USA. Thank you!

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Marterella Winery...

As we packed our bags and left our Redneck campground (winding our 3rd anniversary trip to a close), we knew we had one goal in mind. "Wood Burning Pizza Oven"...We had to visit that winery...we just met the owner yesterday, and we felt so chic. It was like meeting a celebrity. Hell, I think it was even better than meeting a celebrity. We had no idea what we were in for...

After navigating a great coffee house, Central Coffee Company in Sperryville, Virginia (Honest to goodness best coffee ever, greatest lesson in coffee tasting, and all certified National Wildlife Refuge for safe practicing of ecofriendly planting and disposal), and checking out a neat little winery called Narmada in Little Washington, we wound our way through a few pig paths to find Marterella Winery in Warrenton, Virginia.

One word, Home...

Going there was like coming home. Katherine Marterella was our kind of people. And that day, she was frazzled, stressed, all over the place. She instantly recognized us and graciously thanked us for coming. We told her we were hungry and looking forward to pizza and wine. She grinned, looked around, and ran out saying, "Shoot, I gotta get the oven going, gimme a minute"...her daughter stepped in to help pour wine and Meg and I started laughing. The girl, right out of college was not the local wine expert as she awkwardly read from the tasting notes...but something about the place stuck with us.

This was natural, and this was real. This was probably what Napa was like back when it was just honest farmers trying to make something special. It reminded me of watching "Bottle Shock". Sure there was swirling and spitting and discussion of floral accents with roundness and balance...but there were no airs. This, was the winery we wanted to open and run. This, was like Cheers.

Katherine came back to the counter and said, "Thank you so much for coming, you all truly made my day, it's been one of those days, kind of a bad day". And she kept moving with whirling dervish speed, pouring, making phone calls, and coaching her daughter on the finer points of running a business. Generally I'd find this off putting. I don't want to know if your day is bad, just serve me wine, do your job, I could care less about your life. Yet we were both strangely sucked in and felt at ease. It was like stopping by unannounced at your friend's parents house for a chat. While they were always busy, they always took time and never missed a step in running their own lives.

This was a lady running a business, making pretty good wine (The Reserve Rose and Pinot Grigio were my favorites), and giving lessons in hospitality by just being herself.

It was her house, it was a spacious sun filled room where everyone there was smiling, drinking, and laughing. Turns out, everyone there were regulars, they were all "her friends" as she said. I cannot imagine anyone going there and not being her friend (Should we move closer, we would be regulars and need help from Betty Ford herself). Katherine's personality is infectious, it's her spirit, organized, smart, businesslike, yet sometimes frazzled, sometimes all over the place. In the perfect place we all try to go and try to be, she was a reflection of what we could be if we had our own way...if we could get away with it. Casual, yet pragmatic.

As the day drew to an end, my shoes were off, Fenway was running around with the vineyard dogs, Meg was basking in the sun, and I was actually cooking the pizza in the oven. Katherine looked over and said, "Gettin' the hang of it, I think a lot of people enjoy doing that".

That, Yeah, I think we do, and I hope to be able to do a lot more of it.

Accommodations Part 2

Some of our trip has to be montaged in time based format. These snippets hold high comedy and remind you of what life would be like if you were as dumb as my wife was to marry me. That, and the fact that I cannot rage all damned day on one bad experience in customer service. Fun to note that we all can easilly dwell on the 1% that is bad, get riled up, and lose sight of the good...

Day 3:

11:30am: Johnsonville Cheddarwursts and a cold Natty Boh. One cannot say enough about meat in tube form. Sure it might be 11am, that's why we go hiking after a lunch like that. Back to happy thoughts...cheese, grease, beer...

Onward and Upward to the Jacobs's Death March on Skyline Drive. If you haven't driven Skyline Drive, do so. We hiked about 5 miles of breathtaking gorge/mountain/trail. I spouted off story after story of nostalgia camping/camp counselor memory while Meg said, "See, I like hiking, but this is a frekkin death march"...

5pm: Jamaican Jerk Chicken with Rice and Peas done on the grill accompanied with a nice cold Pale Ale or Pilsner.

7:30pm: Getting misty, this was really a week of telling Meg how much I loved her, loved everyone, and overindulging in alcohol.

8pm: I really love this awesome new whiskey from Copper Fox Distillery...let's pour another on the rocks. So smooth...ah, this Cigar is great...everything is just GREAT!

9:30pm: Due to the campfire starting to spin, I have one of the following:

a) Vertigo
b) Too much to drink
c) The Rapture is coming and this is how it happens

Still not sure on the answer...

3am: Why did all the sheets on the air mattress get rearranged? We both wake up shivering and my wife complains I smell of cigars and booze. I blame the dog for all of our troubles (The dog continues to snore and exhale loudly at the mention of her misdeeds).

Thursday, May 5th

Feelin' a lil' rough we decide to quell our misery with more sampling of the Virginia Wine Country.

Here are the wineries and their profiles:

Fox Meadow Vineyards: First winery of the day. Nice service, nothing memorable, a fine start (Remember, it was 11am, and I was just starting to wake up, shake off the cobwebs as well as the tremors. My palate was in no shape to sample wine, but my spirits were a little improved after the first whiff of fermented fruit.

Phillip-Carter: Awesome director Mark Parsons, GREAT Rose. Mark KNOWS food, and wine, and we were totally at home. Dog ran around the tasting room and he gave us good suggestions on where to eat for lunch. Coulda sat there for hours talking shop...yet we had to make good on his suggestion to eat at Forlano's in The Plains, Virginia.

Forlano's....Grilled Meatloaf on house made panini, Meg went for the BLT...had a nice Viognier from Delaplane Cellars with lunch. Across the porch were two ladies stopping for lunch with their Golden Retriever. Naturally, I introduce Fenway and we learn one of the ladies owns a winery. "What's the name of your winery" I call as they head towards their car. "Marterella" she calls back. "Stop by tomorrow for lunch, we have a wood burning pizza oven." Spirits renewed with that post food coma wine buzz, I elected for a nicely brewed coffee for a pick me up. Listen, there is an art to riding the line when mid-day wine tasting.

Naked Mountain Winery: Drink Naked! Under new management, sweet locale on a Mountain. Really liked their Reserve Chardonnay. Dog ran around, bright sun, vineyard, certainly awesome new young owners. Although none of the wine blew my mind I would always go back. Again I find it so interesting that I can write such scathing things about things I dislike. However, when it comes to something that was rather enjoyable and it met our expectations, I sit here typing these little one liners.

5pm: All set for our Porterhouse, we put it aside. Too exhausted for MORE gourmet, we did it all day. Leftovers would suit us just fine. Three nights of camping was starting to get to us. It was time to go home...