Monday, December 10, 2012

Star Struck In DC Plus Some Great Food With The Exception Of Someone’s Mother’s Recipe Which Didn’t Cut It For Me

We spent a wonderful couple of days in DC with some really good food and interesting sightseeing. Let’s start with the famous people sighting. I admit I’m a sucker for seeing celebrity types in person, but I had no idea that I would feel that way even if the people in question held political views so far from my own that we could live on different planets.

H and I were on our way to the Library of Congress. We were walking past the Russell Senate Office Building and suddenly I see a perfectly coiffed, hair-sprayed head attached to someone wearing a blindingly white shirt. It turned out to be Trent Lott! For the moment, I forgot that he wasn’t in the Senate anymore (after resigning his Senate Minority Leader post after that Strom Thurmond brouhaha and then leaving the Senate 5 years later). All I could concentrate on was the hair and bright white shirt. Very striking.

As I was trying to make the split decision whether to stick out my hand and greet Trent or just walk by, he crossed in front of me and walked into the street to greet another Senator – one who is (unfortunately) still serving. I recognized Jeff Sessions from all his appearances on CNN. (Of course, he’s probably made more on Fox, but I wouldn’t know about that.) HE also looked very well put together. He had on a dark, very conservative suit – the kind you would want your undertaker to be wearing. 


Trent said something like, “So do we have a plan?” and then they were just far enough away that I couldn’t hear every word. H, meanwhile, was astounded that I was star-struck by these right wing types and walked on ahead, so I just got these two pictures, which I admit look a bit like unsavory characters meeting behind a warehouse. 

In retrospect, I regret that I didn’t even say, “What the heck are you two doing to our country?”, but H was grateful he didn’t have to bail me out.

The Library of Congress is a fascinating place. It was our first visit, although we remembered the scene from All the President’s Men that takes place in the main reading room.

It was interesting to learn about its place in literary (and American) history. Established in 1800 by an act of Congress and located in the Capital, it was burned down by the invading British in 1814. Former President Thomas Jefferson offered his library as a replacement, which was more extensive than the one it replaced. That worked out well until 1851, when another fire destroyed two thirds of the library’s collection, including two thirds of the Jefferson Library. Over the years, the Jefferson books have all been replaced with duplicates and now over 140 million books and items exist in its collections.

The building itself is breathtaking and the inside looks like an Italian Renaissance palace. On your next trip to DC, try to find time to go on the hour tour of the Thomas Jefferson building (the main building of the Library of Congress).

I noted several food and drink (especially drink) connections in the decorations.

We made a short stop to The National Gallery of Art’s East Wing and this weird thing happened. I took a picture of Roy Lichtenstein’s Still Life with Glass and Peeled Lemon before finding out that special exhibits are a no-no for photographing. The picture actually disappeared from my camera. Seriously, I saw it in my camera (I thought I did anyway) and then when I was downloading the pictures, it was gone. Freaky.

I did have an excellent latte in the café of the West Wing of the museum. I liked sipping it and gazing at the bird painting on the pillar. 

Lunch was at Clyde’s. Nice food and very comfortable in a men’s club type of way with lots of wood paneling and leather booths.

The only problem was the magician that traveled from table to table and basically moved into our booth. 

The real trick was getting him to disappear in time to make the next tour at the nearby International Spy Museum. This is a fun place to visit, especially if you’re rendezvousing with friends with kids, like we were. The museums on the Mall are free, so it IS a bit of a jolt to have to pay for some museum visits – like this one or the Newseum, for instance. The Newseum is one of my favorites.

Later on (not that much later, though), we had a great dinner at Art and Soul, which is Art Smith’s restaurant (of Oprah fame). It will be closing soon for a remodel, which I don’t think is a bad idea. I loved the food, but the décor was a bit motor-lodge-y. It is in a hotel, but I hope they develop a different look for it. 

We started with some great dishes. S(on) was with us and he can always be counted on to order a tasty meal. His Scotch egg was wonderful and the light salad it sat on was the perfect foil to the richness of the sausage and egg. It was beautifully cooked with a luscious runny yolk. I loved my Salmon Hoecake, which reminded me of the Salmon Rillettes I had made on Thanksgiving. This salmon mixture was served on an oval shaped cornmeal pancake. The huge caper berries were a good tangy garnish. 

Scotch Eggs

Salmon Hoecake

As good as my Pekin duck was (not to be confused with Peking Duck), the dirty rice it was sitting on was even better. It was duck flavored and richly seasoned and it rivaled my usual favorite of Forbidden rice with duck.
Pekin Duck Roasted Breast, Duck Dirty Rice, Roasted Turnips, Turnip Greens, Madeira Jus
The two guys ordered the fried chicken for two.

Fried Free Range Chicken - Buttermilk Brined
This picture in no way does the chicken justice. It was really crispy, just-fried, hardly greasy and really flavorful and tender. The chicken definitely benefited from the buttermilk brining. Sorry that the greens didn’t do it for us Northerners, but the mashed potatoes were excellent.

Even the small portion of the Art and Soul Baby Cakes was a bit much after that dinner. (I’m just saying…That didn’t actually stop us from finishing them…) My least favorite flavor usually is Red Velvet (either have chocolate or don’t), but this was actually the best cupcake flavor on the plate. It was SO moist with a fantastic cream cheese icing.
Art and Soul's Baby Cakes
The next day we toured around DC, and we also had two more great meals. We made a quick stop for lunch at the terrific Tortilla Coast. They shout “Homemade Tortillas” from the signs AND the mechanized tortilla maker is on display. 

Maybe paisanos from the Southwest or Mexico would disagree, but I have never had fresher, tenderer HOMEMADE tortillas. Really good.

Plus it was a pretty interesting place. There were all these pudgy, middle-aged white guys there with pretty young female staffers(?), all glad-handing each other…the men, that is. I imagined they were Congressman from Podunkville. I’m guessing that lobbyists (or senators) would be better dressed and in better shape. ANYWAY, my sangria was refreshing and my enchilada was sooo good. 

I had Arturo’s Special Enchilada. 

It was filled with chicken, topped with lots of vegetables and pineapple(!) and accompanied by beautifully made black beans and wonderful rice…what could be wrong with that? H’s BBQ Burrito was good too, although the BBQ sauce did not necessarily taste homemade. 

Oh, and the chips! They took their FRESH tortillas, cut them up, fried them and immediately brought to our table. I didn’t ask anyone that. That’s just how they tasted. Fantastic.

Our last meal was the best of our trip. It was at José Andrés’ (not to be confused with Jose Garces) Jaleo, a tapas and small plate restaurant. It was superb. I may be biased, of course, because Spanish food, and tapas in particular, always brings me back to a place I love. But the dishes at Jaleo are authentic and authentically delicious.

There ARE two problems at Jaleo, though. The first problem is that menu is so full of familiar (and much loved) dishes that it's hard not to order each and every thing. The other problem? Jaleo is pricey, really pricey.

The menu is made up of wonderful little dishes…with big prices – a cute container of 5 stuffed-on-the-premises olives is $7. (They ARE pretty big olives, though). They are the deluxe version of the wonderful anchovy-stuffed olives that are put on every table in a Madrilèno café. Everything we had was equally exceptional. 

House-made Stuffed Olives with Anchovies and Roasted Piquillo Peppers
The creamy chicken-filled croquetas were as good as any I’ve ever had. They were served in a glass soccer shoe with real red laces. Why? Because the chef LOVES soccer.

The chorizo wasn’t presented in the usual way of thick slices which are fried until crispy, but instead in little weiner shapes (sorry for the language), wrapped with thin, fried potato slices secured with a toothpick. Definitely not muy tipico, but definitely highly delicious.

Spicy Chorizo wrapped in Patata Frita
The gambas were garlicky and sweet - just perfect. But the mingy amount of bread that was served with them was laughable. Look at the amount of yummy juices in the bottom of the bowl. Even before it hit the table, I asked for more bread, which was no problem…but should I have had to ask? No!

Gambas Al Ajillo

I’m can’t believe I’m going to say this, because it is a specialty of the place, but the paellas are REALLY expensive (for the size of the serving), so I would recommend that you skip them. I know that may be sacrilege, but really $40 or $45 – or up to $55(!!!) for the lobster one - (there are also vegetable varieties in the high 30’s) is kind of a lot.

We had the special of the night - an arroz dish with large shrimp for $40. It WAS good, but it was served in a REALLY shallow dish, which probably had 5 or 6 reasonable spoonfuls in it. (The picture makes it look deceptively big. It was about two grains of rice deep.)

Arroz a Banda
I have no problem spending money on food if I’ve planned for it and I think it’s worth it. But it’s probably better to go to a real paella place, where you’ll get great paella and better value. Here, EVERYTHING is expensive, but you won’t find croquetas like these in many places and the olives are a real window into an authentic Spanish tapa.  

The desserts were interesting. The Arroz con leche was a fascinating and over the top delicious version of Spanish rice pudding. It had the usual rice pudding, but then the chef added not PUFFED rice, which it kind of tasted like, but “crispy caramelized rice”. Oh my! It added a tiny crunch to each bite with a wonderful toasted flavor. It was remarkable.  

Arroz Con Leche Tia Chita
The flan was the one thing I wasn't a fan of. I do love croquetas. I love anchovy-stuffed olives, but FLAN! FLAN, I adore. This was the recipe of Jose Andres’ mother. Now far be it from me to EVER criticize a mother’s beloved and passed-down-from-the-ages, special version of a dish, but…it just wasn’t sweet enough. It was beautifully made and unmolded and garnished, but the flan itself fell a bit flat in flavor. Just another (big) spoonful of sugar might have done the trick.

Flan Al Estilo Tradicional De Mamá Marisa (Sorry Mama!)
But I would go back to Jaleo in a flash, to DC too. There is so much to see and learn…and eat.

OH! One more amazing famous person sighting!!! Okay, I was really cagey...I was pretending to be on my phone, but I tilted it and got this picture.

LOOK who I saw in a DC Starbucks!@#!$@^!!! I know you know! 

YUP!!! That IS Brian Lamb!!! From C-Span (until he stepped down), remember??? C'mon, I know you do.  It was pretty heady stuff seeing all these movers and shakers...

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