Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Three Short Restaurant Reviews

In the last month or so, we’ve tried 3 new restaurants (well, new to us). I didn’t bring my camera or take notes, but here are some quick impressions.

Bavarian Chef: We loved this place. Great German food, but with a cheffy flair. Pretty expensive, but good value, because the portions are very large. Excellent service, tasty entrees, nice variety of sides (especially loved the red cabbage). The old train station is elegant, and the vintage German travel posters added a nice touch. The place lacks coziness, and the acoustics are lousy, but no matter. This one goes on the regular rotation.

Greene Turtle Sports Bar & Grill: We made the mistake of trying this restaurant on a Saturday night when the Redskins were playing. The place was packed, and we got stuck in the bar where the service was slow. The food was fine, but unless you want to watch sports and drink beer with your buddies, don’t bother. There are many other restaurants with similar food (The Fredericksburg Pub in the same part of the mall, or Ruby Tuesday, Red Robin, Applebees, etc.) but without that wallpapered-in-televisions ambience.

The Melting Pot: We went because we had a coupon (otherwise it can be very expensive), and I was surprised that the place was pretty full—I had no idea it was so popular. The decor is lovely, booths are all mostly very private, and the service was good. We started with a cheese fondue. I used to make cheese fondue regularly, and this one was nothing special. Then we got a mixed platter of meats and seafood with a few veggies to be cooked in oil, accompanied by some batters and sauces for dipping. Finally, a very sweet chocolate fondue, into which you dip equally sweet bites of cake and marshmallow, plus a few fruits. The whole concept of a fondue restaurant is interesting and different, and I can see how for a date, it’s a good conversation starter. But for me, the bottom line is that for my entree, they bring me a bunch of raw meat and make me cook it myself. I’m supposed to time it (no timer is supplied), so you’re either looking at your watch or taking your chances. I want a professional to cook my dinner and be creative. If you go, it’s for the experience, not the food. Not my cup of tea.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Monticello, Behind the Scenes

This week, I had the pleasure of accompanying two good friends to Monticello to take advantage of the new “behind the scenes” tour. The last time I visited was about 15 years ago, and since then, the historic site has undergone major renovations, including the construction of a new $43 million visitor center that opened last year that includes a gallery, a theater, a discovery center, and a large gift shop (one of two on the property, because you just can't have enough souvenirs).

We started our day in the theater, watching the new video, Thomas Jefferson's World, which stresses the importance of freedom as the main theme of Jefferson’s work, tries hard to reconcile Jefferson’s ideals with his dependence on his “enslaved workers” (and for me, fails), and works its way all the way up to the inauguration of Barack Obama.

Our $37 behind-the-scenes ticket gave us access to the private second-floor bedrooms occupied by Jefferson’s extended family (mainly daughter Martha and her 11 children), and to the interior of the third-floor dome, complete with attic space. You climb up the very narrow staircases (the only ones in the house) to reach the upper floors, where unlike in the large rooms of the main floor, you are allowed to take photos. While much of the main floor is devoted to Jefferson’s social life, personal pursuits, and clever gadgets, the upper floors focus on Jefferson’s lively family life.

After our look at the upper levels, we joined the hoi polloi for the main house tour, and spent the rest of the afternoon roaming the grounds, checking out the gardens, and visiting Jefferson’s grave. We ended the day back in the gallery at the visitor center, where more details of the estate’s architecture are revealed. We could have used another hour or so to really explore every nook and cranny of the grounds and all of the exhibits and displays at the visitor center, but our time and stamina on this hot summer day just gave out.

The behind-the-scenes tour is given twice daily, at 10:30 and 2:30. Advance tickets are highly recommended, and can be ordered online. These tours will be available until Oct. 31. For more info, check out

One of the very narrow staircases in the home:

Peering down at visitors from a second floor bedroom:

Inside the dome:

Attic space off the dome room:

View from one of the dome room windows:

One of several skylights:

View from the garden side:

Gallery space at the visitor center:

The new visitor center is beautifully landscaped: