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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...