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Friday, March 30, 2007

Thing 18: Historic Hotel Happy Hour

I love a good alliteration, don't you? Thing 18 was almost "Historic Henley Hotel Happy Hour", but then we also went to the Morrison Clark Inn. I will have to make do with a four H title.

This particular thing took me one week to complete, but that was due to poor planning and failure to read the fine print on Sarah’s coupons (or the back of her coupons, for that matter). Sarah had happy hour coupons for the Henley Park Hotel and the Morrison Clark Inn, both registered historic hotels that neither of us had been to. So last Wednesday we met at the Morrison Clark Inn, with two happy hour coupons from each hotel, determined to drink a little drink and learn a little history.

The Morrison Clark Inn used to be two homes, one owned by Mr. Morrison, and the other (surprise!) by Mr. Clark. In the 1920s, it became a boarding house for servicemen, with rooms costing 50 cents a night. Over the course of WWII, the inn housed over 45,000 men from the armed services. Now declared a historic site by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, it is tucked away at L and 11th and open as a hotel and restaurant. There just isn't a bar. Which we found out when we tried to get a drink there at happy hour.

It turns out, had we read the fine print, that the Morrison Clark Inn only serves drinks on Thursdays, and we were there on Wednesday to cash in our coupons. Luckily, we also had two coupons for the Henley Park Hotel, just across the street, and we were assured that our other two coupons would work there, where they have a bar seven days a week.

The Henley Park Hotel, at 12th and Massachusetts, used to be an apartment building for DC's upper class. Back then it was called Tudor Hall, and the Massachusetts Avenue corridor was a very fashionable district for the moneyed and powerful to take up residence. The apartments were home to Senators, Congressmen and administration officials in the first half of the 20th century. Now a hotel, it has been restored with stained glass, gargoyles and luxurious rooms.

The bar at the Henley Park is dimly lit, opulent with indigo and gold patterned wallpaper. The silver metallic bar is accented by dripping, hanging lamps. A piano at one end of the room sat unplayed at our Wednesday happy hour, with a cheese platter laid out on top of it. Sarah and I took a seat at a corner table, and ordered two fancy martinis - she got a French martini, sweetened with pineapple juice, and I got a pomegranate martini. They tasted like juice, and we slugged them back a little too quickly considering they were actually cocktails. The clientele seemed to be mostly out of towners staying at the hotel. When we took a couple pictures they asked us where we were from. "Oh, we live just down the street," we answered to puzzled looks. It is the downside of being a tourist in your own city -- people think you're actually a tourist.

After slugging back our drinks, we pulled out our coupons, only to find out that martinis were not included (there's that fine print again) and that they were actually double sided, bearing drink coupons for both the Morrison Clark and the Henley Park. Our martinis were $12 -- we paid up and left, making plans to visit the Morrison Clark the next Thursday, now that we knew we actually had four tickets that we could use at the inn.

The next week, Sarah and I were back at the Morrison Clark. This time, a small bar was set up in a corner, and the bartender assured us that we could use our coupons for any drink, martinis included. With our cocktails in hand, Sarah and I retired to the historic, Chinese-inspired porch to enjoy our happy hour in the warm spring weather, with a view of the blooming front garden complete with blossoming cherry tree.

Before leaving, we peeked into the restaurant - a romantic room of pink and white, with colorful bouquets and chandeliers. Sarah and I didn't have meal tickets, sadly, but perhaps it merits going back for a little dinner sometime...

Monday, March 26, 2007

Bonus: All Aunt Hagar's Children

An occasional series on books and movies about DC:

Edward P. Jones loves this city far more than anyone I know. He knows every street and neighborhood intimately, and it feels like he knows everyone who's ever lived here, too. In his second collection of short stories, All Aunt Hagar's Children, Jones continues to tell the story of the people of DC, and through them the story of DC itself. His DC is one of miracles, where a woman can turn blind at a moment's notice or root worker can cure a woman from witches. His DC is one of reality, where children are abandoned to the foster care system until their grandparents can take them in, or an ex-con lives in a halfway house on N St, busing tables and trying to put his life back in order. In every story, the city itself plays a central role. The quadrants -- NW, SW, NE, SE --mean something, and people's streets and neighborhoods tell the reader something important about who they are.

I strongly recommend reading Jones' first collection of short stories, Lost In The City, before All Aunt Hagar's Children. Characters and events that were on the periphery in the first book return to take center stage now. Likewise, the main events and characters of the first collection are sometimes mentioned in passing in the second, a wink between author and reader.

One of my favorite short stories, the title story of the book, is the only one narrated in the first person. It takes on a film noir detective feeling, a twist on "in walked this girl." In this case "the girls" are the hero's mother, aunt and their matronly friend from childhood, all united by a terrible secret that took them away from Alabama in their childhood. The mystery unfolds quickly, the whodunit profoundly sad. In fact, all of the stories are sad. I don't know if Jones knows any happy people in the city , but he certainly doesn't write about them.

My other favorite from the collection is called "Adam Robinson Acquire Grandparents and a Little Sister." In this story, a young child has been abandoned by parents to the foster care system until his grandparents track him down and bring him into their home, where his little sister already live. The child has already been in several foster homes and keeps asking his family when he can go 'home,' to one of the other foster homes. The story is heartbreaking, as you learn of the old couple's plans to travel that have been put on hold when their children aren't able to care for their own. The abstracts of welfare and foster care and drug use come painfully, perfectly alive.

Jones writes beautifully and has the awards to prove it. Some stories are strong than others, but they add up to a moving portrait of this city, past and present, and the real people who live here.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Thing 17: The Matisse Cut Outs

This was supposed to be a post about going to the top of the Washington Monument. But it turns out that you need reservations and tickets ahead of time for that post is going to come just a little later this year.

In the meantime, we were two girls in matching "I [heart] DC" t-shirts we'd bought three for $10 at a stand up the street from the Monument. We'd already asked a hapless GW student to take our picture with the Monument in the background, proudly showing off our matching shirts and $5 sunglasses. "So, where are you from?" he'd asked after taking our picture. "DC," we answered in unison. He looked at us with a cocked head, clearly confused, and we skipped off towards the Monument.

When our original plans to see the top of the Monument didn't pan out we decided that the day was simply too perfect and our matching outfits simply too funny to just turn around and go home. "We can see the Matisse Cut Outs," Good Friend Lisa suggested as an alternative. I had never heard of them. "When Matisse was starting to go blind, he couldn't paint anymore. So instead he made cutouts of colored paper and glued them to together." They are only available for viewing in the East Wing of the National Gallery at limited times, to protect them from sun damage, and GFL had never had a chance to go see them. The East Wing is on the other end of the Mall from the Monument, and we strolled arm in arm across the Mall enjoying the sunshine, watching the joggers and the puppies and the tourists and some woman in four inch stilettos totter up the the dirt path.

We dipped into the East Wing of the National Gallery and made our way up to the Tower, a single, trapezoidal room on the fifth floor where the cut outs are displayed. There are four of them housed here, and they are absolutely striking. First of all, they are huge. Bigger than you'd ever dream. For some perspective, here is GFL standing next to one:

Then there are the colors. The colors are bright and full of life, magenta and green and orange and blue and yellow -- and they all work together and come alive. One of the works, just a single cut out piece of paper, portrays all the life and movement of a woman carrying a basket of pomegranates down the road, turning to face the viewer and dropping three pomegranates as she does. And this is a solid color, cut out piece of paper. The man was a genius.

We marvelled at the cutouts and whispered a little bit about their color, composition and balance (GFL knows a lot about art). Then we wanted ice cream.

The gelato in the basement cafeteria of the National Gallery is wonderful. It's worth the trip over there alone. I ordered a cup of vanilla and chocolate, GFL ordered vanilla and blueberry. The flavors are rich and concentrated, and a wonderful treat on a sunny afternoon.

Side Note: Congratulations, Hoyas. I happened to be on M Street on Sunday Night when all Hell broke loose. I only captured 30 seconds of video, but this impromptu parade kept up for a solid twenty minutes.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Thing 16: The Textile Museum

During the Heian period in Japan, the color red was strictly for the rich and royal. Laws prohibited regular people from wearing red, so they rebelled by wearing red undergarments that the authorities couldn't see. To this day, some Japanese kimonos are lined in red, a hidden burst of color, daring and sex.

This is one of the many things I learned about the color red during my excursion to the Textile Museum on Saturday. "RED" explores the meanings and significance of the color across cultures and time. Until the invention of commercial dyes, red was one of the hardest colors to create organically. It was rare and used only at special occasions, be they weddings, births or death. After the invention of chemical commercial dyes, red did not lose its appeal, and the exhibit includes modern examples of a stunning ball gown, a tiny AIDS ribbon lapel pin, and a collection of ceremonial presidential photographs.

The exhibit is not large -- it takes up only one and a half rooms -- but the collection has pieces dating back to 900 BCE, and spanning every continent, including Persian, Chinese, Vietnamese, Japanese, Afghan, Mexican, Macedonian, Peruvian, Turkish and American textiles, among others. One of my favorite pieces, a tiny, detailed piece of stitching from Persia depicts an entire folk tale of the love between a man and woman separated by a mountain. It's a small, red, 16th century comic book. A large and beautifully intricate Chinese collar was worn by a bride on her wedding day, where it was custom for the bride and groom to dress like the Emperor and his wife on that one special day. The collar, lined in a pale, faded red, is worthy of the Emperor's wife for its beauty and intricacy.

The Textile Museum of DC is the only museum in the US devoted to the textile arts. Considering its the only one of its kind, and that it's been around since 1925, you'd think I'd have heard of it. But tucked away in Kalorama at S and 23rd, in a stately but otherwise unremarkable brick house, I had no idea it even existed. Only while leafing through a booklet of area galleries did I run across it's listing.

"RED" is its current exhibition, and they were in the process of setting up an exhibit of tent bands from Central Asia, which we could only see from around corners but looked equally interesting. In addition to its exhibitions, the Textile Museum features a textile learning center, where touching and feeling is encouraged (it is strictly forbidden to touch the textiles on display). It explains the language of textiles, where different materials come from, how dyes are produced in nature. It shows the difference between weaving pattern into cloth, dying pattern into cloth, or putting the pattern onto the cloth with embroidery. Through the interactive exhibit (which I imagine children might really love), the participant learns about the cultural significance of textiles, and how we learn from cultures by how they make their textiles, the colors, patterns, techniques and materials they use.

The museum also has a really wonderful gift shop, with unique bags, scarves, ties, and dolls from around the world. Excellent gifts for those who have everything.

The museum is free, though a $5 donation is suggested.

Thing 15: Lobby

I exit the Capitol South metro every morning, along with Americans from all over the country who have come to the Hill to explain their cause to their Member of Congress. Every interest group and association imaginable organizes a "Hill Day," designed to sit constituents down with their elected Representative and tell their story, pleading their case for legislation that will make their life better. The other day, a group of a dozen blind people were leaving the metro and heading to the Congressional office buildings. The day before it was some global-warming-doesn't-exist folks. Save Darfur, save organized labor, save social security, save small businesses, save the planet -- they all have their day on the Hill.

And yesterday, it was me.

This is not a political blog, but very briefly I will explain that circumstances in Congress on Thursday managed to outrage me so much that I felt compelled Friday morning to storm the House Office Buildings and give someone a piece of my mind. I was angry because District residents were getting close to having a voting Member in Congress -- finally, just a little representation for matters of taxation. A Republican Congressman managed to block the vote on a procedural technicality. He asked for a "motion to recommit," which sends a bill back to committee, in order to attach an amendment that would repeal DC's handgun ban. Conservative Democrats (the "Blue Dogs") were in a bind because they can't be seen as "pro-gun control" in their home districts, and the bill -- which had widely been predicted to sail through -- was frozen in place. The leadership remains unsure of exactly what to do next.

I was livid. It felt to me like Congress was saying "either you can have a vote and your streets won't be safe OR you can stay safe and voiceless." I checked in with DCist, who had opened up an all out assault on Rep. Boustany's office. The Congressman had been attributed (falsely, it turned out) with saying that DC is "the only city . . . that every Senator and every Member of Congress has a vested interest in seeing that it works properly, that water works, sewer works." Boustany has adopted us, DCist gleefully proclaimed. Call his office for constituent services! I did one better. I did what people travel thousands of miles to DC to do: have a constituent meeting.

I walked over the the Longworth building, found Boustany's office (those House office buildings are mazes!) and asked to meet with the person on staff who handles voting rights. I was polite, good-natured and kept my ire buried because I know that the surest way to get dismissed is to be an angry or combative constituent. The staff assistant went back into the office to see who might be willing to speak to me and came back out assuring me that the staffer on this issue was busy at the moment, but to please be in touch and he would be happy to meet with me.

Next stop was my actual Congressional Rep. -- Eleanor Holmes Norton's office. Of course, she can't vote on any legislation, which is the problem in the first place. I asked her front office staff where I should go and who I should try to meet with. They were thrilled and suggested I try to see Rep. Lamar Smith, who put forth the motion to recommit in the first place. They also steered me towards Rep. Souder, who has made a hobby of attempting to repeal DC's ban on handguns. I ran around the Rayburn and Longworth buildings and requested meetings with all the relevant people. None of them could meet with me, but both offices said I was free to contact the staffer and request a meeting in person.

Tired from the running and the righteous indignation, I returned to work to email the staffers, and maybe even do a little of that for which I actually get paid to do.

A staffer from the Judiciary Committee, working under the supervision of Rep. Smith, called me back about a half hour later. I asked him why his boss was trying to confuse Congressional representation with gun control. He suggested that perhaps the best way for the District to gain full Congressional representation was to cede the land back to Maryland. That way, he explained, we'd get a Congress person and two Senators. It is hard to argue with an insane though technically correct idea, so I thanked him for taking the time to actually call me back and went back to my work.

In the early afternoon, Boustany's staffer emailed me back. He apologized that he was unavailable earlier that morning, and would I mind coming back that afternoon to meet with him? He could fit me in at 4:00.

Shortly before 4:00, I headed back to Longworth for my "constituent" meeting. Of course, I wasn't a constituent, so I'm guessing the meeting had little or no impact. Most likely this kindly staffer dismissed everything I had to say just as soon as I left. He explained to me that he felt the bill in question was unconstitutional. I pleaded with him to let the courts decide on constitutional issues and in the meantime the reality is that people live here and we are real and we pay taxes and we're sick and tired of being voiceless. He was really nice and polite, and I left with a feeling of what it might actually be like to lobby my Representative. It felt pretty good. It makes me want my own even more.

Allow me just a moment of sentimentality -- I can't imagine any other country in the world where I could get mad at the government and just walk into their offices and plead my case. It makes me proud of my city and my country that the blind, the anti-environment, the pro-medicare and any other group in the country can speak freely about how they want to be represented in Congress. Even one pissed off girl without a Representative and with a slow morning at work can make a little bit of noise, and maybe have just a bit of influence.

Update: For more about the mix up with Boustany, read this story in the Washington Post. My comment on DCist about my constituent meeting is actually quoted!

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Thing 14: Ceiba

Moving further South from po' boys, shrimp and grits, I arrived at Ceiba for a taste of South America.

“The mussels are really good,” the host said to me as he handed me the menu. “So is the tilapia. Oh, and the empanadas!” I thanked him for his recommendation and he left me with the menu. I expected his enthusiastic recommendations to steer me towards the most expensive items. I must be too cynical – his recommendations fell about the middle of the menu, price wise, and I decided he must really just love the empanadas.

I looked around the room as I waited for my lunch date. We had ended up at a small table for two in a corner of the main dining area, with big windows that look out on G Street, downtown. Fake banana tree leaves are fanned out across the windows, allowing light through but obscuring people’s ability to look in on diners. The ceiling has a dome carved out of it, and is painted sky blue. A modern, flat chandelier of thick unlit candles rests beneath it: stars waiting to be lit. The tables are of dark varnished wood with woven place mats, the chairs are upholstered in white. Easy listening salsa music plays quietly. The dining room is bright, comfortable, and tropical without the kitsch.

My lunch date, a client and friend, mover and shaker, arrived and we ordered a couple of mojitos. They arrived full of fresh mint, sweet and sour with lime and sugar, and adorned with a stick of sugar cane and an inexplicable tiny plastic bull hanging from the side of the glass.

We asked our waiter for further menu recommendations. He pointed out the steak and the mussels and the sugarcane ahi tuna. I tried to talk my friend into grilled octopus salad or the ceviche shrimp cocktail, but he wasn’t too enthusiastic. In the end we ordered the empanadas and a pork- and goat cheese-stuffed pepper. My friend ordered the steak, and I ordered the mussels. Normally I wouldn’t have been inclined to order mussels at a Latin restaurant, but when two of the staff recommend something that isn’t the most expensive thing on the menu, I figure it's worth a try.

The appetizers arrived, and the empanadas were the clear winner. Lightly deep fried, rich and golden and crispy, they were stuffed with beef, hard boiled egg, raisins and green olives, and came with a spicy red dipping sauce. Four mini empanadas were lined up on a small, white rectangular plate and I reluctantly let me friend eat two of them. The pork stuffed pepper was fine, just not nearly as memorable as those empanadas.

My mussels arrived in an earthenware bowl, piled high and surrounded by a yellow broth, thick with coconut milk. These were jumbo mussels! I’ve never had mussels this big. The meat inside each shell was the length of my thumb and twice the width. Also, I've only had mussels prepared like the Belgians like them – in a thin broth of white wine, butter, parsley and shallots. It is a wonderful broth for dipping frites or French bread into, but these mussels bathed in a very different sort of soup. It was a thick broth, tasting of curry and saffron, made rich with coconut milk and fortified with rice and strips of bell pepper. The staff is right: order the mussels.

We were stuffed from the feast, but ever the sweet tooth I ordered a light dessert for us to share, a trio of sorbets:

The one on the left is prickly pear – spicy and peppery and altogether unpleasant. The middle, a banana-mango topped with a small circle of buttery caramel, was my friend’s favorite and he got to work on that one. The clear winner for me was the scoop on the right, a guava sorbet with a salty edge. The sweet guava is enhanced by the saltiness, the same pleasurable combination as a margarita or a chocolate-covered pretzel.

Another two hour “power lunch” complete, and another of DC’s signature restaurants to check off the list. Ceiba was conceived of and executed by the same team as TenPehn and DC Coast, which I am now looking forward to tremendously.

Thing 13: Po' Boy Happy Hour

No less than seven Washingtonian “Cheap Eats” covers adorn the wall of Southside 815 in Old Town Alexandria. They are well deserved. For if you care to make the journey across the river into that commonwealth of Virginia, you are rewarded with cheap food, cheap beer, friendly service, multiple TVs and live music on Tuesdays.

I seem to be going through some sort of Southern comfort food phase, between a trip to rural Virginia last weekend (fantastic BBQ!), Georgia Brown’s on Monday and now Southside's happy hour, which features plentiful and outrageously cheap oyster po’ boys and pulled pork sandwiches. Mini oyster po’ boys, mini pork sandwiches and mini pork nachos are all $1.50 during happy hour (Monday - Friday, 4-7). Thinking “mini,” I ordered two of everything. Turns out, it was a TON of food. All the food in this picture cost me a whopping $9:

Wash this feast down with a $2 draught of Miller Lite, and it’s a very happy hour.

Not only is the food cheap, but it's actually pretty good. The pulled pork is sweet and tender, the oysters in the po' boys are gigantic, deep fried with a crispy outside and soft, briny flesh. The rolls for the mini sandwiches are slightly sweet and incredibly dense. The sandwiches may be mini but they are filling and satisfying and we couldn't come close to finishing them all. The nachos became soggy very quickly, but fresh from the kitchen they are crispy and covered with melted cheese, more sweet pulled pork and a generous dollop of sour cream.

Southside 815 is half restaurant, half sports bar. My friends and I stayed strictly in the sports bar section, surrounded by TVs broadcasting March Madness. We arrived around 6, grabbed a table near the bar, ordered a round of Miller Lites and that accidental orgy of food from the bar, and got to work talking and laughing. Our bartender, Darrel, saw to it that we were well taken care of.

Around 8 the band, Smalltown, set up. The band -- one guy with a guitar, one guy on a keyboard -- began playing covers of crowd pleasers. Jimmy Buffet, U2, Eric Clapton (including the excerpt of Lola, below). They were good but unobtrusive. When we paid attention to them, we enjoyed them. When we were caught up in conversation, they didn't distract.

And so it was that 10pm rolled around, and it being Tuesday and us being working stiffs, we packed it in and got our check. After four solid hours of snacking, sipping and chatting, we each owed $23. Including a generous tip. I challenge anyone to come up with a better deal for their dollar. Seriously. If you know a happy hour that can top this, leave a comment and I'll check it out. Until then, Southside 815 has moved into my permanent rotation.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Thing 12: Georgia Brown's

I used to be an intern in the old Woodward building, around the corner from Georgia Brown's. I was a student, working for free three mornings a week, and I would bring my lunch every day. My boss kept saying that she would take me to Georgia Brown's at the end of the semester to reward me, but when that lunch time rolled around Georgia Brown's was booked and we ended up at Ebbitt's instead.

Now that I live up the street, I pass the place every morning on my way to the Metro. I walk under the green awning and past the windows with the honey comb and bee logo and think "I should finally go there." But it's a power lunch kind of place, in the shadow of the White House and with prices that make you wish someone else was paying, so I've held off. Until today.

Today I had a power lunch. Ok, not exactly a power lunch, but definitely lunch with friends who may someday buy something from my company, which is close enough. I met my lunch companions at the restaurant at noon. The four of us were whisked through the friendly front bar of light wood and wine storage to a table adorned with a white table cloth and a small orange and yellow orchid. The restaurant itself is crowded without feeling it, using windows and light wood to create a airy feeling. The center of the restaurant holds a sculpture of a deconstructed oak tree, inspired by the plentiful oak trees of the South. Once seated, we received a large plate of hard, sweet biscuits, corn muffins and honeyed butter. I ordered the sweet peach tea which had the strong scent and essence of peaches and studied the southern-inspired menu.

Being in DC, we sometimes flatter ourselves that we live in the South. I'm from the West Coast, so occasionally I even believe it. I'm pretty sure that this nouveau Southern doesn't actually compare to the real thing, that we are playing at the South, but in the end I just really love shrimp and grits and I'll take what I can get.

Which is exactly what I ordered -- Georgia Brown's specialty, shrimp and grits. A heaping plate arrived with a mound of grits, six or seven shrimp -- heads removed but piled high atop the large pink bodies -- and swimming in a rich broth of fish and green onions. The andouille sausage added a nice spicy bite, the shrimp was plentiful if a little over cooked. The overall dish was satisfying, though perhaps a little too salty.

My companions ordered salads -- huge, unmanageable things -- and a sampler of the veggie sides with rice, succotash, spinach and fried green tomatoes. When a small tray of desserts was brought out, three of the four involved pecans. The fourth was fresh berries -- I can eat those at home. I wanted something southern and sweet but don't care for pecans and so I passed.

Our lunch lasted two hours, a combination of business and catching up, during which time the restaurant hit its peak of plenty and then the crowds began to thin out again. Power lunch complete, we returned to the world waiting at McPherson Square.

My understanding is that Georgia Brown's is best at brunch on weekends, when a beast of a buffet is laid out and live jazz is performed. Perhaps next time I will schedule my power lunch for 11:00 on a Sunday...

Note: I finally broke down and bought a real digital camera this weekend. I'd previously been limited by my Treo, and I apologize for the poor quality of the pictures up until now. Hopefully you can tell from the above, things are getting better.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Thing 11: Sonoma

From what I have heard and tasted, there are very few good places to eat on the Hill. (I love the Hawk & Dove and the Cap Lounge for many reasons; fine dining is not one of them). Which is why whenever there is any kind of lunch or drinks with the purpose of impressing prospective or current clients, I head to Sonoma.

Today I was put in charge of meeting with and entertaining a delegation from the Green Party of Austria. It seemed a fitting occasion for impressing and demonstrating that us po-dunk Americans know good food too, not just those silly Europeans over there on their continent. Then again, serving California cuisine to people from the land of schnitzel may not have been the best game plan.

Named after the county in California made famous for its wine, Sonoma is, at its heart, a wine bar. The establishment boasts over 30 wines by the taste or glass, and 50 or so more by the bottle. Sadly, none of our Austrians ordered any wine. Austria may not have the same sense of bon vivant as their neighbors, the French.

Sonoma also excels at putting together a gorgeous cheese plate and/or charcuterie platter. Their cheeses come from around the world, a dozen varieties and animal origins. I also love any of the preserved meats available on their charcuterie platters, in particular their paper thin slices of prosciutto, and serve with big hunks of grilled bread. The "accents" are all made in house, including red wine and white wine jellies that I am determined to recreate at home. Beware of those things that look like olives though -- they are actually pickled baby peaches, and you will be quite surprised by their hardness and tanginess when you where expecting an olive.

But alas, none of our Austrians wanted platters of meat or cheese either. Such austere living.

Instead, we went straight into lunch with no silly precursors. I ordered the citrus salad and the black risotto. The citrus salad was a wonderful combination of bitter grapefruits, sweet oranges, salty feta cheese wedges, and a salty, bitter black olive vinaigrette, all on a bed of water cress and radicchio. The dressing was a bit overpowering, but the salty/bitter/sweet combination was unique and satisfying, and I don't even like feta! The black risotto was a bit bland but very black. It oozed squid ink, which doesn't really add much other than the color. The risotto fillings -- squid and what the menu says is prosciutto but I swear is pancetta -- punch up the rice some, but its not my favorite dish there. No, my favorite dish is the incredibly rich and completely satisfying linguine carbonara. The sauce is composed entirely of butter, heavy cream, pancetta and wild mushrooms, and is served with a raw egg yoke nestled within the noodles. When you break the yoke, it melts into the pasta, adding to the overall decadence of the dish. It is a treat.

At least our Austrians had the good sense to order dessert, and I joined them in a vanilla panna cotta with fresh orange sauce. The consistency of the panna cotta, like a very thick flan, was good, with a sprinkle of vanilla bean on top and paired quite well with the orange sauce.

A word of warning: I realized today that Sonoma is loud. I suppose I already knew this about the place, but it never bothered me in a group of two or four. This time, with ten of us seated around the wide table, the bulk of whom were not native English speakers, the ambient noise was overwhelming and stilted the conversation. The room is spacious and angular, the walls bare. Soundproofing is not its strong suit.

I'm afraid I don't have any pictures of the experience, as I thought it might be weird to pull out a camera during lunch and snap pictures of my salad while entertaining foreign parliamentarians. It would have been a lot easier had they ordered wine.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Thing 10: Science Club

“I think they could do more with the ‘science’ theme,” I overheard one woman say to another in the ladies room. “You know, like you could drink out of beakers or test tubes, or wear goggles or something.”

The non-tacky exterior of the Science Club.Ah, but that way lies tackiness, and the beauty of Science Club is its unassuming lounge setting and laid back vibe. The only nod to its science theme is a couple of book cases with science texts and some antique scientific instruments. For the most part, it is meant to imitate the small intellectual clubs where you can sip a cognac and discuss the issues of the day.

As I walked up to the unassuming building – you could pass Science Club every day walking down 19th Street and never notice it – I was hoping that my friends had already snagged one of the four tables outside in the front “yard” of the townhouse. Spring fever has taken over DC, what with two days of nice weather in a row, and all anyone can talk about is roof decks, backyards and al fresco dining. My two friends were outside and already one drink in. They work nearby and had popped over at the stroke of 5pm.

The champagne cocktailI ordered a champagne cocktail, a kir royal, that arrived pink and sparkling with a Umm...another champagne cocktail!lemon garnish and slightly acidic bite. With the time change it stayed light until just past seven. Plenty of time for another champagne cocktail (a belini this time, sweet with peach juice and a cherry at the bottom) and a snack off the cheese plate. The cheese plate comes with three cheeses – a soft and mild cow’s cheese, a hard cheese reminiscent of Spanish manchego and a crumbling blue. Garnished with grapes, apples, a strawberry and some thick pieces of toast it was the perfect snack before dinner.

The Science Club hosts DJs seven nights a week, and holds happy hours during the week from 5 till 8, with $3 yeunglings and $4 rail drinks. If you can’t snag a table outside in the spring weather, the three floors of lounges offer plenty of nooks and tables to while away a couple of hours, listen to some music, and mull global warming or evolution over a cocktail or two.
The Science Club: where great research meets great drinks.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

A Message From My Tech Department:

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Thing 9: An Early St. Patrick's Day

9 Things I learned at the DC St. Patrick's Day Parade this afternoon on Constitution Ave:

1. DC has a St. Patrick's Day Parade. It is in its 36th year and I had never heard about it. I am not the only one -- it is not particularly well attended. We arrived at noon as it was starting and easily found standing room with no one in front of us.

St. Patrick's Day parade in Washington, DC2. DC is just like any other small town. This claims to be "The 'Nation's' Parade," but during two hours of parade there was nothing that you wouldn't see in any small town parade. There were the fire trucks, police motorcycles, high school and middle school marching bands of varying levels of talent, dog clubs and sports clubs and antique WWII vehicles. There were floats made with crepe paper and dancing school children and people throwing tootsie rolls and stale bubble gum to kids on the sidelines. Except for the inclusion of the Air Force Marching Band, this was any other small town parade.

3. Shriners are weird. Their mini corvettes are odd, their fezzes are not at all protective and serve no discernible purpose. They don't seem to be having any fun as they zip about in their tiny cars. And they completely freak out the Boyfriend.

Every Irish Celtic dance school on the eastern seaboard was featured.4. Every Irish school girl in the DC-MD-VA area attends an Irish dance school. There were no less than seven Irish dancing schools represented in the parade, some with a hundred little girls or more trailing behind the float and step dancing in near-unison. All the little girls wear corkscrew curl hair extensions.

5. Don't trust the program. The two entries I was most looking forward to, the Morehouse College "House of Funk" Marching Band and T.H.I.S Christian Rockers Marching Band did not show up. The Christian Rockers were scheduled to come third to last in the parade too, so we stayed until the bitter end only to learn that they weren't coming at all.

Unclear6. There are very low standards for entry into the parade. Irish step dance and emerald societies? Sure, that makes sense. Fire trucks and marching bands? Well, OK, they're in every parade. Bagpipes? Technically Scottish, but same region as Ireland, so what the heck. The Bavarian Folk Dance Society and Falun Dafa Traditional Chinese Dance? Um...what? I think I have discovered why the parade has over 100 entries and lasts more than two hours.

7. Leprechauns are terrifying.

8. The Greenbelt Dog Training Parade Marching Drill Team rules! I loved these guys! Their dogs were adorable and (obviously) well trained. The Washington Showstoppers Community Band, er, stopped the show. The band itself wasn't the best we saw, but their dancers were great and everyone actually seemed to enjoying themselves, which was not true of some the prize winning bands that had passed us earlier.

9. Guinness is good for you. Or at least it is wonderfully restorative after spending a couple hours on your feet and fighting little kids for tootsie rolls. Happy St. Patrick's Day to me!

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Thing 8: An Afternoon at the Galleries

And to think, Wednesday it was snowing and I was yearning for a hot toddy. I woke up late this morning and it was a glorious Spring day! Sun's out, a cool breeze is blowing and I could leave the house without coat or scarf. The perfect sort of day for a leisurely lunch and a tour of some local art galleries, which is exactly what I had planned with my friend Emily.

Emily owed me a lunch from a previous occasion, and she picked DCHot!. Being a sucker for a good toasted sandwich, I was happy to try this small place, located on P Street just west of Dupont Circle. I had the "Kansas Roast Beef," which boasts some of the tenderest roast beef I've ever had on sandwich, and a creamy horseradish sauce. The shop is cute, with a kitchy collection of old DC license plates on the walls and a variety of old timey Coca-Cola advertisements. After lunch, Emily and I crossed over to the east side of Dupont to explore some of the art galleries tucked away along 14th Street.

When I first arrived in DC, there wasn't a whole lot going on 14th Street. There was the Studio Theater and the Black Cat, but this historically black commercial corridor hadn't yet fully recovered from the riots in 1968, when it was burned and gutted. Then the Whole Foods moved in at P Street, between 14th and 15th. This precipitated a rapid revitalization and gentrification of the neighborhood. Restaurants, bars, funky little shops and very expensive furniture stores now line 14th Street, as well as art galleries.

Joseph McSpadden: Flesh and BoneWe stopped first at the Irvine Contemporary, a spare white space at the corner 14th and P. The exhibition, "Joseph McSpadden: Flesh and Bone" was my favorite of the three collections we saw. McSpadden's works were of two varieties: thick slabs of oil paint the circumference of quarters stacked on top each other into small peaks and valleys, or five foot long waterfalls of dried oil paint, each color its own fiber, dripping down and pooling at the bottom.

The artist sums up his collection by stating: "My work confronts our expectations of painting, questioning how the object is animated and who is responsible for animating it." I love the idea of re-imagining oil paint as a 3D medium, rather than relegating it to its traditional two dimensional function; making sculpture with it. The colors were earthy and fleshy and the sculptures so appealing, I had to remind myself not to touch them.

Joseph McSpadden: Untitled Panel 2

Just up the street, we next visited the Randall Scott Gallery. They currently have a show called "All Things Said, In Motion," featuring the work of five artists who use motion in their work. ThisTwo of the pieces in Rob Carter's beautiful Mauritius series. gallery had a lot of multimedia works, including an installation representing a deconstruction of grass growing in a field, complete with little boxes of sand and wind blowing long, single strands of grass. For $4,000 you can own Dane Picard's dvd, "Cheetah Hands," what he calls a "hand mosaic" that animates the outline of a cheetah running using only hand gestures pieced together in squares. Emily's and my favorite was probably a series of really beautiful photographs taken by Rob Carter at sunset in Mauritius. The colors were so vivid and vibrant, the images calming and still. The series of the four of them was beautiful put together, and made me long for a higher level of disposable income.

Finally, we visited the Adamson Gallery across the street and in the Donald Sultan: Smoke Ring #1same building as Veridian, a restaurant I'm itching to try. This show featured an eclectic mix of artists and mediums, including cast resin on wood that looked like those drawings of skin cells in high school biology text books, and a photograph of lightning against a red sky with an 8 x 10 mirror on one side and titled "The Dalai Lama." My favorite in this collection, without question, were two 3' x 4', black and white photographs of smoke rings. The detail of the smoke curling, curving and dissipating is truly beautiful.

Thus concluded our afternoon touring the diverse collection of art galleries on 14 street. I'm well aware that both Dupont and 14th Street are brimming with hidden galleries, and this will probably be Donald Sultan: Smoke Ring #2the first in a series of gallery tours. We just couldn't bear to be out of the nice weather any longer though, and Emily and I headed down the street to Dupont Circle to while away the afternoon reading in the sunshine.

Friday, March 9, 2007

Thing 7: Tonic

Yesterday was “dine out to fight AIDS” day, with a number of participating restaurants donating anywhere from 25 – 100% of their profits for the night to Food & Friends, a very worthy cause indeed. So GFD and I gathered up various friends and significant others, and chose to spend our for-charity dollars at Tonic, a bar and restaurant in the evolving Mt. Pleasant neighborhood.

We chose Tonic for several reasons – they were donating 35% of their profits to Food & Friends, while most other places were only doing 25%, I am trying very hard to go to places I’ve never been and neighborhoods I might not normally go to, and I had heard that they made a rockin’ mac ‘n’ cheese. Also, the review in the Post had made it sound like a laid back place with dressed up comfort foods that went out of its way to cater to the locals in the community. It sounded like the kind of scene I dig.

I’m going out of my way to say that I really wanted to like Tonic. And I am really sad to report that I didn’t. I was completely underwhelmed and disappointed.

It didn’t help that I had made 9:00 reservations and that no one seemed to be ready for us and we didn’t get seated until 9:20. Then there was the debacle of our waitress spilling an entire glass of red wine and an entire vodka martini directly into the lap of one of our dining companions. She clearly felt terrible and the restaurant gave him a t-shirt to wear, offered to launder his shirt while we ate, and comped his entire meal, but he was understandably cranky after that.

Tonic's tater tots. More tot that tater, really.No, the real disappointment was the food. I concede, the tater tots were delicious, being deep fried and wonderfully crunchy (“more tot than tater”), and came with a ‘kitchen sink’ dipping sauce that we all enjoyed. But that was the highlight of the meal. And frankly, when tater tots are the highlight of your menu, there is a problem.

The mac ‘n’ cheese that I was ready to write home about? It came served in a cast iron skillet and looked promising, but the cheese sauce was runny, not thick, the Mac 'n' cheese. That's about it, really.flavor was bland instead of rich and cheesy, and the texture was grainy from some kind of cheese they use that didn’t melt smoothly.

I had a half rack of ribs, that came dry rubbed and with a sweet apricot BBQ sauce on the side to dip them in. They were fine, but not particularly memorable. My dinner included a side of baked beans, slow cooked with bacon, which were tasty. Other people ordered a chili burger (a big ol’ mess of beef, chili, cheese, bacon and sour cream), a flank steak, a strip steak, a veggie burger, and meatloaf. The meatloaf – a gargantuan slab of meatloaf with a thick mushroom gravy and a side of mashed potatoes, was the best thing anyone ordered by far.

We were all stuffed full of meat and carbs and couldn’t bear to look at a dessert menu, so we got the check. I had the beginnings of a tummy ache, and the boyfriend wasn’t doing too much better. The combination of such heavy food at such a late hour wasn’t sitting well. No one seemed thrilled with our Tonic experience, but at least our dollars went to a good cause, right?

Side note: I’m writing about the things that make DC special, so I have to write about the ducks. As I was waiting for the 42 bus to Mount Pleasant last night, at a corner of Franklin Square, there were about 50 ducks in the park! A homeless woman was feeding them stale bread, and they were all in a huge, writhing duck cluster, honking and squawking away. I have no idea where they came from – there is no body of water nearby – or if they’re there every night as I’m not usually hanging out in Franklin Square after dark. It was just this strange anomaly, fifty ducks not three blocks from the White House in the middle of downtown.

I took some pictures, but I’m limited to my Treo until I buy a digital camera, so forgive the poor quality.

The Franklin Square ducks! The Franklin Square ducks!

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Thing 6: Toddies at the Tabard

I can't say that it is often that I want a drink in the morning. It happens on the 4th of July, when GFD hosts the Annual Pancake and Mike's Hard Lemonade Breakfast. And I do enjoy the occasional bloody Mary on a Sunday morning, after a particularly grueling Saturday night. But in general, a Wednesday morning comes and goes without my hankering for a drink.

Well friends, I took one look at the snow falling from the sky this morning in the second week of March, and immediately I wanted a hot toddy. I didn't even know what a hot toddy was, but I knew I wanted one, and a nice cozy bar in which to sip it and watch the snow fall. Maybe the kind of bar where I could even read my book in this cozy corner, while sipping my hot toddy, and making idle conversation with the boyfriend.

Enter: the Tabard Inn.

The Tabard Inn's cozy bar is perfect for winter DC nights.The Tabard Inn, a bar, restaurant and hotel, is the perfect place to cozy up to a fire and sip a hot drink. Tucked away on a quiet block of N St, NW, just around the corner from the hustle of Dupont Circle, it is a strange composite of rustic fire place, second hand furniture, Magritte-style murals of animals wearing clothing, skylights and low lighting, fancy foods, expensive cocktails and friendly service. It is a place where regulars go to enjoy a glass of wine after work, first dates go to enjoy a meal and the candle light, and expense accounts go to talk business in a quiet corner.

Unfortunately, there were no more spots on the couches next to the fire when I arrived after work -- I was not the only one who was inspired by the snow to seek out cozy. So I siddled up to the bar, ordered that hot toddy I'd been wanting all day, and took out my book of short stories.

Hot toddy and cold beerThe bar tender brought me my hot toddy, and it lives up to its reputation of being a soothing, warming weapon against the cold. Made of hot water, lemon, honey and whiskey, mine came garnished with a lemon wedge, orange wedge and cinnamon stick. Those continued to steep, and the drink got better as time went on. The first sip tasted mostly of whiskey, the last sip of honey and cinnamon and orange.

I read and sipped at my corner of the bar until the boyfriend arrived after work to join me. Apparently less mindful of the cold, he ordered a cold beer and we asked to look over a menu, hoping for a little snack before we fixed dinner back at my apartment. I finished my toddy and ordered a hot apple cider with buttered rum for my next drink. All thoughts of snow disappeared.
Black Bean dip with goat cheese...not as good as hoped.
All the food looked comforting but also with a twist, and we ordered the hot black bean dip with goat cheese. This was a poor choice. We were hoping for a gooey, runny, piping hot black bean dip with the pungent taste of goat cheese. What we got was a tepid, dense, pot of black beans the consistency of refried beans, with so little goat cheese we couldn't find any in most bites. I regret not ordering the grilled sardine and octopus salad. The Tabard Inn has a good reputation for food, and I am curious to see how they handle some of the more innovative food ideas on their menu.

We finished our drinks and prepared to leave. One final warm up by the big fire place, embers blazing, and we braced ourselves for the cold and headed for the door.

Monday, March 5, 2007

Thing 5: National Museum of Women in the Arts

National Museum of Women in the Arts I was all set to go to the Mall this afternoon and dip into a Smithsonian at random. But it was much colder than I thought it was going to be and I hadn't brought my coat out with me, so halfway to the Mall I made slight detour and dipped into the National Museum of Women in the Arts instead. What great luck! It was a Free Community Day (the first Sunday of every month) and I didn't have to pay the $8 admission fee.

The NMWA is a gorgeous space -- the foyer often hosts gala dinners or weddings. Its marble floors, sweeping staircases and stately chandeliers create an elegant and beautiful setting. The building was originally built as a Masonic Temple at the beginning of the last century, ironically a boys-only club that is now a forum only for women artists. The collection began as a private one and has since grown into the foremost collection of women's art in the world. The museum boasts over 3,000 works in the collection and creative, thought-provoking visiting exhibitions.

I was a little bit disappointed to learn that the special exhibition galleries were closed as they set up for a new exhibition that will feature Italian women artists in the Renaissance and Baroque periods, opening later this month. This left only the selected works of the permanent collection to browse through. It's not a huge space, and the collection took less than an hour to wander through.

The rooms are organized by historical period, focusing on women artists' contributions to each artistic movement. As with most art, I was drawn to the more modern and abstract works, although there are a couple of rooms devoted to works from the 18th and 19th centuries with the photograph-like portraits and still lifes so popular during that time. They also have a collection of work by British women silversmiths, reminding us that when the more traditional roles of artists were only filled by men, women were expressing their creative talents through crafts and trades.

My favorite pieces were in the same vein as the male artists I enjoy -- the modern abstract sculptures and the paintings from the turn of the 20th century that really pushed art to a new place. There are some beautiful pieces by Frida Kahlo, Lee Krasner and Joan Mitchell, as well as some art that has a more explicit "feminist" perspective. Fun fact of the day: I learned that Mary Cassatt was an American artist, born in Pennsylvania. I had always thought her her a European artist. Below are some of my favorite pieces from the permanent collection.

The museum also celebrates women performing artists, with a variety of programs year-round that celebrate women musicians, writers, poets, filmmakers, singers and dancers.

Self Portrait, Alice Bailey Self Portrait, Alice Bailey

Acid Rain, Chakaia Booker Acid Rain, Chakaia Booker

Sale Neige, Joan Mitchell Sale Neige, Joan Mitchell

Sunday, March 4, 2007

Bonus: Movie Review

In my love of all things DC, I enjoy a good politically/DC minded movie or book from time to time. As a little change of pace and to keep things different, I plan on reviewing those books or movies that are related to the theme of this blog.

I am probably the last person in DC to have seen The War Room, the campaign documentary about Clinton's first presidential run. This is the movie that put James Carville on the map, before he became his own parody. Any Democratic political type has already seen this movie; I missed the memo and only got around to netflixing it this weekend.

The movie is a lot of fun, if only for the nostalgia it inspires. Bill was still a fresh face, Carville still had hair, Hillary wears an array and rainbow of headbands, and Gennifer Flowers was demanding to be the center of attention back before anyone was willing to listen. Also, as someone who has worked on a variety of campaigns, it does an accurate job of capturing that ragged, exhausted, faking-your-way-through quality of any campaign. Well, of any Democratic campaign, because those are the only ones I've worked on. Maybe Republican campaigns are well rested, well put together and planned all the way through. Maybe that's why they keep winning.

But I digress. The documentary is not narrated, nor are any of the people labeled at any given time, so you're pretty much left to your own devices to figure out who is who and what is going on. Which is fine for someone like Paul Begala, but I'm less inclined to know who Stan Greenberg is by sight alone. And given the relentless pace of a campaign, the movie moves kind of slowly. That said, it is great fun to watch Stephanopoulos and Carville tweak and finesse their messages, spinning the debates, refuting the attacks and rallying the troops. Perhaps the most interesting of all is the footage of Carville on Election Day, ad libbing the various concession speeches Clinton may have to give later that day. We all have our doubts, even the cockiest among us.

Saturday, March 3, 2007

Thing 4: Wizards' Game

Who is this blue man? The Wizards mascot?I'm not really a sport person. I don't know things about sports. I had never been to any basketball game at all (yes, even a college game, even when I was in college). So it was in the spirit of trying new things that I accepted the extra ticket to the Wizards' game when Good Friend David offered. He also doesn't know a thing about a sport, but he had gotten a couple of great tickets free through a work thing. They were seven rows back, behind the basket ("they're behind that goal-post-thing" to quote GFD).

We did a little pregame at Hooters, half a block from the Verizon center. Hooters is a chain and it doesn't bare mention here except to say that I have strange affinity for the place. We arrived at the game midway through the second quarter, armed with two drinks each, and settled into our seats just as there was a "free burrito" break where they were handing out free Chipotle burritos to random members of the arena audience. "FREE burritos? We're gonna like basketball games!"

The first thing we noticed is that the court is incredibly small in real life. It looks much smaller and much glossier in real life, the players look bigger against the background of such a small court. Second thing we noticed is that the game itself is kind of an afterthought. There are all kinds of giveaways, mascots running about (see the picture!), blimps and inflatable trucks on strings circulating around the top of the arena, people making baskets on trampolines during time outs and of course, the cheerleaders in their little shiny black underpants.

We spent most of the time engaged in the spectacle and less time watching the game. At the half time we were each given those inflatable sticks that make noise when you hit them together -- another distraction that we took to immediately, occasionally getting over-enthusiastic and hitting the folks in front of us in our vigor. They were not our biggest fans. Then we spent some time smiling and looking lovey and/or dancing, trying to get on the jumbo tron for the kiss cam/dance break. Then finally it was the last minute of the game, and we focused our attention on that.

The Wizards were playing the Hawks, and we had kept five or six points ahead throughout the course of the game until the last minute or so when the Hawks came up from behind and the Wizards were only one point ahead. Then they were one point behind and a time out was called. We were treated once again to the cheerleaders in their hot pants and knee-high boots. When the players returned to the court, everyone stood up and banged their noise makers together and hoped that the home team could make it back to the lead. And they did! The final score: 93 to 92, Wizards win!

My final evaluation: We had a great time, and it was fun to try something so new. I'm not sure I'd go on my own dime, but if anyone has any more free tickets out there, I'd be happy to take them off your hands. I mean, I do love free Chipotle burritos...

Friday, March 2, 2007

Thing 3: The Hawk 'N' Dove

The Hawk ‘N’ Dove is so close to my office that I think of it practically as our company cafeteria, but remembering that it is a DC treasure and an institution for anyone who lives or works on Capitol Hill, I will add it to the list.

A good friend of mine from college called me at work yesterday morning to let me know he’d be on the Hill for a hearing, and could we have lunch? So around noon we walked the block and half to the venerable Hawk ‘N’ Dove and took a seat in the pub’s dimly lit back room.

The Hawk ‘N’ Dove seems to have only three wait staff, institutions in and of themselves. They are weathered and gruff men and women that get the job done with an efficiency and boredom that comes with having been subjected to low lighting and smoke-filled rooms for years. (The Hawk is now, like all bars in DC, smoke free). I ordered “Susie’s Supreme”, which is what I get nearly ever time and which I highly recommend – a grilled turkey, cheese and broccoli sandwich. It sounds weird, but the broccoli adds a delicious crunch, and you can also nearly fool yourself into thinking the sandwich is healthy. Broccoli fights cancer, right?

The Hawk caters to poor Hill staffers and interns, with their nightly happy hour specials. My favorite is Wednesday’s -- $2 Miller Lites come in red solo cups, and a dozen chicken wings cost a dollar. Throw $10 down, and you’ve had a meal, a couple beers and a decent tip. They also have a weird “Club Hawk ‘N’ Dove” that come alive upstairs on the weekends. This is when the grimy, dark pub pretends it is a hip dance club. I don’t recommend it unless you are an underage Hill intern.

But the Hawk is truly best enjoyed in the spring and summer, if you can manage to snag one of the tables outdoors on the sidewalk. There you can enjoy a Guinness and a cheap cigar, catch up with old friends, eavesdrop on the latest political gossip and enjoy the sticky night air.