Geeky weekend

Jill joined me after work Friday so we could get to Alexandria early, but I forgot the tix, so we had to head home first. We were only a couple minutes later for our reservation at Del Merei Grille, but the place was empty as they’d just opened, so we were ok. It was the only time we were going out during Restaurant Week, so I looked for the closest place to the Birchmere that was participating. They served frickles (fried pickles) to start, which sounded good but were way too salty. We both had the salad for the next course – I had the “blue jalapeno” dressing on mine, not very spicy but a very smooth blue cheese flavor. The entrées were really good, both of us had filets, Jill had the pair with the tasty Cajun Butter Smashed Potatoes while I had one with a Potato Hash Cake topped with Gorgonzola Bacon Butter, better than the Blue Cheese butter I make. For dessert, Jill had a peppermint brownie and I had the best carrot cake ever. I warm slice without frosting was served with what looked like a scoop of ice cream, but it turned out to be cream cheese frosting. Absolutely amazing, we’ll be back there.

And the reason we were down there was a show by JoCo with Paul and Storm. The geeks were in full force both on and off stage, with plenty of references to BSG, LOLcats and my first ever live Rickroll. The music was pretty fine as well, though Jill was unhappy with not one but two Neil Diamond covers.

Saturday I spent most of my time working on some DVDs during the day, then we went to a Firefly mystery party that was also a birthday party for my coworker Josh. I was Mal and Jill was Kaylee, and hopefully we’ll get some pictures soon (’cause I thought both our costumes were pretty good). The party was fun as the mystery was well done, and both Jill and I guessed the guilty party. The burgers and cake were good, too, and we came home so I could crash on the floor (Jill had to wake me up and send me to bed).

Sunday I finished off my DVDs during the afternoon, then took Illa for a walk and started on my main geeky pursuit of the day: doing the taxes by hand. I stopped to grill some chicken for dinner (just sprayed some oil on them and rolled them in a lemon/pepper mix), then got back to it. Good news: this year we actually get a refund (don’t care how much, just happy to get one), which is a help. Jill made us s’mores for dessert to celebrate. Now I’m watching the Oscars (late, I was watching TV and Michael Clayton while doing the taxes) and then it’s bedtime.

Busy Valentine’s Day Weekend

Friday we met up with the Jewels at their house, then headed over to The Tortilla Factory for dinner. We enjoyed some chips and salsa then Jill had the chicken enchiladas and I had the absolutely enormous Carne Machaca Burrito. I ate way too much and was uncomfortably full the rest of the night. Happily the rest was nothing but music.

Julie Murphy Wells was playing that evening at the Barns at Wolf Trap. Lead singer of Eddie From Ohio, she hadn’t played a solo show in 11 years. Since I’d only been a fan for 10 years, you can do the math on why I was enthusiastic for this show. The show was a mixed set of standards and Broadway tunes, very nice. Highlights for me were songs from Wicked, a song she wrote called “When You See What I See”, and an awesome duet with Robbie on “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers”.

Saturday was mostly relaxing (I had to run out for flowers in the morning), I kept working on cruise DVDs. At night we went out for dinner at PassionFish in Reston. A new place from the owners of DC Coast, it was on my radar for a while but I hadn’t found a good reason to go there before now. It was a very nice place, and we were seated right away. They had a special Valentine’s Day menu, mostly their regular menu, but it did include a crawfish empanada to start, which was nice. Then I had the Ahi Tuna Tartare, nice mix of jalapeño, grapefruit and tuna, while Jill had the crispy oysters, which had a nice aioli sauce.

For entr̩es, I had read a review talking up the Arctic Char, and it was an interesting earthy mix of flavors; Jill made the best choice with the Butter Poached Lobster with a red curry sauce and other Thai flavors, outstanding. Dessert was included as well РJill had the Cr̬me Brul̬e and I had the mousse on praline crunch, both very good. It was raining when we got out, so I got the car and picked her up, then we headed home. We watched Dollhouse when we got back, interesting show so far.

Sunday was pretty lazy for the most part, I did some more DVDs but mostly tried to catch up on my TV backlog. Jill made a very tasty Jambalaya for dinner, then we headed over to the Old Brogue to see Beth Patterson. We met up with a coworker and his wife, then headed in for the show. Beth put a funny and energetic show, with many of our favorites (especially “Darlin’ Please”) and I enjoyed some of the pub’s tasty beverages as well.

Today we headed out in the middle of the day to see Coraline in 3D. It varied a little from the book, but it was certainly the best adaption of his work on film yet. I checked out the closeout sales at Circuit City (need to research prices to see if there’s a good deal there on HD camcorders and cameras), then we hit Total Wine for some beer and soda. I made pasta and chicken for dinner, then finished off the rest of the cruise DVDs and watched some TV.

Florida Keys

We got up Friday morning, had a quick breakfast on ship, then disembarked and got a cab to the airport. For some reason, renting a car was far cheaper ($10/day before taxes, fees and gobbleygook) if we picked up and dropped off there, so we got a cab to the airport to take advantage of the flat fare, then the shuttle over to Enterprise. We spent a little time trying to find a Starbucks in the area before giving up and heading towards the Keys. We missed having our toll passes as they had express lanes at every toll booth area here (and we got stuck behind a family where the driver had to get out of the car at the toll booth once). It was a pretty easy drive, and the several hour drive to Key West went smoothly, we got there around two in the afternoon. We checked into the Reach Resort (yay Hilton points) then went looking for lunch.

We had looked at some options for dinner when we were there the day before and hadn’t really been impressed by any of them. But Louie’s Backyard was only a block away from the resort, so we walked over. The menu looked good and we were really hungry, so we headed in. I started with the conch fritters (with wasabi and jelly on the side) and Jill had the calamari, both very good. Then Jill had the roasted pork sandwich and I had the snapper on an onion roll with rémoulade, both great but leaving us no room for dessert.

It was a lot warmer than it had been the day before, and I was hot in a tshirt and jeans. We headed back to the resort and Jill napped while I read outside on the balcony in the sun. One of my favorite things to do at home, but I hadn’t read anywhere close to my pace of past vacations. I’d even been reading the same book for a week and was determined to finish it (granted it was close to 1200 pages, but still), and did by the end of the day. I woke Jill up just before sunset, and we went down to the bar, got a couple of drinks and headed out on the pier. Neither of us were interested in the crazyness that goes on at Mallory Square (especially being down there just before sunset the day before), and it was a nice low key one.

Key West sunset

After it got dark, we headed out. We had a couple places in mind for dinner, but didn’t really like any we found on Simonton Street. Finally we wandering down Duval Street and came across La Te Da. We weren’t that hungry after our huge lunch, we each had salads (the Pure Passion for Jill, a Caesar for me), then Jill had the Hearts of Palm and Green Chili Con Queso (served with wonton chips) that I helped with. We left enough room to split the delicious Black Bottom Key Lime Pie (both of us thought it was the best we’d ever had), then we listened to the cabaret show going inside (the last place I ever expected to hear a cover of Weird Al’s “Hey Ricky”), then we walked back to the resort and headed to bed.

Saturday morning we checked out, put the luggage in the car, and found out we could leave it there, which was nice as parking is scarce and expensive there. Our first stop was the Banana Caf̩ for breakfast. Jill had the ham and cheese cr̻pe with mushroom sauce, while I had La Super, egg, ham, sausage and cheese. The two options were the mushroom sauce or a B̩chamel sauce, but I saw they offered Eggs Benedict and asked for and received Hollandaise sauce on mine Рdelicious. We headed down to the Heritage House and took the tour, which included the cottage Robert Frost stayed in. We were done downtown, so we went back, got the car, and headed north.

Heritage House

We did stop for a little shopping at Half Buck Freddie’s, but were soon checked in at the Sea Dell Motel in Marathon. It was definitely the most unassuming place we stayed in, but it was fine. One thing I’d noticed the day before was that I hadn’t gotten much of a tan. Even though we’d been outside a lot, I don’t get much color when I’ve got sunscreen on, so my goal was to not wear any and see how I did. We headed over to Sombrero Beach and got a little sun, although it was getting late and it turned pretty cloudy. After sunset, we walked over to the Barracuda Grill to have dinner. We made the mistake of ordering the tipsy olives without asking what they were, so when a martini glass full of vodka and marinated olives arrived with our bottle of Naia wine. But we got through most everything – happily the food stood up to the challenge. We started splitting the sticky finger wings (in a teriyaki glaze), which were great, then Jill had the Shrimp Scampi and I had the roast duck with a mango salsa, both superb. We were too full for dessert, but Jill wanted to try the chocolate cake dessert, so we got it to go. After we got back to the room, Jill watched TV, while I had to go outside to take advantage of the free internet (first free wi-fi in a while). We had the dessert a couple hours later, and it was very good.

Sombrero Beach

Sunday morning we slept in and checked out just before the deadline, then headed up the road. Jill wanted to stop at the Green Turtle Inn to try the recommended mud pie, so we stopped in Islamorada for that. Jill had the chili and liked it, then had the mahi mahi fingers with a chili lime glaze. She’d wanted to try the cod and potato cake but they weren’t out, but she did ask to try the habenero mustard that went with it. I was happy about that, as it was great slathered on my Cuban sandwich. Unfortunately they no longer offer the mud pie, so we didn’t have any dessert there (our waitress offered us the recipe). We continued north and checked into our hotel, then hurried over to the John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park. Jill was supposed be there at 2PM for a snorkeling reservation, and we were a little late. Not that it mattered – by the time she got her gear, we had 30 minutes to wait before her boat left. I had enough of snorkeling, plus my neck had been bothering me and I had a scratchy throat, and I wanted to hang out in the sun and read. I also wanted a picture of a pelican – ironically one landed on Jill’s boat just as it was leaving.

Pennekamp pelican

I finished my book just before Jill returned, full of stories about closely avoiding the baby barracuda while snorkeling over the coral. We headed back to the hotel, the Key Largo Resort at Manatee Bay. It was a gorgeous place, seemed everything was brand new. We wandered out back and sat on chairs at the little beach on the bay and watched the sunset (no manatees though). Jill took a shower, then we headed over to Upper Crust Pizza and ordered a pizza and salad, then got some gas and a six pack of Key West Southernmost Wheat. We returned to pick up the pizza, then went back to the room. Unfortunately the Upper Crust in Key Largo is not remotely the same as the one in Key West, but it was decent. After that we packed while I watched the Grammies (the most TV I’d watched in a while, though most of the time I kept the sound down when there wasn’t singing going on) and surfed (more free wi-fi, and indoors this time).

Manatee Bay sunset

The next morning I wanted to hit the road by 10, and we did. I still wasn’t feeling great, but we stopped at Starbucks for Jill. The car we had rented was a Chevrolet Aveo, and we’d noticed when leaving Key West an annoying tendency to whistle loudly inside the car when passing 60MPH (we had another Chevy – a Cobalt in Hawaii and had no problems with that). I just kept the speed down and we made it to Enterprise in Miami just fine. We returned the car, took the shuttle to the airport, checked in and got through security and still had more than an hour to kill. Jill got some pretzels and I got some Combos, we got on the plane and it was pretty good, although we did get in 20 minutes late due to circling waiting for them to let us land. My mom was waiting for us, and took us back to her house where we could get Jill’s car, and soon we were home to our cold house. It was a great trip, but it’s good to be home.