3 Day Weekend Essay

Less than a hundred years later, with nearly a third of its population in slavery, Virginia left the Union and Richmond became the capital of the Confederacy. In beauty, significance, and even tragedy—about a third of the Civil War's battles were fought there—Virginia is unrivaled.

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The dining room is lavish, excessive, and wonderful and the food matchless, because O'Connell's version of fine dining is not grounded in French technique. A friend and I tried tiny potatoes with osetra caviar, beer-battered asparagus tempura, impossibly light gougères (cheese puffs), minted pea soup, lamb accompanied by a Caesar salad that nearly floated off the plate, and morel mushroom meat loaf enhanced with jalapeño-accented stewed tomatoes.

If French cuisine had never existed, O'Connell would have invented the next best thing without ever leaving Virginia.

From Culpeper I moved on to Charlottesville and a night at the white-painted, Colonial-style Clifton Inn (), which has a croquet lawn, a lake, and hiking trails on 100 acres—and offered easy access to other places. Late that first afternoon I headed for Monticello, less than six miles away.

Another overnight option is Keswick Hall ( The 46-mile drive from Culpeper to Charlottesville set the tone for my trip, for it took me past the greenest fields and most opulent rural scenery imaginable.

Dinner on my first night was at the Shack () in Staunton, an easy 45-minute drive from the Clifton Inn along Route 64.

This tiny place is unprepossessing—a shack not in name only, modeled on the home of the grandmother of chef Ian Boden's wife—yet culinarily brilliant.

I had a meltingly soft beef rib in a devastating brown sauce that tasted mostly Southern but a little French, and something called Southern Fried Sugar Toads, which reminded me of crispy, juicy frog legs (they are in fact the tail of the Atlantic puffer fish).

Boden summed up his philosophy succinctly: "It's about no pretense." DAY 2 I was curious about Virginia's vineyards, because they have suddenly risen in prestige to become part of our national oenological conversation.

The state of Virginia blessed this country with Washington, Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe, boldface names from our political past, and added four later presidents as a bonus.

Native sons drafted the Declaration of Independence and much of the Constitution, a proud accomplishment, but the state would ultimately falter.

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