Washington, DC
Frederick, MD

Tuesday, May 4th - Thursday, May 6th

So in and amongst a crazy work travel schedule for Jill, I was able to steal her away for a couple of days. This was actually her Christmas present 'trip', the Top Chef Trifecta! We had already been to the restaurants of two of the three finalists, and our trip to Volt in Frederick, Maryland would make all three! Never one to take a long trip and not fill in a sporting event of some sort, we also hit a couple of baseball games along the way!

We left Tuesday morning, making our way down 81 through Harrisburg. We stopped at the Lancaster Brewing Company, a find by Jill with the help of Yelp! After a good lunch, we continued down Route 15 to 270, finally arriving at the Shady Grove Metro Station, the last station on the red line. Car parked we hopped the red line to the Chinatown station, where we transferred to the green line for our eventual destination - the Navy Yards station. Coming up out of the station, we found ourselves literally a half a block from Nationals Park! Very, very convenient.

We were there a little early, but that afforded us the opportunity to check out our newest Major League park, and also grab some dinner. I had 'the' thing to get while at Nats Park, the Ben's Chili Bowl Half-Smoke, all the way! In essence, it was a chili dog with a special tasting chili to go on top, but it was tasty! Jill had some bbq which was 'okay', but not as good as we had hoped it would be.

Seats for the game were along the first base side, about ten rows back from the Nats dugout - very good location, with one complaint - the constant movement of fans up and down the aisle. We were able to see the 'Presidents Race' in the fourth, which Thomas Jefferson won, and we also stayed for the Seventh Inning Stretch before heading back to the Metro.

We stayed at the Comfort Inn Shady Grove (room 510 - $89.10 a night, $203.50 total) in Gaithersburg which was convenient to both the Shady Grove Metro Station, and about twenty minutes down the road from Frederick.

Wednesday rolls around, Cinco De Mayo, and ya know what we did....we slept in! Till almost noon! Something we never seem to get a chance to do, but it sure felt good! Wanting to just take it easy, we went over to the Washingtonian Center and Rio Center, a shopping and eating area near the hotel. First, we grabbed lunch at Joe's Crab Shack, always one of our favorite chains (and with none 'near' us at home, we always like to optimize visiting one when we can find one). Afterwards, we just wandered around the area, stopping at a wine store for a couple of bottles, and then around the lake that was there. We stopped in at the Rio Grande Cafe for one more round of Cinco de Mayo drinks before heading back to the hotel to get ready for the 'main event', dinner at Volt in Frederick!

Volt was reminiscent of a New York City eatery, with tables close together and all. I'm usually a bit introverted, and when Jill and I go out to eat I like it to just be 'us', but we struck up a conversation with the folks on either side of us and it just added to the evening. In fact, on the one side of us was the president of the Frederick Chamber of Commerce, who was previously an insurance salesman, so he could talk! LOL!

We had a couple of drinks before dinner in the 'lounge', although there was one gentleman in there that thought he should be the center of attention, so I was glad they were able to seat us early. He was a little annoyed because the TV in the bar area was a 'live cam' from the kitchen (we got to watch Brian and his staff prepare the meals that were coming out - pretty cool!), and the bartenders wouldn't change the channel for him.

As for the food, it was good, but didn't have that 'wow' factor that some dishes at the other two had. We each opted for the four course A la Carte, and Jill ended up doing a wine pairing as well. I did a wine pairing at Michael's place in Pasadena, but when we had pre-dinner drinks at Volt I had a beer that I liked so I stuck with that.

Jill's first course was shiitake veloute chili oil, basil, pinenut sabayon, and I had a potato and leek soup with a scallop. Her serving size was well above what you would expect in a place like this, and actually bigger than what you would get in your local diner I think! Mine, perfect. Taste of the scallop was spot on, and the rest of the soup complimented it well.

Second course brought cherry glen farm goat cheese ravioli roasted butternut squash, shiitake mushrooms, and sage brown butter for Jill, and iberico-red wattle pork belly, cranberry beans, calypso beans, red ribbon sorrel, and mostarda for me. Funny, you’ll probably think we were looking for reasons to not like Volt, but I guess with all of the other places we’ve had the opportunity to eat we just have a lot to compare it to! LOL! That being said, the goat cheese ravioli is apparently one of their ‘signature’ dishes there, and one that Jill was looking forward to getting. It was good…but…a similar dish at the California Grill at the Contemporary Resort at Walt Disney World is just as good, if not better. Of course, it was also one of the dishes served at our wedding there, so we might be a bit biased, but the reason it was served at the wedding was because it was so good! My pork belly was as well tasty, but paled in comparison to a similar dish I had at Kevin’s place in Atlanta last November. Brian’s was actually dry as it appeared to have been cooked to long, thereby cooking out some of the taste you would expect.

For the main course, Jill had a chicken dish, and I had a fish dish. LOL – the ‘descriptors’ aren’t on the menu online, so I can’t plagiarize them here for you. Both dishes, however, were good, but again didn’t blow us out of the water. The serving sizes remained HUGE for this course at this type of restaurant. This was actually a fact that we mentioned to the folks next to us (including the gentleman that was the Chamber of Commerce President), and they told us at one time the portions were much smaller, but they received so much negative feedback because of that they increased the sizes. Too bad actually – the saying quality over quantity comes into play at this point I think.

For dessert, I had the textures of chocolate white chocolate ganache, chocolate caramel, and raw organic cocoa (which is their most popular dessert item), and Jill had dulce de leche white chocolate goat cheese cake, granny smith apple sorbet, and dry caramel. Both were a good ending to a good meal.

On Thursday, it was time to head back home. We wanted to get back to Binghamton in time for Mike's little league game that night, but we had just enough time for a quick detour back to Frederick for a Frederick Keys baseball game! Very nice ballpark, and even though an early start on a weekday usually means the dreaded 'school day', this game wasn't one of those! Woo hoo! We stayed until around 1:00, then drove the rest of the way back to New York in time for Mike's game.

Washington Nationals 6, Atlanta Braves 3

WASHINGTON -- The Nationals used the long ball to defeat the Braves, 6-3, at Nationals Park on Tuesday night.

Washington won its 14th game of the season. In 2009, the team didn't win its 14th game until May 24.

Nationals right-hander Livan Hernandez won his fourth game of the year, but he wasn't as sharp as he was in his previous four starts. He lasted 5 1/3 innings, gave up two runs (one earned) and walked five batters.

Hernandez threw 123 pitches and 41 of them came in the first inning, when Atlanta scored the first run of the game. Nate McLouth scored on a sacrifice fly by Troy Glaus. Hernandez said pitching on seven days' rest had an effect on him.

"When you pitch on seven days, it was a little different. Sometimes, six days is a lot," Hernandez said. "Seven days is too much, I think. I felt like I was all over the place. I didn't miss by much. I had 41 pitches in the first inning and only one run. I will take it any day. I tried to keep the ballgame close and not make too many mistakes."

Hernandez may have struggled in that first inning, but he found a way to keep the Braves off balance, according to third baseman Chipper Jones.

"I'll say this about Livan: The repertoire might not blow your mind, but that guy knows how to pitch," Jones said. "He changes speeds with every pitch that he has -- whether it's the fastball, curveball, changeup, slider or cutter. He throws nothing over the middle of the plate. Everything is two inches off either corner. That's what has made him so successful.

"He has great mechanics out there on the mound. He uses a minimal amount of effort and, more times than not, gets the job done."

Nationals manager Jim Riggleman said the right-hander is the only person on his staff he doesn't worry about when it comes to a high pitch count.

"He was using up a lot of pitches, but Livo pitches like that," Riggleman said. "He sees how he wants to approach a hitter, maybe someone he wants to pitch around and go get the next guy. He tries to find out what's working -- in and out -- and he was just missing tonight. It caused the pitch count to go up.

"We made things a little tough for him in the first inning. He threw a few more pitches than he would have liked. But he rebounded. He is one guy on the staff that I'm not too concerned about when it comes to a pitch count. He barely broke a sweat out there."

The Nats would give Hernandez the lead in the bottom of the second inning off right-hander Kenshin Kawakami. With one out, Josh Willingham tied the score at 1 with a solo homer. Three batters later, Ivan Rodriguez scored on a single up the middle by Ian Desmond to give Washington a 2-1 lead.

After the Braves tied the game at 2 on a homer by Jason Heyward in the fourth, it was all Nationals after that. In the bottom of the fifth, Desmond gave Washington a one-run lead with a solo homer.

Desmond is one of Washington's hottest hitters, going 8-for-24 (.333) in his past six games to raise his batting average to .260.

"Ian is a special guy," Riggleman said. "He's a great athlete. He is playing a great shortstop for us. The ball jumps off his bat good. He is special talent. He had another good ballgame tonight. He played heads-up baseball. He shows a lot of leadership on the field. We are lucky to have him."

An inning later, Adam Dunn hit a solo shot into the second deck against reliever Eric O'Flaherty.

The Nationals added two more runs in the seventh and eighth innings. In the seventh, Braves reliever Jonny Venters was charged with a run after Justin Maxwell scored on a single by Cristian Guzman.

Washington scored its last run of the game an inning later when pinch-runner Willy Taveras scored on a single by Roger Bernadina.

With the victory, the Nationals broke a modest two-game losing streak, which is the season-high for them. The team has avoided a long losing streak because it stays focused on that day's game.

"We are not thinking about yesterday or tomorrow," Riggleman said. "We are thinking about getting after it tonight, trying to win the game. We have some good athletes here like Desmond and Nyjer Morgan. They do some special things for us up the middle. Pudge [Rodriguez] is doing a great job behind the plate. There are a lot of nice components to win a ballgame."

Frederick Keys 5, Winston-Salem Dash 4

There was an unusual sight at the end of the Frederick Keys' come-from-behind win Thursday afternoon as 6-foot-4, 318-pound reliever Jose Diaz was seen chest-bumping teammates to celebrate his first save of the season.

"I have been playing for 10 years. I like to see everybody having fun," he said.

Seeing a 300-plus-pound minor league pitcher celebrating a victory like an exuberant child was almost as strange as the game, which saw the Keys play six lifeless innings before rallying for a 5-4 victory over the Winston-Salem Dash at Harry Grove Stadium.

First baseman Joe Mahoney belted an RBI double and catcher Brian Ward, the No. 9 hitter, added a two-run homer as part of a five-run seventh for the Keys (16-11), marking the 21st game this season they have scored at least three runs in an inning.

After getting swept by Winston-Salem a week earlier, getting outscored 27-10 in the process, the Keys took three of four games from the Dash (18-9), one of the top hitting and scoring teams in all of minor league baseball.

"Big players hit in big spots," Mahoney said. "Seems like every day it's a different guy for us right now."

Through six innings, the Keys had twice as many errors (four) as hits and manager Orlando Gomez said the team looked "dead." It had nothing to do with the game starting at 11 a.m., he said.

At one point, the normally laid-back Gomez felt compelled to sternly tell his team, "You guys need to wake up right now. Too passive right now."

The Keys answered the call in the seventh as they led off with back-to-back doubles from second baseman L.J. Hoes and Mahoney, who has three doubles in the last two games.

Later in the inning, following RBI singles from right fielder Ronnie Welty and designated hitter Jacob Julius, Ward stepped in and blasted a 1-1 pitch over the wall in left-center for his second home run of the season.

"Big hit," Mahoney said. "That's what we were looking for all day."

Then, the Keys turned to their bullpen, which had been sharp for the entire series.

Diaz, who was promoted from Aberdeen on April 21 and throws a fastball regularly clocked in the mid-to-upper 90s, will primarily serve as the set-up man to closer Brandon Cooney, who already had two saves in the series and was given the day off.

In his first save opportunity of the season, Diaz faced five batters, allowed one hit and forced the game-ending 4-6-3 double play.

Winston-Salem finished the game with 10 runners left on base. The Keys bullpen, meanwhile, did not allow an earned run in 15 2-3 innings in the series.

Asked following the game if he had ever shared a chest-bump with Diaz, the 63-year-old Gomez said, "No, no. If I do, I have to be prepared."

Note: The Keys open a three-game series at 7 p.m. today against the Wilmington Blue Rocks at Harry Grove Stadium. The Keys lead the Northern Division of the Carolina League, while the Blue Rocks sit in last place in the four-team division.

Trip Notes:

Our seats for the Nationals game were Section 129L, Row V, Seats 17. Seats were purchased on StubHub, $71.00 per seat, for a total of $161.15 with fees and tax.