Monday, January 5, 2015

Washington Social Diary

While the Caps and Blackhawks played the Winter Classic downriver, "amateur" skaters enjoyed the rink at the Georgetown waterfront, with the Kennedy Center in the distance.
by Carol Joynt

As I write this it is the first day of 2015, a sparkler of a morning, sunny and cold. In a few hours the NHL’s Winter Classic will commence as the puck drops on an ice rink set up in the middle of the Washington Nationals baseball park. It's a sold out event, a welcomed bright shiny moment in our sports landscape, which, if you subtract the loopy football franchise, is generally on the up and up.

This is one good reason why Washington should be chosen for the 2024 Summer Olympics and Paralympic Games. The other good reason is fairly obvious: we’re the nation’s capital. The committee formed to promote the Washington bid offers up some other interesting stats, proving the city can handle it. We have the hotel rooms (129,000 at last count) and the transportation hubs (air, rail, subway, myriad car services), plus fluency in 184 languages, thanks in part to the 175 embassies.
Washington can go big, as it did for the NHL's Winter Classic on New Year's Day.
Washington, according to the official 2024 Committee, ranks number 1 as “most walkable city in the U.S.,” and number 1 for “most fit, healthiest living.” These claims are credible given the vast acres of parkland and hiking trails throughout the region (and the competitive spirit of the town). Plus the proliferation of water sports on the Potomac with kayaking, canoeing, rowing and paddleboarding. Washington’s geography is easy to love; the sky makes it down to the horizon, for one thing.  

The summer Olympic games feature more than 40 sports and disciplines, each able to be served by DC and its environs. Sailing (the nearby Chesapeake Bay is world class), Equestrian (the nearby Virginia hunt country is also world class), and Mountain Biking (the nearby Blue Ridge Mountains), and Boxing, Gymnastics, Cycling, Rugby, Archery, Diving and Swimming and Wrestling, Weight-lifting and Boxing could be easily accommodated by existing and proposed new facilities.
Nothing less than a full-on spectacle at the Winter Classic.
Feels like a slam dunk. The fact is the final overall decision is up to the International Olympic Committee. The choice of which U.S. city to propose to the IOC is up to the U.S. Olympic Committee, and apparently it is a four-way tie between DC, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Boston. All made presentations a couple of weeks ago in California. The final U.S. selection will come soon and the ultimate winner is expected to be announced by the IOC in September 2017.

Washington won the Winter Classic, beating the Chicago Blackhhawks 3-2 in the last seconds; exciting from start to finish.
The Caps beat the Blackhawks in a match that was fun to watch at Nats Park and on television.
Food, Glorious Food

When reviewing the last year through the lens of my budget, it is clear where the fun dollars went: eating out in restaurants old and new. And with good reason — the region continues its growth as a foodie’s paradise. More than any other indulgence — clothing, personal maintenance, entertainment, travel –— an interesting restaurant meal ranks first. Therefore, happily, and in no particular order, here’s a personal round up of memorable dining in 2014 in and near Washington.
The Inn at Little Washington stops time and serves pleasure.
• A night at The Inn at Little Washington. Year in and year out, The Inn is a Broadway show, an experience, a warm bath of excellence. It is a delight to watch chef/owner Patrick O’Connell find new peaks for his incredible talent. Patrick won’t rest on success nor settle for a new idea that’s less than fresh. He now offers three tasting menus. Try the “Enduring Classics” — it starts with a “Tin of Sin” — and the wine pairings. Let Patrick and his expert crew serve you. Gaze into the eyes of that lover across the table and enjoy the ride. You don’t go here to think. You go to slow time, to savor pleasure. Be sure to book a room, walk the pretty town, and do bring the black card.

309 Middle Street, Washington, VA
Breakfast juices at The Inn at Little Washington.
Sit down to dinner at the Inn and gaze into the eyes of your lover.
Get a room! Exceptional boudoir and bath … The Inn at Little Washington.
• Saturday lunch at Baltimore’s Woodberry Kitchen, where a favorite menu choice is the amazing breakfast flatbread. Woodberry is worth the drive from Washington and, if you live in or near Baltimore, lucky you. The food is great, the décor is bright and appealing, and the service is efficient and smooth. After lunch, visit chef Spike Gjerde’s new Parts & Labor boucherie and also explore Fels Point.

2010 Clipper Park Road
Baltimore, MD
Breakfast flatbread at Woodberry Kitchen.
Woodberry Kitchen's Iced coffee. Ice creams and pie at Woodberry Kitchen.
Woodberry's decor is colorful and comfortable.
Woodberry Kitchen's Spike Gjerde, in green, and beside him, Chris Fischer of The Beach Plum, prepared a multi-course dinner at the Nixons.
1789 in Georgetown for Thanksgiving. It is a venerable spot and the last bastion of the classic Washington repast, with a menu of classic items such as Nantucket Bay scallops, fried oysters, rockfish, short ribs and duck. Hugging the Georgetown University campus, it is a favorite spot for visiting parents, but it is also a good choice for a dinner when you want the luxury of quiet conversation. Also, white tablecloths, candlelight, and excellent martinis. The Pub Room is romantic and cozy, and the adjacent John Carroll Room has a fireplace.

1226 36th Street Northwest
1789 Restaurant, an enduring favorite, and now more than ever for the chance to enjoy quiet conversation.
The John Carroll Room at the 1789.
The Pub Room at 1789.
Thanksgiving turkey dinner at 1789.
Toki Underground lures me back again and again, for dinners as well as weekday and weekend lunches. All good. I’m a creature of habit here: the pork dumplings, fried chicken steamed buns, Toki Classic ramen, chocolate chip cookies and, always, a round of beers for the kitchen. It is a rock-and-roll, hipster, skateboard, Asian thrill ride and chef/owner Erik Bruner-Yang is as pleasant as he is creative and talented. Climb the dark stairs to a culinary good time.

1234 H Street Northeast
The entrance to Toki Underground from H Street.
All the seating at Toki is counter-style, including some with a view of the kitchen.
A view of H Street from Toki.
Toki Underground.
A summer cocktail at Toki Underground.
Daniel Boulud’s DBGB Kitchen + Bar is only months old and with each month it gets better and better. Daniel is a long-time friend, and I cheer and support him, but friendship has nothing to do with why I crave the seared duck breast, the creamy boudin blanc, the golden fried chicken, the steak tartare, the soups and the burgers, not to forget the glass-enclosed jazzy CityCenter vibe. For my Christmas Eve lunch with Lyndon Boozer, I had the juicy “Yankee” cheeseburger, which I’d been ogling on previous visits. New Year’s Resolution: entice 7 kindred spirits to gather for the feast that is called the “Whole Hog.”

931 H Street Northwest
DGBG Kitchen + Bar.
Daniel Boulud opened DGBG Kitchen + Bar in Washington in 2014. Daniel Boulud with French Ambassador Gerard Araud at DBGB.
The "Yankee" burger at DBGB.
DBGB fried chicken.
The bar room at DBGB. There are two more dining areas as well as upstairs private rooms.
• Mother’s Day lunch at Fiola Mare couldn’t have been better. A sunny day, overlooking the Potomac River, starting with the refreshing Spring Garden cocktail, followed by the spectacular seafood platter with oysters, clams, lobster, mussels, scallops, jellyfish salad, tuna tartare, Alaskan King Crab legs, and other raw and cooked delicacies. The iced platter is expensive at $75 for the small or $140 for the large, but it is a meal in itself. Start with the excellent Colors of the Garden salad. Their coconut sorbet is the perfect ending. It was also the ideal spot to dine and watch the July 4th fireworks.

3050 K Street Northwest
Fourth of July at Fiola Mare (w/ Pierce Brosnan, David Gregory and fireworks all in view).
Perched on the Potomac, with the Kennedy Center in the distance.
A view to Fiola Mare's kitchen from where the First Family dined.
Sunny daytime at Fiola Mare. The big glass doors are pulled open to the breezes.
Spring Garden vodka cocktail. The colors of the Garden salad.
Fiola Mare's seafood platter.
Taqueria Nacional is a darling nook on T Street off 14th  that produces thoughtful, tasty and authentic Mexican. I order shrimp or carnitas tacos, occasionally toastados, and their fresh fruit drink of the day. The guacamole is just right. Also tempting on the menu, Heuvos Rancheros. Created by chef Ann Cashion, Taqueria seems to get it all right and, more good news, they also deliver!

1409 T Street Northwest
Taqueria Nacional.
Taqueria Nacional is a nook, but its a great nook. 
A trio of tacos at Taqueria Nacional.
Chez Billy Sud is a welcomed arrival in Georgetown. It’s new, it’s pretty, and it’s well run. I go often and have the Salade Verte and then switch between Moules Frites one visit and the Steak Frites the next, or go with the trout “Grenobloise.”  The Profiteroles are a popular dessert choice. But when they have chocolate sorbet, go for it — fudgesicle for adults. Note: We went to Chez Billy Sud the day after Christmas with family and our group quickly expanded from 6 to 8 plus two babies who needed high chairs. The staff were accommodating and cheerful and helped to make our meal relaxing and pleasurable.

(Be sure to also try the original Chez Billy, in Petworth.)

Chez Billy
3815 Georgia Avenue Northwest

Chez Billy Sud
1039 31st Street Northwest
Chez Billy Sud.
The day after Christmas, at Chez Billy Sud, graciously accommodating the whole family. 
• It’s not a secret that breakfast at the Four Seasons Hotel is a power scene and the #1 morning spot to see and be seen (if you can’t break bread in the White House mess), but there’s reason enough to go solely for the tasty grub. The waffles are the best in town (since I closed Nathans) and the bacon comes to the table just right, there’s the Heuvos Rancheros and Eggs Benedict, too, but if I could have only one item it would be the Green Goddess cocktail of things that are good for you. The hint of mint raises it from “health” food to plain yummy. And, yes, if you’re wondering, that is John Kerry to your right, and Hillary Clinton three tables over and George Will in the discreet back corner.

2800 Pennsylvania Avenue Northwest
Power breakfast at The Four Seasons can begin with any one of many complimentary newspapers.  The awesome Green Goddess, with a hint of mint.
More freshly squeezed juices for the health-minded.
When calories aren't the issue, go for the waffles.
• So many good meals at Le Diplomate, but a summer Saturday lunch stands out as the most memorable. We walked to and from Georgetown, sat at a window table with a view of the handsome bistro and the windows behind us open to the summer air. First off, a round of “bruised” martinis, followed by excellent steak tartare, as well as a basket of the house-baked bread and a pile of crispy fries. Personal favorites: Foie Gras Parfait, tuna carpaccio and the warm shrimp salad. Yes, it is more American-French than Paris-French, but always delivers and is so well run, thanks in particular to the GM, William Washington. With its opening phase of white hotness in the past, “Le Dip” has settled on a high plateau of consistent quality and good service.

1601 14th Street Northwest
Settling into consistent high quality and good service.
The scene at Le Diplomate on New Year's Eve.
William Washington, Le Diplomate's GM, taking a rare night off to attend a foodie charity event.
Le Diplomate as weekend lunch winds down.
L’Auberge Chez Francois for Saturday lunch. This is one of the area’s most enduring restaurants and please let it be there for years to come. A half hour drive from the city, out near Great Falls in Virginia, it is reminiscent of the charming country French restaurants up the Merritt Parkway (La Cremaillere in Banksville comes to mind). It is charming, the food is delicious, and it is the perfect reward after a challenging hike along the trails of Great Falls Park.  The 4-course prix fixe at $42 is a deal. The menu is extensive. I like to start with the trio of salmons, followed by steak frites, salad, and chocolate soufflé. The wine list is well priced and smartly edited.

332 Springvale Road, Great Falls, Virginia

One of the dining rooms at L'Auberge Chez Francois.
Table for two.
Steak frites at L'Auberge Chez Francois.
Chocolate souffle at L'Auberge Chez Francois (earn it with a hike at Great Falls Park).
• This round up wouldn’t be complete without including Rose’s Luxury, the Barracks Row innovative American chosen by Bon Appetit as the “best new restaurant of 2014.” It deserved the honor. The food can be a revelation, whether oysters, chicken, salad, beef or pork. Rose’s menu does not idle, serving as a playbill for chef Aaron Silverman’s restless creativity. But here’s the rub: no reservations, and no exceptions (including even Aaron’s family members!)

The drill. The line forms at 4-4:30 in the afternoon, which by 5:15 has grown to 75-100 people. The doors open at 5:30 and seating is first come, first served. You won’t be seated unless your full party has arrived. If you don’t make the first cut you may be given a later seating time, and that could translate as a wait of from one to two hours. If you are fine with that, you’ll be well rewarded.

717 8th Street Southeast
Rose's Luxury — the restaurant of the moment in Washington.
The upstairs bar at Rose's Luxury, where many fans are happy to perch and dine if they can't score a table.
• If I can score one of the hard-to-get reservations, I look forward to revisiting Crane & Turtle in Petworth. Chef Makoto Hamamura (ex-CityZen) has the nicest touch in melding Japanese and French culinary styles. It is boutique tiny with 25 seats, but in my one visit the small size translated into good conversation and very attentive service. A happy spirit in the kitchen, too.

828 Upshurt Street, Northwest
Crane & Turtle has only 25 seats, including the kitchen counter, and serves up an innovative meld of Japanese and French cuisine.
Not all the year’s most memorable meals were at restaurants. The Sips and Suppers fundraising dinner at Sarah and Bob Nixon’s, benefiting Martha’s Table, was a tour de force from chefs Spike Gjerde and Chris Fischer; Susan Gage Caterers produced a beautiful dinner to match the lovely spring weather and beautiful jewels at Hillwood Museum’s gala tribute to Cartier, and British Ambassador Peter Westmacott, at a summer soiree, served up delicious Pimm’s Cup to go with the irresistible canapés. 
The servers of Susan Gage Caterers march the first course to the Hillwood gala dinner for Cartier.
Dinner is served to the guests in a tent on Hillwood's lawn.
Pimm's Cup at the British Ambassador's residence.
British Embassy canapés.
Strawberries with cream.
My passion for dining out faces stiff competition in the New Year, given that over the holiday I discovered the Chinese men who give expert walk-in, clothing-on, deep tissue massage in a townhouse in Georgetown. In an era when health luxuries such as massage and yoga have become overly expensive and fussy, Meridian Health & Relaxation is affordable, at $25 for 30 minutes, and refreshingly no fuss. And not fattening.
Photographs by Carol Joynt.

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