The Inn at Little Washington’s 40th birthday at Mount Vernon

The Inn at Little Washington is celebrating its 40th birthday in grand style this year. Mount Vernon (George Washington’s home for those of you who never learned/have forgotten your U.S. history) was the site of its most recent celebration. And what better place to celebrate one’s birthday than at the home of the man who laid out Washington, Virginia as a surveyor? (Before he went on to some other career highlights.)

Dress was “garden chic,” which caused no small amount of consternation for our group. Stilettos or no stilettos? Long or short dress? Hat or no hat? Tie or no tie? (General consensus: no, short, no, no.)

The reception was held in Martha Washington’s garden with a troupe of colonial dancers, a generous caviar station, and a gaggle(?) of U.S. marshals (Supreme Court Justice Alito was one of the attendees).

My favorite part of the event was, naturally, the mime.

The dinner was held in a giant tent on the grounds by the Potomac, just outside the house.

We started off with a Barboursville Brut Rosé Cuvée 1814.

The appetizer was Mousse of Duck Liver with Port Gelée and Rhubarb Jam in a Hen’s Egg accompanied by a 2013 Linden Vineyards Petit Manseng, Late Harvest from Virginia.

Mousse of Duck Liver

The second course was Maine Lobster in a Raft of Crisp Potatoes Afloat on a Minted Pea Purée served with a 2015 Matrot Meursault, Blagny, Premier Cru from Burgundy.

Maine Lobster

And the final (non-dessert) course was Poulet à la Crème à la Lafayette. The accompanying wine was a 2014 RdV Vineyards Rendezvous from Virginia.

chicken a la lafayette

We concluded with a dessert “groaning board” consisting of miniature desserts, including lemon possets, cherry pies, blueberry pies, pecan pies, and lemon meringue pies (with additional desserts that I’ve forgotten since recovering from my food coma).

the after-dessert goodies

Fireworks were also provided at the conclusion of dinner (because, of course).

For more beautiful photos than I can provide, you can go see The Washingtonian’s coverage of the event: Inn’s 40th celebration. (In full disclosure, you can see part of our group in the tent photo.)

Book review: Fool’s Assassin by Robin Hobb

Fool's Assassin (The Fitz and the Fool, #1)Fool’s Assassin by Robin Hobb
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I inadvertently entered this series in the middle of the narrative arc (this is the first of this particular series but not the first in the narrative, if that makes any sense). I plan to go back and start at the beginning, which is to say that this book was good enough to make me want to go back and start at the very beginning. Some of the carefully constructed world was a bit unclear from a new reader’s perspective, and there is clearly context that I missed because I picked up the story mid-thread. However, the story was well-crafted and well-plotted, the characters were interesting and three dimensional, and the world was consistent and credible. My only complaint is that there was no real ending–merely a cliffhanger with many plot lines left open–but that’s a flaw that is common in the fantasy genre, especially one that spans so many books. I especially like the author’s willingness to move contrary to the reader’s expectations. In other words, the author will deliberate set up a character and narrative arc so that the reader expects one outcome and then zags to produce a completely different outcome. It’s cleverly done.
Off to find Book #1 of the series!

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Disneyworld (Take 56)

It was officially the 16 year old’s 56th visit to the happiest place on earth. (He’s catching up with his sister who has been there 57 times.) We also dragged along our former exchange student, Yinan, who is staying with us for a couple of months while she does an internship this summer. (Little did she know what price she had to pay.)
There were a couple of highlights on this trip (and one major lowlight, which is that the 19 year old daughter wasn’t with us). It’s times like these when we’re accustomed to going places together as a family that I miss her the most.

Cinderella’s Castle in Magic Kingdom

one of our favorite rides!

March of the First Order at Hollywood Studios

Nonetheless, it was a fun trip. The newest ride—Flight of Passage—based on the “Avatar” movie in Animal Kingdom remains a highlight. I thought the ride couldn’t possibly live up to my memory of it from October, but it does and then some. It’s a difficult ride to describe—it’s as if Soarin’ and Star Tours had a baby who emerged as a prodigy. Even if you haven’t seen the “Avatar” movie or aren’t a fan, the ride is still mind blowing in its visual impact and ride experience.
Another highlight of the trip was the “giraffic jam” we experienced. We were on the Safari ride at Animal Kingdom when two adolescent giraffes proceeded to bicker (the human term for their behavior) in the middle of the road by swinging their heads at each other, using them as battering rams. It held up the ride for about 20 minutes and was hilarious for each and every minute, especially if you’ve ever had teenage children in the house.
I’ve included a 4 minute video of it, courtesy of the 16 year old son. Bribes of lettuce and orders to move were tried to no avail. One of the park rangers finally convinced the giraffes to move off the road by nudging his truck slowly and carefully closer to them. (The safari ride trucks have to keep their distance.) Knowing the giraffes, I have no doubts that once we were safely by, they would be back at it. Teenagers!

the giraffic jam

We were also guinea pigs for test runs of the “Minnie van.” Get it? The vehicle is painted in Minnie Mouse polka dots and bows and supplied with Minnie Mouse water bottles. Playlists of all four parks and each Disney hotel are available for your listening pleasure. It was traveling in (Disney) style!

the Minnie van!

complete with Minnie water

It was a wonderful opportunity to relax and enjoy the wonders of Disney before the end of school pressure cooker begins. The Disney magic definitely worked itself on us!

China Trip Preparation (and irony)

Our 16 year old son is going to rural China (Yunnan Province) for 6 weeks as part of a school program called China Fieldwork Summer. He is very excited about the trip (which makes him a better person than me).
There was a meeting the other night regarding the trip with parents and many of the students who are going. My favorite moments from the meeting:

– when the faculty member announced there would be no smartphones allowed on the trip (audible gasps of horror)
– a follow up question about whether the ban would apply to smartphones with the SIM card removed (removed—yeah, right)
– when the faculty member said, “Don’t bring hair products. There are plenty of hair products in China.” A collective shudder rippled through the row of high school girls. (Needless to say, the faculty member is male.)
– after being told that the area was socially conservative so no tank tops or short shorts are allowed, a girl raised her hand and asked, “How short are short shorts?”
– a follow up question about workout clothes and whether they were exempted from the tank top/short shorts ban
– a question from one of the students: “Is this trip like camping?”

and last but not least:
– parents who had expressed resentment that our son speaks Chinese (ruining the curve in Chinese class) are now ecstatic that our son speaks Chinese (additional translator on the trip)

NoMad Hotel and NoMad Restaurant

We were fortunate enough to win a charity auction item for a bespoke dinner at the New York City restaurant, NoMad, and decided to stay at the NoMad hotel. This is not our usual haunt when we visit New York City—the Upper East Side is more the style to which we’d like to become accustomed, but we thought it would be fun to branch out a bit.
We loved the NoMad hotel! It’s a bit hipster for old fuddy-duddies like us (you can tell that it is a hipster hotel by the plethora of man-buns and because the hotel lighting is so dim that I felt like pulling out my phone and using the flashlight function to get around the lobby). That being said, we got upgraded to a lovely room that was bigger than most New York flats, complete with a small kitchenette, 1 1/2 baths, 2 super comfortable couches (the boy promptly designated one of them as his bed) AND a rooftop terrace. Since it was 70 degrees and sunny that day, it was a lovely afternoon to sit up there (and read books about the history of Hong Kong to help the aforementioned boy with his history paper, but I digress).
The dinner at NoMad was superb! Jim commented that the decor in the dining room was a cross between the Inn at Little Washington and the Haunted Mansion ride at Disneyworld, which is a perfect description. Whatever one might think about the decor (and we liked it), the restaurant—opened by chefs who were previously at Eleven Madison Park—outdid themselves in preparing dinner for us.
The aperitif was what the restaurant called a “Walter Gibson,” made with London dry gin, chenin blanc, chamber blanc & dry vermouth, green apple eau de vie, bee’s wax, and pickled vegetables. The staff member poured out the drink from a big pitcher into the glasses, at which point the boy said, “I can’t drink this–I am only 16!” The staff then whisked away the drink and brought non-alcoholic drink pairings for each course for him.
The first actual course was the fruits de mer (aka “le grand plateau”). This was served with a Nomad selection of extra Brut champagne.

fruits de mer

Next up were two vegetable courses—a fennel variation with rhubarb and burrata and a snow pea chiffonade with pancetta, pecorino, and mint. The accompanying wine was a 2015 Domaine des Comtes Lafon, Clos de la Barre, Meursault from Burgundy.

fennel with rhubarb and burrata

snow pea chiffonade


The amazing entree (and what the restaurant is famous for) is the roast chicken with foie gras, black truffles, and brioche with a white and green asparagus.

pre-chicken chicken (aka eggs) with hollandaise sauce

pre-carved chicken

chicken breast with asparagus

dark meat chicken and chicken wings

Accompanying the chicken dishes were morels roasted with sunny side up egg, faro and spring greens. To die for. Even not including the wine pairing of a 2011 Domaine Harmand Geoffroy, Gevrey-Chambertin Vielles Vignes from Burgundy.

morels

Dessert was another restaurant favorite, milk and honey shortbread, brittle, and ice cream. The dessert wine was a 2013 Royal Tokaji Company Gold Label Tokaji 6 Puttonyos Aszu from Hungary.

milk & honey

We decided when discussing the dinner afterwards that it definitely makes it into our Top 10 meals, and we will most certainly be back!

Book review: The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

The Name of the Wind (The Kingkiller Chronicle, #1)The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I rarely give a book 5 stars, but the rating is well-deserved for this one. Recommended by Lin-Manuel Miranda via my daughter (who’s not much of a fantasy reader but who also loved it), this is the first volume of a trilogy describing the life of Kvothe who is part magician, part musician, and part assassin. Building a convincing and consistent fantasy world is difficult, and though it took 722 pages to do so (and that’s only volume #1), those 722 pages were well utilized. The world is gritty and realistic, the magic is complex and consistent, and the narrative is multi-layered and compelling. The book is told mostly in first person by Kvothe, with bits and pieces of a third person narrator thrown in to deepen the narrative. Despite the length, the author leaves you with questions unanswered and mysteries still to be solved. (This is the one weakness of a planned trilogy, which is that the ending leaves you incomplete.) It’s worth it.
All in all, this is the best fantasy novel I’ve read in quite some time. I look forward to reading the second in the series and wait impatiently for the final volume to be released.

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Spring Break 2018: Honolulu, where else?

If it seems like we go to Honolulu quite a bit, it may be because we have. However, this was our first trip there as a family in 2018. (Note how I carefully defined the parameters just now.) We were fortunate that the kids shared a spring break this year, and they decided to opt for Hawaii as the spring break destination.
This trip was probably the most mellow family trip to Hawaii that we’ve ever had. The kids had surfing lessons every day, and we did visit Shangri-la, the residence of Doris Duke that she decorated throughout with Islamic art. (Jim and I must keep up our reputation as killjoy parents and do something educational on every trip.). But other than that, it was a pretty zen vacation. We shopped a little, we pampered ourselves at the spa some, and we ate a lot (temporarily adopting the Samoan saying “Eat til you’re dizzy.”). And, of course, we enjoyed the warmth and the sunshine and the ocean.
The best part, of course, are the memories of yet another fun family vacation, knowing that each year brings fewer opportunities for us to all be together. To paraphrase Rick from the movie Casablanca, “We’ll always have Hawaii.” (And Disneyworld.).

returning from a visit to Leonard’s Malasadas

orchids from the farmer’s market

Shangri-la (Doris Duke’s residence)

the view from Shangri-la

at the Halekulani

Waikiki

Waikiki at sunset

A Long-Time Favorite: Chef Mavro (Honolulu)

It has been a while since I last posted photos of a dinner at Chef Mavro, one of our favorite restaurants. The restaurant has redone its menu a bit, allowing guests to choose from a selection of small plates or to embark on a 9 course Bataan death march of a tasting menu. We’ve done the tasting menu before—it’s fabulous and not to be missed!—but wanted to focus on our most recent meal, where we selected from the small plates.
We started with a foie gras parfait that included hibiscus, asian pear, yuzu, and malasadas. (Actually, we started with two of them because our party of four included a 16 year old velociraptor.) Our family loves foie gras, and this version was one of the best we’ve ever had. The inclusion of the citrus/sweet flavors set off the richness of the foie gras perfectly.

foie gras parfait

Next up was the ahi poke, served with ogo, chives, Aleppo pepper, and taro crisps. Poke has become the “in” thing these days with poke restaurants popping up everywhere from California to DC, but it is originally a Hawaiian dish (hopefully, the New York Times food writers will not “discover” it the way they discovered bubble tea, as a New York invention). The taro crisps were light and fresh, and the poke with the sauce had a lovely rich taste to it.

ahi poke

The third course was the egg “poutargue” with an egg, Yukon potato, San Danielle prosciutto, and sun-dried fish roe. The saltiness of the prosciutto gave the dish a nice flavor to go with the egg and fish roe. Yum!

egg poutargue

To our shock, our velociraptor asked for the keahole lobster (liking lobster is a recent thing for him). The lobster was served with kale, ginger, okra, and soursop. While excellent (because everything here is excellent), it was probably the weakest of the dishes.

keahole lobster

The next dish was the island free range chicken, served with a tarragon mousse, island cream corn, Swiss chard, and foie gras jus. Chef Mavro used to do a chicken multi-course dinner that Jim and I still talk about. This is a microcosm of that dinner and delectable. I am generally not a fan of white meat because it is more often than not dry and flavorless. This, however, was neither, and if more people could serve chicken like this, I would no longer be a white meat hater. Enough said.

island free range chicken

The final entree dish was a Miyazaki wagyu fricassee with chimichurri, breadfruit, warabi, and mustard seeds. You have to be a ham-handed chef to ruin wagyu, and there are no ham-handed chefs here. On the other hand, you have to be a gifted chef to make the most out of the wagyu and that certainly was the case here. The meat was perfectly cooked, tender and flavorful, and the accompanying ingredients provided additional flavor and texture.

miyazaki wagyu fricassee

Dessert was a citrus dessert—light, flavorful, and a perfect end to the dinner—and a chocolate dessert—rich, bold, and also a perfect end to the dinner.

citrus dessert

chocolate dessert

We have fond memories of Chef Mavro over the years, and each meal has been delicious and memorable. We look forward to many more years of dining there!
www.chefmavro.com

Book review: A Study in Scarlet Women by Sherry Thomas

A Study in Scarlet Women (Lady Sherlock, #1)A Study in Scarlet Women by Sherry Thomas
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The premise for this series is very interesting: it posits that Sherlock Holmes is actually a woman, Charlotte Holmes. In this first of a series, Charlotte deliberately loses her virginity in order to carve out a life as an independent woman. She is rescued from her attempt to earn her own living by a former actress, Mrs. John Watson, who befriends her and invests the seed money for Sherlock/Charlotte Holmes to open up a consulting detective business.
The initial mystery is a murder where Charlotte’s sister is the primary suspect. Charlotte is assisted in her investigation by a police officer and a childhood friend.
The author is wide-ranging in her books, writing everything from romances to fantasy. Her research into Victorian times and the role given to women is impeccable. The premise works–Charlotte may not be a self-described high functioning sociopath in the manner of Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock Holmes in the BBC television series, but she is definitely not within the mainstream of women or men in Victorian society. The mystery is solidly, if not impressively, plotted, and the characters are well drawn.
I really enjoyed this twist on the Sherlock Holmes genre, and I look forward to reading the next book in the series!

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Book review: Bonfire Night by Deanna Raybourn

Bonfire Night (Lady Julia Grey, #5.7)Bonfire Night by Deanna Raybourn
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the last in the Lady Julia Grey series, and I have been putting off reading it because I don’t want the series to end. I gave the novella 4 stars but would probably more honestly give it somewhere between 3 and 3.5 stars if it weren’t for the fact that it’s the last story. The author wraps up most of the loose ends of the previous novella, but the story reads as if she wants the series to end as well. There isn’t much of a plot, and the characters aren’t as vibrant or witty or full of personality as they have been in previous books.
I very much wish that the series could continue in novel length (novellas being limited in their story-telling by their shorter length) as I think the main characters still have many stories to be told. That being said, if you have not read this series, I highly recommend you start at the beginning and work your way through (including all the novellas). The characters, the quality of the writing, and the mysteries are all beautifully rendered and should not be missed.

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