Thursday, March 9, 2017

Flavors and Sites in Washington, DC

I was able to sleep in a bit at the Embassy Suites Washington D.C. Chevy Chase Pavillion since I wasn’t meeting anyone until the afternoon, but I didn’t want to eat a lot because I knew I had some great restaurants coming up.

The hotel’s breakfast buffet of hot and cold food is fantastic. I took advantage of the Yogurt Bar – nuts, fruit, granola, and a few chocolate chips – for a healthy breakfast.

Washington, DC Tourism left me attraction tickets and tickets to the circulator bus. From the locations we were going to, we found it easier to stick to the metro and walking, with a few Ubers in between.

The Circulator is one of the great options for getting around the Washington DC attractions
My first outing of the day was lunch with an old friend.

Leonard, aka “Derk” (as I would call him when we were teens) picked me up at the hotel and drove to Cuba Libre. Parking was a bit of a problem, but it was well worth it when we opened the door.

Cuba Libre looks like you just walked into Cuba, at least like a few Mexican towns I’ve been in and what I imagine Cuba to be.

We were greeted by the manager. He had set up an extensive tasting lunch for us so we could sample a lot of the menu.

When in Cuba, one of my favorite drinks came to mind and they had quite a selection. I settled on the Grilled Pineapple Mojito, made with Don Q Cristal, Licor 43, and grilled pineapple puree.

The drink was a perfect accompaniment for our first dish, Pineapple Guacamole Cubano.

I especially loved the crispy plantain chips that came with it for dunking.

I can’t eat seafood, but Derk was more than willing to sample that side of the menu.

He thoroughly enjoyed the Levanta Muerto Seafood Soup with shrimp, bay scallops, crabmeat, and mussels, the shrimp ceviche, the Cuban style shrimp cocktail with avocado salsa, and the Mahi-Mahi “forbidden” black rice and squid-lobster flavored asopado.

I enjoyed the flakiest empanada ever and more food for us to share kept coming.

The Gazpacho Chicken Salad was a tasty blend of citrus marinated pulled roasted chicken and a gazpacho vinaigrette.

The Spanish Coca Flatbread with grilled zucchini, Portobello mushrooms, eggplant, and melted tetilla cheese was very good, as was the Beef Picadillo Cubano Tostones, but our favorite was definitely the Guava BBQ Ribs, slow cooked St. Louis style ribs with a guava BBQ sauce.

Before dessert came I tried another cocktail, which was recommended to me that I couldn’t leave without: Chilcano is made from Maccho Pisco, hibiscus-ginger juice, lime juice, and guarapo (sugar cane juice).

It was good, but not quite as good as the Pineapple Mojito.

We were too full to have more than a few bites of the assortment of the best desserts at Cuba Libre. I recommend saving room for Mami Totty’s Arroz con Leche (rice pudding), the Cuban Flan, Tres Leches, vanilla sponge cake soaked in three (tres) milks, served with a mocha mousse.

Derk took me back to the hotel and I got some rest before Alea met me. It was so convenient to have the Metro station right at the Embassy Suites Chevy Chase .

She was able to take it from American University and then we met to head to our first Smithsonian museums.

We choose the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery and the American Art Museums because they were open the latest. I hadn’t been to any of these museums in years so it was especially interesting.

The American Art Museum was filled with sculptures and paintings depicting U.S. history, by American artists.

Two of my favorites were the American Revolution painting over the staircase and the bronze George Washington sculpture in the main hall.

The National Portrait Gallery has a large and unique collection of portraits of important Americans. I was struck by the one of women judges, including Ruth Bader Ginsburg, before we entered the Gallery of American Presidents.

Within this gallery is a portrait of every president through Barack Obama.

Each one is done specifically to capture features of the man, from the formal Theodore Roosevelt, to the casual cowboy George W. Bush, and a very interesting Bill Clinton.

Within the gallery there is also a very nice tribute portrait to Eunice Kennedy Shriver, as a tribute to the woman who organized and created the Special Olympics.

When the museums closed we headed for dinner at a Washington DC hot spot, District Commons. It was a bit busy and noisy, the way insiders in the nation’s capital like to see and be seen. Most important, it has fantastic food and drinks.

The artisan cocktail list alone at District Commons had me confused over what to get, but I settled on their version of a Mark Pickford, with Captain Morgan White Rum, pineapple juice, Leopold’s Maraschino Liqueur, and Jack Rudy Small Batch Grenadine. It was a good choice.

It only took me a few moments to ask our waiter for the Hot Pretzel Baguette, served with beer mustard butter. What a treat it was to start a meal.

Alea choose mussels as an appetizer, from a menu of different preparations of Blue Bay Mussels from Maine. Her pick was the Red Thai Curry and Golden Pineapple, which she loved. 

She also had some crab cakes and went all the way seafood with the Pan Seared Sea Scallops, served with a cheese grit cake, butternut squash, and crème fraiche.

I had a delicious vegetable hand pie for an appetizer and then the Roasted Duck “Low & Slow.” It came with an equally well-prepared wild rice-sweet potato hash and a sorghum chili glaze, which I was happy wasn’t too spicy.

Dessert menu was tough to choose from. We finally picked two to share: Oatmeal Apple Pie with sweet potato ice cream and cranberry strudel, and Boston Crème Pie (definitely didn’t look like one) with lots of fudge and a bit of salted caramel sauce. Both were perfect.

We left District Commons in an Uber. I dropped Alea on campus before heading back to the Embassy Suites Chevy Chase. It was a full day, but we had a lot more Washington DC to squeeze into the next one.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Visiting Washington, DC

It had been a while since I’d spent any time in the Nation’s Capital, and even longer since I’ve visited the attractions, so when my niece, Alea, began college there, I thought it was the perfect time to spend a few days with her in Washington D.C..

I took an early morning flight to Washington Reagan airport. I was picked up at the airport by a friend and colleague I hadn’t seen in a while, Julia Coney.

My first stop in DC was lunch at Brasserie Beck. Julia had been here and raved about it, but it was my first time.

I decided to start with a cocktail and their Pear Ginger Fizz (Ketel One Vodka, Pear Ginger Cinnamon Shrub, Honey Syrup, Soda Water, Lemon) was as good as it sounded.

We shared the Roasted Farm Beet Salad, which included sheep’s milk feta and candied walnuts, and was topped with a maple walnut vinaigrette. It was perfect for the spring-like day.

Julia raved about their burgers and decided to get one with the Belgian Frites, which come with a trio of mayonnaises.

I couldn’t resist the Truffled Potato Gnocchi. The gnocchi was topped with mushrooms, squash blossoms, basil, corn, and chive butter. It was absolutely delicious.

We lingered for a while with French press coffee and the Brasserie Beck Pile of Apple Fritters.

The apple donuts were cooked in Belgian Ale and covered with clove and ginger sugar, then served with apple cider ice cream and warm butterscotch. It was a heavenly treat and more than enough to share.

After lunch, Julia dropped me at my home for the next few days, the Embassy Suites Metro at the Chevy Chase Pavilion.

This hotel. is literally inside a mall, which also happens to lead directly to a metro station. You don’t even have to go outside to go from your room to the train, to nearly anywhere you want in Washington, DC.

The convenience was my main reason for choosing this hotel, but it had lots of other pluses. For one thing, the rooms were huge and very accessible (I had rented a mobility scooter for Washington, DC because I was recovering from ankle surgery).

My room, the Premium Suite, was big enough to be considered an apartment, with a full living room, a dining area, a kitchenette with a microwave, Keurig, and refrigerator, and a separate bedroom.

I had televisions in both rooms and a work desk with a docking station. The Premium Suite comes with daily complimentary snacks and soft drinks, in addition to the evening reception and hot breakfast all Embassy Suites guests get.

I unpacked and got a little work done and went down to the evening reception. They had a nice selection of drinks, wine, and snacks.

Alea met me there when she got out of classes. We were both pretty tired from a long day and decided to have dinner at the Cheesecake Factory within the mall.

I don’t have a Cheesecake Factory near Champaign and I’m always happy when I can get my favorite dish, their Sweet Corn Tamales with salsa and avocado. It’s something I really should make someday.

Of course, you can’t leave the Cheesecake Factory without cheesecake and we decided to split a piece of the Reese’s Peanut Butter Chocolate Fudge.
Embassy Suites Washington D.C. Chevy Chase Pavillion

After dinner, Alea took the elevator down to the metro to go back to American University and I headed to my room.

I went to bed and took a look at all the brochures the tourism board had left me, excited about all the things I would be seeing the next few days in Washington, DC.