Dining in Williamsburg

After a full day of exploring Colonial Williamsburg, I wanted to conclude my day trip with a nice dinner before heading back home to Northern Virginia. After looking at reviews in both TripAdvisor and Yelp, I thought of going to a restaurant called The Blue Talon Bistro for dinner. It is restaurant with French bistro fare, which I thought I would be willing to spend more on compared to an ‘upscale American fare.’ The reviews seemed to be more even in high ratings compared to a couple other upscale restaurants in town, and it did not seem to require reservation. Since the Blue Talon seemed to be a popular choice and it was a weekend day, I thought I would try to beat the dinner crowd and get there early when they start serving dinner. That would allow me to also finish early and drive home before it got too late in the day (I still had almost four hours to drive to get home).

I got done with my activities for the day by mid-afternoon. When I headed to the Blue Talon, I found out that they were serving lunch menu until around 4 pm, then they would close for an hour before starting dinner service at 5 pm. So I had some time to kill. Before the trip, I consulted a co-worker who went to school at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg to ask for her suggestions on dining options. Her suggestion already led me to a great lunch at MAD About Chocolate (the lunch was delicious, but the dessert was even more memorable to say the least). So I thought I would head to another place that she recommended that happened to be right across the street from the Blue Talon called Aromas Cafe. My friend said it was her favorite place to eat and hang out when she was a student at William and Mary.

So I spent about an hour or so at the Aromas Cafe. It was quite busy inside. They served light meals, pastries, desserts, and various kinds of gourmet coffee, tea, and other drinks. I was still pretty full from the lunch and (heavy dose of) chocolate cake from few hours before, so I only got a flavored iced tea to drink. There were no tables available inside, but they also had a couple of tables outside facing the street. That day they happened to have Oktoberfest festivities with beer tasting on the street, so there was no motor traffic allowed. So it was interesting to enjoy my drink while watching people passing by — tourists and locals alike.

Finally it came time to head across the street for dinner. The Blue Talon was pretty much like what I had expected from a French bistro. Good selection of French-classic fare served at a somewhat casual atmosphere. I ordered escargot as appetizer, calf liver for entree, and finished with a creme brulee. All pretty good, and I would consider the Blue Talon as a dining option when I am in Williamsburg again, however, I do not think there was anything particular about the meal that stood out as exceptional.

The photo below was taken at Blue Talon, and it was the one thing about the restaurant that seemed to be gimmicky but some people thought it was actually something unique… the ‘Historic Tap Water.’ The tap water was served in a bottle with blue talon logo on it and the small glass. Some people said it tastes better than normal water elsewhere. To me, it was just water, and it tasted good because I was thirsty. At least they did not charge extra for that.

Blue Talon

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MAD About Chocolate

After spending the morning learning about the historical significance of the Siege of Yorktown at Colonial Williamsburg, I was ready to take a break for lunch before continuing the day with other events in the afternoon. A friend who went to William & Mary recommended to get the ‘Death by Chocolate’ dessert that Marcel Desaulniers created at Trellis. But since I was planning on eating elsewhere for dinner, I wanted to get a light, fast lunch instead, and as I looked for options on TripAdvisor, I discovered that Mr. Desaulniers apparently had come back from retirement and with his wife opened a small restaurant in Williamsburg called MAD About Chocolate. I thought that would be a great place for lunch as they also serve light dishes along with their chocolate-related creations.

The location of MAD About Chocolate is a little out of the way from the main commercial areas (DOG Street area), but it was within short walking distance. I thought it was actually nice to take a break from the big crowd.

The restaurant was small but had a very welcoming atmosphere. It was very nicely decorated in with lots of bright colors and patterns. I thought it went well with the ‘main attraction’ of the place, its chocolate-related products. The kitchen was right behind the counter, so you could see Mr. Desaulniers and his staff preparing the food for the guests.

I ordered the savory cheesecake of the day, which was served with salad and came out quite quickly. It was very delicious and perfect for a light lunch that still leave some room for dessert.

I also got the signature dessert, the MAD cake (I suppose it was their equivalence to the Death by Chocolate at Trellis). I underestimated the size of this dessert; one slice was big enough to feed four people, and that is probably how most people eat it (to share). I was alone, and I had this monster chocolate cake to eat.

I attempted to finish that cake myself as I still had another half day to walk around in Colonial Williamsburg and I did not want to tote around leftover chocolate cake (which I was not sure would still be good if not refrigerated). So I went through about half of the cake until one of the store staff who came to pick up my empty lunch plate asked if I wanted a to-go box for the cake. I declined and told her I would try to finish it, but she knew better and gave me a box anyway.

I finally gave up and took the rest of the cake in the to go box. I went back to my car at the Visitor Center and left the leftover cake in the back seat covered with a jacket, and that turned out to be fine. In hindsight, I should have just enjoyed small portion of the cake and take the rest home.

The cake itself was not only about quantity but also more about quality. I thought it was among the best chocolate cakes I had ever had, you could taste the high quality and the mastery of the preparation, and I did not feel sick of eating like what often time happened if eating too much of rich and sweet dessert. Below you can see the eight-layer chocolate cake next to my Blackberry smart phone for size comparison.

MAD cake

Lafayette

After listening to the lecture in front of the Courthouse at Colonial Williamsburg, I stayed to watch a reenactment of the Continental Army under General Washington arriving in Williamsburg. Several actors who played generals of the Continental Army waited in front of the Courthouse until General Washington arrived. He was greeted by one general who spoke in French accent. Later on, I found out that the general was supposed to be Marquis de Lafayette.

The name Lafayette today can be seen in many places in the United States — streets, parks, cities, etc. I remembered also hearing about Marquis de Lafayette as a friend of Thomas Jefferson’s when I visited Jefferson’s home, Monticello, in Charlottesville, Virginia. I thought it was quite curious however to have one Frenchman among the Americans during the reenactment in Williamsburg. So later on, I read some more about Lafayette and watched a documentary about this historical figure on Netflix.

There were several facts about Marquis de Lafayette that I found interesting. He was born into a noble family in France, so he was among the wealthiest in the nation during his youth. At early age (sixteen), he joined the French army and he learned about the struggle for independence in America. He decided that he wanted to help the cause, even when it meant he had to find his way to get to America, and even enlisted in the Continental Army as a volunteer to avoid being perceived as a mercenary. General George Washington took Lafayette under his wings. His first battle was the Battle of Brandywine, where he was wounded but received citation from Washington for his bravery.

Lafayette then was given the command of a division of the Virginia troops, and later fought the British in New Jersey and Rhode Island. He also went home to France to lobby for French aid to America. Working with Benjamin Franklin, he secured French troops under General Rochambeau to come to America and helped the Continental Army to fight the British. When he came back to America, General Washington ordered Lafayette to lead the troops to pursue and capture Benedict Arnold (a Continental Army general who defected to the British). While he was not able to capture Arnold, he was able to help defend Richmond from being occupied by the British. Later that continued to his participation in the Siege of Yorktown, where the British surrendered and marked the end of the Revolutionary War.

After the war, Lafayette went back to France and continued to be an advocate for the Americans. In return he was given an honorary American citizenship by the Congress; he was the only foreigner to receive such honor until Winston Churchill in 1963. He came to America in 1824 to celebrate the country’s 50th anniversary at the official invitation of President James Monroe and the US Congress. He was honored as the only surviving general from the American Revolution through a grand tour around to visit all 24 American states in the period of almost a year.

When Lafayette died in 1824, the US gave him the same funeral honors as given to other American heroes. Today, his gravesite in Paris is decorated with an American flag. A park in Washington, DC very close to the White House was also named after him, Lafayette Park.

The photo below was the actor who played Lafayette providing explanation of the plan to attack the British in Yorktown.

Lafayette

Battle Planning

My visit to Colonial Williamsburg started with an orientation by a staff dressed in the era’s costume, providing the lay of the land of the area and giving us pointers to interesting things to see and programs to attend during the day. After the orientation, I continued with attending the first program of the day, a retelling of the history by a resident historian.

I was not expecting to attend a lecture, but listening to the historian providing the background about the events that led to the particular event we were commemorating (the battle of Yorktown) provided an excellent context to understand the historical event reenactments throughout the day.

One of the unique things you can do at Colonial Williamsburg is to locate an actor playing a historical character and interacting with him/her as if you were talking to the real character during the Colonial period. The actors not only dress up in periodic costume, but also talk like those from that era. They are also very knowledgeable about the historic character they represent, and can answer questions about the character that may not even be directly related to their relation to Williamsburg.

After the lecture, I went to one of the houses in the middle of the old town where the Continental generals spent time planning before their march to Yorktown. It was pretty neat to listen to a couple of actors who played the role of two prominent generals during the war, General Anthony Wayne and General Henry Knox, talking with each other and also interacting with a couple of visitors who seemed to know a lot about the history behind these two characters. They asked them some trivia questions about these characters’ personal lives, and the actors answered the questions with ease that you could have thought for a moment you were transported back in the history and listened to the real characters talking about themselves.

Here were the two generals sitting near a make shift discussion table and talking with audience about their plans to attack the British in Yorktown.

Battle Planning

History Triangle

The area around Williamsburg is also known as the History Triangle as there are three places where important events in the American history happened. Jamestown is the site of the first British settlement in the new world. It was the first capital of the colony of Virginia until it was moved to Williamsburg. Williamsburg then served as the capital of the colony for several years. Yorktown entered the history due it’s strategic location from maritime perspective, and it was the place where the British troops surrendered that led to the end of the American Revolutionary War and the United Stated became gaining recognition as an independent nation.

Today history buffs can come to the area and spend some time to learn and relive history by visiting these three places. They are connected through a route called the Colonial Parkway, so you can easily drive between the places. Alternatively, you can also park your car at the Colonial Williamsburg Visitor Center, and take shuttle bus to visit the three places.

During my day trip to the area, I arrived at the Colonial Williamsburg Visitor Center right before it opened around 9 am in the morning. I considered trying to visit the other sites on the same day, but later I decided to just spend the day in Williamsburg and attend the special events that went on throughout the day as part of commemorating the siege of Yorktown.

The photo below was taken right at the heart of Colonial Williamsburg. You can see the governor’s palace at the end of the grassy area, and a reenacted encampment of the Continental Army to commemorate their stay in Williamsburg prior to going to Yorktown.

Governor's Palace

Day Trip to Colonial Williamsburg

Williamsburg, Virginia, is a city located about 3.5 hour-drive away from Washington, DC. The city was the capital of the Colony of Virginia before it was moved to Richmond. It is the home of the second oldest college in the United States, the College of William and Mary. Part of the city is known as Colonial Williamsburg, where an area consisting around 50 buildings has been preserved from the Colonial era. It serves as a living interactive museum as life from that era is reenacted by actors daily.

I had heard of the Colonial Williamsburg since a long time ago, having lived in Virginia for several years. However, I had never visited the place until earlier this fall when I made a last minute trip on Saturday. I found out that during that particular weekend, they were going to commemorate the preparation before the American troops went on to nearby Yorktown to attack the British under General Cornwallis. The siege that happened in Yorktown was an important event during the American’s fight for its independence as it marked the surrender of the British troops during that war.

I did not grow up and go to primary or secondary school in the US, so I never really learned about the US history. During this visit to Colonial Williamsburg, I learned some interesting historical facts and about some important figures from that era. So in the next few posts I will write about that day trip to Williamsburg.

The photo below was taken in the Colonial Williamsburg area. You can see here the actors and volunteers reenacted the American troops marching into Williamsburg following General George Washington, on their way to Yorktown. For a moment, you can be transported to that era and feel that you are reliving the history.

Colonial Williamsburg