Feature: Norfolk, navy base and art center

By JACQUIE KUBIN   |   May 17, 2002 at 4:39 PM
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NORFOLK, Va., May 17 (UPI) -- The port city of Norfolk, Virginia, has meshed together with the largest U.S. Navy facility on the east coast of the United States to create an intriguing city where the sea meets art.

Within this surprisingly cosmopolitan city, visitors will find a rich historical destination, as well as a place for live entertainment and fine gourmet dining.

Norfolk boasts one of the most stunning art museum collections, found at The Chrysler Museum of Art. Norfolk's Chrysler Theater is a place to watch live arts groups, such as the Dance Theatre of Harlem. The Chrysler also provides a first stop for live shows destined for New York Broadway openings.

The city's first, and oldest role, however, is that of guardian of the sea. A boat tour of the Naval Base allows visitors to see the ships -- destroyers, aircraft carriers, guided missile cruisers, frigates and even nuclear submarines that are based here. But following the events of Sept. 11 photographs are not allowed.

While Navy is ever present, today's Norfolk is also very much alive with diversity, color and innovation, all of which are celebrated daily at The Chrysler Museum of Art, so named due to the largess of Walter P. Chrysler, Jr. and his Norfolk native wife, Jean Outland, whom Chrysler met while stationed as a Naval Officer in Norfolk.

After leaving the area, they returned to Norfolk where Jean Chrysler donated her parent's large contemporary painting collection. Walter, too, gave his vast collection to the museum.

It is said that Chrysler had a knack for collecting pieces before an artist became popular thus allowing the museum to display pieces such as Asher B. Duran's God's Judgment Upon Gog (circa 1851-52) and Edgar Degas' Dancer with Bouquets (circa 1895-1900).

Over the years, curators have added to Chrysler's gifts bringing The Chrysler Museum to its present day prominence. In addition to its outstanding painting and sculptures, The Chrysler also holds an exquisite photography collection and one of the three most extensive glass collections in the world.

This impressive collection includes items that date back to 500 B.C. to 1000 A.D., continuing through Venetian glass (1500-1800), European glass (1700-1880), European Art-Nouveau glass (1878-1920), Pâte De Verre glass (1890-1970) and glass from 1920 to the present day, including Chrysler's Art Nouveau period Tiffany glass collection which contains the infamous "Nellie Virginia Sands De Lamar" stained glass portrait window (circa 1915).

Norfolk contains many more important points of interest, too. St. Paul's Episcopal Church, built in 1739, is the town's oldest structure and visitors can see, lodged amongst its bricks, a cannonball filed by The Royal Governor of Virginia, Lord Dunmore of the British Fleet before he fled in 1775.

The MacArthur Memorial Museum is the final resting place of five star General of the Army Douglas MacArthur and his wife. Located inside a restored 1850 era City Hall are the General and Mrs. MacArthur's tombs as well as many personal items from his life that include his medals, uniforms and the famous corncob pipe, hat and glasses that he often wore.

Visitors, especially those with children, will want to take advantage of The Virginia Zoo and it's recently opened African Okavango Delta exhibit, which sits on a 55-acre park next to the Lafayette River.

Designed to give an experience similar to that of an African Safari, the Okavango Delta puts animals, including white rhinos, giraffes, ostriches, elephants and lions into their natural settings. The lion's rocks are heated to encourage the animals to come outside even on the chilliest of days.

Norfolk, however, enjoys a year round mild climate making it a perfect location for their Botanical Garden that encompasses 155 acres, including some of the larges collections of azaleas, camellias, roses and rhododendrons on the East coast.

Also in the Woods District of Norfolk is one of Norfolk's premier chefs, Bobby Huber. BobbyWood is just one of the many refreshingly unpretentious boutique restaurants that present regional cuisine with flair. While food choices are wholly American with plenty of robust seafood and grilled chicken, presentations seem to have a decidedly Asian influence.

Huber's restaurant is a local favorite for lunch and dinner as the chef churns out his brand of gourmet cuisine from an almost miniscule kitchen. The most redeeming quality of Huber's dishes, aside from the generosity of each serving, is that as a chef he practices restraint when it comes to seasonings. Dishes are delicately seasoned with simple fresh herbs.

Lunch at BobbyWood is a reasonable $15 for a unique salad, this day, it was a grilled polenta topped with fresh ricotta, California baby greens, olive, dried tomatoes, cherry wood balsamic and truffle infused olive oil followed by choice of entrees from oyster stew to natural Buffalo short ribs to the absolute best grilled jumbo crab cake this diner has ever tasted.

One of his signature dishes, the Haggerty's Etouffe, named for a favored patron, includes a seafood bonanza of shrimp, scallops, crawfish, clams, mussels and smoked Surry sausage pan sautéed and served with rice, named for a favored patron.

The large, sweet, all white crab meat was formed without the noticeable use of any filler, making one wonder exactly how Huber has commanded it to retain its perfect circular shape.

Deserts included a fresh apple tarte tatain with white chocolate ice cream, a mixed berry sorbet or a very aptly name Chocolate Amaretto sin Pie -- that was pure heaven.

Another slice of heaven in Norfolk is Bobby Huber's extensive wine cellar with a variety of whites, reds, California and imported labels to make even the most seasoned connoisseur smile.

Which is something you will find yourself doing as you journey through the arts and history that make this city by the harbor as robust and exuberant as the Atlantic sea air.

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