Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Go Ape in the Treetops of Williamsburg!

Now that the weather’s finally getting nice, are you looking for fun new things to do outside?  Alternatives to the normal activities;things you may never have thought of?  Let me just put this idea out there:  treetop obstacle course.  Now stick with me...

Go Ape is an award winning company and “the USA’s no. 1 zip line and treetop adventure” (according to their website).  They have treetop courses in numerous locations throughout the East coast, including one in Freedom Park in Williamsburg, VA, less than an hour from Richmond.  What they do is equip participants with harnesses, pulleys, and carabiners (a metal loop with a spring-loaded gate – you’ve probably seen this used most in wall climbing) and then go over a 30 minute safety briefing and training.  Then participants are free to enjoy 2-3 hours of fun and exercise.  Instructors are always on hand and walking around/patrolling, but participants are basically on their own.

They have the Go Ape Treetop Adventure for everyone 10 years old and up and 4’7” and taller.  This is the course we did and it includes rope ladders, 37 crossings, two Tarzan swings (!!!) and five zip lines.  But there is also the Go Ape Treetop Junior, which is for adventurers younger than 10 who are 3’3” and taller and is the first Go Ape course in the U.S. designed and built for youngins that can’t do the normal course yet. How neat!  It utilizes an easy-to-use safety system is made up of 20 obstacles and two zip lines.  Whereas the regular course takes about 2-3 hours, this course takes 1-1.5 hours.


I don’t know how all of the courses are (obviously; there are a lot) or even if they’re all the same, but the one in Freedom Park was divided up into five obstacle course “stations”.  For each station you’re climbing up a ladder to a platform at the start of the first obstacle, going through the course, and then taking a zip line down to the ground so you can start the next station.

I went with three friends in September last year.  We had the BEST time.  It was challenging yet realistically achievable for everyone.  There are several different paths to take within each station when the course reaches really challenging obstacles.  So you can either challenge yourself and take the hard way, or if you know you’re getting too tired, or have an injury you don’t want to aggravate, or you just straight up don’t want to do so something, there’s an easy alternative way to get to the same place everyone else is going.
(I HATED these things, for example. I should've taken the easy route...but didn't)

Even my friend who was afraid of heights had a blast.  She was nervous to just climb to the top of the first station’s platform, but by the end of that short station, she was swinging on a rope swing into a rope net (I WAS SO EXCITED THEY HAVE “TARZAN” SWINGS!! Can you tell?) and ready to go down the zip line and onto the next station.  She got nervous a few times, sure; but she completed everything and had fun doing it.  She had such a big smile on her face when we were all done.  She really enjoyed it AND got to feel proud of herself.  Hey, we all did (that is, got to feel proud of her as well as ourselves for completing everything).

And when they say (on the website) that they provide fun and exercise, they ain’t kiddin’.  We could tell (to be read:  feel as soon as we got in the car) that we gave our muscles a workout without over exerting ourselves.

We also chose a time of year that allowed for the perfect weather.  I think it was in the upper 60’s and sunny all morning (and our group started at noon).  Obviously if you go in July or August, be prepared to sweat your ass off in that summer heat, even though about 90% of the course is shaded.  However, I would imagine that trying to go when it’s too cold could be very painful on your hands, which are constantly gripping ropes and metal rings and having to manipulate the clips on your harness.

And to round out the reasons of why this experience was so awesome: the staff at Go Ape!  I have to give them a big shout out because, for whatever reason (I really do forget), we were late to our scheduled course.  They want you there 10-15 minutes early since they take you out in a group with other visitors (unless there are 14 people in your group, which is the number of spaces available at each time) to go over how to use the harnesses and rules of the course.  They want to give everyone a chance to get there, but they also want to start on time to keep things running smoothly (naturally, understandable).  We were running about 15 minutes late which would’ve held the group up, and we were worried we weren’t going to get to go at all.  What if the rest of the groups for that day were completely full?  Turns out, the rest of the groups WERE full…but someone very nice at Go Ape managed to squeeze us into the next scheduled time anyway.  And our instructor, “guide”, whatever you wanna call the guy who showed us how to do everything and looked after us at the first station, was super nice and fun.

So we really did have the best time and an overall great day.  It took us about two hours to complete the course and we went to a popular local BBQ place for lunch afterwards since we were starving and needed to sit and relax our muscles.  For $55/person (or $35 for 10-17 yr olds and $25 for the junior adventure) we got exercise, great nature views, a lot of laughs, excitement, and one of us even got over (if only temporarily) a major fear.  I definitely recommend you give this a shot, for so many reasons. 

Find more information about the Freedom Park course at their Go Ape website and schedule your trip as far in advance as you like!  Just don’t wait until the last minute, especially if you have a big group.  Their start times are every 30 minutes, beginning at 8:30 a.m. and ending at 5:00 p.m.  It’s definitely a cool place to hang out (see what I did there? Hang).


Friday, April 11, 2014

Where Republic Once Stood, Now There is The Pig and Pearl

The Pig and Pearl opened its doors at 2053 W. Broad St. back in November of 2013.  I think I visited it for the first time the first few days it was open, and I've been back many times since.

There are two main lures of Pig and Pearl.  One is their spirits.  They have over 100 bottles of whiskey, bourbon, and scotch.  I tried Prichard’s Double Barrel Bourbon for $14 for a 1.5 oz pour (versus the heavy pour at $16).  My friend was very excited to try their Yamazaki, a Japanese blended whiskey.  And he said it was really good and he liked it.  I think he even got it again the next time we visited. #proof!  They also have beer and wine, of course.  But for a full list of their spirits, check out their drink menu here.

The second main lure is they are one of the few (possibly only?) city bars to also boast a smoking section with a “cigar bar” (i.e. a cigar menu).  I don’t know much about cigars (yet) so I went for the cheapy and got a Shockoe Valley Flavor for $7, and I really liked it.  I can’t go into dissecting it since I don’t know what I’m talking about yet lol, but it’s described on their cigar menu as "a petite corona featuring the flavor of vodka and cranberry. Mild and sweet this is a perfect after dinner aperitif."  Their cigars range from $7 for my little Shockoe Valley Flavor to $22 for the Samuel Adams Utopia and Cohiba Robusto.  Their full cigar menu can be found here. 

But of course, it is a restaurant after all.  So let's talk about the food.  Several times, I've tried the Rocket Tost, which are tater tots, Sriracha, jalapeños, Monterey jack, house bacon bits for $10.

I’ve also tried the Spinach Artichoke Dip, which is panko crusted and served with crostini, for $9.  Long story short, I wasn’t impressed.  Just run-of-the-mill.

Wanna try something neat (i.e. different and delicious)?  Try the Southern Gentleman’s Burger.  It's a ground beef patty, pimento cheese, fried green tomatoes, bacon, bourbon and blackstrap molasses BBQ sauce on a Brioche roll for $12.
(Sorry! Really wish I took a pic but I was too excited and scarfed it down!)

Finally, I have for words for you:  Salted Chocolate Caramel Cake.  As The Pig and Pearl website puts it, it's "five inches of salty-sweet heaven!" It's layers of rich chocolate cake with chocolate icing, Shyndigz caramel sauce and "a sprinkling of flour de sel sea salt between each layer", and it's your's for just $7.  You'll notice the emphasis on the Shyndigz sauce.  For anyone who's been there, you know that place knows how to do sweets right!
So overall, the liquor selection and cigar bar are the only two things setting this place apart from any other bar in Richmond (and McCormack's Whiskey Grill on Robinson St. provides a more expansive overall liquor selection, so they have some competition nearby on that front).  The food is mediocre.  Some things are really good, don't get me wrong.  But overall, nothing special.  I like the place though.  I hope that it has better luck staying open that its previous tennants.  

Check out the official Pig and Pearl website here.  They're open from 4:00 p.m. until 2:00 a.m. Monday through Wednesday, and then from 11:00 a.m. until 2:00 a.m. Thursday through Sunday.  They often host events (like for the NCAA tournaments, the Richmond Flying Squirrels, and other relevant local sporting events) so be sure to check out the events section of the site, too.

RVA Hogtoberfest: A Great Alternative to RVA-B-Q

Now I'm not gonna spend any time actually bashing RVA-B-Q.  It's alright.  As long as you know that you're just going to eat BBQ at an overly crowded farmer's market.  That's all I'm saying.

But RVA’s annual Hogtoberfest for 2013 took place on Oct. 5th in Libby Hill Park (2801 E. Franklin St.) in Richmond’s historic Church Hill district; a beautiful more spacious location to eat BBQ, drink beer, and enjoy the last of the warm weather for the year.  And on top of having more space with (possibly) less people, you have some of the most beautiful views of the city.

(Ok in certain places, at certain times, there were a lot of people)

BBQ sponsors included Richmond staples like Alamo BBQ and Buz and Ned’s Real Barbecue (among many others).  However there were also vegetarian options provided by the Mosaic Food Truck, like vegan brisket (they also served non-vegetarian food like Korean barbecue sliders).
 The Halligan's Bar fire truck
 Of course I had to get Alamo
And my new favorite portable dessert company King of Pops was there with maple bacon and chocolate bacon popsicles.

And of course there was beer, provided by Brown Distributing (and apparently Shock Top was a presenting sponsor), and wine.  Why wouldn’t there be?

On the live stage, music was provided by bands like The Southern Belles, People’s Blues of Richmond, and The Hit List.  By the time we go there, we only get to catch the full performance of Long Arms around 3:30.  They were more folk/indie with a little rock, but we also heard the end and beginning of other bands that were more bluegrassy.  Regardless, the live bands of Richmond were an excellent accent to the scenery, food, and overall atmosphere.

Since this was basically a big neighborhood event (that the whole city was welcome to join) there were lots of family activities like face painting, balloon animals, and an arts and crafts play station.  And I saw some little games and cut outs for photo ops and such.

And an interesting new experience was trying the Newport News Airport’s flight simulator van…truck…vehicle thing.  In the Style Weekly article, it says “Church Hill has the best view of Richmond, and no you can fly right above it”.  It didn’t look like I was flying above Richmond on the screen…there was a lot of water…like ocean style.  But hey, it was still really cool. For about 10 minutes. Then I got bored.  But I’m ADD soooo…..

Anyway, it was definitely a really good time in some BEAUTIFUL unseasonal weather.  I look forward to attending the 2014 Hogtoberfest for sure!

You can find out more information at the Style Weekly Hogtober article from last year, and in the meantime keep your eyes peeled around September or October for more info about plans for this year’s event.  Just remember to leave extra time to find parking on the streets of Church Hill!

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Pomegranate: You Gotta Be Good If You're Replacing Moshi Moshi...

Ok, so yeah I have to admit that when I heard Moshi Moshi (the sister of Sumo San, with excellent prices and delicious food, located at 3321 W. Cary St. in Carytown) was closing its doors, I was really bummed.  So bummed that I didn’t give a seconds thought to whether or not a new restaurant would be opening in its place, nor what said restaurant would be.  In fact, I heard about a new restaurant called Pomegranate that was getting good reviews first, and then later realized it was in the old Moshi Moshi spot.  I had to let my love of Moshi Moshi go in order to experience this new restaurant objectively.  So let’s see how it worked out, shall we?

The ambience was a complete 180 from the casual Japanese restaurant it once was, with a candlelit, old European-romance ambience.  Very homey yet classic and romantic, IMO.

They have a decent sized wine menu.  Not extensive by any means, but pretty typical for small yet semi-fancy restaurants in Richmond.  But the cocktails! The cocktails were unique and delicious.  I tried one with “moonshine” and it was amazing.  My friend got one that made me feel like I could cause an explosion if I opened my mouth too close to the candle on our table after taking a sip.  But it still tasted good J

I started out with a spinach salad with local tomatoes (yay local!), pancetta cracklins and creamy avocado dressing for $7. It was pretty darn good.  The dressing was a little overwhelming for me, but then again I didn't ask for light dressing or dressing on the side so that's not necessarily bad on their part.

For my main course, I got the pan seared arctic char with a duck fat buttermilk biscuit, carmelized onions, roasted local mushrooms (again, yay!) and a pancetta cracklin butter sauce for $24.  Oh. My. Gentle. Jesus.  It was so good.  The fish was cooked perfectly, the biscuit was oh-so-amazing, and all the flavors just blended together really well.  It seems everything comes with pomegranates as a garnish, scattered all over the plate, which is a little weird and I couldn't figure out if I should try to eat them with the rest of the meal or not.  After I few bites I decided, no, not with this dish at least. 

And for dessert…well their dessert menu is different every time, and unfortunately my friend and I can’t remember exactly what we had lol.  We know that it was chocolate, possibly hazelnut related, and dense.  This tiny little thing came out and we were like, “Ugh, European portions” (which I recently found out really aren’t that small, at least not all over Europe), but we assumed it’d be filling enough.  It really wasn’t that filling, but then again, do you really want to leave dinner feeling stuffed?  Well when you spend over $100 on dinner, maybe ya do.  This is not a moderately priced restaurant; it’s just slightly past that.  So don’t go here for a casual dinner.

For more info on Pomegranate, check out their website or their Facebook page.  So far they're only open for dinner Tuesday through Saturday from 5:00-10:00 pm, with the bar opening at 4:30 pm.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Viceroy: Getting There, But Still Not Quite Hitting the Mark...

(Yeeees yes this post is way overdue.  I went when it first opened, but now that I’ve been there more than once I feel like I have a more accurate view/opinion on the place)

I’ve now visited this restaurant twice, once in early February for a friend’s birthday and once back in October (2013) with some friends just for fun.  The experiences were similar – good food but nothing special, and the service needs work.

The old Café Diem spot at 600 N. Sheppard St., previously known for being a bar specializing in live music, is now a fully renovated restaurant space with a heavy wood décor.

The first time the waitstaff service needed work.  We were able to get sat on time (around 8:15), but despite deciding what we wanted early, having all our orders ready, and the only “appetizer” being one person getting the French onion soup, it took us over two hours to finish our meal.  Our server was impossible to track down and didn’t check on us nearly enough. 

The 2nd time the kitchen needed work.  One of my friends claimed that her food didn’t come out the way she ordered (but I think she might’ve been confused, for the record), but her boyfriend’s (i.e. the birthday boy) food wasn’t ready with the rest of ours, and by the time it actually came out most of us had finished eating.  But to make up for it, our sweet server brought out his dessert (that I hope was on the house) and held a lighter in front of him while we sang “Happy Birthday” bc she couldn’t find any candles. Aw!

But let’s get down to the important stuff:  how was the food?  

For my first visit, I was the one who ordered the French onion soup.  Yes that’s right, it was ME!  I really hope that wasn’t the reason behind our entrees taking a RIDICULOUSLY long time to come out.  We’re talking an hour.  Anyway, it’s a standard form of the soup, broiled with Fontina and Swiss cheeses with a giant piece of grilled bread in the middle for $7.50. 
For the second time, I had the Viceroy French Onion soup again, so obviously I liked it.  It’s just too much bread though, hiding the plethora of onions underneath it.  I can never finish it all.  I probably won’t be getting it again.
For the main course on my first trip, I had the grilled filet of Angus shoulder tender (medium rare) served with Yucca-purple potato gorgonzola croquette, charred guajillo chile demi and some asparagus for $24. I ordered it medium rare, but it came out a bit too rare if you ask me.  As in it was already getting close to purple before it had completely cooled.  Depending on who you talk to, this could just be the style of cooking they were going for, but it's not what I've adjusted to and come to expect at most Richmond restaurants (outside of CanCan).  But, it was still delicious and perfectly tender (at first haha) and the potatoes were phenomenal.  And just look at that asparagus!
The 2nd trip I had the seasonal fish (which I believe this night was rockfish) served over handmade fettuccine in a lemon herb crab butter with asparagus, English peas and artichoke hearts for $24.  This dish was irresistible, with the flavors being enhanced perfectly by my glass of sauvignon blanc (yes, BTW, pretty decent wine selection).  The handmade fettuccine was cooked perfectly, and the fish flaked apart every time my fork touched it.  And the sauce went especially well with the English peas IMO.

And I only got a dessert on the 2nd visit bc the 1st visit took way too long, and this February trip was in honor of my friend’s birthday (and he was getting dessert sooo…you know, just being polite ;) lol).  For my dessert, I had the Smores.  But clearly, not your typical smores.  These smores involve a Masa graham cookie, Colombian chocolate truffle, torched marshmallow and warm horchata for $8.50.  Now, while this was pretty tastey, it was so impossible to eat it without the marshmallow being pushed out or something falling off that you couldn’t get all of the flavors at once, which I feel is the point of a dessert coming out with all these combinations of flavors.  Plus, it’s messy. Duh.  It was such a pain to eat without enough “Mmmmmm” that I probably won’t order it again.
All-in-all, I don’t think Viceroy is a bad place.  I like what they’ve done with the place, they have a really cool bar, and the food is good… but I think there’s still some work to be done.  The food could be better.  And while the service improved the 2nd time around, I feel like people expect more for the prices they’re paying.  So in the end I hope Viceroy sticks around, but I think they’re going to have to work a little harder to ensure that they do.

For more information, check out Viceroy's website here.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

My RVA Fashion Week 2014: Part 3 Winter Gala

Thursday Jan. 23rd, 2014
(Photo courtesy of Michael Hostetler Photography)

This year, the RVA Fashion Week Winter Gala took place at the new F.W. Sullivan’s location, down at 1101 Haxall Point off of 10th St. on the Canal Walk.  Most of the models were chosen from either the first or second model calls, so since I went to the third I was safe (lol) and got to sit this one out and enjoy the show.

Attendees could buy a table, or I think some could buy a seat (er, stool), but general admission was $10 and got you a standing space.  Luckily, my group and I were able to find a seat at the bar and a non-reserved stool across from it (which happened to be at the end of a row of reserved seats so the rest of our group could at least stand).

The stores participating this year included a lot of my favorite stores (many of which happen to be in Carytown).  The list included Fabrik, Alternatives (which I modeled for during Carytown Fashion Feeds the Byrd, so of course I luv them lol), and Traveling Chic Boutique.  I saw a few pieces, maybe one or two outfits, that I was ready to buy on the spot.  That alone makes me want to call the event a success lol.

After the show, a few vendors (including Salon Vivace who did all the hair and make up for the models) were set up in the hallway outside of Sullivan’s.  The rest of the evening was filled with checking out said vendors, drinking, and shmoozing with friends.  It was a relaxing, enjoyable night with friends that also happened to be filled with a lot of awesome clothes and beautiful models :) 
 (Yeah, I need a better camera phone. What can I say?)

(Want this dress. Very badly.)

 (Photo courtesy of Michael Hostetler Photography)
(Photo courtesy of Michael Hostetler Photography)
(Photo courtesy of Michael Hostetler Photography)