DC Dine-Around, or What I Did on My Autumn Vacation
Over the Veterans Day weekend, I traveled to our nation’s capital to visit my BFF Sarah. It was a much-needed vacation, and Sarah wisely understands that a vacation necessarily involves great food as part of the entertainment. This trip did not disappoint.
My culinary odyssey is presented here in more-or-less chronological order.
DC3 – A while back, I had inquired about finding a Chicago-style hot dog in the 518. I did get a couple referrals, but I never followed up. So when Sarah asked if it would be okay if we got hot dogs for lunch on Friday, I jumped at the chance. DC-3 is a one-off little joint, with a large menu and a small seating area. Of course, I ordered the Chicago 7: all beef dog, poppy seed bun, tomato, pickle spear, “nuclear green relish” (they aren’t kidding – that stuff is day-glo green), onions, sport peppers, yellow mustard, and celery salt. It was terrific. Those sport peppers pack quite a kick (you can see one tucked in there near the bottom left), and the pickle spear is a weird but welcome topping. I loved it. I got a side of fried pickles, which were pretty great – nice and tangy.
On Sunday, while Sarah was out at a baby shower, I made a return visit to DC-3, and tried a Tucson Sonoran dog (bacon-wrapped dog, buttered bun, pinto beans, onions, diced tomatoes, white spicy mayo, jalapeno relish, mustard). It was not as tasty, and about 10x messier than the Chicago 7. And it was sufficient fuel for the Oprah LifeClass marathon I sat (and cried) through that afternoon.
There’s more. A lot more. After the jump.
The Sweet Lobby – where I had my first macaron (properly spoken with a gravelly French accent). A religious experience, almost. I only recently became aware of the existence of these little delights, but was put off by the mania that has begun to surround them (much like that of my nemesis the cupcake). I was fully prepared to be underwhelmed by the experience. I could not have been more wrong. The selection at the shop was vast – they had probably 12-15 varieties from which to choose. After much deliberation and guidance from Sarah and the shopworker, I selected two: Hazelnut Praline Salted Caramel, and Pumpkin Black Sesame.
I thought the cookie would be crisp and chalky, like a traditional meringue (probably my most hated sensation). Instead, it was chewy and delicate. The filling was intense and ethereal, its flavor fading quickly and leaving me wanting more. I had remarked to Sarah that upon entering the phone-booth size shop (seriously – the place could really only hold about 5 people, tops) I wanted to buy approximately 8 dozen macarons. They were so beautiful, and looked so incredible. But, she reminded me of their price. Sometimes I get carried away when I see sweets. Anyway, I’ve been dreaming about them ever since. I hear that one of my favorite local merchants, Dreampuff Marshmallows, makes macarons. She is also a vendor at the Schenectady Greenmarket (and the Troy Riverfront Farmers Market), so I’m hoping I can score some right here at home.
Busboys & Poets – we only had time to stop in for a quick beer and hummus plate, before we had to run to catch a play at the Capital Fringe Festival (Sarah’s friend Michael Merino wrote an odd – and amusing – play entitled “Squirrel, or the Origin of a Species”, which is essentially a series of conversations between Charles Darwin and an American Gray Squirrel. Yes, it was as weird as it sounds.) The menu was intrigiung – lots of vegetarian and vegan offerings, in domestic and ethnic varieties. I hope to get back here on a future trip – hint!
Fort Fringe – this is the theatre space where we saw the show. The venue itself was unremarkable – your standard black box with rickety stairs and dangerous, not-up-to-fire-code seating. But the bar had PROSECCO ON TAP! What?!? No kidding. Yeah, it was pretty cool.
Kushi – After the play, we lingered around a bit until we finally decided to get some dinner. We ended up at a Japanese place in Mt. Vernon Square, which surprised me by actually being open that late (yes, I know, I’m from Upstate NY, where stuff closes at 9pm). It featured small (small!) plates, and we each ordered a couple things. The idea was to share, but the plates were so small that sharing was actually kinda difficult. I know that sounds very fat-American of me, but I am a cheapskate, and I really didn’t feel like there was a whole lot of value there. Anyway, I ordered a delicious soba noodle salad (fresh soba, with a splash of rice vinegar, soy, and some fresh greens), and an order of chicken breast skewers with shiso & plum sauce. The mixture of shiso and plum was transcendent – flowery, pungent, green, not at all sweet. It was unlike anything I’d ever had before. More, please! Maybe give me two orders next time.
Chick-Fil-A – At one point, Sarah had mentioned that she loved the sandwiches at Chick-Fil-A, which took me aback. Sarah and I are both socially liberal, and I was surprised she would patronize a company which supports anti-gay organizations. She is, to her credit, conflicted by the fact that such a bad company makes such good chicken. I kept kidding her about it (calling it Chicken and Hate) until she made me stop at one so I could understand why she would set aside her convictions long enough to eat their food. Grudgingly, I have to admit she is absolutely right. The original chicken sandwich was terrific, and simple – fried chicken breast on a buttered bun with pickles (we were in the South; butter goes on everything). I really did like it. Their waffle fries were not that good – undercooked and underseasoned – but, oh that chicken. It’s a good thing that chain isn’t here in the Northeast. A nice touch: the bible verse on the receipt.
Argonaut – with Sarah and Joanne for Sunday brunch, something I just never do anymore, for some reason. I knew nothing about this place before Sarah suggested it, but I woke up that morning craving a Bloody Mary – apparently I was having some sort of premonition, because The Argonaut has an actual freakin’ BLOODY MARY BAR. They bring you out a pint glass that has some ice and vodka in it, and you hie yourself over to the bar and help yourself to tomato juice, twenty different kinds of hot sauce, horseradish, celery salt, pepper, Old Bay seasoning, lemons, limes, and giant stalks of celery. I have never tended a bar, so I really had no idea of a Bloody Mary recipe, so I kind of just poured a bunch of stuff I like in the shaker. I made a huge mess. I did not return to the scene of the crime. Sarah enjoyed a bottomless Mimosa and tried valiantly to find the bottom, to no avail. Oh, also we ate some stuff that I don’t remember.
Hello Cupcake! – I know, I know. I hate cupcakes. I have no excuse. I bought two: Dulce de Leche and Maple Bacon Pecan. They were quite lovely. The Maple Bacon Pecan one did not actually have any bacon flavor in it, at least that I could detect. Perhaps Sarah’s experience was different. That’s all I’m going to say about cupcakes.
Founding Farmers – A very popular restaurant that my friend MEB suggested – she’s a frequent DC traveler, but hasn’t made it to FF yet, and thought it was something I might like. She was right. Founding Farmers has a goal of “promot[ing] sustainable agriculture and the ways of the American family farmer at every turn,” and “quality and natural ingredients.” They don’t always buy local and organic, though – sure, if it makes sense, but they are mostly on the lookout for high quality ingredients from sustainable resources. And they buy carbon offsets in case the food sources are not all that local. A nice philosophy.
We started with an appetizer of Proscuitto, Fig & Mascarpone flatbread- so many delicious things going on there: fresh creamy cheese, fatty prosciutto, tangy balsamic vinegar, and sweet figs. We also got a bottle of Arbanta Tempranillo from Rioja, which was outstanding. Sarah got a skirt steak with chimichurri (which looked good, but I did not taste it) and I ordered the Macaroni & Cheese with Gouda, Gruyere, ham, peas, & apples. The apples really put that over the top – so so good. I can’t remember if we ordered dessert. I don’t think we did, but we did finish the bottle of wine.
Mitsitam at the National Museum of the American Indian – We stopped there for lunch before I hopped the airport shuttle. The cafeteria is unlike other museum cafeterias, in that it serves interesting food – in this case, traditional offerings from several different American Indian geographical regions. I went for the cuisine of the Great Plains, and ordered a Chipotle Chicken Taco. I wanted it because it was made with fry bread, which looked so fresh and fluffy. I was also not really feeling particularly well that day, and there wasn’t anything else I really felt like eating. The fry bread seemed so soft and comforting. It turned out to be the best part of the dish – the chipotle chicken was so mild, there was not even a hint of heat. And it was topped with boring cheddar, lettuce and tomato. Eh. Not really worth $11.50. Sarah’s New England Lobster Bread Pudding (and her blueberry cobbler) looked delicious, but I didn’t even feel like trying it. Like I said, I was not well. The best part of this lunch was the fact that Sarah’s teeth were stained blue for the rest of the day.
Free Wine from Southwest Airlines – the end of a long trip. I boarded my flight home and was towards the end of the second boarding group, so seating choices were slim. I headed to the back of the plane (“the back of the plane gets there at the same time as the front” sez Sarah), and somehow managed to find an aisle seat. I was just settling in when I noticed a woman and her daughter, maybe 7 years old, trying to find a couple seats together. The mom told the daughter to sit in the seat next to me (the middle), while she would head back a few rows for another middle seat. I didn’t think the mom would want her kid to be sitting alone, so I offered up my aisle seat and took the lone middle seat in the back. The flight attendant saw me, and told me that since I was so nice, she was going to buy me a drink. A guy in the back yelled, “What’d she do? Can I do it, too?” I still wasn’t feeling so hot, but who am I to turn down free Merlot? Thanks, SW.
Wow. Looking back on my weekend away, I am noticing that I ate a lot. A LOT a lot. No wonder I wasn’t feeling well that last day. Back to the gym I go.
Other good things that happened on this trip: met someone who possesses the same superpower I do, got to see Joanne and new baby Lilah, and FINALLY got down to Richmond to see parents-to-be Marlene and Chris. It was a pretty fantastic weekend. 🙂