Saturday, March 25, 2017

Smithsonian Zoo for Washington DC Finale

It was my last day in Washington D.C. and it was going to be a good one.

I was able to sleep in at the Embassy Suites Chevy Chase Pavilion and enjoyed their hot, complimentary breakfast. I made up a bowl from the yogurt bar and had a couple of pancakes on the side.

My niece, Alea, had some school work to do so we decided to meet directly at the Metro Station beneath the hotel.

We took the train to the stop closest to the Smithsonian National Zoo. I love zoos and I was especially excited to see the giant pandas here.

This zoo is not only one of the best in the country, but it’s free.

The pandas did not disappoint. They were happy to eat and play for the growing audience. We hung around for a while and the kept us laughing and smiling.

We walked around and also saw the tigers, lions, and cheetah. I’m always thrilled to see content animals in a zoo.  

 Alea and I got back on the Metro to head to an interesting spot for lunch.

Bayou Bakery is located at the Old Naval Hospital, a historic building which goes back to President Abraham Lincoln.

The Washington, DC café is owned by Chef David Gaus and is modeled after his New Orleans roots. 

Chef Gaus frequently hits the talk show circuit and has also served as host of the Travel Channel’s American Grilled.

We were very hungry and ready to taste some of Bayou Bakery’s Southern cooking.
While we waited for our food to be ready, we had to try one of their Dat-O cookies, sort of a homemade Oreo, but bigger and better.

We also shared an order of light and sweet beignets. 

I then had an egg and cheese on a flaky warm biscuit, while Alea went for the lobster roll.

We walked back to the Metro and took it to the hotel where we said our goodbyes. 

It was time for me to head to the airport and leave Washington DC , but I’m sure I will be back soon. 

Friday, March 17, 2017

Smithsonian History and Ethnic Delights in Washington DC

I woke up for my third day in Washington, DC, well-rested. My room at the Embassy Suites Washington D.C. Chevy Chase Pavilion was large and comfortable.

I had come into Washington, DC to spend some time with my niece, Alea, and check out the activities and food in the area. There certainly is an abundance of both in our nation’s capital.

While Alea caught up on some school work in the morning I caught up on some writing, after another delicious breakfast. This Embassy Suite has one of the best complimentary breakfasts I’ve ever seen.

We met up at the Metro station just downstairs from the hotel in the afternoon and headed to downtown, not far from the White House.

Lunch was arranged at the Alfa Pie House, an authentic Greek casual restaurant with more options than I’d ever seen at similar restaurants.

Tina, the manager, greeted us and told us about the Greek pies, salads, and other dishes they had at Alfa. Everything looked delicious.

It was so hard to decide and we definitely ended up with too much as Tina continued to bring additional dishes for us to try.

I mentioned I love spinach pie and she brought a selection to choose from.

All were delicious, as were the cheese pies, an amazing Mediterranean Salad (marinated grilled vegetables with authentic Greek feta cheese crumble, grilled chicken, and a Mediterranean sauce).

She also brought me a dark chocolate filled mocha latte and we ate as much as we could, while watching locals come in to sit at a communal table.

It looked like a scene from My Big Fat Greek Wedding as friends and family sat around this big table, passing dishes of food.

We took a few bites of the best Baklava I’ve ever had before heading outside to see the sites.

We walked around the mall area, and past the Internal Revenue Service Building. The original plan called for taking a Potomac Riverboat Cruise through Washington Harbor.

It was a cool and rainy day in Washington we decided it would be a better day to go to Smithsonian Museums.

We started at the one I remembered most, the National Museum of American History.

Others had the same idea as the line was pretty long, but it moved quickly.

The first thing we saw were all the advertisements for the Dorothy’s Ruby Slippers Kickstarter.

It seemed the Wizard of Oz's Dorothy’s shoes had seen too many years and they were ready to be renovated!

The museum was filled with interactive activities for children, even toddlers. That was one thing I didn’t remember from my last visit when my daughter was still a kid.

We walked by those exhibits to check out some of the others. I was fascinated with History: 70s, where we saw displays on Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Oprah Winfrey, and even a history of Sesame Street.

An exhibit on slavery was interesting, as was the First Lady Exhibit, which had a dress from each first lady and information about each woman. It ranged from the china they picked for their White House term, to what they did accomplished while their husband was in office.

Another exhibit was truly relevant to me -- Food: Transforming the American Table. It examined everything from the inventing of TV Dinners to the influence of Julia Child and her television kitchen.

Also included was information on wine in all 50 states.

From the American History Museum, we headed to the NationalMuseum of Natural History, where there is a lot to see.

We strolled through the American Dinosaurs Exhibit, sections on owls, Geology Gems & Minerals, and Butterflies. I also loved the Elephant Discovery Station.

From the second floor of the Natural History Museum we also could see the building’s unique architecture.

We stayed until the museum closed and then headed to dinner at Ottoman Taverna. The décor here is beautiful and the food unique. It’s noted as Eurasian, but I found a lot of Turkish influence.

Our waiter was very helpful in picking out food and even suggesting a Turkish wine for me. The Massaya Blanc, a blend that includes Obeidi, Clairette, and Sauvignon Blanc, was perfect.

We started with a delicious soft, seeded bread with dips.

For an appetizer, Alea had Karides Güvec, a shrimp stew with saffron & tomato broth, garlic and herbs.

I had something that looked like egg rolls. Sigara boregi, was filled with cheese and herbs, and very good.

For a main course, Alea liked the chicken and I had a Lamb Stew special with Brussel sprouts.

The waiter also brought an eggplant dish in tomato sauce that we really liked.

We finished up with some an oven baked rice pudding, not too sweet or rich, but just right.

We took an Uber from the restaurant, dropping Alea at her dorm before taking me back to the Embassy Suites. It was time to get some rest before my final day in Washington, DC.

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.