Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Playing Tourist in the Nation's Capital

There's nothing like playing tourist in your old stomping grounds.  It's an odd sensation.  You've been here, you've lived here, but now you're a tourist - a visitor.  I think it really hit us when we got on the Metro from the airport and got onto the escalator.  Here's where you could tell who was and who wasn't a tourist.  Those that ambled, standing here and there along the stairs and not paying attention to which side you should be on.  

Those were the tourists, as those of us who lived there day in and out knew stand right/walk left.  ES and I chuckled as we shared the memory.  We rode the Metro a lot.  Almost every weekend, in fact.  We were always up in the city, seeing the latest exhibition at one of the many Smithsonian museums or finding a new gastronomic treat at one of the many eateries in the city.

The trip was originally planned for me for work, but ES tagged along and we flew out a few days before my meetings to see the sights, friends and family, and celebrate his birthday.  I found a last minute great deal and we stayed at the Fairmont, ideally situated between Georgetown, Dupont Circle, and Foggy Bottom.

We made it to DC at the height of rush hour on Thursday evening.  In the pouring rain.  Correction - the sky decided to open up on us as we were walking the 8 blocks with our suitcases from the Metro to the hotel.  Next time: taxi.  Given the rain and the gridlock, we opted for a restaurant in walking distance.  We'd held a sentimental spot for Marcels, a French place ES took me to when we were dating and still celebrating our "dating" anniversary.  We'd gone there on our first anniversary followed by a show at the Kennedy Center.  We were not disappointed on our return visit.  We oped for the 3-course dinner.  Mine: beet salad, poached lobster in heavy cream, and filet mignon.  ES:  tomato salad, scallops, and the filet as well.  

We headed to the Mall Friday morning to see our old favorites - the Natural History Museum (NHM) and the National Gallery (NG).  The rotunda of the NHM still has the mastodon, which I remember from childhood.  Still here, although they took out those cool phone handsets you could pick up to hear "the story" of the mastodon.

They'd opened a new hall since we'd last visited.  The hall of Human Origins.   ES was getting some fire from his new friend.  The Hall of Mammals and the Hope Diamond were still there.  We trekked down to the gift shop (one of my favorite of the museum gift shops) to do a little browsing.  We passed the museum cafe where we used to go on Friday night's for Jazz night, our date-night tradition.  

We headed to an old favorite for lunch - Jaleo - for an early celebration of ES' birthday.  It was also really nice to have a respite from the heat and humidity.  We feasted on chorizo, manchego, a bean, beat and apple salad, chicken croquettes, and the perennial favorite patatos bravas.  As good as we remembered.  
We stumbled upon a gelato place after lunch.   We tried a few of the flavors, including cardamon and yam, but settled on hazelnut and espresso.  A welcome cool to the heat and humidity of the afternoon.  We'd forgotten just how much it can zap the energy out of you.

After lunch, we headed to the NG.  One of the special exhibits at the was a Mark Rothko showing.  It was his black series.  While it was hard to capture it in the pictures, there are subtle changes (and when I say subtle, I mean really subtle) changes in tone on the canvases.  The Calder mobile was a familiar site.  We also took in the special exhibits in the mail building, including a photo exhibit by Beat poet Alan Ginsburgh.  While I can appreciate photography, his was a little too avant garde for my taste.  We talked by the many of the permanent galleries we'd spent hours browsing in in year's past.  Renoir's "Girl with a watering can" remains a sentimental favorite.

We celebrated ES' birthday at Eventide with my family.  It was a nice treat to see my cousin, his wife and their daughter along with my aunt.  We all toasted to ES' birthday (30 - celebrated for the 13th year in a row!) and ate an amazing dinner.  

Mine:  mixed greens with beets, followed by lobster gnocchi (containing large chunks of lobster), and a raspberry custard.  ES:  tomato salad, roasted chicken, and a chocolate ganache with homemade almond toffee.  

My aunt called her peach soup "divine."  

Little RJ was so cute, blowing kisses to the wait staff followed by ES blowing out his birthday celebration candle.  ES declared it one of the best birthday's in recent memory.  

We spent Saturday morning at the American History Museum (AHM) seeing some new exhibits (restored Star Spangled Banner) as well as some old favorites (Julia Child's kitchen).  

We headed to Dupont Circle to catch up with an old friend of mine.  Kat and I have known each other since we were 4 or 5.  Brownies, kindergarden, and many years of our families taking vacations together.  It was nice to catch up.  It had been ~10 years since we'd seen each other last. 

After lunch, we headed over to the National Portrait Gallery.  I was very excited to see this museum, as it was closed the entire time ES and I lived in DC.  They'd done an amazing job in the renovation, having incorporated some of the deco aspects of the original building along with the more federalist style of the newer building.

After wandering for many hours through the galleries, we decided to find a place for dinner.  We decided to try a Mexican style "tapas" (really more like Mexican food with the small plate style of a Spanish style tapas restaurant).  While service was a bit rocky at first, the management ended up comping our meal and taking care of us, which made for two happy customers in the end.  The food was good.  I especially liked the meat balls and the tacos.  The plantains with mole were an interesting treat - a lot spicier than anticipated!  

After dinner we stumbled upon a cupcake place and of course had to try the signature cupcake. ES opted for the mocha fudge.  Both were excellent.

Sunday morning brought lots of storms and rather than head to the zoo, we went out for brunch with my cousin and his family at a yummy little tavern in Georgetown.  Excellent burger with shoe string fries.

It was so fun playing with RJ.  She's such a cutie.

We managed to squeeze in a few more museums Sunday afternoon before closing.  We went to both the Freer and the Sackler - very under appreciated Smithsonian museums.

We ended our long weekend with a Tapas dinner with my aunt at one of our old favorite places for Tapas in Clarendon - La Tosca.  

An excellent way to end our visit to DC.