The 2013 Mid-Atlantic Tourism Public Relations Alliance annual meeting & marketplace brought about 100 of us to Arlington, VA, for three full days of part-business, part-play in the popular county on the outskirts of DC. One of my favorite parts of this trip was diving into the area’s diverse culinary scene (shocker), which proved to be even more enjoyable than I expected- thanks in large part to specialty tours by the chefs and culinary masterminds behind these foodie hotspots.
Our first stop was to Lebanese Taverna for a hands-on cooking demonstration. This award-winning Middle Eastern hangout has grown from a space no bigger than a takeout-only pizza shop to a powerhouse of what is now six restaurants, four cafes, a market, and a full-service catering business.
After learning the history of Lebanese Taverna and meeting members of the family that have been involved since the restaurant’s inception in 1979, it was easy to see how this group of hard-working entrepreneurs were able to expand their business so quickly. Now, the Abi-Najm family is able to share the charming flavors of their Lebanese roots with foodies across the Mid-Atlantic.
Tawanna got her hands dirty helping Chef Joseph Comfort make baklava. This type of culinary class is common at Lebanese Taverna; the restaurant offers classes and specialty parties nearly every week.
We each got to try our hand at making grape leaves, a staple of Middle Eastern cuisine. Surprsingly, it was very, very simple. In addition to the baklava demonstration and a killer watermelon and feta salad, I walked away with a handful of brilliant – and easy – recipes straight from Lebanese Taverna’s kitchen.
As if we weren’t bursting at the seams at this point, we still had another stop on our culinary tour: Artisan Confections. This boutique chocolate shop cranks out gourmet “bon bons” in unique flavors like black pepper, lavender-caramel, bourbon, and ancho chile. With only the finest chocolate base (from France) combined with fresh local ingredients and custom edible designs, this shop gives a whole new meaning to the term “sweets.” And, though the prices range on the expensive side, you get what you pay for with these chocolate delights. And hey, perhaps it prevents you from buying 100 at once and scarfing them all down on the spot. Because trust me, you’ll want to.
While at Artisan Confections, our group was treated to a behind-the-scenes look at how the mouth-watering desserts are made. Oh, and we may or may not have tried every single flavor. All for research, of course.
So, after eating all day, we ended the day with…. what else? More eating. We were able to choose from about 12 of Arlington’s hottest food spots and luckily for me, I just happened to pick one of the dinearound options that was personally escorted by one of the owners of Food Tour Corporation, a business that offers customized food tours in major cities across the U.S.
Our family-style meal at Rustico consisted of the most amazing bib lettuce salad (topped with pecan granola; brilliant.), hummus with feta and chopped onions, four different pizzas, and, saving the best for last, ricotta donuts with chocolate dipping sauce.
Needless to say, my stomach was extremely full and extremely happy after this food-filled day in Arlington.