Sunday, June 19, 2011

My East Coast Tour: Third And Final Stop, Washington, D.C.

Nat'l Portrait Gallery
My third and last stop on my East Coast tour included my friends Shelby and Leslie. Shelby was back in D.C. working for Capitol Concerts (like last year when I visited) and Leslie wanted to join part of my tour so she got her job (with College of Charleston) to book a photo shoot with an alumnus for their alumni magazine.

I arrived on Thursday evening via Amtrak at D.C.'s Union Station. The train ride from NYC to D.C. was about four hours long and went smoothly, other than my constant and annoying cough (sorry to my fellow passengers).

My friend and Shelby's man Russ met me at the train station to walk the few blocks to Shelby's apartment. Russ was in between NBA playoff games and was in town for about 12 hours or so. Good to see him even if but for a few hours.

My first trip to D.C. last year (June 2010) was all about visiting landmarks and being a tourist. This time, it would be about hanging out. And of course I found a website that listed all the food trucks in D.C. [website].

Ethiopic: [website]
Dinner was almost too easy to decide. Last year we found this Ethiopian restaurant and I fell in love. Shelby's apartment this year was even closer to it. How convenient! After Shelby and I made a stop to Rite Aid for cold medicine for me and various sundries for her, we met Russ and her co-worker Michelle there.

I really love this place. The interior itself has some hard edges and brick walls which don't absorb sound well but the food is amazing. And they have plenty of vegetarian options. AND you get to eat with your hands. We ordered two samplers: one meat and one meat-free. Russ and I took to the meat-free mostly. What I liked about the sampler was that there was some spicy and some not so spicy dishes included.

This is a must for anyone willing to try something different. If you like ethnic food, go. If you like Ethiopian food, good. If you like eating with your hands, GO!

National Archives: [website]
One thing I did not see on my tour of D.C. last year was the National Archives. I did not make an appointment and didn't want to stand in line in the 90+ degree heat. Call me crazy. So this year I booked a tour, paid the $1.50 ticket fee online and got my ticket to go to the Archives to see the Constitution, Bill of Rights and Declaration of Independence on Friday afternoon before Leslie arrived.

Booking the tour online is the way to go. I showed up 15 minutes beforehand like the ticket told me to. I got in line and was in the door in minutes while the other line was stretched out the door and had to wait while I and other groups made our way in.

The security guard at the door checking my ticket said, "Only one?" "Yep!" I cheerily replied. I'm quite happy to be doing what I want when I want.

I'm really glad I took the hour to walk over to the Archives, go through security and wait the few minutes for my turn to see these documents. Man, now I feel like a real American. It was really inspiring to the real "John Hancock" and Benjamin Franklin's signature, etc. Really cool.

Teaism: A Tea House: [website]
Leslie arrived! And we were going to meet Shelby for dinner but we were both kind of hungry and needed a snack. Thanks to Yelp we found Teaism in Penn Quarter. I would definitely go back. It calls itself a tea house but it has good food, with vegetarian options.

I had the Tofu Noodle Salad, which had chilled noodles, tofu, scallions, peppers, mint, peanuts with soy lime dressing. Perfectly delicious, light and refreshing.

Zaytinya: [website]
Pretty view, bad service
We met Shelby and Michelle after they finished work. Neither had eaten dinner so we joined them at Zaytinya, a fancy small plates restaurant with Greek, Lebanese and Turkish style food. Both Michelle and Shelby had been here before and loved it. It was a rather long wait for a table inside but there was a settee and chairs available on the patio so we sat there. We decided it was probably a setting used more for guests to only have drinks and not so much food as the service went from OK to horrible as the night progressed.

After my tofu salad, I was not all too hungry. Leslie and I were more interested in trying a drink, appetizer and perhaps dessert as we hung out with Shelby and Michelle. The first server noted that both patio servers would be helping us -- that should have been our first clue. The first server took drink orders and the second server gave great recommendations for the table. Then we barely saw them the rest of the meal. The server's assistant was more helpful than our two servers; she brought us more bread, extra place settings, etc. We even had to wave down the first server to order desserts. When it came time for the check, he just set it down on the table and kept walking without a "thank you, hope it was all delicious." We were not impressed.

We put our money together and paid the bill (I can't remember total, maybe $150) but left ZERO tip. Instead we gave $20 to the server's assistant for her helpfulness and attentiveness. I might or might not have left a zero tip in the past, I can't remember, but this was the first time that Shelby or Michelle have stiffed a server. Michelle sent an email the next day to the manager to explain what happened. She never heard back to my knowledge.

Anyways, the food we had was good but the service left a bad aftertaste. It's a shame.

Ebenezer's Coffeehouse: [website]
I visited Ebenezer's last year on my visit but this time around we were only three blocks down the street. It became the neighborhood coffeehouse for us. And I made it my morning office on Monday morning while still in town.

The coffee is delicious and Leslie and I split an almond croissant, which was a most excellent choice.

Note: They do ask that you spend a minimum for credit/debit cards but will let you use your card for $2 or less if you don't have cash, as I discovered. Had I known that ahead of time, I most definitely would have been sure to have cash. Thanks for the grace, Ebenezer's.

National Portrait Gallery: [website]
I visited last year but it enjoyed so much more this time because I was with a portrait photographer, my friend Leslie. It was so much fun to look through exhibits like Americans Now with her. It was also fun to have my own photographer on hand for the day. She took some different shots all throughout the day and in the gallery.

Pitango Gelato: [website]
I first heard about Pitango Gelato via Twitter last year and took Shelby there for the first time. After our lunch (which was less than memorable so I'm skipping it) and Leslie's shopping spree through H&M, we stopped for an afternoon snack. I mixed the non-diary Chocolate Noir and Crema; twas delightful!

The National Mall:
We took some time in the shade, laying in the green grass of the National Mall, waiting for Shelby to get off work, and trying to decide where to meet Leslie's friend Abigail for dinner. Such prime people watching here! And I was wishing I had brought my running shoes to join all the runners going up and down the mall.

Commissary: [website]
With the help of Yelp and Urbanspoon, we hunted for places in the Logan Circle area for food. ChurchKey was recommended to us but as we roamed the streets waiting for Abigail to catch up, we found Commissary. And I must say it might have been my favorite find in D.C. this time.

Commissary is a "Super Green" establishment, using wind energy credits, recycled materials as furnishings, and use only recyclable or biodegradable materials throughout. They are in the process of certifying all their restaurants with the "Green Restaurants Association." And they are vegetarian friendly.

We waited at the bar for our table and our friend. They had a good selection of beer on hand. For dinner I had the Grilled Tofu, Quinoa, Grilled Asparagus and Brussel Sprouts. It was really good. Maybe a little more than I wanted to pay at $12.95 but it was delicious. And always good to see Bell's on the drink menu.

ChurchKey: [website]
Leslie is a giant
We had considered Birch & Barley, the restaurant below ChurchKey, for dinner but it was a bit pricey. And I was happy with our Commissary choice. But we went back to ChurchKey to peruse their drink list -- and made a few happy choices.

Both Leslie and Abigail had their cameras with them, as photographers sometimes do. And we were approached by some random guy who was with some other random guy who was supposed to be someone, and they were getting on a party bus, and he wanted to know if we wanted to join so that Leslie and Abigail could shoot photos. Like paparazzi. They declined. Instead, Abigail was our paparazzi.

Founding Farmers: [website]
OK, I take it back. Commissary and Founding Farmers might be in a tie.

After strolling past the White House on a Sunday morning, Leslie and I went to have brunch at Founding Farmers. It was more like lunchtime by the time we got a seat. Make a reservation when you go. We passed the time with some coffee from Starbucks across the street and figuring out which bus to take to Georgetown to meet Abigail at the Georgetown Flea Market.

Founding Farmers is GREEN! They are LEED certified and a certified Green Restaurant. Read more here. And they seek out the smallest carbon footprint by gathering food as close to home as possible but also buys carbon offsets when it finds something at a family farm in Chile that needs to be shared. Read more here.

Once seated, we ordered the French press coffee with Intelligentsia and decided to split the "Drag Through the Garden" Pan Scramble and New Orleans Style French Toast (all pictured at the right). That French toast was amazing, simply amazing.

Leslie couldn't stop shooting what she saw on our table. Food is one of her best subjects. And then she gets to eat it. It's a win-win.

Georgetown Flea Market: [website]
We made it up to Georgetown Flea Market. But as we started our browsing, it started raining and all the vendors scrambled to cover up their wares. Sad. We didn't get very far in the flea market. Better luck next time.

Sprinkles Cupcakes: [website]
I couldn't resist a stop at a cupcake shop. After all my sweets in NYC and all. The line at Georgetown Cupcakes (TLC's DC Cupcakes) was ridiculous; there was no way I was standing in line there. But there was no wait at Sprinkles and Sprinkles (Food Network's "Cupcake Wars") is just as "famous" as Georgetown. I broke with tradition and didn't get Red Velvet or Chocolate anything. I had the Salted Caramel and was not disappointed.

Raku: [website]
For dinner on Sunday we all had sushi on the brain. Again, through Urbanspoon and Yelp we found Raku in Dupont Circle. Our find turned out pretty well. Not my favorite sushi of all time (that honor goes to Bamboo in Portland, OR) but it was good. They did have a couple good veggie roll options, which always makes me happy. I had the Veggie Lover Roll and Crunchy Spicy Avo-Q Roll. Both were good and worth the price.

TaKorean: [website]
Hello, delicious taco!
From the Washington DC Food Truck round-up website I found TaKorean, a Korean BBQ food truck with vegan and vegetarian options. Once Leslie finished up at her photo shoot, we headed out to find the moving target for lunch. I had the Carmelized Tofu Taco, vegan style. I could have eaten three more easily but we thought we might catch the grilled cheese truck, too (we missed it). This easily goes in the Top 3 with Commissary and Founding Farmers. I will chase this truck down again next time I'm in town (New Year's this year).

Rita's: [website]
Now, I have a Rita's down the street in Hermitage but there was one nearby Shelby's place so we stopped to pick up dessert on our way home to make a pizza in the oven at home. I had the chocolate and vanilla swirl custard. And I'm glad that sometimes forget that I have a Rita's down the street. I love frozen custard.

***That wraps up the stops and sites of my East Coast tour's final stop in D.C. Now to plan a West Coast tour....L.A. to San Fran to Portland maybe? Who's in?!?!?!

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