Ain’t no party like a Rappahannock River Oysters party, especially when it celebrates Esquire magazine saying a bunch of nice things about our state’s culinary scene.
A packed and buzzing Rappahannock kicked off a reception last night celebrating its own recognition as one of the best restaurants of 2014 and Virginia’s designation as the “Food Region of 2015,” both according to Esquire magazine. The atmosphere was congratulatory, with producers beaming from behind their stations–oysters on the half-shell, Sam Edward’s ham, Border Springs lamb, and plenty of wine poured, with characteristic flourish, by Barboursville’s Jason Tesauro.
At a certain point during the reception, the usual din of the crowd turned into a distinct buzz, as a black SUV produced Governor Terry McAuliffe, Virginia Secretary of Agriculture Todd Haymore, and First Lady of Virginia Dorothy McAuliffe. The Governor worked the room, handshakes and smiles, a well-paced lap around the crowded bar. When he extended a hand toward mine saying, “Hi. Terry McAuliffe,” I was, though I had seen him making steady progress toward me, unprepared. And, giddy in the presence of high-ranking Democrats, I was unable to share with him all the research I’d done around Virginia agriculture, food deserts, or policy in general.
After a few brief words of congratulations by Todd Haymore, McAuliffe addressed the crowd with a shuffle through the Terry McAuliffe Greatest Hits album: Women’s rights–no women’s health clinics have been forced to close since McAuliffe has taken office, LGBT rights–moving forward by strides, with McAuliffe as only the third governor to have presided over a gay wedding; but McAuliffe ended his address reminding us that we are still tied for fifth with Texas for wine production and encouraged us to “drink as much Virginia wine as possible.” It’s our civic duty.
McAuliffe introduced his wife, Dorothy, who has made eradicating childhood hunger in the state her focus during her time as First Lady of Virginia. The mother of five spoke on the issue of food security, saying that, “In a state known for such abundance, there’s no reason that children, families, and individuals should ever know hunger.”
The governor raised a glass (of Virginia wine), toasting to the hosts, Travis and Ryan Croxton, and to all the producers under the spotlight, praising Virginia’s wineries, cideries, and breweries; and lauding the establishment of the state’s largest hops yard and the region’s first commercial-scale hops production and processing facility at Black Hops Farm. He wrapped up the toast with a nod to the Stone Brewing Co. deal, citing the financial stimulus the deal will mean for the city, due to job creation and tourism revenue.
The evening was a concert for Virginia’s finest to show what exactly has put them in the national limelight–exquisite Surryano ham; Border Springs/Edwards lamb ham (which was the jam); cider-glazed lamb ribs with peanuts, gorgeously rich and fatty; crispy fried quail with a tart concord sauce and bright parsley salad by The Shack’s Ian Boden; and many, many Rappahannock oysters on the half shell. And that was just the reception.
Then came the four-course feast, starting with Dylan Fultineer’s sea bass: crispy-skinned and flaky-bodied with fregola and slivered castelvetrano olives. Border Springs delivered a rich and complex lamb’s neck and oyster stew. And pastry gods Evrim and Evin Dogu from Sub Rosa Bakery ended the meal with a delicate maple ice cream and toasted rye muesli, drizzled with Black Creek Farm honey and gilded with edible flowers. Each beverage pairing was a perfect match, from the Foggy Ridge Cider accompanying Adam Musick’s1 Berkshire pork loin with rye knefla and honeycrisp apple butter to Champion Brewing Co’s Black Me Stout (one of three drinks paired with dessert), though only a constitution firmer than mine could’ve possibly enjoyed them all. In the end, the theme of the evening was abundance, and Virginia’s clearly got it, from the mountains to the coast.