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Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Thing 75, Revisited: 2nd Annual Scavenger Hunt

I have finally compiled the master photo album for the 2nd Annual Birthday Scavenger Hunt!  You can find the pictures HERE.

Thank you again to all of you who participated and made this year even bigger and better than last year!  The Boyfriend and I are already planning ways to improve and expand in 2009.  

You can read about the first one here, and see the complete pictures here.

And if you'd like to plan one yourself, and are looking for a little inspiration, leave a comment.  I'm more than happy to share my lists with anyone interested.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Housekeeping, and Other Things

...Hi there...

This is not a political blog, but being in DC on Tuesday night was an historic, moving and amazing place to be.  

I was incredibly fortunate to have been on U Street when they announced Obama as the winner.  I was a part of the spontaneous crowd that poured into the street, honking horns and dancing on cars.  I danced with people I'd never met, smiled at everyone I saw, hugged friends with tears in my eyes.

The same street that burned 40 years ago in the wake of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s assassination, the neighborhood of Langston Hughes and Thurgood Marshall and Duke Ellington came alive with joy on Tuesday night and into the early hours of Wednesday.  I feel honored and proud to have been a part of it, and my eyes well up even now thinking of it.

I know this blog has been quiet of late.  I work in politics, and it was a busy time for us.  My plan right now is to come back in the new year with a slightly different focus, but one I hope will make the blog even better.  There may be the occasional post here and there, but I hope to begin regular posting again in January.  I thank you for your patience.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Thing 126: Vidalia

My second Restaurant Week meal was had at Vidalia. (For the first, click here).Vidalia is a pretty big deal, in my book. It wins awards at a steady clip (along with Central, swoon), the most recent being the James Beard "Best Chef Mid-Atlantic" Award. It has a sterling reputation, and everyone who eats there seems to come away happy. Besides, who doesn't like updated Southern classics, like shrimp and grits or mac 'n' cheese or pecan pie, made with the highest quality ingredients and the very best techniques?

I know for a fact that the restaurant buys at least some of it's ingredients at my beloved Dupont Circle Market. And that the kitchen staff enjoys the pleasures of Hank's Oyster Bar. And while it sounds a bit like I'm stalking head chef Jeffrey Buben, I promise that our paths just seem to trip across each other from time to time.

The usual caveat -- it is totally unfair to judge a restaurant purely on Restaurant Week. Kitchens are rarely at their best and wait staffs are frustrated, overworked and undertipped. That said, I think restaurants that are really excellent at their core tend to do pretty well within the confines of Restaurant Week and Vidalia had about as good of food and service as I could have hoped for.

Of course, the first thing you can't help but notice about Vidalia, as you descend down the front steps, is that it's subterranean. Not a scrap of natural light can enter the dining room, and while that might sound dark or depressing, somehow the room is illuminated softly. A stylish lounge greets you, long banquettes and stark flower arrangements. I got there a touch early, ordered an obscenely expensive glass of champagne at the bar served in a perfect, angular glass and was promptly shown to my table when the three others in my party arrived.

Our service was attentive and patient, sophisticated and also dumbed down for Restaurant Week tourists. My party and I were a fairly savvy bunch, ordering cocktails and wine to let him know that we weren't here on the cheap (just cheaper) and asking his opinion on the best way to proceed.

Vidalia offers the standard three course for $35 Restaurant Week deal but they add an extra option to order a five course meal for $50. That's $10 a course, at a restaurant where you'd be hard pressed to find a starter for that price. And I was totally ready to do it, too, except I was dining exclusively with skinny gays, and they weren't having it. Boo.

Only choosing three courses instead of five made it really hard to choose, but eventually I narrowed it down to a duck egg with fried sweet breads to start, and the pork belly as my entree, and that glorious, glorious lemon chess pie as my dessert.

The duck egg was amazing. Served poached, it had a thick, gooey white and a rich, runny center. It was warm and rich and decadent and had almost a custardy texture. Just as surprisingly good was the sweet bread fried with a light, crispy crust. The salty meat paired perfectly with the rich egg, whose runny yolk made it's own de facto sauce, and the creamy bed (I think of grits?) both were laying on added some heft to the dish. It was delicious.

Having learned my Pork Belly Rule of Thumb only two days prior, I did not make the same mistake twice and promptly ordered the pork belly as my entree. I will admit to being hesitant because it came in a ham broth with peanuts, peas and wheat berries and I thought that sounded weird, but I should have trusted because that broth/sauce was actually better than the pork belly (!). The pork belly was good, don't get me wrong, especially the skin. The skin was crispy crispy glazed fat. The meat at the bottom was soft and flavorful. But the layer of fat in I wrong? Isn't that supposed to get kinda crispy and oozy? I ate the skin and the meat and left the fat on the plate, which is probably some amateur mistake. But the broth was delicious, and the boiled peanuts and the ham and the peas and the chewy wheat berries just all mixed together in a soupy, porky, deliciousness.

And then dessert. If I weren't already dating the Boyfriend, I would marry that lemon chess pie. It was a huge slab of perfectly tart/sweet lemon pie filling. No top crust. No meringue. no shallow tart. This was an enormous, deep dish piece of creamy lemon pie filling. Served with just a dollop of cream and a mixed berries, with a delightful glass of sparkling red muscat it was the perfect sweet end to a really lovely meal.

Everyone else's food looked good too. GFD even let me try his sausage-crusted scallops (!) which were divine, and his goat cheese Bavarian which would be the dessert I married after Lemon Chess Pie and I got divorced. All in all, we had a really great experience and I will gladly save my pennies and return again. Or bribe my way in with farmer's market produce. Either way.

One year ago: Central. Ohyesohyesohyesohyesohyes.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Thing 125: 701

Oh, you don't seriously think I'd sat out Restaurant Week this time around, do you?

Restaurant Week came and went last week (although some places are extending theirs through this week, and still other are extending them for the whole month) and I had two very good meals, at restaurants I normally wouldn't be able to afford.

Today, I'll tell you about 701.

Our meal at 701 was a special occasion meal. A milestone fell during Restaurant Week this year, and the Boyfriend and I opted to eat at 701 where a good friend of ours is a server. Of course I studied up on the menu before even arriving. The website said that they were offering their entire menu for R-week, and I started salivating at the descriptions of foie gras au torchon, glazed pork belly, and chimichurri-glazed Muscovy duck breast.

Unfortunately, once we got to the restaurant, we learned that they did have a separate Restaurant Week menu, and in fact they weren't serving anything off their normal menu. No caviar for us. But their Restaurant week selections were varied and interesting, our service was extremely attentive and the restaurant had a fun and lively atmosphere, complete with live piano mood music.

But romance and atmosphere aside, you want to hear about the food, right? The food was delicious and the menu had an American/Asian fusion vibe. For our first course, the Boyfriend chose wisely and ordered the pork belly. Like an idiot, I decided we couldn't both order the pork belly. But we should have both ordered the pork belly. As a general rule of thumb, when given the option to order a thick, seared, braised piece of bacon, order it. (You will see me apply this rule in my next post).

So, the Boyfriend ordered the pork belly, and I ended up with a crispy tuna roll -- a tempura'ed maki roll -- that while delicious, just wasn't a thick, seared, braised piece of bacon. On their normal menu, 701 offers pork belly as an entree served with pickled cherries and sweet potato puree, and I think I'd like to go back just for that, if nothing else.

Our entrees were great, too. I ordered the duck confit (which, again, as a general rule of thumb when you are given the option to order duck braised in its own fat for hours, you always should). I love duck confit and I scraped my plate clean. The Boyfriend ordered the salmon, which had an Asian twist -- served on a bed of cold rice noodles and cucumber -- and was good, too. He loved the way it was cooked, I thought it was a touch over done for my taste. Which was fine because I was swooning over my duck braised in its own fat.

Finally, for dessert, our waitress had recommended the blueberry creme brulee, which was lovely and packed with real blueberries, though the accompanying lemon tea cookies had a rubbery texture. The Boyfriend ordered a chocolate caramel torte-like item -- so rich he couldn't get through it, but incredibly dark with good cocoa.

As I mentioned, our service was really good -- multiple people were on hand to ensure that we were having a good experience. Of course, much later I found out that it was in part because our friend had added to the reservation that I'm "a famous food blogger." Hey -- until this blog starts paying my bills, I'll take what perks I can! Can I add that in the notes section of my next open table reservation? Or is that boastful?

701 boasts a great outdoor patio that overlooks the Navy Memorial plaza and fountains, a vibrant, colorful interior, and good food. It's a bit on the pricey side, but would be a perfect place for a spending account or a client meal. I'm pretty confident that you'll find me there soon, licking my fingers after enjoying a tasty piece of thick, seared, braised pork belly.

Related: Previous Restaurant Week experiences at Indebleu, Lima, 15 ria, Georgia Brown's, Kaz Sushi Bistro and Butterfield 9 (now closed -- I blame the oyster and scallop stew).

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Thing 124: Nellie's Sports Bar and Trivia Night

Add Nellie's to the list of fabulous patios for summer time drinking in the out-of-doors. Nellie's, located on U Street a short block up from the African American Civil War Memorial, boasts a gorgeous, spacious rooftop deck replete with Beyonce, two rooftop bars and beers served in buckets.

Downstairs, the two spacious, high-ceilinged rooms are decked out with TVs showing nonstop Olympics coverage , along with enormous portraits of 19th century ladies. Rough brick walls and exposed pipes, colorful Chinese paper lanterns hang from the ceiling and an enormous antique mirror lines the wall behind the main bar.

If this doesn't sound like your typical straight-guy sports bar, that's because it's not. Nellie's caters to the gays of DC, and has become something of a see-and-be-seen place apart from the strip on 17th street.

Nellie Sports Bar
A couple dozen of us had assembled for Good Friend David's birthday. GFD loves beers, Olympics, gay men, nachos and trivia, so the decision was pretty simple.

On Wednesdays, Nellie's hosts a trivia night, two games of four rounds each. We stayed competitive until the last round, during which we promptly lost it all. Questions ranged from the topical (Olympics) to the gay (Bette Midler) to the downright obscure (Ross Perot's running mate?). A lightning round was comprised of ten second snippets of song covers, and the answer had to list the name of the song and the original recording artist.

But our sorrow over losing was easily abated when GFD was presented with birthday nachos, complete with candle and boisterous singing. The menu at Nellie's is your typical bar food, burgers, wraps, wings, and hot dogs, along with some Mexican specialties (arrapas, empanadas and burritos). I can personally vouch for the mini hot dogs, which I demolished in between rounds 3 and 4 of trivia.

So here's wishing GFD a very happy birthday, as he joins the ranks of the Very Old. Wishing you many more, and lots of occasions to celebrate in the coming years!

Related: Trivia at the Wonderland Ballroom. Wow, that was the first far we've come.

Happy Birthday David Brown!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Thing 123: Dog Days

Mid City Dog Days

Oh my, I am behind on this entry. The Dog Days were three weekends ago, and if you want to go you'll have wait a whole forty nine weeks. But if you missed it this year, you will want to check it out in forty nine weeks because it's pretty great.

Mid City's Dog Days is a giant sidewalk sale, with several dozen participants from 'mid-city' -- basically the Logan Circle/U Street area. (Who knew I lived in 'mid-city'? Not me...). The merchants along P Street, 14th Street and U Street basically clear out their inventory, mark everything down, and put it outside to peruse. Logan Hardware was selling cheap gadgets, PULP had bins and bins of cards for $1, Miss Pixie's marked all their furniture in the store down 25%.

Over at ACKC, where I was working on the first Dog Day, there was madness. People were streaming in for chocolate, cold drinks, a caffeine fix. Everyone seems to take the opportunity of beautiful weather and cheap prices to get out and stroll the neighborhood, sampling new businesses and loading up on bargains.

The next day, on the way to brunch on U Street, the Boyfriend and I took a good hour to walk slowly up 14th Street, popping in to the different stores. I didn't buy much -- a few cards at Pulp, a couple gadgets at Home Rule -- but it was great to explore local businesses along the street and see what they were offering. We joked with the workers from Garden District about their bronze avocados, and who the potential customer for such a product might be. We talked mandolins at Home Rule. And perhaps most interesting of all, I learned of a real estate company cum art gallery The Urban Art Group, which can sell you a house and decorate it, all at the same time.

It's too late to partake this year, but next year, when the weather is at it's hottest, head to mid-city for some good deals and some new shops.

One year ago: My plan for the Perfect 3 Day Weekend -- just in time for Labor Day!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Thing 122: Fish Pedicure!

You've seen it on The View. You've read about it on the AP. And DC365 is there, at the cutting edge of trend and beauty, to bring you a first hand account of a fish pedicure.

Yes, yesterday I booked a zipcar and brought our intern to Yvonne's Salon, in Alexandria, VA to experience for ourselves the sensation of tiny carp nibbling the dead skin off our feet.

No, I'm being serious. See:

Fish Pedicure
Those are tiny carp, ravenously eating my feet and ankles until only the soft, smooth skin remains.

It feels even weirder than you think.

Somewhere between a pin prick and a gentle massage, alternating between wildly ticklish, calm relaxation, and slightly painful, this is a pedicure unlike any other. Upon arriving, you are escorted to one of four fish tanks, and are instructed to step into it. Immediately, these little fish swarm, going to town on your dead skin, which seems to congregate around the nails and on the heels and ankles. The worst is when one nibbles on the sole, by the arch, which made me squeal it tickled so much.

Each fish pedicure allows for 15 minutes in the fish tank, though by the time I was able to relax enough to enjoy it I wish there could have been more time. The fish were still hungrily eating, and I still had plenty of rough skin for them to take care of. However, most of that was taken care of during the actual pedicure part of the appointment, in which a woman pumiced off the rest of the skin, trimmed my nails, and painted them pale, shiny pink.

If you are a guy and you're looking for a pedicure, this might be for you! More men were getting pedicures than women when I was there. I guess the introduction of flesh-eating wildlife to the pedicure process makes it manly enough for them. They just skipped the color at the end.

A basic fish pedicure costs $45, which is steeper than normal, but worth it at least once just for the crazy experience of having done it. If it were a bit closer to me and didn't require a car to reach, I could see how it would be addicting. Just watching the fish attack your feed provides for endless entertainment. And my soft, smooth feet are a nice end product.

Fish Pedicure

Monday, August 18, 2008

Thing 121: Mangialardo's

Where oh where has DC365 gone? Don't worry, I haven't packed up and moved to some exotic locale and started LA365 or Boston365 or (sadly) Paris365. And no, I'm not lying dead in a gutter somewhere, but thanks for worrying, Mom. It's just that it's summertime, and when I'm not at work, I'm by the pool or gardening, and frankly, I don't even feel sorry about it.

However, to make up for my prolonged absence, loyal reader, I will be posting a new Thing every day this week. It'll be like NaBloPoMo, except that I won't want to kill myself at the end.

And now, for the first Thing of the week, I'd like to present to you my sandwich that I ate for lunch today. Readers, meet Sandwich:

Mangialardo Sub
Yes today, I finally made it over to the fabled sandwich shop Mangialardo's. Though still technically on the Hill, it is just far enough from my office that it is off the radar from places I'd normally go at lunch time. It's a little further up from Pacific Cafe, but not quite as far Trusty's. But today, I had to go to the hardware store at lunch, and while I was up there I found it hard to resist the magnetic pull of Italian cold cuts. So I just kept walking until I reached the small store front.

Mangialardo's is nothing to look at. On a nondescript, slightly run down block, and old faded sign announcing Mangialardo & Sons ITALIAN DELI. Inside, decorations are minimal and seating is nonexistent. Drink coolers run along one wall of the narrow space, and a scattering of Italian canned goods line the shelves of the other wall. At the back, two women take sandwich orders, and behind them, hidden behind a wall, these magical sandwiches are made.

Magical because...well, look at it again:

Mangialardo Italian Cold Cut Sub

This is the Italian Cold Cut, their most basic sub. Thick layers of Italian cured pork, a slice of cheese, hot peppers, onions, tomatoes and lettuce on a soft roll. Salty and porky and spicy and sweet, my mouth is still a bit fiery from those canned hot peppers and the black peppercorns from one of the cold cuts.

The clientele knows it's in for a delicious meal -- none of the usual suspects from Congressional offices have made their way this east. Instead, it's a mix of hospital workers and construction workers, teachers and nurses. The cashier, a Mangialardo grandson, seems to know most of them by name, as does the woman taking the sandwich orders. This is an addictive sort of place, that makes for loyal customers.

This place falls just short of the Italian Store, and isn't as good as Salumi (but that isn't fair because Salumi makes the best sandwiches, well, ever). But it's one of the best sandwiches in the District of Columbia, and it's certainly the best within walking distance of my office. If you find yourself nearby, you simply must stop in for lunch.

I love a good sandwich, leave a comment about your favorite sandwich place that I simply must try!

Coming up: Labor Day weekend is fast approaching. See my plan for a Perfect 3 Day weekend.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Thing 120: Good Stuff Eatery

I didn't want to scoop myself, but I went to Good Stuff Eatery about three weeks ago, and also had breakfast with the chef, Spike from Bravo's Top Chef. You can read all about it, along with some of my musings about celebrity chef-dom by clicking on the link below.

Top Chef's Freewheeling Bad Boy Takes His Turn Onstage

Monday, July 21, 2008

Thing 119: Food Matters

Last weekend, the Boyfriend and I really classed things up by going to a wine tasting at Food Matters. Much like in the movie Sideways, we swirled and sniffed and sipped and declared some wines to be "fruity and bold" and others to be "crisp, light, with hints of citrus and petrol." This is much fancier than our usual Sunday night of laundry and Family Guy, so let me explain.

My coworker knows the owners of this establishment, or else I can't imagine it would have ended up on my radar. Owned by Tom and Christy Przystawik, two chefs who met and married while working in Jose Andres' kitchens, they were looking for a way out of the hectic life of professional kitchens and wanted a bit more freedom to pursue what they loved to do. Food Matters is the product of that love. It's a neighborhood stop, with a sit down menu, take out and prepared foods, a bar, and classes and tasting events. Its customers, several of whom we met at our tasting, seem very loyal to the place, and Food Matters is a true neighborhood meeting place.

It caught my eye when my coworker, on their mailing list, mentioned across the cubicle wall one day "Oh! my friend Christy is doing a wine tasting for Alsatian wines!" My dad is from Alsace, and all his family still lives in that region. I spent summers and Christmases there growing up, and have very very fond memories of the foods and culture. Even though my mom didn't grow up in Alsace, she learned all the best dishes from my dad's mother, and so even when I wasn't in France with my family the smells and tastes of a good choucroute garni, fleishneke, or tarte aux pommes were deeply woven into my childhood.

Alsace is the region of France along the German border, in the North East of the country. Rolling green hills dotted with castles, small villages with broad houses with the signature black wood cross hatch pattern and stork nests on chimneys all make up this beloved province. The food is heavily influenced by its German neighbor; there is pork in everything and they make really good white wines, especially Rieslings and Gewurztraminers.

Those are what we tasted at Food Matters. For $20, we got small tastes of five wines and Alsatian-style snacks.

Tucked in at the front of the store is a room with a long communal table which holds about two dozen people. Each place was set with four wine glasses, each on a place mat that had room to take tasting notes at the foot of each glass. Plates of canapes graced the center of the table. We took our places around the table, and introduced ourselves to the people sitting next to and across from us. Many of them had been there for the prologue to this tasting -- the Alsatian red tasting from couple month previous -- and seemed to have gone to many other such events too. They all knew Christy, and most knew each other.

Christy was our emcee for the evening, pouring the different wines, giving us her interpretations of them, and then encouraging discussion and debate. We tried two Rieslings, one regular and one grand cru, and then debated whether we thought the extra expense was worth it (I thought yes, Boyfriend like the regular one better. Table was pretty split overall). And Christy reassured us that yes, Riesling is supposed to smell like motor oil, if you can believe it. We also tried an Auxerrois, a Muscat and a Gewurztraminer (which was much drier than its German counterpoint).

The snacks were delicious too (although Mom, your onion tart was better!). There were little toasts with blue cheese spread, pork sausages, a ham, cheese and pickle salad and the onion tart that, while good, pales in comparison to my family's version. Christy was even kind enough to mention which snacks paired particularly well with which wines.

Tasting attendees also had the option to purchase the wines we tasted at a slight discount to their normal price point. I ended up buying two bottles, one of which I'm bringing next time my German upstairs neighbors make tarte flambee.

The drawback to this really enjoyable evening? Food Matters is in the middle of nowhere (ok, so West Alexandria is, you know, populated. But for someone without a car, it might as well be on Venus). We took the metro to King Street, and then #8 Dash Bus out near Landmark. So it's not impossible to get there, it just involves some planning and a crossword puzzle to pass the time. Luckily, on our way back, the really nice people sitting next to us offered us a ride to the metro at Van Dorn, which we gladly accepted.

They're doing a tequila dinner next month, and Food Matters has tastings and events all year long. I recommend getting on their mailing list, and next time something catches your eye, make the trip out there. We had a very enjoyable evening, and I think you will too.

In the throes of Capital Fringe and Screen on the Green. Have you been yet?

I must have France on the brain. Join me over at the Cork and Knife, where I continue the theme.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Thing 118: Dr. Granville Moore's

I swear, even before the 'sphere was blowing up with mentions of Granville Moore's, I had made a reservation to go there. Then next thing I knew, everyone was buzzing about Teddy Folkman's solid ass-whupping of Bobby Flay on the food network. And I was scheduled to try those prize winning moules that week! Lucky, lucky me!

Lucky is right. This place is amazing. In fact, if you can arrive at the place (I recommend the 90 or X2), you will be so so glad you ventured to Northeast.

First of all, there are seven dipping sauces for the frites.

Seven. Dipping. Sauces.

I'm gonna let that sink in.

Are you still there? Or are you running not walking to H St, NE? My favorites were the truffle aioli, the horseradish cream and the mango curry. But that is not to say the pesto mayonnaise, mustard seed, garlic ranch and smokey BBQ sauces were bad. They were all very, very good. Our party of six demolished two very large baskets of frites-as-vehicles for sauces in an embarrassingly short amount of time.

Truffle aioli, I dream about you still.

Anyway, all the food was really good. I had the prize-winning bleu cheese, shallots, bacon and spinach mussels. All those things are basically my favorite things in the world, in one big bowl. The best part was when bacon and blue cheese made it into the shell with the mussel, and I could take a bite that was all of them at once. I also got to try my companions' pesto mussels and beer mussels. I think I might have liked the beer broth even better than my own, and I sopped as much up as I could with bread, while still maintaining my signature lady-like restraint and decorum.

Moving on from the food, the beer selection at this place was amazing, too. I think all the beers we sampled were great, but the real hero here was our waitress. Although technically not what you might call a 'good' waitress (she forgot stuff, dropped stuff, and put in at least one order wrong), she was so very friendly and helpful, she nailed every single beer recommendation we asked of her. And we really put her to the test. From the generic ("I like lager") to the specific ("Not hoppy, but bitter and dark") to the apple/oranges variety ("If I tell you I like bold and spicy wines, what kind of beer will I like?"), our waitress was able to recommend a suitable beer for every request. And she doesn't even like beer! She was amazing.

They even have a section of lambic beers, which is what we ended up ordering for dessert. I got a peach one and a couple other people got cherry flavors. Sour and sweet at once, these beers were the perfect cap to a Belgian evening.

The restaurant itself is located on block that is a hipster-island off the coast of Trinidad, on H St, NE, which historically had been a vibrant commercial center back in the days that DC was segregated. It was one of the areas of the city that burned in '68, and while 14th Street and U Street are well on their way now to bouncing back and becoming fully gentrified, H Street has been a bit slower to come around. For whatever reason though, that block is home to such hipster hangout favorites as the Rock n' Roll Hotel, the Red and the Black and the Palace of Wonders.

Granville Moore's is a converted townhouse, which used to be the offices of a local Doctor...Dr. Granville Moore (aha!). It's still homey feeling, with this really neat turret coming off the top floor, and lots of unfinished wood and stone. It was pretty lively when we arrived (still at happy hour), but had calmed down by the time we left (several courses and rounds later).

I still haven't seen the official 'throwdown' episode with Bobby Flay, but I think it's fair to say -- believe the hype. This place is delicious, the staff is friendly and knowledgeable, and I'd like to bathe in the mango curry sauce. If that can't win a throwdown, I don't know what could.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Thing 117: The Folklife Festival

Weaving from Bhutan

"We FINALLY went to the Folklife Festival," I told my dinner companion as we sat over salsas and ceviches at Lauriol Plaza, in answer to the fairly innocuous question of what did you do today?

"You couldn't possibly have done that yet...isn't it always the tradition that they hold the Folklife Festival at the hottest, sweatiest time of year? Part of the tradition is melting into a pool of sweat!"

Oh, rest assured. It was plenty hot for the annual Folk Life Festival, which closed this past Sunday. GFD and I went on the very last day, and melt into a pool of dusty, Mall sweat we did.

We also housed a plate of ribs in about a minute and half, walked through an authentic Buddhist Temple from Bhutan, and scratched our heads and said "NASA?"

Let me go back for a second, for those of you who didn't make it to the festival this year. Every year, for two weeks around the 4th of July (when the mall is at its sweatiest and dustiest), the Smithsonian erects a great many tents and pavilions and picks three cultures from the world to showcase in all their native, folk glory. There's always food, music, dancing, arts and crafts, and educational demonstrations, lectures and performances. In other words, it's a good time, sweat and all.

This year, the cultures highlighted were Texas, Bhutan and...NASA. NASA was celebrating it's 50th anniversary, and I guess spent a bunch of dollars to be spotlit at the festival, but come on. A folk culture it is not. GFD and I kept wandering around it saying "but isn't there...oh, I don't know...a WHOLE museum dedicated to this?...Like, right over there on the Mall already?!"

But Bhutan and Texas were pretty cool. Mostly, GFD and I ate our way through both cultures. We went to the Texas BBQ house and ate ribs.

Texas ribs Folklife Festival
Then we went ate the national dish of Bhutan, ema datsi, which is chilies with cheese and potatoes, and white rice with some kind of red rice mixed in. To be honest, we were nervous. But it turns out, it tasted like queso with jalapenos. Not so weird or exotic. It actually might have come out of an industrial can of nacho-grade queso, so underwhelming overall. We did think it was funny that the same thing could have been purchased at the Tex Mex booth, and we probably wouldn't have noticed. We also ate pork dumplings (God I love dumplings) inexplicably served with salsa that also seemed to have borrowed from the Tex Mex booth.
Ema Datsi Folklife Festival
The music part of the Texas exhibit was great, with an opry house tent, and a dance hall tent. We heard country music, two stepping, and mariachis in the course of the hour we were there. And the arts and crafts piece of the Bhutan exhibit was pretty good too. Their weaving and textiles are bright and fun, with Buddhas and dragons and bright pinks knit with reds and blues and greens in lively patterns. They even assembled a model Buddhist temple, the pieces of which were hand crafted in Bhutan and shipped to Washington, DC for assembly. And inside, there were live monks making music (and looking remarkably hot and bored)!
Monks from Bhutan Folklife Festival

It's too late for this year if you missed it, but next year be sure to go, even though you are guaranteed to dissolve into a sweaty mess. There is great music, good food, and a lot to see and do. I imagine if you have children, it is an ideal place to let them run and see and touch and dance. And maybe next year, they will focus on three actual folk cultures. Or maybe they will highlight the Department of Homeland Security instead.

Coming up: SotG!!!!! See you there! HBO Dance-off promptly at dusk.

Join me over at the
Cork & Knife, where I tackle jam-making.
Get in my belly.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Thing 116: Tangysweet

It's tangy. And it's sweet. But what should we call it?...

Judging by the line stretching from the counter to the front door both times I've visited this sparse basement establishment, everyone in the District of Columbia and most of Maryland and Virginia has already visited Tangysweet. Since that's the case, I won't bother with a write-up and have nothing much to write except that I very much enjoyed it, too. If there does happen to be a straggler left in DC who has not partaken yet, let me jump on the band wagon -- Tangysweet is just the perfect way to end a summer evening, after a grilled dinner or a long stroll at dusk.

The basement store front is all concrete and funky lighting and patiently waiting customers. There is a small bench and a couple tables set off to the side, but other than that the store is empty, allowing long lines to queue up through it. At the back are the magical machines that churn up the frozen dessert and a vast toppings bar.

Did I not mention that all this fuss is over frozen yogurt? Yes, it's a soft-serve store, but in the model of New York's Pinkberry it is cultured frozen yogurt. Think Greek yogurt, churned. Low(er) in sugar, lacking in fat and aiding the digestion, topped with some anti-oxidant rich berries and you can almost feel good about enjoying your dessert. (Well, I always feel good about enjoying my dessert, but I understand that some people have some guilt regarding sweets).

There are only three types of yogurt on the menu, plain, pomegranate and green tea. I enjoy the plain, which is a cold and creamy version of Greek yogurt, and the green tea which has a pronounced tang, almost tasting of citrus. The pomegranate runs a bit sweeter, with the slightly astringent bite that comes from the aftertaste of pomegranate seeds. There are also smoothies, which are blended versions of the yogurt and toppings.

But if you're like me, you like soft serve un-blended, with identifiable toppings. The toppings bar at Tangysweet is unique and awesome. There are lots of fresh fruits -- mangoes, strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, apples, pineapple -- all fresh and not that gloppy, thickened, overly-sweet 'fruit topping' you find at traditional fro-yo joints. There's also dry cereals -- Cap'n Crunch, Cinnamon Toast Crunch, Cocoa and Fruity Pebbles and some kick ass granola -- and sweets like chocolate chips, carob chips and toasted coconut. For a couple bucks, you get your choice of three toppings on your yogurt. I admit to being addicted to that granola, and the fresh fruit is puckery and ripe and delicious.

The lighting is neon and funky, changing from green to orange to pink to blue, and providing some atmosphere as you wait for your yogurt. It still doesn't have quite enough fat to compete with Dolcezza or Larry's, but it is strangely addictive and craveable. If you're the last person in DC to check this place out, believe the hype. It's worth the line, worth the wait, and a welcome addition to Dupont Circle.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Thing 115: The Hillwood Estate and Museum

Where was I for Pride weekend? Why, at the parade, of course! Huddling under an umbrella, cheering Fenty’s smart car, and applauding PFLAG along with everyone else. The rain put a, er, damper on things, but as usual it was a gay time, in both the new and old meanings of the word.

But the highlight, oh the glorious great part of Pride weekend for me was a showing of Straight Jacket , starring the silver screen diva herself, Joan Crawford, outdoors on the lawn of the Hillwood Estate & Museum as part of their LGBT "Divas of the Screen" series.

First of all, I think we all know how much I love an outdoor movie.

Second of all, the Hillwood Estate is an absolutely gorgeous place to watch a movie outdoors. Far less crowded than the Mall, and much smaller so that you can really see well no matter where you sit. If you can locate and arrive at the place (which I had a lot of difficulty doing…it is near the Czech embassy, but not quite its neighbor) you are treated to a pristine lawn, old growth trees, an expansive view of the sky, and ample manicured gardens with fountains and koi fish and small bridges that lead over ponds.

Third of all, they supply you with FREE (!) bug spray. So long, West Nile Virus!

Of course, the best part is that you get to watch a movie with 300 of your closest gay girlfriends. There was a contest for the best picnic spread, judged before dark, so the spreads were queer-eyed-out. We're talking candelabra, floral arrangements, cake plates with decorated cupcakes, and enough gourmet cheeses to open up a specialty shop. In comparison, our spread of chickpea salad, tatziki and grapes was downright sad. There was also a Joan Crawford lookalike contest, which was won by a rather skeletal version of the lady. And, if things weren't gay enough for you yet, there was a proposal, on the lawn in front of the crowd, with one man down on one knee asking for the other's hand in marriage! A perfect, picturesque setting for a declaration of love, including plastic axes in the background as an homage to the flick we were about to see.

And what a movie! Joan Crawford, in all her glory, is an ax wielding murderess! The heads pop off like champagne corks! She makes an entrance, and the crowd goes wild! (And not a few shout "No! Wire! Hangers!"). The plot, in a nutshell, is that Joan Crawford murdered her husband and his mistress in a really gruesome/campy ax murderer/diva way, and then 20 years later is released from the asylum to rejoin her daughter who is living a wholesome life on a farm in California. Hilarity/horror ensues, and even though it is one of the campier movies I've ever seen, I did at one point whisper to my companion "I understand this movie is terrible, but darn it, I'm nervous! Don't go in there!" and then inevitably, the good natured doctor would walk into a dark room and the door would close and the glint of the ax would shine.

The other movies in the series were great too, How to Marry a Millionaire and Funny Face. Keep an eye out for this series next summer, and have yourself a gay old time.

Join me over at the Cork & Knife to read about a new social networking site for locavores.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Thing 114: Oyamel

I looked up from our many small, empty plates and remembered that, oh, yes, I was at the crowded bar at Oyamel. I had spent the last 20 minutes so thoroughly focused downward at the great array of flavors in front of me, it was quite surprising to realize that I was surrounded by life and noise, glasses clanging and loud laughter.

I have always loved Oyamel, since its days in Crystal City through my numerous visits to its new incarnation in Penn Quarter. From that very first visit years ago, the staff was helpful in recommending their favorites, the guacamole so good I'd like to put it in my pocket, the drinks are delicious if a touch expensive, and the warm surroundings let you feel comfortable and relaxed. I once met a friend at Oyamel for 'a drink'; we arrived at 6:00 and were so taken care of we ended up staying for the next six hours, graciously taken care of by our bartender and the small sustaining plates coming out of the kitchen. I have only ever ordered one thing from Oyamel that I didn't like, and I'm pretty sure that is because it turns out I don't like cactus -- hardly the kitchen's fault. At Oyamel, even the cricket tacos are delicious.

I should not be surprised -- this kitchen belongs to the vast tapas empire of Jose Andres, chef of Jaleo, Atlantico, Zaytinya and MiniBar, student of Ferran Adria of El Bulli and the latest darling of Bravo TV. Andres makes small plates, and no matter their twist -- Spanish, Mexican, South American, Greek or Turkish -- they are always tasty and flawlessly executed, served by a caring and knowledgeable staff. Oyamel focuses on Mexico and amidst the margaritas with sea 'foam' and guacamole made table-side in a stone mortar is arguably the best Mexican cooking in DC.

I grew up in California, and I love a fat a burrito or a roadside taco better than most. I know that Oyamel isn't the Mexican food to be found in dinghy holes in the wall in the Mission district. But this classed-up, tapas-style Mexican might be even better. The squash blossoms stuffed with goat cheese and served with tomato, olive and caper sauce practically dared us to lick the plate, and delicate scallop ceviche puckers with grapefruit and cilantro oil. Spicy shrimp are grilled with salsa negra that left our mouths pleasantly on fire. And if you're looking for more of that street-food vibe, they have a full taco bar where you can indulge in cricket tacos, wild mushroom with soft guacamole tacos, duck confit, BBQ'ed pork, beef tongue and many others. All of them are delicious.

Desserts here are first class, although this last time around I couldn't order it after I overdid it on the 'taco course.' I particularly like their tres leches cake, which comes with thinly sliced fresh pineapple and homemade pineapple preserves.

Located around the corner from Woolly Mammoth, across the street from the Bead Museum, in the heart of the Fringe Festival, and pretty much at the center of everything, Oyamel is one of the surest dining options in the always-hopping Penn Quarter. I simply cannot recommend it enough, and with such a long menu of small plates, there is always something new to try, something unexpected and wonderful.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Thing 113: The Portrait Gallery

On Friday, I took the afternoon off of work, for no better reason than it's summer and GFD and I wanted to do frivolous things. We drank bloody Marys and ate fried zucchini for lunch, saw the Sex and the City movie, and finished with wings and tackiness at Hooters.

But we didn't want it to be all frivolity, so we threw some legitimate culture in there, too. We stopped in at the National Portrait Gallery to see a couple of exhibits that I've had my eye on for awhile.

I haven't spent a whole lot time in the Portrait Gallery. For the first several years I was in DC, it was under renovation and then when it finally opened I did a quick lap around it and then gave up and had lunch at Zaytinya. This time around, I specifically wanted to see the exhibit of hip hop portraits and of Herblock cartoons, and I quite enjoyed them both.

The hip hop exhibit was bright and playful and, as someone was has listened to hip hop since her formative years, a real acknowledgement that the cultural movement that is hip hop is worth celebrating within our larger culture of the arts. Thirty years ago when street kids were tagging subways in the Bronx, did they ever think that graffiti art would be lining the hallways of the Smithsonian? And yet here were huge, colorful tags spray painted on canvasses along the marble floored hallways, commanding respect as Art.

There were also some beautiful black and white portraits of artists on stage and back stage, including my love, Mos Def, and some really great ones of Erykah Badu, Public Enemy and ?uestlove. There was a video installation, and a spoken word/mixed media room but my favorite were the enormous portraits by Kehinde Wiley, bright with patterns and vitality, of various members of hip hop 'royalty' (LL Cool J, Ice T, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five) posing in the style of noblemen past. The musicians are posed with objects showing their style and wealth, in front of neon repeating patterned backgrounds and with a large crest to identify who they are (LL's crest for example included a pair of boxing gloves and a Kangol hat. Don't call it a comeback...). Here, Ice T is posed in the manner of the Emperor Napoleon -- ruling over his domain.

The other exhibit we saw was the Herblock political cartoons. I have lived in DC just long enough that I remember seeing his works in the Post, as he was nearing the end of a long and storied career. Herblock was a master at the political satire, and spared no president from his harsh pen. This exhibit covers a sampling of his cartoons of FDR, Truman, Eisenhower, JFK, LBJ, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush I and Clinton. The opening text for the exhibition specifically states that only cartoons that aren't nice to their subjects were selected, and Herblock spares no one as he points out corruption, indifference or hypocrisy. Clinton washes his hands of the ethnic cleansing in Bosnia, Johnson neglects and under funds his War on Poverty and Kennedy cowered as dictators took over Latin America. This exhibit goes hand in hand with Berryman's exhibit at the National Archives, and it's a great way to learn about history -- through the eyes of cynical and humorous cartoonists.

I loved both of these exhibits, and I think they are each a good example of some of the more forward ways the portrait gallery is defining portraiture. Sharp caricatures and classic portraits of modern figures, mixed media art installations about how we see ourselves, and even the graffiti tag as self portrait because that's how the graffiti artists choose to present themselves outwards to the world...they're all housed in the same place as the oil paintings of George Washington.
The hip hop exhibit is on until the end of October, and Herblock is up through the end of November, and I'd urge you to check them out next time you're up for a bit of summertime frivolity.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Top 10 DC Things To Do This Summer

Last year, I wrote about the top five things I was looking forward to doing in DC over the summer. Now, with the Memorial Day holiday behind us, it is time to look forward to an expanded list of summer activities. Some are carry overs, one is now defunct (The Hotel Washington roof top bar), and the others are new additions for you to enjoy.

The DC365 Top 10 Things To Do This Summer

#10 AFI Silver Theater and the E Street Cinema: When I need to beat the oppressive heat, I like to head indoors to the air conditioned coolness of the movies. Both of these independent/art house theaters feature movies a bit off the beaten path, from documentaries to indy films to retrospectives of a director or actor. They also have fancy snacks, like good dark chocolate and micro-brewed beers.

#9 The Hirshhorn Museum: If paying $10 to see a movie every time you start sweating isn't really your thing, then check out any one of our free and cultural Smithsonian Museums. The Hirshhorn happens to be my favorite, with its cutting edge visiting exhibits that always make me think and wonder. But with everything from African art to Dorothy's slippers to dinosaur bones, there is something for every taste.

#8 Larry's Homemade Ice Cream: Here is what I wrote last year: "Although this is highly debatable, I'm convinced that the best ice cream in the city can be found at the little underground shop on Connecticut Ave in Dupont, Larry's Homemade. The shop is nearly as old as I am, and as the name implies, all of the creative and fabulously flavored ice creams are homemade. Along with the normal flavors, they've created more exotic ones, including Key West, ecstasy, Fred and Ginger, rum raisin (with real booze) or haluah (named for the Syrian candy of honey and sesame paste). I keep meaning to try something different, but I absolutely cannot resist their oatmeal cookie dough flavor, with big chunks of oatmeal cookie dough and chocolate chips in a cinnamon flavored ice cream." This all still holds absolutely true.

#7 Dolcezza Argentine Gelato: In the comments to last years Top 5, C mentioned an Argentine gelato shop with such exotic flavors as lime cilantro and lemon basil. Well, I can now whole-heartedly add this fine shop and its wears to the list. They also sell their gelato at the Dupont Farmers' Market and, on a personal plug, at ACKC Cocoa Bar, where you can also find me stirring up chocolate on the weekends.

#6 Margaritas at Lauriol Plaza: I went back and forth on this one, but I think in the end, Lauriol Plaza's rooftop margaritas are, in fact, quintessentially DC. You have the skinterns with their fake IDs, the outrageous wait time for crappy enchiladas and plenty of delicious frozen margaritas to keep you cool. It's not the best restaurant, but it's where you'll find, well, everyone during the hottest months. For something a bit different, you should check out the rooftop at the Straits of Malaya across the street, which has an equally enjoyable roof deck and delicious Malay food.

#5 Theodore Roosevelt Island: I haven't been here since my Close Up trip to DC in the eleventh grade, but I am looking forward to revisiting it this summer with a picnic and a good book in tow. I think there even may be a way to canoe over to the place.

#4 The Capital Fringe Festival: As I wrote last year, the DC Fringe Festival makes DC a better place to live and visit. For two weeks in July, live theater is performed for free or on the cheap at dozen venues all across the city. Some shows are terrible, others are wonderful and it's nearly impossible to know in advance which one yours will be, but that's part of the fun, isn't it? And it adds to DC's status as a world class city, joining the ranks of San Francisco and Edinburgh as a place for local, small or experimental theaters to try out their chops.

#3 See the Nats play: The new stadium, which I had the pleasure of visiting for the first time last week and is but a short walk from my office, is fabulous. The seats are all good, the food and drink is mostly local, including Ben's Chili Bowl and the Cantina Marina, and everything is still shiny and new. The Nats may be pretty terrible this year, but few things are as summery and American as a cold beer and some peanuts at the ballpark.

#2 Wolftrap: Except when it's raining, this is still my second favorite place to be in the summer time. Get a lawn seat and bring a picnic, maybe some wine, plenty of water and some bug spray and enjoy a sweaty, humid evening under the stars listening to anything from zydeco to opera to pop to show tunes. Important -- bring an umbrella just in case.

#1 Screen on the Green! Forever and always, my most favorite summer activity in this city.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Thing 112: Post Hunt

This Thing is totally not a unique-to-DC-thing. You see, since 1984 the humorous and zany minds of Dave Barry, Gene Weingarten and Tom "the Butcher" Shroder have been running the Tropic Hunt in Miami, Florida. So there is an equally frustrating and insane race that goes on yearly in Miami. But in 2008, with two of the triumvirate working for the Washington Post magazine now, they decided to stage one locally.

Now, I LOVE a scavenger hunt. I love puzzles and dares and races. I love solving clues. So of course I braved the impending storm and met up with two friends at the site of the old convention center to partake with several thousand others in what turned out to be an infuriatingly difficult afternoon. I stand in awe of all those able to complete the five main clues, let alone the end game.

I won't give you the play by play -- those are available here. I will say that I was astute enough to figure out the first two puzzles we attempted (both the fortune cookie one, and the President's race one), and then I completely fell apart. I desperately outsmarted myself at each turn, trying to come up with huge elaborate patterns and math problems when usually, the answer was just a clever pun. Of course, I blame Dave Barry.

Dave Barry and me
Finally, in order to solve the 'endgame' and win the whole caboodle, you had to have solved the first five puzzles correctly, and then basically be a mind reader, as Dave, Gene and Tom lead you through a series of logical leaps that I can't imagine actually solving. And yet, at least three teams solved the whole thing to win prizes. Which, as Dave Barry reassured us, shouldn't make us feel bad. It just means we're stupid.

No trip to Miami for me this year...but a few hints for those who may want to participate next year:

  • Do it! You have nothing to lose and it turns out to be a good bit of fun...although sometimes frustrating, you feel really smart when you solve a puzzle.
  • Bring your friends. Lots of them. I definitely think we suffered for only having three on our team. Each person seems to get stuck going down one path of thought, and it's hard to spark a different idea from that. The more people putting forward crazy theories, the more likely that one of those crazy theories will be correct.
  • Don't be a code breaker. I must have spent 45 minutes adding and subtracting and multiplying an patterning those damn Chinese characters, when the actual answer was much simpler than that. Rarely do you need to do math -- mostly you just need follow the innate logic or word play of the puzzle the number will flow.
  • A couple bloody maries wouldn't hurt, to be honest. Pregame at brunch.
  • Finally, when in doubt, blame Gene:

Gene Weingarten and me

Friday, May 16, 2008

Thing 111: Mark's Duck House

Marks Duck House DucksIt's no secret that my love and my life are in the District of Columbia. Still there are some things I miss about growing up in the Bay Area. Fog. The ocean and the Golden Gate and the beaches you have to wear sweatshirts too. Ancient redwood trees. Abundant and cheap avocados. And of course, the Saturday dim sum brunch.

Well, there's still no Golden Gate Bridge on this end of the country, but by God, I can enjoy my Saturday dim sum brunch once again.

For those not lucky enough to grow up in a place where dim sum is common, it is basically all the very best dumplings, noodles, vegetables and fried foods that China has on offer, then placed on steam carts and brought by your table. The cart pushers try to sell you what's on their cart, and if it looks good, you order just as many as you want right then. They keep a tally of dishes at your table and when you can't possibly stuff one more sticky pork bun into your belly, they total your bill.

When it is done well, it is a veritable shellfish and rice wrapper orgy, with sticky rice and Chinese broccoli and BBQ pork clamoring for a turn. It is one hundred and one flavors and ingredients all climbing over each other to get your attention, and it is loud and anarchic and terribly fun.

At Mark's Duck House, hallelujah!, it is done well. It's still not quite as good as my very favorite in San Francisco (shout out: Ton Kang at 25th and Geary!), but it more than satisfies my cravings for sweet sesame balls and turnip cake.

Going to a strip mall in Falls Church may not seem like the most promising start, but just as the Eden Center yielded untold glories, this place is so worth going out of your way to find. When we walked in, we were greeted by a row of hanging ducks, and two whole pigs fried with crispy skin. As the morning wore on and we kept ordering exotic and known dishes, large Asian families filled all the tables, enjoying a leisurely Saturday brunch.

We ate and ate -- shrimp dumplings, scallop dumplings, duck and baby bok choi and Chinese broccoli. I tried bitter melon for the first time (newsflash: it's bitter), and I swear to you, the Boyfriend ordered a plate of chicken feet. Admittedly, he thought he was ordering 'chicken fingers', which is technically what he ended up with. It turns out, chicken feet are one of those dishes where really, it's all about the sauce. There's not much meat there, but they're steeped in a sweet/smokey sauce that is delicious.

And when it was all over? When I pretty much had eaten myself into a delicious and unavoidable food coma? And even then had ordered sesame balls with that thick, gelatinous, sweet sesame paste inside because I always need dessert? Our bill was $15 per person.

Now if only I could find some local avocados...

One year ago: Embassy Open House Day

Join me over at the Cork & Knife! This week, garlic-y pea shoots...

Monday, May 12, 2008

Thing 110: Helix Bar

Well, my vision of "patio week" fell a bit shy, but I need to tell you all about another patio that I just love, so think of this more as a "patio installment." As always, chime in with your favorites for drinking outside!

The Helix Hotel has a fabulous and funky bar with neon lighting, white pleather, candy martinis and a gorgeous deck where one can sip cocktails beneath Christmas lights and enjoy a breezy or humid evening.

Helix is actually my local -- I alternate going there with Stoney's depending on whether I'm in the mood for grit or glitter -- but most of the clientele are actually staying in the hotel and so are different every time. Its one of the things I really like about the place -- whereas Stoney's provides a reliable cast of neighborhood regulars, you never quite know who you might encounter at Helix. Business travelers, German tourists, bachelor parties, they all rotate through. You will often find yourself in conversations with all sorts of interesting or obnoxious people and sometimes it can even be quite pleasant.

The staff are always wonderful, which is another reason I really like the place. The bartenders and waitresses are all quick to refill your drink, make conversation and just generally take care of you -- I've befriended quite a few of them, and they are all nice people.

The decor and the drinks are all neon and funky. Over sized pillows in bold prints, white pleather banquettes, lighting that changes from green to pink to blue. The martinis mimic the scenery in all different shades of pastel. I'm a fan of the 'pajama party' myself, which comes in pale green and tastes just like a gummy worm. Their newest drink, the Mango Sex, was created by a friend of mine in a drink contest recently held by Helix. The mango juice, triple sec and coconut rum concoction beat out my entry of watermelon juice and lemon vodka. Ask for the sweet and cool Mango Sex when you stop by.

And finally, there is that glorious patio. It's more of a deck, in a courtyard in the hotel, and there are all manner of plastic deck chairs, wooden benches and tall, metallic chairs and tables. Eclectic, mismatched Christmas lights are strung up above the deck for mood lighting, but otherwise it is cool and dark, comfortable and homey. Because rooms of the hotel look out onto the courtyard, the deck does close at midnight.

Enjoy this beautiful spring evening with a martini, some pink lights and white pleather, and a bit of fresh air.

One Year Ago: Sushi Taro

Coming Up: Embassy Open House Day

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Thing 109: The Bar at Marvin

It's patio weather.

Oh yes, after teasing, taunting and fluctuating, it is finally gorgeous out. Sunny, warm, not humid and with a cool breeze in the evenings. Which means you'll find me on a patio.

This week, I'll be trying and testing and writing about some great patios to drink, eat or sit with a book and I encourage you to pipe in with your favorites and with suggestions for the rest of us to try out ourselves.

Starting with...the rooftop bar at Marvin! Marvin, a new Belgium-meets-soulfood eatery on the heavily visited corner of 14th and U Streets, NW, has a fantastic covered rooftop bar and deck. Though open all year, this spot excels in the late spring/early summer when the weather is mild and cold beers hit the spot.

If you like beer, Marvin is a treat. There are a number of different Belgian beers on tap for all different tastes, wheat or light, ales and stouts and even fruit flavored beers. Though the bar was pretty busy on the night I went, the bar staff was very friendly and approachable -- I didn't find myself waiting and waiting.

The main section of the deck is covered with a canopy, protecting drinkers from those unexpected summer showers, and there is a large open air deck adjacent. The bar's patrons seemed, well, nice. Smartly dressed without being pretentious, a happy smiling mix of folks. Unfortunately, the view is of the back of the Ellington Condos -- not a great. Overall, I had a really fun evening at Marvin and can't wait to go back for some more open air frivolity. I also wouldn't mind sitting down to dinner and trying out some moules-frites...

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Thing 108: The White House Gardens and Grounds

The White House!

The thing I love about this blog, other than having done 108 new and unique-to-DC things, is the people I have met and the free stuff I’ve gotten. DC Sarah, who found me way back when, is now a staple in my life. And I’m such a big deal I got this book for free. I would like to take this opportunity to encourage all of you to come out of the shadows and enrich my life with your company, or free stuff.

And so it came to pass that a loyal reader contacted me out of the blue and invited me and five Under the President's balconyfriends to the White House.

Yes, please.

Three times a year, this reader told me, they open the White House grounds to the public. Anyone can go, tickets are free and first come first serve. But through her work, she is able to bring up to six guests, no waiting in line, no tickets needed.

And so we found ourselves last Sunday, on the very same lawn that the Pope just visited. We got right up against the East Wing, under the balcony of the President’s bedroom. We gazed out, across the South Lawn, across the ellipse to the Washington and Jefferson memorials (Mason, sorry, you aren’t tall enough to compete).

The view across the South Lawn at the White HouseWe circled the South Lawn and listened to the Navy band play. We spied the presidential The White House Tennis Court: White-soled shoes only!swimming pool through the bushes, passed the tennis court and the putting green. We walked on the runners track that Clinton had installed around the lawn. And just when we thought the presidency was just about a sweet home and abundand leisure activities, we were able to see the Cabinet Room and the Oval Office from the outside.

Of course, Sam and I were able to recognize the layout of the West Wing from our tour in December. We are getting to be experts.

The Cabinet Room

The Oval Office
We waited in line to see the Children’s Garden, which Mrs. Johnson had installed – a quiet, The building of an empire: Jebby Bushreflective area with a fish pool and the hand prints of all the presidential grandchildren. Seeing all those Bush grandkids (Barbara and Jenna are in there, as the grandkids of Bush the elder) it really starts to dawn on you – they’re not growing a dynasty, they’re creating an empire!

Truly, it was an honor and a privilege to see the White House from so close, and walk the garden paths that such powerful and important people have walked before us. I want to thank our patron, who suggested it and allowed us to cut the queue, and I want to encourage all of you to give me suggestions of other places to try out…and if you can throw in some free passes, all the better!

But where the heck is the White House? Let me see that map.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Thing 107: The George Mason Memorial

George Mason MemorialPoor George Mason. The forgotten founding father. Oh sure, he has a university in his name, but where oh where is his memorial? Lincoln sits stately in his marble palace. George Washington’s phallus towers over the skyline. Jefferson keeps watch over the Tidal Basin beneath his dome. Rappers lament their lack of “Benjamins, baby,” an homage to Franklin’s perch on the $100 bill.

Don’t fret, Mason lovers! Six years ago, your man Georgie got his due, with a small memorial tucked away near the Jefferson along the banks of the Tidal Basin. We stumbled upon it last weekend when were returning from a picnic beneath the blossoms.

George Mason Memorial
It is a small and peaceful place. A small reflecting pool surrounded by flowers. Words from the Virginia Declaration of Rights, which was used as the blueprint for the Bill of Rights, are carved into the marble walls. A large bronze statue shows Mason in contemplative relaxation. He sits under an awning, his cane resting on the bench, legs casually crossed, looking out into the distance with a finger holding the place in his book. He’s about twice the size of a real person, dressed in knickers and a cravat, looking like a person who is about to found a nation.

George Mason Memorial

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Thing 106: The Eden Center

The Eden Center: Ramen

As we sat in the dark karaoke bar, neon lighting dancing across the walls, Jenny leaned over and shouted into my ear "I feel like we've boarded a place, and landed in Saigon. It feels like we've travelled. And we are in a strip mall in Virginia."

The Eden Center
The wonder of the Eden Center -- the tiny strip mall in Falls Church comprised entirely of Vietnamese business -- is how completey unique it is within such a completely non-descript setting. The same tan brick exterior, the same row of shops, the same glowing orange signs above each business, except these signs say "Hong Viet" and "Huang Que" and inside the shops are eastern delicacies that I'd never dreamed of.

I spent a Saturday evening their recently, first perusing the aisles of a Vietnamese grocery and buying all manner of dried kobu, dried fungus, rice noodles, jasmine tea and something called spicy fried gluten. Each shelf held a wealth of products that I had to keep myself from buying, intrigued and simultaneously lost, having no experience in how to cook most everything I encountered.

The Eden Center: Fish in a Jar
Then we moved on to dinner, at the famous "Huong Que" or Four Sister Restaurant. This establishment has a wall full of accolades, all manner of restaurant critics who ostensibly know better than I do what "authentic" is calling the place authentic. It certainly is delicious, although nearly impossible to decide on what to eat with an epic menu that encompasses 200+ dishes of every conceivable combination. Clay pots and pho, rice crepes and rice noodles, fish and pork and chicken abounds and it is hard to narrow it down. The clay pot spare ribs were really tasty, as was the lemon grass chicken and the shredded pork spring rolls, but I am in a hurry to go back and see what else stands out from the long and exciting menu.

The Eden Center: Four Sisters
Finally, after dinner we wanted another drink before heading back to the western world, and strolled down to the corner of the strip mall that advertised karaoke and drinks. Wow. Just, wow. A live band of drums, synthesizer and bass backed up Vietnamese pop karaoke, as steadily more Vietnamese people of all ages streamed in to eat, drink, dance and sing. Our waitress really wanted us to sing some "American" songs, but in the end we were too intimidated by the truly soulful and party hopping Vietnamese version of LaBamba we were treated to, to try anything ourselves.

And even after a very full evening of shopping, eating and drinking, there is still so much more to see and eat. There are bakeries and delis that we poked our head into that sell huge, pillowy dumplings with BBQ pork, and round gelatinous rice cakes filled with something that I need to find out about. There are still other restaurants, and a karaoke bar called XXX. I will be back, soon, for another round of eating and exotic ingredients. So much cheaper than a plane ticket to Saigon.

See what I made with my Vietnamese ingredients! Join me over at the Cork & Knife.

Coming up:
Urban Dare.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Thing 105: The Majestic Cafe

I've been sitting on this one for about ten days which is a big no-no, especially when writing about a meal, because little details start to slip away. What did the wine taste like? How was the soup? I remember that I liked the cheese, but why did I like it so much?

So forgive my faulty memory and let me say simply that the Majestic Cafe on King Street in Alexandria is really lovely, with fantastic food and extremely knowledgeable and attentive service. The Boyfriend and I had a long, relaxed dinner date and lacked for nothing, enjoying ourselves tremendously.

Briefly, because some of the details are starting fuzz out on me, we started with cocktails. The Boyfriend got a maple syrup and bourbon deal, which was a bit strong and sweet for my liking, and I got a champagne cocktail that tasted like lemonade.

Cocktails at the Majestic

We split an appetizer of local oysters, lightly fried and draped with a lemon aioli. We know they are local because when I asked their origin (I tend to prefer Pacific oysters, which I've learned through extensive experimentation at Ebbitt's) our lovely waiter told us that he wasn't entirely sure, but the man who harvested them lived near enough somewhere in Virginia to drive them to the restaurant himself, which sure meets any local and sustainable food requirements you may have of your appetizer.

Fried Oysters at the Majestic
My entree is where things really got exciting. I ordered a whole trout fillet persillade, which seems to mean dusted in parsely and bread crumbs and lightly sauteed, then placed over a compote of fennel and orange that I long for still (and have tried to replicate without success so far) and served with a side of brussel sprouts sauteed with fat bits of smokey bacon. You have never dreamed that brussel sprouts could taste so good.

Trout Persillade at the Majestic
The Boyfriend got the Chesapeake fish soup, which had big hunks of shrimp, scallop, mussels and white fish, a thin tomato broth and celery and fennel. It was (over)seasoned with Old Bay and a bit salty, but overall quite enjoyable.

Seafood Soup at the Majestic

And finally...dessert! Majestic, which is owned by the same couple that cook at Restaurant Eve, Eamonn's and the PX, shares a pastry chef with Eve and you must leave room for dessert. After considerable debate, I went with the cake of the day, forgoing a caramel lemon tartlet that I must go back for someday. The cake of the day was too good to resist, three layers of soft white cake, with vanilla pastry cream between the layers and iced in chocolate ganache. The Boyfriend ordered the cheese plate, which had some lovely cheeses (which I can't remember anymore, but I believe the blue was particularly good) as well as some homemade accompaniments, including some pretty great candied cashews.

Cake of the Day at the Majestic
Cheese Plate at the Majestic

It was a really great meal and our service made it better. I want Dave (no relation) to get all the praise he is due, for he was attentive to our needs without being annoying, and really knowledgeable of the whole menu and the wine. He helped us pick out a really perfect, light pinot noir to go with our seafood dinner. In addition to his help about the oysters, he guided me towards choosing my winner of an entree, and when The Boyfriend mentioned there was a heavy hand with the Old Bay in the soup, he took it very seriously and promised to relay it back to the kitchen. I'm sure that all the staff are trained to the same high level of service and that this is part of the appeal of the place.

It's meant to be a neighborhood joint, though it is a touch pricey to eat there often. But the food is homey and the open kitchen in the back of the restaurant is fun to watch. I hope you will enjoy it as much as we did.

Coming Up: Cherry Blossom Picnic

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Mais Qu'ils Mangent du Brioche!

A friend and I have started a new little venture...a sweet little blog about our two favorite topics -- politics and dessert. It's still a bit experimental and new, but have patience and watch us grow.

Check us out at

Also, stay tuned for my experience at the Majestic Cafe, and Ethiopian food!

Friday, March 21, 2008

Thing 104: Liquor Store Indian Food

This was my lunch a couple of days ago:

Butter chicken from the liquor store
Butter chicken, fennel rice, curried chickpeas and pita -- and I bought it at the liquor store down the street!

I discovered that Capitol Hill Wine & Spirits (323 Pennsylvania Ave., SE) serves Indian lunch because I was buying booze in the middle of the day for what I swear was a perfectly legitimate reason. As soon as I stepped in, I was overwhelmed by the heavenly smell of cardamom, curry, cinnamon and chiles. In short, it smelled like a legitimate Indian restaurant even though it was a fluorescently-lit liquor store with coolers of tall boys, handles of cheap vodka and a lotto ticket counter.

I went to the back, where there is a small deli counter, and ordered from the short Indian menu. They have kabobs, chicken tikka, tandoori chicken, butter chicken and lamb curry. I brought my styrofoam container back to my cubicle and dug in.

This isn't the greatest Indian meal of my life, but it's pretty darn good, especially when you consider its very humble origins. The butter chicken had a nice heat to it, the chickpeas had a spicy, slighly sweet warming curry, and the basmati rice studded with fennel seeds was delicious. I sopped up my sauces with the pita bread was very happy and sastisfied.

I know of a couple other holes in the wall with unexpectedly good food -- Gandel's 'special' comes to mind, or the egg salad at the GW Deli-- but you tell me. What are you favorite hidden treasures?

One year ago: Po' Boy Happy Hour at Southside 815.