Monday, September 18, 2023

Girls' Trip to Richmond

Before we head off again to opposite corners of the globe, I got a chance to do a quick girls' trip to Richmond with my bestie from Seoul, N. It's hard saying goodbye so often in this lifestyle, but if it weren't for the Foreign Service then I never would have even met so many awesome people, including N. I'm glad I was able to get away and get some quality time with just us.

It was her first time to Richmond and my third, but I'm telling you the city wasn't quite how I remembered it. The pandemic really took a toll on so many cities, and many of the bustling streets I experienced years ago only have some of the businesses still operating. The many vacant storefronts (and in one case the inscriptions of people who died on a storefront with "RIP" alongside their names) made my heart hurt for the people of Richmond. That being said, though, I was amazed at the resilience and quality of those institutions that remain - and we took full advantage.

We started with a visit to Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden. As we bought our tickets, the kind person at the front desk urged us to head to the butterflies first, because that exhibit was about to close for the day.

We hustled to the far end of the garden and got in line for the butterflies. I'm glad the staff member told us to go, because the butterflies were so delightful and diverse. I saw butterflies snacking on cantaloupe, fluttering about, enjoying the breeze of a fan, blending in with a tree, and more. One even landed on me, but it was so brief I couldn't snap a photo. There were interesting facts about butterflies posted around, and the exhibit also had several cocoon types on display. It was so fun.

After that, we walked around the various sections of the garden, which was interspersed with art from the ongoing Incanto exhibit, featuring scultures by Kate Raudenbush and poems by Sha Michele, who apparently met at Burning Man. The flowers, art, and small lake combined to make a lovely walk, even if my friend N really could have done without the bees.

We also got ice cream at a wonderful place called Ruby Scoops I've never been to before. The ice cream was not only delicious, but the flavors were so unique. N's favorite was the hot honey cornbread and mine was the ube cookies and cream. And yes, we did have dessert before dinner.

Then, we checked into our hotel downtown and relaxed a bit before walking over to dinner. We chose a restaurant N's friend recommended called Lillie Pearl. Honestly, they knocked it out of the park. We got an appetizer with a full head of roasted cauliflower, and the beet and fig puree it came with was one of the best sauces I've ever had. For our mains, N and I split crispy skin salmon and lobster crab cakes, and the crab cakes in particular were extraordinary. We split dessert, as well: the bread pudding and the banana pudding. Everything was decadent and exquisite, and we may have overdone it a bit.

We hung out at the hotel, doing face masks I brought that I enjoyed more than N (especially because it adhered to my face better) and talking and laughing. It was a great time. The next morning, I took N to the coffee bar at Quirk Hotel, where M and I stayed on a previous trip to Richmond and which was thankfully still open. It was just as cute as I remembered.

I persuaded N to devote the rest of our morning to the Science Museum of Virginia. I love all museums, but science museums tend to be my favorite because of how interactive they are. We got tickets that included the special, temporary exhibit Space: An Out-of-Gravity Experience. I learned a lot about what it takes to get to and survive in space and what are some of the most cutting edge challenges that scientists are tackling now to help get us to the next level in space exploration. It even included a rotating room to simulate the International Space Station! It was so cool.

We also watched a film in their giant screen theater called The Dome. The show was called Into America's Wild and featured landscapes, adventure sports, and wildlife around the United States. The movie made me want to become a backpacker and hike all over the country. The best and most surprising part was that the documentary film featured multiple Indigenous people, which I appreciated given the problematic history of the United States establishing so many government-owned parks on stolen Indigenous land.

Once we finished up our time in the museum, we popped over to Lemaire restaurant at the Jefferson Hotel. The hotel was extravagant in decor, and the food was pretty good (but not quite as good as Lillie Pearl if you ask me). With that, though, we had to wrap up our Richmond vacation and head back home. (I think N missed her cats as much as I missed baby S.) But N and I had a wonderful time, and I can't wait to see her again (probably abroad next time)!

Friday, September 8, 2023

Three Michelin Star Dining in the Inn at Little Washington

I can't believe our time in Virginia is coming to a close. In our final weeks before the next big move, I've enjoyed spending a little time with some of my closest friends. In this lifestyle, you have to take advantage of those opportunities when you can because it might be years before you see the people you love again. Some of my last stops this time included Little Washington for a decadent dinner, an overnight trip to Richmond, and a day trip to Middleburg. I'll devote this post to our visit to Little Washington.

I've wanted to try the Inn at Little Washington for a long time. It's the only restaurant in the DMV (DC, Maryland, and Virginia) with three coveted Michelin stars. My Michelin dining experiences prior to this were a total of one, Smyth in Chicago. Smyth had one Michelin star, and I still think about the extraordinary food years and years later. M is not one for fine dining, so I went with my dear friends L and D (yes, the same ones where I was a groomsmaid in their wedding).

Little Washington itself was adorable to walk around. We arrived a bit early so we could take in the sunset and go for a leisurely stroll in the small town and the farmside trails.

The Inn was spectacular in atmosphere, decor, and service. I included photos here of my two favorite courses, coincidentally the first and last of the meal. The first was an exquisite tuna carpaccio with wasabi sorbet. I didn't think it was possible for me to like wasabi in any form until I tried this dish.

My other favorite was the cheese add-on dessert option. My biggest piece of advice for anyone dining at the Inn at Little Washington is to get the cheese course if you can. The person who brought this amazing cow cart full of phenomenal cheeses to us is affectionately known as the Cheese Whiz, and he whipped out more cheese-related puns than I knew any human could possibly generate.

Our servers were also wonderful and made for lively conversation, something L and D rightly pointed out we often don't get to experience in fine dining. Despite the luxurious atmosphere, so much of the Inn at Little Washington was unpretentious compared to other restaurants at that level; for example, there was no dress code and they encouraged guests to dress in whatever they pleased.

Would I shell out that kind of money to go there again? Probably not, because it was really quite expensive, but the food was delicious and the experience was something really special. The company was the best part of all, and I'm glad I got to share this one-of-a-kind dinner with two of my favorite people.

Tuesday, August 15, 2023

Truth, Beauty, Freedom, and Love: Happy Anniversary to Us!

Happy anniversary to M and me! I can't believe it's been almost ten years of marriage. Sometimes I feel like I'm not the best source of marriage advice for other people, because honestly M makes it so easy. I met him when I was 14 years old when we rode the bus together in high school and have been in love with him for over half my life. We really are like one in so many ways.

We have a cute tradition where every year (or at least every year we remember) on our anniversary we'll write a letter to each other in a notebook we received as a wedding gift and read the one from the previous year. It's amazing what details feel so important to write down one day that feel so distant a year later. There are also a few missing years, like last year, so the last time we wrote in there we were in Seoul and had just found out I was pregnant! Now I can't imagine life without baby S. A lot can change in a couple of years.

This year, we lined up a babysitter (thanks, L!) so we could go to a romantic dinner at Kingbird at the Watergate Hotel and then see Moulin Rouge! The Musical at the Kennedy Center. The food was delicious, and I was pleasantly surprised to see multiple mocktails on the menu. For LDS folks like me and other non-drinkers, it's nice to have more options these days. I also loved the personal touches on the dessert, which wished us a happy anniversary.

Being from northern Virginia and having a classical pianist mom, I have so many fond memories of going to the Kennedy Center, seeing a performance, and enjoying the sunset over the water. But Moulin Rouge is extra special for M and me because seeing the Moulin Rouge movie was one of our earliest dates. We liked the movie so much that M got me as one of my first gifts as his girlfriend a beautiful Swarovski elephant that hearkened to the elephant in the movie. (I still have that elephant and can see it sitting on the mantelpiece as I type.) We even picked "Your Song" as our first dance song at our wedding!

So it seemed like a no-brainer to go and see the Moulin Rouge musical, a callback to one of our earliest dates. Truth be told, I generally like musicals way more than M. (He once fell asleep full-on snoring partway into Les Mis when I dragged him to a performance.) But this rendition of Moulin Rouge was an exception. They did a fantastic job updating the musical to make it very modern, sampling very recent and recognizable songs. (Securing the rights to the music was a wild ride, apparently.) M and I were jamming out the whole time, and it was nice to see him enjoy the show as much as I did.

I'm looking forward to celebrating many more years with the best husband, father, lover, partner, and friend I could hope for in this life and beyond. "The greatest thing you’ll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return."