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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.