Weekend in Richmond: How to Travel with a Baby

If you have been reading this blog over the last few years, you know that we have been to Richmond many times. However, our most recent Richmond trip was the first time that we went with a baby (4 months old!) It was a lot of work but also extremely rewarding and lots of fun. Here is a recap and some tips to help with traveling with a baby.

Ride Amtrak

Rather than drive and keep our son cooped up in a car seat for three hours, we took Amtrak from Union Station to Richmond Main Street, Richmond’s downtown train station. This way, we had plenty of time together as a family. We could easily feed Bren, change his diaper and most importantly, get to play with him!

Marnay and Brendan on the Amtrak train heading to Richmond, Virginia

There are two spots in each Amtrak car that have extra leg room, perfect for changing a diaper and keeping a stroller unfolded. An airplane this is not! One spot is usually reserved for disabled riders, so keep an eye out for signs. We made sure to seek out one of these seats each time we were on the train.

Brendan on the Amtrak train heading to Richmond, Virginia

The other thing to keep in mind is that once Bren was asleep, I was able to go to the café car and get us some wine and snacks! We just relaxed, enjoyed our wine and a little time to ourselves and waited to arrive in Richmond.

Take Public Transit

Richmond Main Street Station is large, comfortable (lots of places to sit) and has nice bathrooms. It’s all you could want when traveling with a child. Once you step out on Main Street, the bus rapid transit, with its high platforms and level-boarding, is right outside the station. We didn’t have to fold the stroller on the bus, just take our son out and hold him. That was much easier than both holding a folded stroller and a baby.

Stay at a Cool Hotel

Our digs for the weekend were at the Quirk Hotel, a hip loft-style boutique hotel in Richmond’s hopping Arts District. In a great move for parents taking the train, the hotel offers Pack n’ Plays for your little one to sleep in. It was a HUGE help, because it would have been difficult to bring our travel crib in addition to all Bren’s other things.

Paul and Brendan at the Quirk Hotel in Richmond, Virginia

You can’t beat the location. Once Bren was asleep, I walked over to Charm School Social Club, home to some of the most creative ice cream sundaes (both vegan and non-vegan) you will ever see. Charm School is conveniently located within a 2 minute walk of the hotel. I’ll be honest, the vegan sundae was just as good as the non-vegan!

Vegan and regular ice cream sundaes from Charm School in Richmond, Virginia

Be Prepared for a long day out

Saturday was our big day out so we were prepared with everything Bren could need. Toys, outfit changes, LOTS of diapers and wipes and every warm outfit he owned. We also attached a “footmuff” to his stroller, which looks like a sleeping bag for babies. It was in the 30s that morning but Bren LOVED his stroller. He slept the entire time and was so cozy!

Brendan in his stroller in Richmond, Virginia

A few weeks before our trip, we realized that Saturday morning was the Richmond Marathon. That meant no bus service. Our plan had been to spend the day in the hopping (but kid friendly) Scotts Addition neighborhood, a few miles from our hotel. No worries, though! We walked the 3 miles in the cold (due to detours) but Bren kept so warm!! And his parents got to enjoy some nice walking time too!

We stopped for coffee and bagels with housemade veggie schmear at Chairlift, the café inside of the acclaimed Alpine restaurant Brenner Pass.

Bagels with housemade veggie schemer at Chairlift in Richmond, Virginia

Our main event was lunch at ZZQ. (As you know, once you have a baby lunch becomes your main event). However, we didn’t want all three of us to be waiting in line before ZZQ opened in the cold. That is why while I left to stand in line, Marnay and Brendan hung out at Chairlift. Marnay finished her coffee and changed Bren in preparation for a Texas barbecue extravaganza.

ZZQ serves up the best Texas BBQ outside of Texas. It also happens to be very child-friendly! While we were enjoying our massive, peppery beef rib, we had plenty of room to keep Bren inside his stroller. We even had enough space to move to the bar after our meal, enjoy some Lone Stars while Bren stayed asleep in the stroller! That was the biggest game changer for us.

Brendan at ZZQ BBQ in Richmond, Virginia

Besides incredible barbecue and restaurants, Scotts Addition is the land of breweries and distilleries. Post-BBQ, we hung out on the awesome heated patio of Blue Bee Cider, our first time at this location! Bren loved playing with his toys at the picnic tables and we loved drinking the dry, delicious local cider.

Brendan at Blue Bee Cider in Richmond, Virginia

Find time to rest

Once we walked back to the hotel, we took turns resting while the other one took Brendan to the lobby to play. When it came time for dinner, there was no shortage of options for takeout near the Quirk Hotel. We chose a personal sized Neapolitan-ish pizza from Stoplight Gelato Café, a cute spot for gelato, sandwiches and pizzas in the Jackson Ward neighborhood. It’s only a 5 minute walk from the Quirk Hotel, so I walked over to get it and we ate it as Bren settled into his crib for the night.

Even after all we did, we still had to end the night with ice cream sundaes from Charm School!

Vegan ice cream sundaes from Charm School in Richmond, Virginia

Treat Yourself

The next morning, we had a 9am train to catch. But when your baby is waking up at 5am, 9am doesn’t seem that early. Instead of going out for breakfast, we treated ourselves to some seriously good room service. It was wonderfully relaxing to eat in the loft-style hotel room as our son napped.

Room service breakfast at the Quirk Hotel in Richmond, Virginia

It’s only a 1.3 mile walk from the Quirk Hotel to the Main Street Station and we enjoyed the fresh air. Boarding the train can be stressful so you need to have a strategy. This station has a low platform, so you can’t easily put the stroller onboard. Therefore, I boarded first with our suitcase and backpacks while Marnay stayed with Bren and the stroller. I put the suitcase in the luggage nook by the door and then zoomed to the front of the car to reserve one of the two seaters with extra legroom. I then hurried back to get Marnay, Bren and the stroller and bring them all back to our saved seats.

Our weekend in Richmond with Bren was honestly not that different from our child-free weekends in Richmond. I think that was mainly a testament to our preparation and to Bren being a chill baby, for the most part. We were still able to do a ton of different things and enjoy the weekend as a family.

Marnay, Paul and Brendan Meyer at ZZQ BBQ in Richmond, Virgnina

ZZQ

On the Sunday of Memorial Day Weekend, we made our final major pre-baby road trip to Richmond, where ZZQ is making destination-worthy Texas barbecue.

ZZQ has been on our radar for a while, as they’ve been receiving a lot of great press (Texas Monthly, Washington Post). But after our visit, we can’t help but add to the chorus of praise with our own post about their incredible barbecue and their warm hospitality.

We arrived at 10:30am, prior to the 11:00am opening. This allowed us to be first in line, a good idea since the line got very long very quickly. I was excited to eat barbecue again, so I was wearing my Terry Black’s Barbecue shirt. ZZQ is a meat-market style barbecue joint, similar to Terry Black’s in Austin. When you enter, you order your meats at the counter and the staff slices them right in front of you. It may not be the most efficient system, but (in my opinion) it’s the most fun and interactive experience for the customer since you get to chat with the staff and you might end up ordering more meat than you expected.

Ordering BBQ meat at ZZQ in Richmond, Virginia

The owners of ZZQ are Alex Fultz and Chris Graf. Chris was born in Austin and grew up outside of Dallas, while Alex is from the Richmond area. Both architects, they built and designed ZZQ from the ground up, and it looks incredible. There’s a large indoor (air conditioned) seating area as well as a smaller outdoor patio area, complete with picnic tables. The place even has a full bar with TVs. Honestly, even if they run out of barbecue it’s still a great place to watch a game.

One of the more notable interior features is a neon sign, spelled out in shapes, that says “Texas & Orange = Heart.” “Texas” represents where Chris is from and “Orange” is Alex’s nickname due to her unique hair color.

The interior restaurant space of ZZQ in Richmond, Virginia

When we got to the counter, they were just taking the briskets out of the wraps. We ordered a pound of brisket, ½ pound of pork ribs and ¼ pound pulled pork. Along the way, each employee commented on my Terry Black’s shirt. The brisket had perfectly rendered fat – this is exactly what Texas brisket is supposed to look and taste like. We ate some brisket on its own and some on white bread with pickles and onions, just like we did on a picnic table in the wind and cold at Micklethwait in East Austin.

A pound of brisket, half a pound of pork ribs and a quarter pound pulled pork at ZZQ in Richmond, Virginia

The glistening pork ribs surprised us when we first saw them, because to us it looked like they were covered in sauce. But in truth, it was just a layer of glaze that was applied during the cooking process. The glaze ended up being the key to our favorite barbecue pork ribs, both inside and outside of Texas. The initial bite gave a hint of sweetness, but it immediately subsided and turned into smoky, meaty goodness.

As we ate, Chris came over to talk with us. He asked about our favorite barbecue joint (Tejas Chocolate) and he told us that his favorites were 2M, Valentina’s Tex-Mex and Killen’s. Chris graciously offered us a tour of the smokehouse. We got to see the three Austin Smokeworks smokers, along with the Moberg smoker at that was out on the patio. That one is one for events and catering.

A tour of the smokehouse with Chris Graf at ZZQ in Richmond, Virginia

We couldn’t leave ZZQ without some merch, and of course we got a onesie for the baby. On our way out, we talked with Alex for a while. Her parting words to us: “Make sure you bring the baby next time!”

A baby onesie at ZZQ in Richmond, Virginia

Best Bite
Paul and Marnay: Pork ribs

Address
ZZQ: 3201 W Moore Street, Richmond, VA 23230
Transit: We have taken Amtrak to Richmond many times in the past, but for this trip we rented a ZipCar

Mama Chang

As regulars at Q by Peter Chang, we eagerly anticipated the chef/restauranteur’s new spot, Mama Chang. This isn’t a strictly a Peter Chang restaurant, though. Mama Chang celebrates the women in the chef’s life – his daughter Lydia runs the front of the house as well as business development while his wife Lisa, is his pastry chef. In fact, Lisa was running the kitchen the day of our visit.

On a Sunday morning, we made our way from Silver Spring to Fairfax via public transit (doable) to see what Mama had to offer. I heard early reports on social media that the restaurant had been wildly popular, so we were not surprised to find a 20-30 minute wait when we arrived at 1pm. (It cleared out by the time we finished eating which you can see in the photo below.)

room

It’s a good idea to start your meal with dry-fried cauliflower, a take on Peter’s famous dry-fried eggplant. We actually found the cauliflower to be a little spicier than the dry-fried eggplant, and that is certainly no slouch on heat! The cauliflower was so green and fresh that for a moment I thought we were eating Romanesco, because of the color. But no, this is just fresher than your typical cauliflower.

cauliflower

The pan-fried noodles with vegetables were different than what we were expected – they are seriously fried to a crisp in the pan. In the picture below, you can see that some of the sections have been blackened. Once the noodles mix with the sauce, though, they suddenly reconstitute and become slippery yet toothsome. They go well with the bounty of fresh bok choy and carrots piled on top, which may be the secret star of this dish.

noodles

Everything we ate at Mama Chang was great, but the salt and pepper crispy lotus root sandwiches were truly a revelation. Lotus root gets stuffed with ground pork and fried until it is shatteringly crisp. The sweet flavor profile of the rich ground pork reminded us of the Dong Po pork belly at Masterpiece, in suburban Atlanta. All this is topped with chopped scallions and red onions for freshness.

Chang

The only thing we did not love was the red pepper fried chicken with sesame, and that was only because it was not as crispy as we imagined. That, though, is the smallest of quibbles.

Although it’s still new, Mama Chang has already become the place to go in Northern Virginia for authentic regional Chinese cooking. Our only question to you, dear reader, is: When are you going to go?

Best Bite
Paul and Marnay: Salt and Pepper Crispy Lotus Root Sandwich

Address
Mama Chang: 3251 Old Lee Highway, Suite 101 Fairfax, VA 22030
Closest Metro: Vienna

2018 Year in Review

2018 was a year of traveling. I felt like we were Eater roving food critic Bill Addison, we were in so many different places. It definitely shows in our 2018 blog posts – there are more posts from outside the DC-area than there are posts within the DC-area. Marnay and I asked each other questions about our favorites of 2018, here are our responses:

What was your favorite meal of 2018?

Paul – My favorite meal was the Taste of Zahav prix fixe menu – a lot of incredible food for an absolute steal of a price, $48 per person. This may be one of the best dining deals in the country.

Marnay – My favorite was lunch at Al Ameer, the Lebanese palace in Dearborn, Michigan. We headed there as soon as our plane landed in Detroit and while we ate way too much food, I still can’t stop thinking about the stuffed lamb.

Stuffed lamb at Al Ameer, Lebanese food in Dearborn, Michigan

What was your favorite bar of 2018?

Paul – Maxwell, the wine bar in Shaw, which recently celebrated its first anniversary, is a wine-lover’s dream. They don’t take themselves too seriously, either. It is equally great for wine-geeks as it is for casual drinkers. It’s also the perfect place to go if you want to learn more about wine.

Marnay – Brenner Pass, Richmond. I really enjoyed the bar at this modern Alpine restaurant in Scotts Addition. We shared a bottle of wine with dessert – a perfect combination! The vibe was cozy, despite the fact that the place was packed and our bartender was incredibly knowledgeable.

Bar at Brenner Pass in Richmond, Virginia

Which restaurant do you want to visit again in 2018?

Paul – Commander’s Palace, in New Orleans. It made for an incredible, old school Creole experience.

Marnay – We loved eating breakfast every morning at Time Market when we were staying in Tucson. Closer to home, we are definitely going to back to All Purpose Shaw and Kuya Ja’s (for some lechon belly) ASAP.

Commander’s Palace, old school Creole in New Orleans, Louisiana

What was your favorite food/restaurant-related experience?

Paul – I would consider going outside of one’s comfort zone as a food-related experience. So in that case, my favorite experience was our meals in El Paso. That area feels closer to Mexico than the U.S.

Marnay – We went to “Mexico in a Bottle” at the Mexican Cultural Institute, the old Mexican Embassy on 16th Street. For a modest fee, we got to sip on unlimited mezcal, meet local chefs and eat some delicious Mexican food. It was a dream come true!

Lunch in El Paso, Texas

Which restaurant surprised you the most?

Paul – Chai Pani in Decatur, GA, just outside of Atlanta. I had no idea how much I enjoyed Indian street food until we ate there.

Marnay – Momofuku CCDC. We had not been there in years, mainly because we were not super impressed the first time we went. But the menu has been totally revamped and that bronzed whole roasted chicken was delicious – and enough to feed an entire family!

Bronzed whole roasted chicken at Momofuku CCDC in Washington DC

What was your favorite meal in Silver Spring?

Paul – The medium-rare ribeye from Urban Butcher hit the spot for me. And it is consistent.

Marnay – The calzones at Pacci’s are insanely good right now. For years, we stuck to ordering Neopolitan pizzas and a salad. This year, inspired by our trip to Milan, we started ordering calzones at Pacci’s and we haven’t looked back.

Calzone and pizza at Pacci's in Silver Spring, Maryland

What was your favorite meal outside of the DC-area?

Paul – There were so many meals outside of the DC area, but my favorite all-around meal was at H&H Car Wash in El Paso.

Marnay – Mine was dinner at Park Place Cafe in Merchantville, NJ. We were treated like family and the sauce on our pasta was something I will never forget. So incredibly simple yet so good.

Eating breakfast at H&H Car Wash in El Paso, Texas

What is your favorite recipe to make at home?

Paul – Grilled lamb chops with cucumber salad. Tender, crusty, fatty, salt and cooling. Mmmmmm.

Marnay – I’m a big fan of cooking weekend at breakfast at home. Since we are not home on the weekends very often, it’s a special treat. One of our go-to’s is making homemade biscuits and topping them with a fried egg and side of bacon. We use Alton Brown’s biscuit recipe. Who wants to go out for brunch, anyway??

Paul and Marnay in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Here’s a list of our favorites. Go ahead and give them a try!

Zahav: 237 St. James Pl. Philadelphia, PA 19106
Al Ameer: 27346 Ford Rd Dearborn Heights, MI 48127
Maxwell: 1336 9th St, NW Washington, DC 20001
Brenner Pass: 3200 Rockbridge St #100 Richmond, VA 23230
Commander’s Palace: 1403 Washington Ave New Orleans, LA 70130
Time Market: 444 E. University Blvd Tucson, AZ 85705
All Purpose Shaw: 9th St NW, Washington, DC 20001
Kuya Ja’s Lechon Belly: 5268-H Nicholson Ln Rockville, MD 20895
Chai Pani: 406 W. Ponce de Leon Ave Decatur, GA 30030
Momofuku CCDC: 1090 I St NW, Washington, DC 20001
Urban Butcher: 8226 Georgia Ave Silver Spring, MD 20910
Pacci’s: 8113 Georgia Ave Silver Spring, MD 20910

Royal Nepal

Last Saturday, Marnay and I dined at Royal Nepal, located in the Del Ray section of Alexandria. Since Alexandria is a bit of a trip for us, we spent the afternoon walking around the Old Town Alexandria waterfront and then headed to dinner. The restaurant was crowded when we arrived at 7:30pm and there was a 15 minute wait for a table. Once inside, we encountered a dining experienced not typically associated with “cheap eats” restaurants.

outside

The staff set the tone as soon as we ordered drinks. I got a well-thought out cocktail with bourbon, walnut liquor, housemade cinnamon syrup and Angostura bitters. It even had a slow melting ice cube, which I think is practically a necessity these days. Meanwhile, when Marnay ordered her glass of California Pinot Noir, the sommelier presented the bottle to her and poured her a taste. This is even though she had only ordered a glass, not the whole bottle. You don’t see touches like that at even the most fine-dining of restaurants.

Now, this is a true Nepalese restaurant. It’s not a combination Indian/Nepalese restaurant. To give an indication of its authenticity, Royal Nepal places a piece of paper on each table describing the health benefits of eating yak.

The meal starts out with a gratis bread basket, sel roti, containing a cake doughnut-like object, alongside pickled vegetables that will have you breathing fire. Marnay marveled at the combination of the slightly sweet and cakey bread with the red-hot pickled vegetables.

bread

After that gratis bread, we ordered goat momo in a light tomato sauce. It seems like almost every culture has its version of dumplings, a momo is Nepal’s take. Goat is an acquired taste, but Marnay acquired it quickly and really enjoyed the dumplings! She was particularly impressed with how the dough held its soft texture even after being pan-fried.

We also ordered Aloo Sadheko, or steamed potatoes marinated with green chiles and spices. We have had potato dishes many times at Indian/Nepalese restaurants, and they are typically huge chunks of overcooked, dried out tubers. That is not the case at Royal Nepal, where small, uniform pieces of potato have a velvety texture and are slicked with chile oil along with balsamic vinegar for swiping.

dumplings

The showstopper was the lamb chops, sourced from local farms in Pennsylvania and Virginia and cooked to a perfect medium and then topped with mint chutney. Every single bite was tender, even the fatty parts. The chops are served alongside extremely rich duck fat fried rice, with pieces of pulled duck thrown into the mix. Blistered eggplant and sliced vegetables provide some welcome lightness to contrast all that meat. These may have been some of the best lamb chops we have ever had, and at $25 for a dish that can easily be shared among two people, it’s a steal.

lamb

If you want authentic Nepalese food with fining dining touches and careful sourcing, Royal Nepal in Alexandria is the place to go. It’s a little out of the way for us, but it’s a place we will definitely go back to.

Best Bite
Paul: Lamb Chops
Marnay: Sel roti with marinated vegetables

Address
Royal Nepal: 3807 Mt Vernon Avenue Alexandria, VA 22305
Closest Metro: Braddock Road

Two Dinners in One Night – Richmond

We are going to start a new feature on the blog called “Two Dinners in One Night”. We recently stayed overnight in Richmond, VA but only had one night for dinner. Since we had so many places we wanted to try, we decided to eat two dinners. There was a theme, though: both restaurants are owned by Chef Brittany Anderson, one of Richmond’s finest chefs.

Metzger Bar & Butchery

Dinner 1: Metzger Bar & Butchery

The small, intimate Metzger Bar & Butchery is the chef’s first restaurant, located in the quiet residential neighborhood of Church Hill. “Metzger” is German for butcher, and the restaurant specializes in German cuisine with an emphasis on meats. Marnay started the meal with a dry Riesling-based cocktail, that iconic German wine. Our first course was Chesapeake oysters: three Ruby Salts and three Moratticos. The Ruby Salts were all briny deliciousness, however the Moratticos were simply bland.

Metzger Bar & Butchery cocktail

A slightly inauspicious start, but Metzger more than made up for it with the next two dishes, both showstoppers. The night’s special was steak tartare, hand-chopped sirloin with shallots, capers and either turmeric or paprika topped with a fabulously runny egg yolk. The mouthfeel of the perfectly salted, chewy-yet-tender raw beef was out-of-this world. It was even better when scooped onto crusty grilled garlic toast. The last time we were at Metzger, their striped bass crudo was our favorite dish. A lesson: Metzger does raw really well.

As good as the steak tartare was, the restaurant topped it with their chicken schnitzel, so crispy yet so tender to be almost airy. We have no idea how they get the chicken to taste like this, but if we did we would be making a lot more chicken at home.

Metzger Bar & Butchery steak tartare

Dinner 2: Brenner Pass

After getting the check at Metgzer, we hopped in a Lyft and headed across town to Brenner Pass, the chef’s second restaurant located in the red-hot Scott’s Addition neighborhood. The scene at the restaurant was hopping, full of 20-somethings at the bar, the total opposite of the sedate Metzger. In DC terms, it was like going from Cleveland Park to Shaw.

Brenner Pass bar

We talked to the bartender as soon as we arrived, since going in we knew we wanted a bottle of wine. He gave us an option each for sparkling, white and red. The one he got most excited about was a bottle from the Lombardy region of Italy, so that’s what we went with. It was actually off-menu; we felt like such insiders! The wine had some weight to it, so the bartended suggested decanting it. Good choice, as letting it breathe really opened it up.

Brenner Pass wine from Lombardy

Since the last thing we ate was the schnitzel, we chose the Shaved Fall Vegetables, a lighter option. The salad was resplendent with ribbons of parsnips and carrots and topped with a cracked pepper ricotta, along with golden raisins. I don’t think that parsnips get enough respect, but I love their sweet but not too-sweet flavor, complemented by the rich ricotta.

For dessert, we ordered the Mont Blanc, which gets my award for the prettiest dessert ever. It was almost too pretty to eat! Mont Blanc is the tallest mountain in Western Europe, located in the Alps at the border of France and Italy. Our Mont Blanc was an almond cake with a snowy base of vanilla barvarian cream and “icebergs” of citrus meringue. The mountain was then topped off with a dusting of “snow” –powdered sugar.

Brenner Pass Mont Blanc dessert

Once we finished our wine, we were definitely ready to go home and go to sleep. I don’t think we will be doing many more of these Two Dinners in One Night events, but it was a lot of fun! In terms of food, Metzger Bar & Butchery was our favorite. As far as atmosphere, Brenner Pass was the clear winner. Both places offer reasons for us to go back.

Best Bite
Marnay and Paul: Schnitzel

Address
Metzger Bar & Butchery: 801 N. 23rd Street Richmond, VA 23223
Brenner Pass: 3220 Rockbridge Street #100 Richmond, VA 23230

2017 Year in Review

2017 has been a great year for us. We have been to many places, both near and far, and had so many delicious meals. Marnay and I asked each other questions about our favorites of 2017. We did not consult each other on the answers, we came up with them on our own. Any similarities are pure coincidence!

What was your favorite meal of 2017?

Paul – My favorite meal was our second visit to Tail Up Goat. The service was perfection, the wine was incredible and the food was superb.

Marnay – One of my favorite parts about dining out is the full experience – the decor of the restaurant, the friendliness of the staff, the level of detail the chef puts on the food they are preparing. All of these elements came together to perfection during our second trip to Tail Up Goat this past spring. The service was incredible, the food was delicious and we got some special treatment from the sommelier which is always a plus!

Tail Up Goat

What was your favorite bar of 2017?

Paul – I love everything about Clavel, the mezcal and taco restaurant in Baltimore. It is my happy place.

Marnay – Clavel. This bar made me fall in love with mezcal, especially when paired with some of their incredible cochinita pibil tacos.

Clavel mezcal in Baltimore

Which restaurant do you want to visit again in 2018?

Paul – Tail Up Goat. At this point, it’s my favorite all around restaurant.

Marnay – Woodberry Kitchen, in Baltimore. We haven’t been there in over a year, but I am excited to go back. We always have a great meal and I love that they only use local ingredients.

Woodberry Kitchen

What was your favorite food/restaurant-related experience?

Paul – My favorite food experience was eating tacos al pastor from the streetside counter at Antojitos la Chiapaneca in Tulum, Mexico. Can’t get any more authentic than that.

Marnay – We have been searching for the best tacos in the DC-area for years and have found some gems (Clavel, Taqueria Habanero). But we were fortunate enough to eat tacos in Mexico at a local spot in Tulum, and it was an out-of-this-world experience. Tacos will never be the same – until our next trip to Mexico!

Antojitos la Chiapaneca tacos

Which restaurant surprised you the most?

Paul – Q by Peter Chang. We really like Peter Chang Bistro in Rockville, but Q is noticeably more polished than Peter Chang, in all aspects.

Marnay – Q by Peter Chang. We’ve stopped by for their dim sum brunch at least 4 times over the past few months and I can’t get over how fresh and flavorful every dish is. I have never had a bite I didn’t like!

Q by Peter Chang dim sum

What was your favorite meal in Silver Spring?

Paul – My favorite meal in Silver Spring was at the casual noodle and dumpling shop NaiNai’s. Although we mainly use it for takeout, it was so much fun to actually sit down and drink a glass of wine with our bao and noodles.

Marnay – We are lucky to live in walking distance to some incredible and diverse restaurants. It’s hard to pick one favorite meal, but the meal I keep thinking about is the chicken buss-up-shut at Teddy’s Roti Shop, just over the DC border in Shepherd Park. But it’s so close it’s basically Silver Spring.

NaiNai's in Silver Spring, Maryland

What was your favorite meal outside of the DC-area?

Paul – Our meal at Metzger Bar & Butchery in Richmond back in February. We were introduced to their schnitzel, which is now one of our favorite restaurant dishes of all-time.

Marnay – There is something magical about eating a nice, long, relaxing lunch while on vacation in a new city. This year, that leisurely lunch took place at Maurice in Portland, Oregon. It’s hard to beat sipping on some wine while sitting at the counter watching the chef prepare some incredible French-Danish dishes right in front of you.

Tail Up Goat

What is your favorite recipe to make at home?

Paul – Avocado toast with cumin oil and a fried egg: this is one of our go-to dinners and it’s just so good! The creamy avocado, the spice from the cumin and the richness of the runny egg yolk.

Marnay – Spaghetti with bacon, capers and mint: it’s a great year-round dish and we always have plenty of leftovers for lunch the next day.

Spaghetti with bacon, capers and mint recipe

Here’s a list of our favorites. Go ahead and give them a try!

Clavel – 225 West 23rd Street Baltimore, MD 21211
Woodberry Kitchen – 2010 Clipper Park Road Baltimore, MD 21211
Tail Up Goat – 1827 Adams Mill Road, NW Washington, DC 20009
NaiNai’s Noodle and Dumpling Bar – 1200 East-West Highway Silver Spring, MD 20910
Teddys Roti Shop – 7304 Georgia Avenue, NW Washington, DC 20012
Metzger Bar & Butchery – 801 N 23rd Street Richmond, VA 23223
Maurice – 921 SW Oak Street Portland, OR 97205
Q by Peter Chang – 4500 East-West Highway, #100 Bethesda, MD 20814

Fairfax County Adventure

On Sunday, we took the metro Silver Line for the first time since 2014 and got off at the Greensboro station. After a walk of about three miles (and dodging cicadas along the way), we arrived in downtown Vienna and to our lunch destination, Chase the Submarine.

Paul at Greensboro station on the Silver Line Metro

Chase the Submarine

Chase the Submarine is a deli and specialty market operated by Tim and Joey Ma, the minds behind Water & Wall and Kyirisan. We heard about Chase the Submarine through Washingtonian’s Best Cheap Eats issue, and since we rarely make it out to this part of Virginia, we were excited to try it and see if it lived up to the hype. It did not disappoint! We shared the housemade pastrami sandwich served with carrot sauerkraut, whole grain mustard, crème fraiche and pickled shallots on toasted rye. The thinly-sliced crispy pastrami reminded me of bacon, while the carrots gave a nice crunch but were thin enough so that they did not detract from the rest of the sandwich.

Chase the Submarine: housemade pastrami sandwich served with carrot sauerkraut, whole grain mustard, crème fraiche and pickled shallots on toasted rye

The ultimate test: How did this pastrami sandwich compare to Smoked & Stacked? I think that Chase the Submarine is slightly better, while Marnay gives Smoked & Stacked the edge. We also ordered the crème fraiche wings, which are coated in a mix of crème fraiche, gochujang and tamari. I think that it is genius to coat hot wings in crème fraiche, since it cools off the heat from the gochujang, without the need for dipping sauce. The tamari rounded things out with its umami flavor. I would order the wings every time at Chase the Submarine.

Chase the Submarine sign

Caboose Brewing

Afterwards, we walked west on the W&OD Trail to Caboose Brewing. Caboose’s patio looks out on the trail, and it’s incredible the amount of bikers that stop in for a bite to eat or a beer, or even just to use the restroom. Caboose even has bike tools that they’re able to use.

Marnay with the Caboose Brewing trail sign

We stood on the patio and people-watched while enjoying some beers. Our favorite was the Citra Session IPA. Its low alcohol content makes it refreshing for a warm day full of exercise. The perfect late-Spring afternoon beer.

Caboose Brewing Citra Session IPA

Taco Bamba

Even with all we had done, we were not ready to go home just yet. Instead, we walked almost 5 miles to Taco Bamba in Falls Church. Of course, there was a perfectly good Taco Bamba in Vienna but we wanted the adventure and exercise. We arrived during the peak of the Sunday rush and my gosh was it crowded! Still, we were still able to squeeze into two of the high top chairs that ring the restaurant, which is basically a takeout joint. Taco Bamba is the creation of Victor Albisu, the chef behind the downtown DC steakhouse Del Campo.

Taco Bamba

The chef’s menu has many more adventurous options than your typical taqueria. Whether you think that is a good thing is up to you. We ordered three tacos each, which is our usual amount, although we quickly found out that these were more substantial than we are used to. A highlight of the meal was the “guest” taco from Centrolina’s Amy Brandwein, called “The Porky Pulpo”. It included braised octopus and pork belly with mache salad and Calabrian chiles. So good! Also good was the lightly battered and fried tilapia in the Black Pearl taco, although the black aioli resembled sludge and was not pleasant to look at nor was it particularly appetizing. I think we will return to Taco Bamba at some point, but there are other taquerias we would go to first.

Best Bite and Location
Chase the Submarine:
Paul and Marnay: Pastrami Sandwich
Address: 132 Church Street, NW Vienna, VA 22180
Closest Metro: Vienna or Greensboro

Caboose Brewing:
Paul and Marnay: Session IPA
Address: 520 Mill Street, NE Vienna, VA 22180
Closest Metro: Vienna or Greensboro

Taco Bamba:
Paul: Porky Pulpo
Marnay: Fried Tilapia
Address: 2190 Pimmit Drive Falls Church, VA 22043
Closest Metro: West Falls Church

Ultimate Richmond Adventure: Part 2

We usually go to Richmond two to three times per year, once in the summer and once during winter. As you may recall, it was about 100 degrees on our last visit to Richmond. This time, even though it was only February, it was nearly 60 degrees outside. I had thought of a bunch of indoor activities for the day, but since it was spring-like weather, we had to take advantage of it.

Rapp Session

From Main Street Station, we walked west through downtown a grabbed brunch at Rapp Session, the more casual sister restaurant to Rappahannock Restaurant. Travis and Ryan Croxton, the owners of Rappahannock Oyster Co. and local oyster gods, also own Rappahannock Restaurant and Rapp Session. Marnay got the hangtown fry, a 19th century San Francisco creation, which is scrambled eggs, cornmeal crusted fried oysters, bacon and salsa verde served with a green salad. I have never loved fried oysters, but this dish may have turned me into a fried oyster convert. I got the absolutely addictive sourdough beer-battered fried local catfish sandwich with tartar sauce and vinegary slaw on crusty buttered bread. We try not to repeat things on our Richmond visits since there is so much to explore, but it will be difficult not going back to here next time.

Rapp Session brunch

Exploring

Because it was so nice out, we set aside our plan to go to the Virginia Museum of Fine Art and instead spent the afternoon walking and exploring. We walked down to the James River onto Browns Island and the brand new pedestrian bridge across the river to the south side, where we took in the views of downtown from the river bluffs.

Richmond James River pedestrian bridge

We made our way back across the bridge, through the Oregon Hill neighborhood, the bustling VCU campus and the Fan District. When all was said and done, we walked 10 miles! The neighborhoods would alternate between reminding us of Capitol Hill and the more quirky Hamden in Baltimore.

Sugar & Twine

When we reached Carytown, we briefly paused to have mid-afternoon snack at Sugar & Twine, a confectionary from a Portland ex-pat who decided to set up shop in Richmond. We sat on a sidewalk table off West Cary Street and people-watched while devouring a heart-shaped meringue cookie, a peanut butter brownie and an oatmeal chocolate chip cookie.

Sugar & Twine cookies

Isley Brewing

Each time we visit Richmond, our train back to Union Station leaves at 6:30pm. Even though we had done a lot on this trip already, we still had a surprising amount of time left in the day. After finishing our treats, we walked to the Scott’s Addition neighborhood, Richmond’s de facto brewery district. The area used to be industrial but one by one the warehouses are being converted into lofts, breweries, distilleries, CrossFit gyms, etc.

We checked out Isley Brewing, a family-owned brewery that opened in 2013. It had been a while since we had sat down and our legs were a little tired, so we grabbed a stool and enjoyed our Need for Greed black IPA and the quaffable 1708 ACDC Belgian IPA.

Isley Brewing Company

Metzger Bar & Butchery

After finishing our beers, we ubered to the Union Hill neighborhood, just east of Main Street Station. Metzger Bar & Butchery is a small German restaurant, which, just days after we dined there, was named a semi-finalist for a James Beard Award in the Best Chef Mid-Atlantic Category.

Metzger Bar & Butchery cocktails

Marnay started out the meal with a very refreshing cocktail called the Land of Flowers, with gin, mandarin thyme cordial, lime, fino sherry and luxardo bitters while I went with a bone dry Riesling from Pfalz, Germany.

Metzger Bar & Butchery striped bass crudo

Food-wise, we ordered the house bread basket, striped bass crudo and pork schnitzel. The bread basket was superb, especially the buttery parker house rolls and the pretzel rolls. I mean, if you are a German restaurant, you really need to have good pretzel rolls and Metzger delivered. The star of the show, though, was the outrageously delicious, transcendent striped bass crudo with red pepper flakes, sea salt, citrus, chives and pickled cabbage. Seriously, we could have easily eaten three plates of the crudo.

Metzger Bar & Butchery golden pork schnitzel

The finale was golden pork schnitzel, another traditional German dish. The schnitzel was glistening when it first came to the table and believe me, it tasted as good as it looks. We couldn’t linger at the restaurant on account of our train, but we will definitely be back to Metzger on our next Richmond trip.

Video Recap

 

Places we visited:

Rapp Session: 318 E. Grace Street Richmond, VA 23219

Tyler Potterfield Pedestrian Bridge: North end at Browns Island

Sugar & Twine: 2928 W. Cary Street Richmond, VA 23221

Isley Brewing Company 1715 Summit Avenue Richmond, VA 23230

Metzger Bar & Butchery 801 N. 23rd Street Richmond, VA 23223

Ultimate Staunton Weekend

Friday

Staunton weekend was birthday weekend for me. We picked out Staunton because of the fact that we could take Amtrak there and because there was a restaurant that we wanted to try. Of course, we have taken Amtrak many times. However, we had never taken this line or been on these tracks before. I was SO excited!

On Friday morning, we got Shake Shack breakfast at Union Station. We enjoyed our greasy (in a good way) sausage and egg sandwiches and before we knew it, we were boarding Amtrak Cardinal train 52 en route to Chicago. The trip took a little over four hours and it brought us through the Blue Ridge Mountains of southwestern Virginia. We got some picturesque views of the Shenandoah Valley after we left Charlottesville.

Once we arrived in Staunton, we walked from the station to our Airbnb. I would describe it as a fancy treehouse located on the fourth floor of a 19th century mansion, with a scenic rooftop deck.

Staunton Virginia Airbnb

We started our tour of Staunton by scaling the steep streets to the highest point, Mary Baldwin College. The main building of the college is a great example of Greek-revival architecture, slightly resembling the White House.

Mary Baldwin College

Hungry from our journey, we had an early dinner at Taste of India where we enjoyed two different types of naan, Lamb Rogan Josh and Aloo Tikka.

Taste of India

We happened to go to Staunton during their annual holiday event, known as Sparkles & Sweets. All of the stores on Beverley Street are open later than usual and they give out cookies and refreshments. Many have live music and events. Our Airbnb host owns an antique store, which was having an art show that night in their “Artisans Loft.”

Later on in the night, we checked out Yelping Dog Wine, a retail store which also served wine by the glass. Each of us had two glasses of Virginia wine. After that, we were tired and ready to call it a night.

Yelping Dog Wine

Saturday

We woke up early to go to the Staunton Farmers Market. There were a lot of vendors selling root vegetables, as you would expect this time of year. More surprising was a food truck serving Salvadoran food, which I would not expect in this corner of Appalachia.

Next, we took a self-guided tour of the 19th century homes in the Gospel Hill neighborhood. There is some truly stunning architecture in this area.

Staunton Virginia architecture

Staunton Virginia architecture

After traipsing around Gospel Hill, we walked north and checked out Gypsy Hill Park and sat around the duck pond. We watched the birds and the children trying to play with them.

Paul standing at Gypsy Hill Park

On the walk back, we shared a maple bacon doughnut from Rolling Pin Pastries. Rolling Pin is only open 3 hours a day, 3 days a week and the doughnut was one of my best bites of the weekend.

Rolling Pin Pastries: maple bacon doughnut

Still hungry, we shared a bratwurst sandwich with local sausage from By & By. At this point, we had done a lot of walking and a lot of snacking, so we headed back to the treehouse to nap. The big activity of the day, anyway, was dinner at The Shack.

The Shack lives up to its name; it really is a shack, and in a less than desirable location at that. These factors allow the chef, Ian Boden, to focus on food rather than trying to make rent. By the way, our Airbnb hosts were actually the chef’s parents! They were very nice and welcoming to us.

We went with the four course pre-fixe meal at The Shack. Both the food and the hospitality met our high expectations. Some highlights included crispy sunchokes and sweet potatoes with black garlic and chile dressing, squid ink rigatoni with pesto, crispy garlic chips and bottarga and an apple fry pie.

The Shack: Squid Ink Rigatoni

The Shack: Farro Pappardelle

The Shack: Lambchette

The Shack: Wild Black Bass

Sunday

On Sunday morning, we made coffee and enjoyed the mountain views from our Airbnb’s rooftop deck one last time. Next, we walked down the hill on Beverley Street for bagel sandwiches at the By & By.

By & By bagels

Fortified by breakfast, we walked up a very steep hill in the Sears Hill neighborhood. Our reward was the overlook at Wilson Park, where we got a view of the entire town. We stopped in Gospel Hill to see the homes and then got a quick lunch to go at Cranberry’s Grocery & Eatery, a natural foods store.

Wilson Park

At 2:03pm, exactly on time, Amtrak Train 50 stopped at Staunton and we started our journey home. I am emphasizing the fact that it was on time because the train left Chicago at 5:45pm Saturday!

Staunton makes a great weekend trip from the DC area and is accessible by public transportation. It has a perfect combination of history, nature and food. We highly recommend it!

Ultimate Staunton Weekend: Marnay and Paul

Where we went
Taste of India: 105 West Beverley Street Staunton, VA 24401
Yelping Dog Wine: 9 East Beverley Street Staunton, VA 24401
Gypsy Hill Park: 600 Churchville Avenue Staunton, VA 24401
Rolling Pin Pastries: 302 N Central Ave Staunton, VA 24401
By & By: 140 East Beverley Street Staunton, VA 24401
The Shack: 105 S Coalter Street Staunton, VA 24401
Cranberry’s Grocery & Eatery: 7 S New Street Staunton, VA 24401