When I met my boyfriend we were living in New York City, a city that is literally heaven in my eyes to such a degree that I was blind to the idea that others could possibly feel differently. How could you not be satisfied in the city that houses the pinnacle of what humanity has to offer in just about every realm. And not only that, but despite the stereotypes, I thought people were friendly and approachable unlike the city I had moved there from, DC (the at-least-once-voted “coldest” city, cold people not cold weather). But. Not only did he feel differently about New York, he felt that way about Richmond, Virginia.
Come on now, there is no comparing the two. That’s just ridiculous.
And I was right, there is no comparing the two–they are vastly different cities. But one could conceivably compare my current home, Washington DC, and Richmond…and in my falsely humble opinion, Richmond wins out easily for the simple fact that it has two incredibly important elements that DC and probably most cities don’t:
1. A wealth of some of the tastiest vegan/vegetarian food you’ll ever eat
2. A natural body of water in the middle of the city that is clean and pleasant enough to want to swim in. All summer long.
To be perfectly clear, DC sucks for vegetarians. There are a few places and even a website and printed guide for vegetarians in the city, but most of what you’ll get is horribly mediocre. This is especially true if you’re carless and at the mercy of the metrorail geography. There’s one upscale veggie place, Vegetate, which I think is pretty good, but it’s nothing–and I mean nothing–when compared with Ipanema in Richmond.
We actually zipcar to Richmond instead of taking the train or bus just so we don’t have to leave before Ipanema opens to make the last train or bus. This place is that good. It’s a small, dark little room that is legitimately charming (almost dive-y) with a fantastically creative menu chalked onto a board (the only menu there is) and pleasantly laid back waiters. The ambiance is perfect, but is a distant, almost invisible second to the food, which manages to surprise me with its flavor, interesting ingredient combos, and HUGE portions (I’ll be eating my leftovers for lunch today, thus allowing me to relive the excitement all over again). Last night I had a minty pea risotto topped with a portabello stuffed with snowpeas, zucchini, and some other tastiness I don’t remember. It’s at 917 W. Grace Street, in the Fan section of Richmond.
Now the thing is, Ipanema isn’t all there is. In fact, when we go to Richmond, the day is organized around eating, since there are so many tasty veggie offerings. Even the grocery store is better there–Elwood Thompson’s, where we got some soy nuggets that may have us going back to Richmond more than usual to get our fix. We bought half a pound of them, got back to the car, each ate one, and looked at each other with eyes so wide you would have thought something truly remarkable happened. For us it did. They were amazing. I immediately went back to buy another half-pound. I have this vision of us eating in Richmond, like two starved dogs that are used to eating dirt and cardboard…I think it may border on pathetic. New York does this to us as well though–meals are always planned out because we have to squeeze so much goodness in. Some places inevitably get left out, but we try. I realize that I’m making DC sound like a wasteland for vegetarians, but by comparison it kind of is. There are choices, but they are far from stellar.
So onto the second leg-up Richmond has. The River. The gorgeous, rocky James River. This is something that I haven’t quite found anywhere else in the US (though I qualify that by saying my intra-US travels have been limited). The James runs right through Richmond and is actually clean enough to swim in with a high degree of confidence (or so I’ve been told…). In the center is Belle Isle, connected on either side by pedestrian bridges over the river. It’s a lovely park, with bike and hiking trails, and provides direct access to to the river, where you can hop rocks across the river to explore different swimming spots. There are also places to rent rafts and kayaks I believe.
The view from our rock.
I even got some knitting in while the sun warmed me a little before getting in the water. The great thing about having a swimmable river is that the water is generally warm, especially when you’re used to ocean water. I spent a few months on the Amazon a few years ago and that was the same with exclusive regard to swimming in a luke-warm, bath-like body of water. Of course, the Amazon is so large it actually looks like the ocean since you can’t see the other side of the river. Trippy, to say the least.
I’d still take NYC over Richmond any day, but I’ll take a Sunday in Richmond over one in DC for certain.