Matt’s company holds an annual awards event in Washington D.C., and he had to go along to manage all their social media. That was a pretty good excuse for a trip to revisit our nation’s capitol, four years after our last visit.
We dropped Roy off at his birdsitter’s and went to the airport. We had the usual 25-minute hop to Miami, grabbed an empanada from Half Moon for lunch, and then got on our flight to Reagan National. When you’re flying to DC, accept no airport substitutions, because getting into town from Dulles or BWI sucks.
Plus Reagan is just so attractive. (It’s nicer on the inside.)
We bought week-long Metro passes for $36 and hopped on the train to Farragut West. Our hotel for the event, the Mayflower, was a few blocks away. Oh, and it was overcast, in the mid-60s, and raining. That was a big change from Key West.
The Mayflower is a giant, fancy old hotel just south of Dupont Circle. Our room was very nice, but the lack of coffeemaker annoyed me to no end. Our plan was to work from the room on Wednesday before the event, and no coffee meant having to go out for it in the morning.
We checked in, met a few of Matt’s coworkers (his department had totally turned over since the last time he was in Minneapolis, so that meant he was meeting them for the first time, too!), and then went to get dinner. We walked a half-mile or so in the rain to Founding Farmers, where we found a line and an hour-plus wait. It was already fairly late, so we went to wander back in the general direction of our hotel to find a restaurant. We came across Irish Whiskey Public House, which had a decent-looking bar menu, so we went with that. Afterwards, we headed across the street to Teddy and the Bully Bar, a great little cocktail place, for a couple of drinks before bed. We headed back around 10, since we had to work in the morning.
The next morning, we got up, put on real pants (this is a travail for people who work from home, you know), and walked over to Peet’s for coffee and scones. It turns out there was lobby coffee at the Mayflower, but Peet’s was stronger. I took the desk to work, and Matt took the bed. It was a fairly uncomfortable and crowded arrangement, but it was only for a day. The plan was for me to go work at Peet’s when he went to go do event-setup stuff around noon, but that ended up being delayed and we stayed in the room all day, except for a quick lunch walk to Shake Shack for lunch.
At 3, he headed downstairs, and I finished up work and changed into fancy clothes. I don’t get a chance to wear a dress and heels very often anymore! I met more of Matt’s coworkers in the hallway by the ballrooms, where I was assigned to help out at the check-in table. They trained four of us on the check-in equipment – tablets and small label printers for making nametags, so it couldn’t have been easier – and we got to work. After about an hour, it was time to head to the main event. (Bob Dole was a guest speaker at the pre-reception party, and they rolled him past our table in his wheelchair on the way out. He waved and said thank you to all of us, which was very nice.)
We were at the staff tables in the balcony for the awards ceremony, which started at 6:30. Mike Rowe was one of the speakers, so I took a bit of video for my sister, who’s a fan.
The event was very well-done, and the speakers were great. A couple of them made everyone cry. We had dinner, dessert, and coffee, and the event wrapped up around 8:30. Matt was busily taking photos and posting to Twitter and Facebook the entire time, and his preparation made it all go smoothly. Afterwards, we said goodbye to everyone (many of whom were flying back to Minnesota first thing in the morning), went to the room to change, and headed out for a beer.
We walked over to ChurchKey near Logan Circle. Matt was wearing a shirt from J Wakefield Brewing in Miami, having joked that they’d appreciate his beer nerd shirt. When we looked at the menu, the only beer from anywhere south of the Carolinas was one from Wakefield. Since it’s a tiny brewery in Wynwood, we were kind of shocked about that. (We ended up seeing them several places in town. Which is great, because they make really excellent beers.)
It was raining pretty hard when we left, so we got to walk back to the hotel with wet pants and shoes. At least we’d remembered umbrellas!
Thursday morning, we got up and checked out. The Mayflower was nice, but we weren’t going to go paying the rack rate for the portion work wasn’t reimbursing. We left our bags at the bellhop stand, grabbed a quick breakfast at Peet’s, and headed to the Metro to the Smithsonian. It was still raining, but it had lessened a bit.
Last time we were in DC, we’d had lunch at the National Museum of the American Indian (it was great), but we hadn’t had time to see the actual museum. We also wanted to see the brand new National Museum of African American History, but apparently entry tickets to that sold out right away. While we were in town, I kept checking availability, even setting an alarm for 6:30am when they opened the daily site, but they were gone right away. We’d have to save that one for next time.
The American Indian museum is really well-done, and it was very quiet during the day. We had another excellent lunch in their cafeteria before heading off to our next nerdy stop, the National Building Museum.
The building itself was pretty incredible. It’s hard to capture the size of it in photos. We got a brochure for the self-guided tour and went up to the top level to start; there are a few exhibits in the building, but not many. The one on American households and how building has evolved over time and regionally was pretty great, as was the collection of paper pop-up construction books. The store was really good, too, but we resisted buying everything in it.
Then it was time to switch hotels before our dinner reservations. We took the Metro to the Mayflower, got our suitcases, then got back on the Metro to the National Zoo stop. The Marriott Wardman Park was conveniently located next to the Metro stop (which has one of the longest escalators we’d seen, taking almost 2.5 minutes!), but it was also at the top of a very steep hill. Rolling the bags up it was not that fun at all.
We checked in, and I was happy to find a coffeemaker in our very nice (and far more spacious) room. We freshened up, changed into nicer clothes, and got back on the Metro to the stop near Verizon Center.
So, we really like Chef Jose Andres, and have made a point of visiting his restaurants whenever possible, in both DC and Vegas. We had been trying to decide where to dine on this trip when Matt discovered the Tour de Jose, which is a small-plate tasting at four of his restaurants in one night. How could we possibly turn that down?
We started at Zaytinya at 6:15. (It’s the Greek/Mediterranean-focused restaurant we’d dined at on a previous trip.) We arrived a bit early so they set us up with a bar table and glasses of sparkling wine, then moved us to our table in short order. Then the food started arriving, and a very long restaurant adventure began. We even had ‘passports’, which the hosts took at each restaurant so they could paste in a copy of our menu for that location.
I’ll include a few of the photos here, but the entire set of our million dishes is here on Flickr, with descriptions. I have the writeups of everything Matt had, but as the vegetarian in the group, mine diverted somewhat from the main offerings. I wish I remembered more details, because everything was amazing.
At Zaytinya we had a trio of dips with pita, a couple different wines, brussels sprouts, these ‘air bread’ bites, and octopus. Matt was worried he might be served octopus because he hates the idea of it, and there it was. He ate it and liked it, too! Just not the tentacly part.
What we learned quickly is that they will serve you not just the small plates but a side of bread in some form with every meal, plus all you want to drink. Don’t eat the bread, no matter how tempting it is. You’ll just be sad about it later. (I only partook in the pita at the first restaurant with the dips, and I was *still* sad about it by the end.) It feels horribly wasteful, but just let it go.
Our host came by toward the end and let us know we had five minutes or so before moving on to the next place. We gathered our things, he took our passports, and he led us over a few blocks to Jaleo. He told us about all the new Jose Andres restaurant plans around the world, and it was kind of incredible.
At Jaleo, the tapas restaurant, he handed us off to a new host/server. We got a table by the window, were handed sangria (I usually hate sangria, but this was amazing), a basket of bread that we dutifully ignored, and then the food started arriving again.
We had pan con tomate, gazpacho (another previously-hated food), manchego with wine-marinated green apples, Iberico ham, pastry cones with some awesomely stinky cheese and quince paste, and the most mind-blowing dish of all: Ferran Adria’s liquid olives. They’re the closest we’ll ever get to El Bulli, after all. Plus – this may be a theme here – we both hate olives. But these were amazing.
Oh, and there was also eggplant with honey, and a glass sneaker that was invented by Salma Hayek’s brother. There was a long story behind it, due to the porcelain hand service at Barmini. This was Jaleo’s response, which meant that Matt got to eat croquetas out of a shoe.
And then it was off to Oyamel. It’s the restaurant we were originally planning to visit before learning about the Tour de Jose, so I was excited to go there. The problem was that I was already pretty full.
Our server there was great. He made us tableside guacamole with serrano and tomatillo (why hadn’t I thought of that? It’s genius), with fresh tortillas AND a gigantic basket of tortilla chips, which I refused to even look at. We had margaritas with ‘salt air’ that were amazing. Then there was a shrimp dish for Matt and brussels sprouts for me, which were really delicious. By the time they showed up with a taco for each of us, I was seriously feeling sick. It was all I could do to have a bite of it.
I also felt awful about wasting that much food. We joked about grabbing umbrella bags in each restaurant and filling them with the leftovers. We’d have been walking around with enough food for 30 people.
When the tacos arrived, I went downstairs to use the restroom, partially to just get a break from all the food. Even walking around that little bit made me feel somewhat better, which was good because we had yet another restaurant left to go. Unreal.
We crossed the street to China Chilcano and were seated right away. It was already close to 9pm at that point – we’d been dining since 6:15 – so this restaurant was a lot quieter. The hostess there was fantastic, too. They made us feel extremely welcome.
Thankfully, the dishes there were much lighter. We had a vegetarian version of their ceviche, made with a variety of mushrooms, jicama, radishes, and hominy. There were also small cilanto and vegetable dumplings with sesame, and pisco sours. Then it was time for the final round – the dessert. It was spectacular.
The one on the left is basically a dulce de leche with various forms of passionfruit meringue on top. (The passionfruit cuts through the sweetness like you wouldn’t believe – it was amazing.) The dessert on the right was a crispy spiral cake with molasses ice cream, caramelized bananas, and chocolate cream with the cocoa Anthony Bourdain sources from Peru.
There was coffee and port, and then we thanked the staff there about a hundred times before wobbling off back to the Metro. We’d have to walk a million miles to make up for that dinner, and thankfully we did a pretty good job of that in the next couple of days, too.
We’ve had some really incredible meals from some very famous chefs before, but we’re both pretty sure that was the best meal we’ve ever had. It’s an experience for sure.
The next morning, we got up and walked up the half-mile hill to the National Zoo. I hadn’t been there since I was a kid.
We were mad that the bird house was closed for renovation, but we found some of its residents hanging out outside. I realized later that the only animals I photographed at the zoo were the ones that live in South Florida. I like what I like, you know?
We saw most of the zoo (except for the monkeys, because monkeys are creepy) and then were very hungry because it was 2pm. We walked back to the Metro and rode over to Eastern Market, where we figured we would grab lunch from a stand and eat outside. It’s billed as one of the best markets in the country, so we had high hopes.
Eastern Market turned out to be not that spectacular. It’s one big hall with several booths (butchers, sandwich shops, cheese vendors, produce stands, etc), but there’s not that much there. It’s nothing compared to what we’ve seen in most cities. They have outdoor vendors on the weekends, so possibly that makes it more impressive. It just… wasn’t. We walked down the street to get some pizza at Seventh Hill Pizza instead. That was really good, and we ate outside on the patio.
From there, we went back to the Metro and rode over to the National Archives. It was another spot we hadn’t visited since we were kids, so we decided to go make sure that, while the current government wasn’t adhering to anything in our founding documents, the Constitution hadn’t actually been torn up or anything. We only had to wait in line for 20 minutes or so, and were able to get inside and into the rotunda fairly quickly. It was good to see those old pieces of parchment again, and they had a new exhibit on American history that was pretty interesting.
Even though it was only open for another 90 minutes, we decided to go over to the Museum of Natural History. We got to see the entire oceans exhibit on the first floor, which of course is very relevant to our interests. We swung by the shop before they closed, then headed to the Metro back to the hotel.
At that point, we’d walked approximately a million miles and were getting sore. I had blisters on my toes, because I am absolutely unused to wearing real shoes anymore (or walking long distances, since we bike everywhere now!). Key West spoils you.
We hung out in our hotel room for a bit, then decided to go over to Adams-Morgan to a few places we’d really enjoyed on our previous visit. One of the annoying things about the neighborhood is that it’s a long walk from the Metro, but Matt had noticed a sign about a circulator bus at the bus stop right outside the Metro station. It advertised $1 fare to several locations in Adams-Morgan. Our Metro cards didn’t cover that, but who cares? It’s a dollar bus ride.
The bus was waiting there at the stop as we walked up. We tried to put our dollars in the fare box, and the driver told us there was no charge today. I’m not exactly sure why, but that was awesome. We ended up talking to two different people on the bus about Key West, and I think they were both excited to visit there someday. (The guy Matt was talking to already had plans to visit in a few months.) We said goodbye to them and hopped off at the next stop.
Our dinner plans involved Smoke & Barrel. I’d freaked out about their awesome vegetarian bbq options there four years ago, and this was no different. The vegan ‘spare ribs’ are fantastic.
From there, we walked down the hill to Jack Rose for drinks. It was much, much larger than we’d remembered, and now had a couple additional bars in the building. We decided to stay in our ‘usual’ spot, at the main bar. The bartender said they had the largest whiskey collection in the country, and I believe it.
After a couple drinks there, it was time to head back to our hotel. We found the bus stop for the circulator return trip, and were the only people on the bus with a very friendly driver. It was like if Uber was $1, and not an awful company!
Saturday morning, we grabbed a quick breakfast in the hotel lobby and then took the Metro to the Newseum, another new-to-us museum. As it’s not Smithsonian-based it was also the first museum we actually had to pay for, and it was worth it. It’s a really nice setup in a modern building, with six levels of exhibits. It’s well-designed for those of us with short attention spans and crowd-annoyance.
While the exhibits are all sponsored by major media organizations, it felt very unbiased and straightfoward in telling the history of news reporting. I’m always a little twitchy about presentations on things like 9-11 or the history of the FBI and terrorism, but I thought they did a really excellent job. They dispense with the flagwaving and just present the facts about what happened. Seeing all the 9-11 footage again was gutwrenching.
They also had my favorite sign ever:
There was a good exhibit on music’s influence on politics and culture. The artifacts were pretty excellent. Here are the original ‘Fight the Power’ lyrics, presumably handwritten by Chuck D.
The Newseum has a really good view from their top-floor balcony overlooking Pennsylvania Avenue, too.
Hey, the sun came out for a few minutes! The rain stopped! Amazing.
After we were done there, we walked over to Chinatown for lunch. The ramen place we wanted to go to had an hour wait (at 2pm? For lunch??), so we went to On Rye instead. They had a smoked beet and gouda reuben that was fantastic.
We decided to return to the Museum of Natural History to see the rest of the exhibits. We walked over there and found a long line to get in, which should’ve been our first warning. It only took about 20 minutes or so in line, though, so we waited. The place was absolutely packed with at least 40,000,000 kids (how did they fit them all in there?? I don’t know, but they did! And most of them were screaming!). It was hard to see anything with the crowds, and the ungodly amounts of slow-walking irritated the hell out of me, plus my feet hurt.
I enjoyed the exhibit on African history, mostly because it was uncrowded and I could actually see things. We also decided that it wasn’t that fun to see a bunch of taxidermied animals when you’ve just seen the live versions at a zoo.
Bally likes geology, though. Here he is in a pothole.
We left the museum about 5 and headed back to the hotel to sit around and figure out our dinner plans. We decided on a restaurant/brewery near Nationals Park called Bluejacket, because they had a really nice-looking menu. We realized that the Nats game was in the 7th inning, so we should probably hurry to get there before the rush.
We got out of the Metro station as people were leaving the game, but it was still going on. There was a 45-minute wait for a table, but we didn’t care because we’d had a late lunch. We found a spot by the bar and ordered beers. Within half an hour, the place was so packed you could barely move. Conveniently, I got a text just then saying our table was ready.
We had hush puppies, mini ‘everything’ pretzels, and I had a really good burrata salad. By the time we were done, it was dark and the place had mostly cleared out. We walked to the Metro and rode to our last stop near the White House, to get a manhattan at Old Ebbitt Grill. It’s an institution.
(My favorite part of being there was a tour group coming through, led by a guy in a very disheveled revolutionary war uniform. He did not look like he was having a good time at all.)
We headed back to the hotel and finished packing up before heading to bed.
We were in no rush the next day, so we slept in late, checked out, grabbed breakfast at the hotel again, and rolled our bags to the Metro with the 2.5-minute escalator ride. We got to DCA around 11:30, dropped our bag at check-in, and went to get lunch at Ben’s Chili Bowl. Conveniently, they had vegetarian chili dogs!
We had very pleasant flights home, with a half-full flight to Miami, and a quick hop to Key West. We picked up Roy from his sitter, and were home in time for dinner.