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Friday, June 29, 2007

Thing 46: Cafe Deluxe

Last Saturday, the Boyfriend and I were cruising up Wisconsin Avenue towards Friendship Heights, to do some lazy Saturday shopping. (Wasn't able to find pink seersucker capri pants...ideas? anyone?) The convertible top was down, the sunglasses were on, and wasn't life feeling just fine at that moment? Well...almost. Hunger pangs. Longings for salads or noodles or sandwiches...maybe sushi? bagels? eggs? Oh dear, hungry indeed as everything sounded good. And driving up Wisconsin there are so many options. A repeat of Rockland's BBQ? Thai at Busara? Indian at Heritage? Did we just pass a Chipotle?!

Pull the car over! I spy a patio. With red umbrellas. And wine glasses and fancy sandwiches. Today we eat at Cafe Deluxe. I so rarely eat out these days, that Cafe Deluxe was a delicious treat, a chance to be waited on while enjoying the sunny Saturday afternoon.

Red umbrellas.  Handsome Boyfriend.
We asked to sit outside, on the sidewalk patio under the cover of the large red umbrellas, bathing all the diners in pools of golden red light. Our waitress was friendly, taking our drink orders and then hurrying off to attend to the many hungry customers enjoying the sunshine. As we sipped iced teas and studied the menu, our neighbors' food came. A beautiful onion and goat cheese tart was set in front of one of our dining neighbors, the other got a mountain of greens topped with a grilled salmon steak. We went back to the menus -- what were those items? How can we order them? Or do I actually want roasted beet with goat cheese salad? Steamed mussels in white wine with french fries? Herb roasted chicken with mashed potatoes? I was hungry enough that everything looked good. It was an indecisive kind of day.

By the time the waitress had rejoined us, I sucked it up and pointed at...the chicken paillard. I would like the chicken paillard, please. Except I didn't know what a paillard was. But it came with a salad of greens, figs, bacon and parmesan, so the chicken was kind of beside the point. The Boyfriend ordered a bacon cheeseburger. What can I say? Bacon on a summer Saturday afternoon. Life is good.

Chicken paillard with parmesan fig and bacon salad
Our food was quite good, too. It turns out a paillard is just a sauteed chicken breast. It was served in a lovely sauce that, best as I can make out, was a reduction of chicken stock and butter and made want very badly to lick my plate. If the Boyfriend did not embarrass so easily, I most likely would have. The salad, also, was a wonderful combination of salty-sweet, crunchy-soft, fatty-acidic. Crisp, salty, warm bacon crumbles paired delciously with sweet dried figs and salty parmesan shavings. I shall be replicating this myself come fig season, with fresh figs and without any of that greenery to get in the way.

Figs + parmesan + bacon crumbles = Heaven
The Boyfriend's cheeseburger was juicy and just pink enough inside, topped with a thick slice of cheese and two pieces of bacon. Served with thin crispy fries that I totally did not eat off his plate. I swear.

We love BACON!
And for dessert - a beautiful glass of strawberries, blackberries and blueberries, layered with creme fraiche. I adore creme fraiche, sour cream's lighter, sweeter cousin, and was again tempted to run my finger around the empty glass and lick it. The Boyfriend is a good influence on me in public.

Berries and creme fraiche!
Hunger sated, we relaxed on the patio, rubbing our full bellies and sipping iced tea. The patio was full of old friends catching up on the doings of their children, first dates, family brunches, and elderly double dates. Servers zipped by carrying beautiful salads and large pizzas and golden brown fruit crumbles. Fathers strolled down the sidewalk on Wisconsin, pushing baby carriages, sweatty joggers zipped past, AU students in the wrinkled clothes and sunglasses that tell the world they are hungover.

Cafe Deluxe is nothing fancy, not even particularly special. Franco-American semi-upscale bistros exist nearly everywhere these days, serving dressed up comfort foods. But stretching out in the sunshine on Wisconsin Ave with nothing to do all day and the most handsome man I've ever met sitting across from me? I wouldn't want to be anywhere else.

Note to DC Sarah: Yes, we walked past 2Amys to get to Cafe Deluxe. And yes, I'm sure it is a better restaurant. But I was still in the midst of doing a two week stint gluten-free (I don't have celiac, but it was a frienship solidarity thing) and I didn't know what I'd be able to eat there. But keep an eye out next week for a recap of it -- I am going this Saturday for sure!

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Thing 45: Strawberry Cocktails at Vermilion

I feel like I haven't blogged in a long time...I know it's only been a week, but I usually don't go for so long without filling in the Internet public on my various be-boppings around this town. But there was a brief business trip earlier this week, and then also, have you looked outside? It's summer, people, and I'm really preoccupied with re-reading Harry Potter 6 by the pool and making every flavor of ice cream I can think of (I'm looking at you next, blueberries).

But I have been out and about, and last week I be-bopped down to Old Town to enjoy a round of seasonal strawberry cocktails, on special in the month of June at Vermilion.

Cocktails by candlelight at VermilionThe truly avid DC365 fan may recall that the idea for this came up back at Thing 39, when Jessica, inspired by my trek out to Delaplane to eat strawberry sundaes, invited me to Vermilion for a strawberry flavored cocktail or two. How could I resist?

I've been to Vermilion several times before, although never to eat. Tom Sietsema recently raved about the new chef there, and I would like to have a meal there someday. But generally, when I've been it's been to the bar, as it is one of the Boyfriend's friends' favorite venues. It is swank and dimly lit, with exposed brick walls, a long bar, a couple tall tables, and four booths tucked into the back, best suited for quiet conversation and a relaxed cocktail.

I was there with Jessica, who had suggested the strawberry cocktails in the first place, and to catch up with an old friend who'd moved to Texas sometime ago and was visiting. On the menu were three strawberry cocktails, along with their usual beer, wine and a rainbow of martinis. There was a strawberry mojito, a strawberry-rhubarb-vodka number, and a strawberry champagne cocktail, which I immediately ordered. I love champagne cocktails, and this one was wonderful! Sweetened with a strawberry syrup that gave it a beautiful deep pink hue, the flavor of the cocktail was rounded out by the addition of bitters. It gave the drink a spiced flavor of clove and cinnamon that was unexpected but really delicious.

Spicy champagne cocktail at Vermilion
Would that I had stuck to champagne cocktails though! I ordered next the strawberry rhubarb cocktail. It came served in a pint glass, heavily watered down with ice, crystal clear but with some stewed strawberries floating within (have you tried to drink stewed strawberries through a straw?...not so much). The problem though was that the drink was sweet. So sweet, I tasted sweet at the back of my mouth even after I was through with dinner. I think they were trying to balance out the sour rhubarb but went totally overboard. Stick with spicy champagne strawberry cocktails instead.

Caution: This drink will give you diabetes.
And after a couple cocktails, it was time to back up and make the rather long journey back to my place in DC (I'd hang out in Old Town more if the train ride back weren't quite so disheartening). I highly recommend Vermilion for a fun happy hour, good house wines, and tasty snacks. And perhaps someday, I'll even have a meal to report back on...

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Thing 44: The Dupont Circle Farmers' Market

You may have noticed that I've kind of stopped going out to eat.

Fresh squash, fresh zucchini
You see, I've fallen in love with my little Sunday morning ritual. Wake up at 8:00, make coffee, fry an egg. Check the Post. Grab my canvas tote bag, and then stroll the five blocks down to the north side of Dupont Circle to do my shopping for the week at my lively, friendly and colorful farmers' market.

My grandparents, who live in Oregon and grow nearly all their own produce, were surprised to hear that DC even has a farmers' market. In fact, there are a whole bunch of them to choose from, to suit your schedule and neighborhood. They had an idea that DC was a cruel concrete jungle, when in fact, just a short distance out in Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania there are sustainable and organic farms aplenty. They come into the District to sell their bounty and everything looks, smells and tastes so good, I may never go out to eat again.

There is the stand where I buy my basil, which is so fragrant that you can smell it from two feet away. The guys at the stand are used to seeing me there, and we chat about what I made in the last week with their basil (ice cream), their garlic scapes (pesto), their escarole (this salad). When I told them about the incredible basil ice cream I'd churned, they told me that if I bring them some in the future, they will barter with me for more fresh herbs.

Napa cabbage makes amazing fresh slaw with black beans and cumin
There is the stand that sells the freshest, juiciest and brightest red tomatoes, still on the vine, and we chat about pickling techniques.

There is the stand where I buy any kind of salad greens imaginable -- arugula, spinach, a mescalin mix with brightly colored edible flowers sprinkled throughout. They sell dark red beets as big as your fist, and spearmint that makes the most extraordinary mint chip ice cream (buy this book. Do it now). They also sell four colors of radish -- red, purple, pink, and a half red-half white variety --which, along with the fresh local feta from the cheese stand, prompted me to eat this salad for an entire week earlier in the season. (I adore Molly's simple, seasonal recipes over at Orangette, if you couldn't already tell).

We are well familiar with my strawberry obsession (see Thing 39)
The women all speak French at the stand that sells croissants and fresh baguettes, and there is another bread stand that sells a variety of whole grain breads, with flax seeds or sunflower seeds, walnuts or olives, whole wheat country boules. I am partial to the flax seed loaf, which is a little sour and full of flax, sunflower and poppy seeds.

I make my own jam, but in case you don't, they have all kinds

There is fresh dairy and local meats. Your choice of lamb, pork, beef or chickens, all raised organically and sustainably. The Boyfriend and I feasted on sweet Italian sausages one week, with a side of organic broccoli. There is a seafood stand selling live soft shell crabs, and last week there was a live eel for sale, named "Buddy." The sign said he bites. (I passed on the eel.)

The hot item the past couple weeks have been the local cherries, which I buy and then can't help but start eating on my walk home, spitting the pits out in the gutter on Q Street. And then there is the ritual of coming home, putting everything away, perusing cookbooks for recipes to make during the week to use whatever strange or familiar vegetables I've brought back. Preparing an ice cream base if I've bought something sweet. Readying the jars if I plan on doing any canning. And making a big farmers' market salad with whatever I bought that day, eating food that was growing in the ground only a few hours before.

So that's where the restaurant reviews have disappeared to. Can you blame me?

Fresh flowers and herbs

Monday, June 18, 2007

Thing 38: Wolftrap, Revisited

As you have already read, the Wolftrap is my second favorite thing to do in the summer in DC.

I have an addendum for that statement, dear readers, and it is this: the Wolftrap is my second favorite thing to do in the summer in DC...unless it's raining. If it's raining, then it's my 597th favorite thing to do, right between "Take the 70 bus" and "Eat at TGIFriday's."

Last Wednesday, armed with frittata and chocolate dipped pineapple, I made my way back to the national park for the performing arts, this time to see Joss Stone. The skies were looking mighty grey, and ominous dark clouds were gathering to the west. But I soldiered on, in my infinite stupidity. See, I've probably been to Wolftrap about ten times in the last three years, each time with lawn seats and never once has it rained. The odds of this happening are ridiculous -- I'd been incredibly lucky so far. But I had gotten cocky, thinking that rain was an impossibility when I deigned to grace the lawn at Wolftrap. The rain gods sensed my cockiness, and unleashed a mighty storm above my head, just as I had spread out my sheet and started munching my eggs.

I had at least thought to bring my yellow rain slicker, but it did nothing to protect my legs, my blanket, or my soggy supper. I made a break for some shelter.

When Jessica arrived at the park to join me, she found me huddled under the eaves by the food stand, snacking disconsolately on chocolate dipped fruits. We waited out the opening act in relative dryness and then sucked it up and headed back to our waterlogged blanket in time for Joss to take the stage.

Determined to enjoy ourselves, we dug our toes into the mud, huddled under Jessica's tiny lime green umbrella and swigged pinot grigio straight from the bottle (we'd forgotten cups). Joss came out in a bright green mini dress, barefoot as she is wont to be, her wavy brown hair long down her back. Almost immediately she began with "Headturner," my favorite song off her new album, and then worked her way through a two hour set, performing most of the songs from the new CD and some golden "oldies" (of course, she's 20, so her oldies aren't all that old).

The rain let up just as she finished the encore.

Ok, ok, so we ended up enjoying the show and having a great time. In the warmth of Jessica's car's heater going full blast, we had to admit that it wasn't so bad. And I will continue buying lawn seats and pushing my good weather luck. Was it a perfect moment? No. But wet clothes dry, and this way we get a good story out it. And it's definitely better than TGIFriday's.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Thing 43: The Capital Pride Parade

Well, we already know the end of the story -- I drank a bit too much wine on the street corner, ate a humongous haute dog and went home to bed.

But where did all this madness begin? On 17th Street, to watch the Capital Pride Parade, of course!

It's the most proud, well-dressed-and-yet-tacky, fabulous parade of the year! If you haven't been, mark your calendars for next year and get their early, because this parade puts the others to shame.

Good Friend David and I, along with two of our friends, Stephen and Jenny, chose to position ourselves on the corner of Corcoran and 17th, in front of the McDonald's and kitty corner to the liquor store. Prime real estate.
We're Here!  We're Queer!  We Want Beer!
The rainbowed streets were jubilant and lively. There were the dykes on bikes:

Dykes on Bikes
There was the usual roundup of politicians -- Mayor Fenty, Chairman Grey, all the at-large council members, and of course, EHN, who took time from her busy schedule of not voting to walk the parade:

We love our EHN!

SMYAL was there:

So was PFLAG, always the most poignant of the groups, bearing signs saying "I love my gay son" or "my daughter deserves a wedding, too." There was also the group of children with gay parents, bearing signs of "I love my moms" or "I love my two dads."

I Heart My Moms
There was a whole slew of churches and religious groups, decked out in rainbows, proclaiming that God loves all His children, and that there is room at the table for everyone. I get choked up even now, recalling it, and how every day this country takes a small step towards equality, love and diversity. It's easy to forget sometimes, in the midst of the bad news, but we're getting to the place where people can live happy family lives, regardless of what that family looks like.

Even when it looks like this:

Mama, Papa and Baby
Mr. and Mrs. Leather 2007 came out to play:

Mr. and Mrs. Leather
Results Gym had a huge, multi-tiered, construction themed float, with actual rock hard abs (oh, and the people they were on), doing various fitness activities small clothes. There was a mean looking group of silent men called the "Men of Discipline," and there were loads of fierce and fabulous drag queens. Everyone was throwing out beads, candy or condoms to the cheering (and tipsy) crowds.

Beads, Candy and Condoms
A truly joyous afternoon.

Joy, personified.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Thing 42: M'Dawg Haute Dogs

M'Dawg MenuAfter a solid afternoon of attending the Gay Pride parade and drinking on the street, followed by more drinking at the Duplex Diner with my former landlord and Andrew Sullivan, this girl needed a spot of supper before heading home to the comforts of an air conditioned apartment and a warm bed. I was in Adams Morgan, where the late night dining options are plentiful -- big slice? falafel? empanadas? scrambled eggs? -- but this time I had a hankering for a hot dog, and headed up the street to M'Dawg.

Brought to us by the same people who own the Amsterdam Falafel shop across the street (which will get its own delicious post sometime soon), M'Dawg has a similar philosophy: serve one So many topics!  Where to even begin?thing, prepare it well, and then let your customers load it down with toppings. At M'Dawg, you can choose from 13 types of dogs (half smokes, red hots, brats, corn dogs, veggie dogs, etc) and then for an extra dollar you have full access to the topics bar, from onions and relish to black beans, wasabi mayonnaise or apricot chutney. Go wild! Build your own! Or, if you're like me and slightly drunk, indecisive and overwhelmed, enlist the help of the man behind the counter to build the greatest hot dog ever. Ever.

After spending my ten minutes in line debating the merits of bratwursts versus soy dogs, I settled on a Hebrew National with a poppy seed bun. Then I spent another ten minutes staring at the toppings bar, debating my usual go-to (sweet relish and yellow mustard) with something more daring.

The man behind the counter finally took charge of my dog, building a tremendously delicious monstrosity with the following: sweet relish, sliced tomatoes, raw red onion, mushrooms in garlic butter, ketchup, mustard, and cheese product.


Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Thing 41: Remingtons

Gay. Cowboy. Karaoke. Gay cowboy karaoke, people! And line dancing! Gay cowboy line dancing! Have I died and gone to Heaven? Or just popped over to the Hill for an evening at Remingtons?

Remingtons.  Gays.
I am embarrassed to admit that this is "Thing 41," and the first gay "thing" of the bunch. To my gay readers (all two of you), I apologize. It's just that I got my fag hag on in college, and the appeal of hanging out amongst beautiful men that I can't get a piece of, while listening to techno remixes....well, I've kind of outgrown that.

But this was now my second visit to Remingtons, and I must say, I really love it. In part because it is something completely unique. It is not a Cobalt, an Apex or a Chaos. There is line dancing on a pink neon lit dance floor. There are gays in cowboy hats singing "'cause I'm a redneck drag queen, and I ain't no high class broad." There are couples two-stepping and shirtless bartenders in cowboy hats and slide shows of naked men projected onto the walls.

It costs $5 to get into Remingtons on a Saturday night, which earns you admission and a 'drink discount' ticket. The bar is cash only - so come prepared. The upstairs is for playing pool and singing karaoke, which is where we spent the majority of our time since we were there for Jenny's birthday party and the girl's got a voice in her. But the downstairs, where I wandered to when the single stall in the unisex bathroom upstairs was already occupied, is where things get a little weird. And by weird, I mean fabulous.

There is a large wooden dance floor set up on the ground floor, bathed in neon pink light. The DJ will play a song, and by magic or ESP a half dozen gays will materialize on the dance floor and begin line dancing in unison. Except it's gay line dancing, so the dancers have EXTRA good rhythm and flair, and the music is not country but gay techno dance remixes. It's not the Achey Breaky Heart, so much as Everybody Dance Now. It is quite literally mesmerizing. On my way to the bathroom, I froze and stood staring at the line dancing for about 15 minutes; it was all so very camp and wonderful.

In between line dances, there are couples' dances, two steps and waltzes, with more traditional country western music. Couples in cowboy boots, broad brimmed cowboy hats, tight jeans and big belt buckles take to the dance floor, twirling and promenading arm in arm.

Strange trinkets on the bar

Back upstairs, the karaoke emcee is cracking wise about his ex-boyfriend, the shirtless bartender pauses his drink service to belt out a song, and that slide show of naked men goes on and on -- that one with a strategically placed laundry basket, this one, ahem, literally tossing a salad. And we are all having a ball, singing and drinking and playing pool.

Monday, June 4, 2007

Thing 40: Rocklands BBQ

Rocklands BBQ, order at the counterBack when I took the spy tour, as we walked along Wisconsin Avenue, GFD and I were overwhelmed by the loveliest smell of smokey, grilling meats. It smelled like summer and the 4th of July, like when I grill out on my tiny charcoal grill, only smokier, more intense and on a grander scale. The smoke of the wood charcoal was pouring out of Rocklands BBQ, and I wanted to go in right then and there and eat everything on the menu.

It took a couple weeks, but I did in fact make it back. The most important thing to know going in: Rocklands is not a sit down restaurant. I hadn't known that. The Boyfriend and I had planned on sitting down and being waited on, and were forced to alter our plan to take the food home and eat it while watching a little Arrested Development Season 1 DVD. Rocklands is a one room affair -- order at the counter, pick up about 10 minutes later further down the counter, with one communal table if you feel like eating in, and a four seat counter facing the window that looks out on Wisconsin.

Hot sauce! Get your hot sauce!
Huge grills are visible behind the counter, finishing up the meat that is smoked in the wood-burning smoker in the back of the restaurant. Side dishes are on display in a cold case next the register. One wall is lined with hot sauces of all intensities and originations, as well as Rocklands' sauces and pickles for purchase. A community notice board holds announcements on the wall near the front door. This is a casual, neighborhood joint serving every kind of BBQ'ed meat you could ever hope for.

And the food? The Boyfriend ordered a pulled pork sandwich, and I ordered a grilled leg of lamb sandwich and a side of minted cucumber salad (the recipe for which is available this month on the the website). We unpacked them when we got to my place and dug into the heaps of smokey meat. My lamb was rich and tender, slightly charred and incredibly flavorful. The Boyfriend wouldn't hand over any of his pork, but it sure looked good spilling out of the potato bread bun.

And the best part about taking it home was that when we were done, in our BBQ induced haze, we were already in a position to recline on the couch with our bellies distended, and relax over the misunderstandings of the Bluth family.

Grilled lamb and minted cucumber salad

Pulled pork sandwich