Last summer on a separate business trip to the DC area I clearly remember nothing, zero, zilch around my hotel to eat, so you can imagine as I arrived this summer I was met by the same fear. By the time I arrived at my hotel in Crystal City, VA I was nothing short of absolutely famished. Travel tip numero uno-always ask the locals about where to go to eat. Stepping into my hotel’s shuttle at Reagen National Airport, I struck up conversation with the driver about my close-by eating options and he knew where to go and exactly how to get there, which is how I wandered into the tiny Bonsai Sushi in Arlington, VA.
My first inclination to eat at Bonsai Sushi instead of the Italian, Middle-Eastern, Thai, Mexican, or American eateries were the scattered couples canoodling on the small front porch in cramped tables and chairs under paper lanterns happily noshing on their sushi selections. Feeling the love, I stepped inside ready to get my grub on. One quality I love, love about sushi is the relative speed with which the dishes can be prepared because when Rachel needs to eat, Rachel needs to eat now. First, I ordered Tako Su an, “octopus and cucumber salad in a vinegar sauce,” says their menu.
What the menu doesn’t say is the salad is a composition of succulent raw octopus in copious amounts of julienned cucumber stems, the lightest and sweetest rice wine vinaigrette tasted to date, and the creative and uniquely unexpected element of egg custard triangles. This dish is fabulous! The natural, raw flavors combined with the surprising textures made this opening salad truly satisfying. Next onto my tried and true new-sushi-place test with my order of the Rainbow Roll.
Quickly, here are the 4-stars of quality possessed by an excellent rainbow roll: first, fresh, fresh, fresh sashimi tuna, salmon, and hamachi or sea bass (of course) and a good cut of thickness of the fishes applied on top of the roll, second, fresh avocado matching the thickness of the fish plus I prefer to see pieces of avocado on top as well as inside the roll, third, the roll pieces should tend to be on the larger side so that it is a whole mouthful, and fourth just a stellar output of the California Roll on the inside. Oh, and just so you know, here is what’s in a California Roll:
- Imitation Crab (or cooked real crab)
- Japanese Cucumber (or regular cucumbers)
- Sushi Rice
Bonsai Sushi rated a three out of four star qualities only falling short in terms of overall roll size. All the ingredients were super fresh (holla PA supermarket chain), and so very tender and delicious. After devouring my Rainbow Roll, I left happy just like the couples on the porch but unfortunately I was still a little hunger. Still, it was a beautiful summer night and the lingering need to feed was easily calmed with a Cookies and Cream Ice Cream Bar from the corner 7-11 which accompanied me on my walk back to the hotel to turn in for the evening.
Wednesday @ 8AM
There is magic in the air during summertime in Washington, DC. Foreign and domestic families alike trapeze up and down The Mall visiting any number of our national treasures and attractions experiencing living history and finding out for themselves what makes our country a great anti-hero. Perhaps I am a sucker for democracy but even in the muggiest of weather I can’t help the over-whelming feeling of pride I have to be an American when I look around at what Americans before me have accomplished and left behind to remind us all what ingenuity, hard work, and the ability to persevere can create in a free nation.
One such anti-hero American whose lasting imprint can be found in Washington, DC is the late, great Julia Child. I know, I know. You’ve been Julia Child-ed to death since the release of the film Julie and Julia. However, I am not going to tell you about my experience with her recipes because truth-be-told, I’ve never cooked a French anything in my life and if I did, it was entirely by accident. Yet this movie and Julia Child herself will be a part of my memory for the rest of my life and I’ll tell you why.
The weekend before my whirlwind trip to DC, I went to see Julie and Julia with my boyfriend’s mom, and as a film, the performances were nothing short of stellar and the food imagery entirely spectacular. I mean, how could it not be with Stanley Tucci (I will watch anything with him, he is brilliant) and the goddess Meryl Streep playing the unstoppable Julia Child? They were good in The Devil Wears Prada, but they were absolutely astounding in Julie and Julia. Once could say the pair is a guaranteed recipe for movie success! (Yes, I went for that irrestitable pun.)
At the end of the film full of food porn (I am going to spoil just a bit), Julie the blogger makes a pilgrimage to The Smithsonian to see Julia Child’s kitchen celebrating her one-year of cookery, and leaves there a pound of butter as an homage. Trust me, there is much more to the final outcome than that. Well, to my recollection Julie’s blogging project took place in 2005 so it didn’t dawn on me that Julia Child’s kitchen would still be an exhibit at The Smithsonian Museum of American History until I arrived in Crystal City, VA for The Society of Applied Learning Technology Conference to give my inaugural professional conference presentation.
Wednesday @ 12PM
It's the day before my presentation and in between conference sessions, I walked back to 23rd Street for my first ever Ethiopian lunch of Chicken Tibs at Harar Mesob in Arlington, VA . Before my meal I ordered an unassuming iced tea and was served an exquisite and refreshing blend of Chai Tea. My chicken tibs came after a touch of a longer wait for lunch with the greatest potato salad that has graced my palette along with fresh tomatoes, rosemary, green peppers, and onions. Their potato salad was dressed with nothing more than oil and salt and pepper, and it was starch perfection. I tasted the potato, and not a heavy, creamy dressing. Plus, the done-ness of the spud could not have been better. Soft enough and crisp enough at the same time, simply an exquisite perfectly balanced paradox. Yet my most beloved quality of Ethiopian cuisine is eating with your hands.
Along with your protein and vegetable a piece of porous, spongy bread called injejar about 18” in diameter is served. Since I obviously stuck out like a sore thumb staring quizzically at my order, the server was kind enough to demonstrate breaking off a piece of inejar and picking-up some chicken and/or some tomatoes and potatoes in a pinch, then eat the whole thing in one foul swoop of a mouthful. Nothing else has felt as natural, as instinctual, and as primal as this method of eating! Well, almost nothing else…
Having been lifted from my hearty yet light meal, I hit some more conference sessions before heading for The Metro to walk the Mall. Stepping off the Metro I first meandered through The Smithsonian sculpture garden and was captivated by Roy Lichtenstein’s The House.
Not only can one find historical treasures in DC, but it's art collections rival New York and San Francisco. After the garden stroll I made a beeline for The Smithsonian and once inside I saw one of the most beautiful relics of American history-the actual flag that inspired Francis Scott Key to write our national anthem. Never have I seen such an enormous flag. The 30-by-34 foot reach of this flag startled me in the same way the buildings in downtown DC startle me due to their sheer behemoth presence! To feel the power and majesty of this flag, which is almost 200 years old and survived the British invasion in 1814 during The War of 1812, is something one has to see to believe.
Leaving the flag and trying to act cool, I window-shopped a few more exhibits (highlights pictured below) before heading to Mecca-Julia’s kitchen. Let’s flashback about 20ish or so years to my early youth in a house with no cable, just channels 2, 3, 6, 10, 11 & various UHF stations. With such little variation I first remember Julia captivating me while she was baking a cake during her show broadcasted on the PBS station. It just total made sense. Watch the steps, repeat at home, cake. Of course! The simple genius of it all for acquiring cake! Julia was cool with me from that day forward.
(Dorothy's Ruby Red Slippers from The Wizard of Oz.)
(Abe Lincoln's Famous Top Hat.)
Fast forward back to me standing in line to see Julia Child’s home kitchen and television show set with my nose pressed to the protective glass like a child totally ignorant to swine flu. Awed but not surprised, Julia’s magnificent coven was covered floor to ceiling in kitchen utensils used to craft her French cuisine. Gently being pushed to move on by the growing crowd I quickly mentally took note of every item I want for my dream kitchen some day. For god’s sakes, I don’t even have a Dutch oven to currently speak of and am ashamed at the lowbrow acquirement of my current set of pots and pans. But one day, one day I shall arise for the ooze and at least attempt to reach a Zion like Julia’s kitchen.
After her gadgetry, my favorite part of her exhibit is the collection of personal photos because I believe there is a little humor in all parts of life. The humor of Julia’s life is properly and tastefully presented in the picture of her at her first French stove. She towers over this itty-bitty hot box, hand on her hip cooking feet away for her pots. Priceless.
Filled with the joy of true inspiration I skipped around the Smithsonian a bit more before taking a walk to the White House. After my quick glance through the fence I rested and thought about what ever shall I eat for my dinner in Washington, D.C? Then I was hit all at once like a lighting bolt, French food of course! Never have I really eaten traditional French food, but have certainly noshed on French-fusion, or French influenced cuisine, so this time around I went all in for butter, the duck, the snails, the bread, and of course, the wine at Bistro D’oc on 10th Street.
High-stepping toward my new dinner experience it occurred to me that my physical condition of balmy, sweaty tee shirt, jeans, and sneakers might not be appropriate for a French bistro. Plus, I wanted to feel flighty, whimsical, and feminine in my skin for this foray into French eating. Just then I serendipitously spotted an H&M Department store. Inside I found a light gray, all cotton, short sleeve dress and leopard kitten heel sandals personifying the whimsy I was looking for. I also found my winter jacket which I couldn’t afford, but I’ve included it in case anyone is feeling generous out there this holiday season. :)
New gear in hand and stomach moving from hungry to hangray (that is hungry + angry), I desperately needed a secure spot to change clothes. And now I’d like to divulge travel tip numero dos; hotels usually have nice public bathrooms on the first floor. If there is a bar or restaurant entrance, go in that way, find the bathroom and do your Spiderman thing real quick going from icky-sticky to fem fabu in a snap. If there isn’t an eatery entrance, use the lobby and just be fearless. And fearless is exactly how I felt in my brand new outfit on the way to Bistro D’oc.
Wednesday @ 7PM
Before we get into dinner can I just say that I’ve never been embarrassed about asking to be sat solo, alone, just one please, or for one. The excitement for the meal ahead dominates all other emotions because if someone cannot realize I’m here for the food, then forget them anyway for we all here at this moment to eat and be merry...just putting it out there.
Quickly a female server complete with a French accent guided me to a tiny table facing the bar already packed with Washington, D.C. workers working their way through wine bottle after wine bottle decompressing from the stress of running the country. So my eyes had food as well as my stomach. Drinking in the scene, my server returned to ask for my drink order. I know only the general rules of wine and food pairing so I went with a Rose Wine splitting the red and white difference. The wine was a bit dry and sweet and quite to my liking as I sipped on it while my French server discussed the specials rustically written on a movable chalkboard. No specials for me though. I want the stereotypical fare please, Escargots Ail et Pastis or snails in-shell with garlic pastis butter followed by Confit de Canard Grand Mere or crispy duck confit-moulard with mushrooms, garlic, shallots, and potatoes.
In between bites of Baguette and Butter I felt chic and thrilled over my French dinner to arrive tweeting my every move in case anyone whom might be reading can follow along on my adventure. First the escargots arrived, ah, in their shells. Perhaps I should have paid closer attention to that minor detail seeing as how I’ve never de-shelled a snail before and I’m about to practically perform surgery for the first time in public. Seeing my utensils I tried to hide the flash of horror on my face and acted like I’ve totally done this tons of times before at lots of French places. In order to get the flesh of the snail out of the shell, one must grip and hold the shell with fancy, delicate tongs then, using the mini-fork with your other hand, fish out the treasure buried inside. Subconsciously replaying in my mind is the upscale dinner scene in Pretty Woman where Julia Roberts is wearing that red dress and whilst attempting to perform the very same feat, she shot a snail clear across the dining room only to have a dashing waiter snatch it out of mid-air saving her from total, utter embarrassment. But there was no dashing server at the Bistro D’oc awaiting my loose cannon snail shell, so ever so carefully I tried my best to grip it and rip it. And lo and behold, success! The first turns around the shell were slippery indeed but my determination to conquer this milestone in fine dining overcame all fears and each snail safely made its way into my happy belly.
The duck confit came out in a few short moments after the snails were cleared. I truly didn’t have enough time to digestively recover from all the butter in the escargots to be ready for rendered duck fat, fried potatoes, and mushrooms cooked in, yup you guessed it, butter. This meal was undoubtedly decadent, but I’m not used to so much fats creating a thick sick feeling later on. I found the flavor of the potato to be lost in the oil and the medallions weren’t cooked to my liking of a crispy outside and softer inside. The mushrooms were quite good in texture and flavor plus I also enjoyed the large amount of mushrooms, which constituted the bed upon which the duck and potatoes rested. Lastly, the grandest part of this entrée was indeed the duck skin. Crisped to perfection and bearing the ‘good’ flavor of fat, I devoured the skin first and ate the greasier duck flesh afterward.
Mission French dinner accomplished with a bit of a bellyache and a regret over not being able to stomach dessert, yet all in all, it was a perfectly wonderful ending to a perfectly wonderful day. Making my way back to the Metro my gait almost broke out into a full-on skip as my patriotism raneth over for it was one of those days you’re happy to be alive and being in America is a beautiful thing.
Thursday @ 12PM
The pinnacle of my DC trip is about to arrive for today is presentation day! After my French fest I spent the night refining my forty-five minute presentation and demonstration making sure to impress upon my attendees how awesome our little lab is. When I woke the next morning the coffee was on and I was ready to take on the day. Post some morning sessions at the conference lunch came about fast so I didn’t want to venture to the restaurant row of 23rd Street where I found Bonsai Sushi and Harar Mesob just days earlier. Instead, I made my way through the under (and above) ground labyrinth that is The Crystal City Shops. I was in the need of power food full of vitamins, antioxidants, and such to guarantee success. When I laid my eyes on a massive salad bar the decision on what to have for lunch was solved-I’ll have everything.
It has come to my attention that at times I love, love, love an abundance of variety, so The Market Basket & Grocery's enormous Salad Bar offerings including California Rolls, fresh strawberries, and roasted onion halves on top of all the staple salad items had my name written all over it-all over all of it.
I did not partake in the hot buffet but it too had an extensive spread. Plus Market Basket has coffees, teas, and a deli counter to get a freshly made sandwich or a combo hot plate. Fortunately I found the perfect brain food to super charge myself to deliver my presentation to training professionals, military personnel, and industry representations on, “Lessons Learned: Adult Learners and Serious Game Design.” Admittedly the title isn’t gripping but if I may say so myself, I gave one hell of a forty-five performance. My little hotel ballroom section had not one seat left so people had to stand in the back like Easter Sunday at a Catholic Church. Content with a job well-done, one more costume change into my street clothes, and onto the shuttle back to Reagan National to began the trek back down south, back home.
Thursday @ 5PM
For the last meal on my 48-hour DC tour, I had Five Guys Burger & Fries… seriously. Truthfully this was my first visit to the award-winning burger chain so even though the line was long and slow, I patiently waited. I wolfed down my order of Cheeseburger and Fries. Perhaps it was because I dined in an airport location, but I wasn’t balled over by Five Guys burger or the Five Guys fries. The fries were especially disappointing as soggy sticks barely able to hold themselves upright. Despite a lackluster performance I am glad I finally tried Five Guys (PS-In-n-Out Burger is way, way better) and was even happier to get on my plane back to sunny Florida to arrive home Thursday at 9PM closing the 48 window of travel. A job well-done for work and a belly full of new food experiences I fell asleep that night thinking of what Julia said and what's to come...