Monday, August 30, 2010

Barenaked Ladies at the Merriweather Post Pavilion

For those of you that never knew or have forgotten the music of the 90's, hearing that Barenaked Ladies recently performed at the Merriweather Post Pavilion may inspire images far different from reality. Instead of nude women, we're talking fully clad, middle-age, goofy Canadians famous for songs like One Week and Pinch Me.

Now that we have that cleared up, let me address those of you who do remember them. Yes, BNL is still together. Yes, they are still making music. Yes, they still put on one of the most entertaining live shows you'll ever see... with one major exception. They're now touring without co-front man Steve Page.

Since it was one of the first concerts we ever enjoyed as a couple, J and I are big fans of the Barenaked Ladies (see the picture below) . However, we were worried that the experience would be incomplete now that they had parted ways with Steve. Thankfully, those concerns were completely unfounded. This is not to say that there wasn't a noticeable difference, because there was, but the group still has all of the magic that it originally did.

Ed Robertson (the other lead singer in BNL's original lineup) carried a much heavier load of the singing and playful banter that the group is known for. Kevin Hearn was also noticeably more involved. But like I said, the roles had changed but the fun remained. Never was this more apparent than during the end of show mash-up that featured half a dozen current pop hits done in typical BNL silliness. (I would encourage some time on YouTube for anyone interested in a good laugh)

This is not to say that the show didn't display some serious musical chops. As much fun as the guys have on stage, they are still accomplished musicians who tackle complex and very serious topics. It is this contrast of the serious and the silly, the traumatic and the tender, that keeps their portfolio prominently played in our home.

J Says

The Merriweather Post Pavilion is located in Columbia, Maryland, about 45 minutes from D.C. I like to think of it as a hippie version of Wolf Trap. Like Wolf Trap, the parking is free (!) and the venue is open air, but Post Pavilion feels like a little gem you stumbled across in the woods rather than a huge, polished venue. As you enter, you pass a mossy pond and signs that tell you Post Pavilion facts like that Jackson Browne recorded portions of Running on Empty here in 1977.

Like Wolf Trap, Post Pavilion has both a huge lawn and covered seating area. With the lawn seats you run the risk of sitting in the mud if a summer thunderstorm strikes. The covered seats are a safer bet, but it was a bit stuffy under the awning. We were pleased with the amount of room between the rows and the sightlines from the seats. Two large video screens in the covered seating area bring you up close and personal. The video screens also provide a forum for text message thoughts before the show (see B's text message above).

You can bring along one sealed or empty water bottle per person (no other outside beverages allowed) and food in "clear, disposable, non-glass containers." While a picnic would've been fun, this wouldn't be a Two DC post if we didn't check out the available food stands. After finding the BBQ stand to be closed, B opted for a gyro which was surprisingly flavorful and served on thick, soft pita bread. I went with the standard chicken tenders and Boardwalk Fries option which was not interesting but tasty. Because this is Maryland, they have large Old Bay containers sitting around so you can douse your food in salty, orange goodness.

Ever since I read an Express article about Maryland Snowballs last summer, I've been dying to try one. I finally got the opportunity at Post Pavilion. For the uninitiated, a snowball is a shaved ice treat topped with marshmallow cream. It was just as creamy and delicious as I hoped it would be. We also snacked on a bag of fresh-popped kettle corn that lasted us through the show and made a fun snack to bring to work over the course of the next week.

While the food options weren't particularly unique, we did appreciate that they were reasonably priced (at least as far as concerts go). Also, when parking is free, it's much easier to fork out some cash for food.

As Labor Day is fast approaching, the opportunities for seeing music outdoors are slipping away. Lucky for you, a musical secret garden is waiting just up the road.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Shakespeare Theatre Company - Free for All: Twelfth Night

Being the only members of our family that live on the East Coast, J and I often find ourselves advocating for our beloved adopted city. Call it a reaction to the pervasive (at least in our circle) West Coast bias, if you will.

When trying to convince someone to come and visit, one of my go-to lines is, "Once you're here, everything you'll want to do is free," and it is true. Name the most popular tourist attractions for which DC is famous - the monuments, Capitol Building, White House, Smithsonian, and Arlington - and each one of them is free.

But there are plenty of things to do that charge admission and are well worth it. Chief among them would be the plentiful options for the performing arts, but if you play your cards right, even some of these lesser-known Washington institutions are free. Is this a great town or what?

In addition to the Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage, which puts on free daily performances at 6pm, the Shakespeare Theatre Company partners with "community-minded" sponsors to present a series of free performances each year. Last weekend, J and I entered the online lottery (new this year, replacing the physical line) and got tickets to see Twelfth Night in the new Sidney Harmon Hall.

Having been a Shakespeare geek in school, this was a real treat. The last time I'd seen Shakespeare on stage was over 10 years ago in Stratford-upon-Avon (Shakespeare's hometown) and then at the reconstructed Globe Theatre (a recreation of Shakespeare's theater) in London. I told you I was a Shakespeare geek...

Needless to say, it would have been easy to turn up my nose at a "lesser" free production, but that was far from the case. Everything was first class. The theater was beautiful, comfortable, and despite sitting 3 rows from the back, had great sight lines. The acting was very good, the set design was minimal yet beautifully done, and the overall artistic production was top notch.

I love the idea of exposing Shakespeare to the non-traditional theater-going crowd via the Free for All and judging by the diversity of attire, it was working. Helpful hint: the t-shirt, basketball shorts, and flip-flop ensemble that was sported by more than one attendee is not the preferred dress. That said, being theater-appropriate is far from the point of this exercise. Rather, the goal is to get people in the door who would not normally spend a Saturday evening in iambic pentameter.

Hopefully newcomers saw that experiencing Shakespeare live is such a different experience than seeing it on the page. What is often perceived as high-brow culture is littered with crass innuendo and complete silliness that even appeals to those of us who don't understand every last antiquated word. Whether you're a Shakespeare geek or not, I bet you'll like this performance. And even if not, the price is still right.

J Says

I am unequivocally, most definitely, NOT a Shakespeare geek. While I love to read and have read quite a bit of Shakespeare thanks to a great high school English teacher, I just never got along very well with the great Billy S. Needless to say, B was much more excited about the prospect of free Shakespeare tickets than I was. Mostly, I was thinking about what fun dinner options surround the theater. But I put on my big girl pants and we made our way to the show.

While we waited for the doors to open, I sipped a specialty Twelfth Night cosmopolitan ($7) and had a good time watching the people stream into the lobby. As B said, there was quite the variety of outfits to check out.

We settled into our seats in the gorgeous theater, and, after a welcome from Kwame Brown (the DC Council member, not the Washington Wizards' biggest flop), the show began. While I couldn't understand every word, thanks to a helpful synopsis in the program, I found myself following along and (gasp) even enjoying myself. The acting was terrific and there were enough jokes and costume changes to keep things moving along nicely. The fact that 3 hours passed without me nodding off or making up songs in my head is proof that it was a good show. I read that Ruth Bader Ginsburg was at the show last weekend. If it's good enough for a Supreme Court justice, it is good enough for me.

The Free for All runs through September 5th so log on and try your luck before time runs out! It might even make a Shakespeare geek out of you.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Huong Viet

As District dwellers, we've made our share of jabs at the suburbs. While I still love living and working downtown, I do recognize that there are valuable parts of Virginia and Maryland that we shouldn't overlook. Recently we ventured into the wilds of Virginia to check out Eden Center.

Eden Center is a Vietnamese shopping center also known as the DC area's Little Saigon. It is a bustling collection of shops, restaurants, video stores (yes, they still exist!), and a grocery store.

I've read so much about the restaurant Four Sisters and I wanted to check it out. Unfortunately, I didn't pay enough attention to realize that it moved out of Eden Center to a new location. B was starting to give me the "are you sure you know what you're doing?" look so I ushered him into Huong Viet for lunch. It had a lot of framed reviews in the window, so I figured we couldn't go too wrong. The skeptical B commented, "Nothing says authentic Vietnamese food like Corinthian columns." I think they add a classy touch!

Let's start with the important thing first: the bubble tea. Bubble tea, or boba as we called it in on the West Coast, is one of my all-time favorite things to drink. Some people are repulsed by the gooey tapioca balls (a.k.a. pearls) in the bottom of the cup, but I adore them. From the oversized straw to the cool machine they use to seal the cup, bubble tea is my idea of a good time. Speaking of a good time, have you ever shot the tapioca balls through the straw? They stick to things, like B's forehead. I'm not going to be held responsible for damage you inflict from attempting it, but it is really fun.

Imagine my disappointment when I moved to DC and realized that bubble tea was almost non-existent. Thank you Eden Center for fulfilling my needs! Huong Viet's coconut version was a little on the sweet side, but the tapioca was the perfect texture.

Despite the fact that I was born in Southern California's Little Saigon, I know close to nothing about Vietnamese food. I had a Vietnamese college roommate who cooked amazing dishes, but I never learned the names of them so am pretty clueless when ordering in restaurants. In this case, we just told the waiter that we like spicy stuff and asked him to choose two dishes.

First, he selected the BÚN THỊT NƯỚNG CHÃ GIÒ – Rice Vermicelli with Grilled Pork & Spring Rolls. I'm not sure if we ate this properly, but it was really good. It didn't come with any sauce so we doused it with fish sauce and mixed it all together. I loved the bbq flavor of the grilled pork and the crunch of the spring rolls. The vermicelli were a little bland, but the fish sauce added a tangy flavor. Next time, I think I'll add some of the hot sauce that is provided on each table.

Second, was the BÚN BÒ HUẾ – "Famous Hue Beef Spicy Soup." Like a spicier cousin to pho, the soup was served with thai basil, bean sprouts, and lime wedges to top it off. I absolutely loved the spicy broth. It had a hint of lemongrass, but not so much that it overpowered the dish. I could see this being the perfect soup for when I'm sick. The drawbacks for me were the unidentifiable nature of the meat items floating in the dish and the rather wimpy noodles. The meat tasted very good, but if you're particular about what cut of meat you're eating, this probably isn't the dish for you. The flavor of the broth, however, was enough for me to keep slurping long after I was feeling full.

The best part of this adventure? It was so cheap! Most dishes on the menu are under $10 and they are huge. If you're a dedicated credit card user like me, be warned that Huong Viet is cash only.

Second Thoughts From B

I also must plead ignorance as we placed our fate in our waiter. Thankfully, when things taste good, it doesn't matter what they are called or what conglomeration of meat, bone, fat, and skin is floating in your bowl.

But the lesson here is to be adventurous and go outside your box. When I was in grad school, many of my colleagues were from China. When we were lucky enough to get out of the lab and splurge on a meal, it was often Chinese food. This was a treat for me but I often thought it was a shame that my friends came so far yet would be so opposed to experiencing the culture that surrounded them. In fact, I remember being at a conference in Maui and trying to hunt down what had to be the only Chinese joint on the island. I understand that someone like me who has never lived and worked in a foreign country shouldn't be pointing fingers or judging my friends for wanting a taste of home. Still, I think an occasional emergence outside the safety of Chinatown would have been ok.

Keeping that in mind, J and I have tried to expand our horizons and this includes remembering to go outside of the 10 by 10 mile "box" that defines the District. You just never know what you might find!
Huong Viet on Urbanspoon

Monday, August 23, 2010

Art and Soul

Fat Pants (Noun): Stretchy garments that you must change into after indulging in Southern cooking at Art and Soul in the Liaison Hotel on Capitol Hill.

Art and Soul is celebrichef Art Smith's homage to good old Southern cooking with a modern twist. On a side note: congratulations to Chef Smith and his partner on their wedding which they celebrated at the Liaison this past Saturday.

I'm always skeptical about hotel restaurants, but was pleased that Art and Soul didn't have that generic hotel restaurant feel. While there were cozy booths along the back wall, we were seated at one of those undesirable two tops that is crammed so close to other tables that you have to awkwardly slide into your chair hoping that your butt doesn't knock over your neighbor's water glass. Fortunately, I avoided the butt-meets-water glass disaster. However, since the diner at the next table was eating alone (and therefore not talking to anyone), it felt as if we had a third wheel with us.

My annoyance at the table arrangement faded as a basket full of cornbread was set in front of me. It was moist and flavorful and hard to stop eating.

I was intrigued by the sno cone cocktails listed on the menu and tried the Savannah: vodka, african nectar tea, and peaches. The pesky "Looksbetteronthemenusapien" struck again with this drink. Because it wasn't served with a spoon and the ice wasn't very soft, it just ended up being a regular cocktail with too much ice in it. For $12, I expect more than a few ounces of liquid.

As I was filling up on cornbread, I decided to start with a lighter appetizer. The arugula salad with its blackberry ale vinaigrette,watermelon pickles, goat cheese, and almonds fit the bill perfectly. The watermelon pickles added a unique tart flavor that took this dish from mediocre salad to star.

B is still raving about the shrimp and grits. The shrimp were cooked on a sugarcane skewer and had a wonderful smoky flavor. The grits were packed with bacon chunks and weren't gummy like so many other grits we've sampled. Vinny Gambini in My Cousin Vinny might have even called these magic grits. If you don't know what I'm talking about, stop right here and add that movie to your Netflx queue. Don't worry, I'll wait.

Ok, welcome back. We went off the Restaurant Week menu to sample the fried green tomatoes and I'm glad we did. They had a perfectly crisp blanket of breading which wrapped each green tomato like a high-calorie hug. If that wasn't enough, it came with a wonderfully tart and creamy remoulade for dipping. I'm not going to tell you to add Fried Green Tomatoes to your Netflix queue but you should add Art Smith's dish to your "to eat" list.

By the time the main course came out of the kitchen, I was feeling pretty full. Once I tasted this juicy chicken and dessert-like squash puree, I forced myself to find more room. So many restaurants serve sub-par chicken, but Art and Soul put a lot of Southern love into this dish.

Since the waitress recommended the pork chop, B ate the pork chop. The delectable risotto resuscitated the somewhat overcooked pig.

We had no business eating dessert after gorging ourselves on the previous courses but it was Restaurant Week and it is against the law to turn down dessert. Luckily, my dessert wasn't very good so I didn't mind leaving most of it on the plate. It was a lackluster bread pudding with a run of the mill berry sauce. Yawn.

B's caramel brownie bar with popcorn brittle and and vanilla ice cream was more interesting but nothing we'd go running back for.

When we got home we tweeted that we needed to change into our fat pants after our meal and Art and Soul replied asking whether that was a good thing. In this case, absolutely yes. While the crowded tables and forgettable desserts were misses, there were enough hits that we'd give it another shot. However, with food this rich, we need to space out our visits or else our fat pants will become our every day pants.

Second Thoughts from B

Crowded table, overcooked pork chop, mediocre dessert... sounds like a recipe for disaster, right? Wrong. When you're served a dish as wonderful as those shrimp and grits, you can't help but see the world as a glass half full.

It is easy to blame Restaurant Week for the other sins of the evening. We understand that the event doesn't always put a restaurant's best foot forward. Instead, we're looking for a few indications that would guide future dining choices.

So let's spend a moment to praise that unforgettable shrimp and grits dish. When we took our first bite, J and I had the same reaction: this was an Iron Chef quality dish. There were so many things going on, yet they were all perfectly married together. The interesting contrast of the sweet, fresh shrimp and creamy grits was only matched by the dueling textures. Add the tang of the chow chow (not the dog, the Southern relish made of chopped vegetables pickled in mustard) and the saltiness of the bacon and all of a sudden, there was a circus of flavor in my mouth. Finally, I have to mention the char on the shrimp. Never have I seen this executed so perfectly that it added a significant flavor profile to the dish. Well done.

With cornbread that sweet and moist, fried green tomatoes that would make Jessica Tandy smile, and shrimp and grits from heaven, Art and Soul showed us enough during Restaurant Week to put in on the list for a return visit... fat pants and all.
Art and Soul on Urbanspoon

Friday, August 20, 2010

Plume at the Jefferson Hotel

B and I celebrated our third wedding anniversary this week! As we've written before, we split up the special occasion planning duties so I plan Valentine's Day and he plans our anniversary. Last year, we dined at Komi and I was totally blown away. This year, B wanted to go somewhere that I wasn't familiar with and that's no small task given the number of local food blogs I read.

On our anniversary, he picked me up in the car and handed me a very sweet card. Attached to the card was Tom Sietsema's review of Plume at the Jefferson Hotel. This new kid on the block has been flying under the radar since opening last August and so I didn't know what to expect.

We pulled up to the Jefferson on 16th Street and were whisked into a dining room that looked like it came straight out of a fairy tale. Not in a cheesy way with unicorns and castles and such, but in a classical, elegant way. The first thing we noticed was that it was so quiet! Generous use of thick fabrics around the room masked the usual restaurant noise and left us feeling like we were dining in somebody's very fancy living room. Before I could set my purse on the floor, the waiter swooped in with a velvet footstool. A separate seat for my bag? Now that is service.

The tables were so far apart that I felt like we were eating in a different city from the table next to us. The plush chair was far and away the most comfortable restaurant chair I've ever had the pleasure of placing my butt on. At one point I looked at B wide-eyed and asked "Can we move in here?"

We were somewhat worried that the food wouldn't match the ambiance, but we were very pleasantly surprised. In addition to its standard menu, Plume offers a 7 course tasting menu for $95. If you're feeling especially adventurous and have cash to burn, you can add a wine pairing, one of which can be had for the low price of $1776. Since I'd probably fail a taste test between Two Buck Chuck and wine from the 1700s, we just opted for a half bottle of wine chosen by the very friendly and helpful sommelier. Half bottles are a fantastic solution for couples like us who like a bit of wine with dinner but get too tipsy from drinking a full bottle. We were impressed with Plume's huge selection of half bottle options.

We skipped the tasting menu and ordered from the regular menu. That proved to be a wise choice because we were served so many complimentary tastes that I was filling up before my entree came. We could have made a meal of the complimentary anniversary pour of champagne, the fresh bread, and multiple amuse bouche offerings (two savory and two sweet).

I started with the veloute of golden corn and it was the silkiest and most flavorful corn soup I've ever had. B tried the cured Atlantic salmon with a trio of caviar and was in fish egg heaven.

For my entree I had the navarin of Maine lobster. The waiter kindly informed me that navarin is a French stew using root vegetables. While the dish didn't feel very stew-like, the combo of Maine lobster meat (no pesky shell!), a garam masala emulsion, golden beets, and basil was like a trip around the world in one bowl.

Continuing his aquatic theme, B ordered the gateau of sole with black truffle, preserved tomato, potato gnocchi, and warm truffle dressing. Another luxurious and flavorful dish.

After our entrees were cleared, the waiter rolled out a giant cheese trolley. This was no dainty cheese cart. I think it had four wheel drive. The waiter went through the names and descriptions of a couple dozen different cheeses leaving us with glazed over looks. Luckily he picked a sampling for us and left us to giddily taste some very unique cheeses. I never thought I'd be a person who would sit in a fancy dining room sampling cheese from a trolley and actually enjoy it. I was the kid who poured Ranch dressing on everything I ate. While I still like Ranch on occasion, I'm learning to appreciate an uber-elegant meal on special nights.

After the massive cheese vehicle was rolled away, the dessert menus arrived. Never one to turn down dessert, I ordered the Chocolate Variation to share with B. Somehow we found room to gobble down the four different chocolate offerings (espuma, tartlet, macaroon, bitter cocoa sorbet).

After such an indulgent meal, it was tempting to just curl up in the comfy chairs and drift off to sleep. The real world and a work-night waited us outside so we regretfully made our way to the exit. As we left, the hostess handed us a scroll printed with the name of the wine we had, in addition to a gift bag with chocolate macaroons inside.

I never thought I'd find a place that provided customer service on par with that of Disney. (Full disclosure: I'm totally biased because my Dad creates Disney magic at work every day at Disneyland, as did I a few years ago). However, I think Plume stole a little bit of fairy dust and sprinkles it over its diners. Thank you B for a magical anniversary meal!

Second Thoughts From B

Last year, after enjoying a spectacular meal at Komi, a friend of ours said (perhaps rightfully so) that I had set the bar impossibly high. At first, I was considering any number of long weekend getaways but because of a frantic work and travel schedule, was restricted to a single night out. Fortunately, we found a long weekend in Paris just a few blocks from our home.

Plume seems to pride itself in excelling at every aspect of the dining experience which really makes it the perfect destination for special events. Not only did they do a tremendous job of putting a four star touch on all the little things, but they did so in a manner that was not suffocating. Service was attentive and informative without being overbearing. This is a very delicate line to walk.

Everything from the interior space, to the pacing, to the food and wine was first class. I feel like I could throw the "best" title around liberally and not be exaggerating. Service, champagne, Pinot Gris, whatever the savory amuse bouches were, gnocchi, use of truffles, bread, cheese... all among the best things I've ever eaten.

So you must be thinking, "How could any place be so impossibly perfect?" The fact of the matter is, they weren't. But like any good marriage, they were perfect in their imperfections. I learned early on that it is easy to do what you're good at and revel in success, but what makes people great is the strength of character to embrace their flaws and mistakes.

In the case of Plume, the faux pas of the evening was the mixing of our wine with that of another table. Rather than looking the other way until we said something or being so embarrassed that it made the rest of our evening awkward, the staff quickly replaced our wine with a complimentary bottle in a professional, yet casual manner. People make mistakes and to expect perfection is ridiculous. Rather, Plume accepted the mistake and dealt with it, making for a perfect night and a perfect model for a great marriage.
Plume at the Jefferson Hotel on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, August 18, 2010


As a lover of Thai cuisine, I'm slowly but surely making my way through the District's hot spots and we recently checked Kanlaya off our list. The restaurant is tucked on the 6th Street side of the Verizon Center on the outskirts of Chinablock.

Kanlaya is larger than it looks from the street. Its dim lighting caused an eye roll from B, the Two DC photographer. Despite an abundance of empty tables, we were seated right next to a wide-open kitchen door and staff workstation. If it wasn't so annoying, it would have been comical that one of the cooks began pouring buckets of water on the kitchen floor and the waitress was watching YouTube videos on her phone about 2 inches from my ear. In retrospect, we should have moved tables.

Kanlaya's menu is lengthy and covers all of the usual Thai bases. We tried asking our waitress for suggestions but got nowhere. Since I think anything served in a pineapple is fun, we ordered the chicken pineapple. It was a pretty standard cashew chicken dish served in half a pineapple. The flavor was very good but the sauce was a little too soupy and the chicken was overcooked.

We usually measure a Thai restaurant by its curry and noodle dishes so we sampled the red curry with shrimp and weren't blown away. It was a solid execution of your basic red curry but lacked the spice and pizazz to set it apart from the rest of the crowded curry field.

B loves soft shell crab (or shob swelt wab) and I love pad thai so we jumped at the chance to try Kanlaya's soft shell crab pad thai. While both parts were good, they didn't fit together at all. It was a large dish of pad thai with a smallish serving of soft shell crab set on the side of the plate. As they like to lament on Top Chef, there was absolutely nothing tying the elements together.

After a visit to Kanlaya, we're still on the hunt for our favorite Thai restaurant in DC. Where do you get your Thai on?

Second Thoughts from B

So close and yet so far. In other words, a meal filled with "but" (not butt, you sicko). Kanlaya toed the "diamond in the rough" line, but ultimately fell short.

The dining room was surprisingly nice, especially for Chinablock, but we were seated at what seemed like the kids table. Remember all those family Thanksgivings with your cousins when the kids were seated at a rickety card table in an entry way, near a bathroom? That was us at Kanlaya.

The chicken pineapple had a wonderful fruity aroma and tangy sauce, but the chicken was amateurishly overcooked. It turned a reasonably good dish into something you got on Asian-night in the dorms.

The red curry and shrimp had a nice burn and good flavor, but it was overpowered with basil that gave it an odd, almost licorice taste.

The soft shell crab and pad thai were both decent individually, but instead of complimenting each other, left us scratching our heads. The crab tasted a lot like the fried fish you'd get as part of a fish n chips dish. It tasted good but that comparison is probably not what the chef was going for when serving up this local delicacy. As for the pad thai, it was pretty ordinary and pretty oddly paired. Still, there was a lot of it, and as we planned when ordering, made for good leftovers. Period.
Kanlaya on Urbanspoon

Friday, August 13, 2010

Wintergreen Resort - Summer Edition

Wait, stop, hold up. We went to a place called Wintergreen during the hottest day of summer? Yes, and that's not all. Our winter trip (read about it here) was over Valentine's Day weekend. This time, we went with my parents...

To say that Wintergreen is a versatile vacation destination is quite an understatement. In February we found it to be a winter wonderland filled with skiing, tubing, and hiking. It was a perfect rustic - yet very comfortable - retreat from the city. In July, it proved to be a nice escape from the heat (15-20 degrees cooler) with the same charm, and this time, without the crowds.

The four of us rented a three bedroom home for no more than what you would expect to pay for a decently nice hotel. In addition to the privacy and additional space, we loved the screened-in porch and hot tub on the deck. Affordability and amenities; it must be a mantra at Wintergreen.

There is always a ton to do at Wintergreen and in addition to the obvious, there's also the unexpected... like taking a mountain Segway tour. My dad was intrigued and my mom was willing, so off we went. After donning the world's most obnoxiously colored safety garments and going through a surprisingly quick safety lesson, we were off on our tour. Up and down hills, over rocky terrain, and through the woods we went, to find pristine vistas and giggles all around. Next stop on our list: the uber-touristy Segway tour through DC.

When looking to beat the heat of the middle of the day (it still got to the 80's), we enjoyed a dip in the nearby Lake Monocan which is free, and on Saturdays, exclusive to those people staying at the resort. It is great for lying out on the beach, swimming, or paddling around on any number of options. Our favorite activity though were the giant inflatable slides and trampolines.

Wintergreen isn't going to be featured in Travel and Leisure anytime soon, but it is a good bargain, has plenty to do for all types, and is a perfect distance from D.C. On that note, I'd be remiss not to mention the road trip. Choosing Wintergreen also enables travelers to enjoy the Shenandoah National Park (check), Charlottesville (check), and various historical sites (check) along the way.

On this trip, the role of historical site was played by Montpelier, home to James Madison, 4th President, Founding Father, and primary framer of the Constitution.

Over the years, Madison's life-long home was purchased and expanded upon by a member of the duPont family. After she died, restoration took place to restore the home to how it looked when Madison lived there. This process was completed in 2008.

While the home and grounds are finished, the interior is still a work in progress. Walls are mostly bare and there is little decor. Still, it was special to stand in the room that produced many of the ideas that have shaped our Nation.

I'm sure that a visit to Montpelier will be much better once they completely restore the interior, but I'd still recommend a visit if you're in the area... and I do hope that you find an excuse to be in the area.

J Says

Having planned our Valentine's Day trip to Wintergreen, I was pretty familiar with the resort, and fully expected to have less fun in the summer than we did in the winter. I was wrong. Despite the dorkiest outfits ever, the Segway tour was really fun and bouncing on the trampoline at Lake Monocan made me feel like a kid again. It was also a nice change of pace to visit Wintergreen when we had the place practically to ourselves. It was a perfect escape from the crowded city streets.

I also learned that Montpelier isn't just a city in Vermont with a hard-to-pronounce name. It is a beautiful estate that, as B said, is worth a visit. In November, they're holding the Montpelier Hunt Races if you want to combine horse racing and presidential history in one visit (the duPont family installed a horse racing track on the property).

Finally, who can resist a visit to quaint Charlottesville with its up and coming restaurant scene and walkable neighborhoods? If you're over this heat and need to escape, think about escaping to your own backyard.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Rocket Bar

Were you one of those kids that had to be dragged away from the skeeball machine at Chuck E. Cheese so that "other kids can have a turn too"? If yes, and if you're missing out on those little wooden balls and that catchy tune the machine plays once you insert your quarters, might I suggest you check out Rocket Bar.

Rocket Bar is more like a kid's dream basement with booze than a classy upscale establishment. It is dark, it smells kind of funny, and your feet are pretty much guaranteed to stick to the floor. This is a good place to wear your commuter shoes because you might not be so thrilled when you return home with an unidentifiable sticky substance all over your new Pradas. As the kids (and my dad) like to quip, "I'm just saying..."

They don't serve food but you can bring in your own or order California Tortilla from a window at the bar. If you're going to go with the chain Mexican food option, do yourself a favor and grab Chipotle from across the street instead.

If you don't want to drop 50 cents to play on one of the two skeeball machines, then you can play pool or shuffleboard or darts. My mom always told me never to trust a person who doesn't like skeeball, so this might be a good test for your date.

Because skeeball is so awesome, it has been popping up at other DC establishments such as H Street Country Club and Iron Horse Tap Room. I've yet to test drive the lanes there but I'm interested to see how the vibe compares to Rocket Bar.

Some days you just don't want to do fancy and Rocket Bar is there for you on those days.

Second Thoughts from B

Have you noticed that J likes skeeball? She's like a moth to a flame, if moths paid for their attraction with quarters.

But for those of you who may not share J's obsession, Rocket Bar may still have something to offer. Whether you go there for any of the other table games or just for the beer, the vibe is the same. This is a relaxed, fun-loving crowd looking to unwind, which is a nice change from many of the DC happy hours that require an inch-thick stack of business cards for networking. Clearly, J and I would rather be - as much as our jobs allow - the kind of people with pockets full of quarters instead... game on!
Rocket Bar on Urbanspoon

Monday, August 9, 2010


I have to start out by apologizing to our dear friend Mr. Yogato. We are Yogato loyalists through and through (see exhibit A). We've shunned Tangysweet and Sweetgreen yogurt in favor of the quirky and fun-loving Mr. Y. We've recited haikus at his first birthday party, built a pasta sculpture of his adorable likeness, donated a haiku-only whiteboard for his store, and have worn countless "Mr. Yogato stamped me" forehead stamps around town. So it is with a somewhat heavy heart that I must admit that we stole a quick date with another yogurt shop. I'm sorry Mr. Y. She was the new kid on the block and she was calling my name with her self-serve style. She's sexy and she's new, but she's not worthy of being Mrs Y. You'll always be our number one.

With that out of the way, I introduce you to Fro-Zen-Yo. To my knowledge, it is the first self-serve frozen yogurt shop in DC. This style of yogurt-eating brings back fond memories from my childhood in Orange County, CA. There is a self-serve yogurt place that I went to called America's Cup that was letting customers over-indulge way back in the early 90's before frozen yogurt was called (shudder) "fro yo," and before anyone thought it was a good idea to make the stuff tart. I was pretty convinced that America's Cup was heaven. While I was too short to reach most of the machine levers, I was tall enough to reach the toppings bar. This usually resulted in a cup that was 90% toppings and 10% yogurt. That's the beauty of self-serve, you can do whatever the heck you want with it.

I give credit to Fro-Zen-Yo for having a wide variety of flavors. As seen from the photo above, you can wander between 8 machines with 2 flavors each to create your perfect yogurt creation. I was thrilled to see they have the "classic" sweet flavors such as peanut butter and some fun ones like birthday cake in addition to the ever so trendy tart flavors. The toppings bar is located at the back of the store and contains a respectable selection of goodies. They lose points for the lack of peanut butter cups and cookie dough, but gain points for the maraschino cherries and whipped cream canisters. They also earn points by doing a good job of wiping things up after customers make a mess. Often, self-serve yogurt places are plagued by gross, sticky spots on each and every surface.

After paying, I noticed that they had a hot topping bar. Since it was placed after the cash registers and their website says "FREE HOT FUDGE", I'm wondering if you can add hot fudge after you've weighed and paid? Anyone know what the deal is?

After you've filled your cup to your heart's content, you place the yogurt on a scale. You pay per ounce, so you determine your destiny. B has a fancy way of putting toppings on the bottom, then yogurt, then more toppings to maximize topping distribution. He's a methodical engineer about it while I just say "Ooooh toppings!" and pile them on.

So was Ms. Fro-Zen-Yo able to lure us in with her flexible create-your-own ways? While we love the self-serve concept, the store is lacking the fun factor of Mr. Y. The staff was texting instead of interacting, and the few chairs and sterile interior don't make it an inviting place to linger.

I like the variety of yogurt flavors, but I found they vary wildly in tastiness. Some have a super-chemically taste (I'm looking at you, Red Velvet), while others are rich and creamy. The Blueberry Tart was so tart that it overpowered everything else in B's cup, but he gave high marks to the Cheesecake.

I think Fro-Zen-Yo is worth a shot if you're in the neighborhood. From a sign in the store advertising future locations, you might always be in the neighborhood of Fro-Zen-Yo. They have a ridiculous number of new locations planned. However, if you want quirky, fun, with a side of adorable, you can't beat Mr. Yogato.

Second Thoughts from B

I am loyal, almost to a fault. It is just who I am. I won't wear any other team paraphernalia or even the colors of a rival team. I literally can count on one hand the number of red items in my entire wardrobe. It is not superstition. When my best man spoke at my wedding, he spoke about loyalty. It shows up in my personal relationships, my rooting interests, and apparently, in my yogurt shop selections.

That's why this post is laced with guilt. I love Mr. Yogato. It is kind of like our Cheers, and J and I are Norm and Cliff (I'll let you determine which is which). They didn't go because the beer was any better. They went for the whole experience, and of course, because... (cue the theme song music) sometimes you wanna go...

But let's focus on the yogurt, and only the yogurt. Summoning all of my objectivity, I might admit privately that I like Fro-Zen-Yo's offerings more. The variety, especially the creamy/sweet yogurt, are really good and being able to take a little of everything from the toppings bar is great for those who are often indecisive, like me. Publicly however, I'm a Mr. Y man without equivocation. So, shhhh, don't tell anyone about this...
FroZenYo Downtown on Urbanspoon

Friday, August 6, 2010

Baked and Wired - Beyond the Cupcakes

In our Great DC Cupcake Taste Test, I ranked Baked and Wired's strawberry cupcake over the competition from Hello Cupcake, Red Velvet, and (the now ridiculously over-hyped) Georgetown Cupcake. I loved everything about the cupcake including the fresh strawberries in the ultra-moist cake and the fresh strawberry frosting. Imagine my surprise and sheer delight when B and his parents surprised me with a GINORMOUS fresh strawberry cake from Baked and Wired! Check this baby out.

One bite of this cake confirmed that Baked and Wired is a lot more than just cupcakes. Somehow, they were able to take the majesty that is the fresh strawberry cupcake and giant-size it without losing any freshness or flavor. I don't know how they do it, but I like to picture some sort of magic giantization machine a la Willy Wonka. This cake was so large that we had leftovers every day for over a week. I thought I'd be so sick of the cake after a few days but it was so amazing that I did a little jig of happiness each evening when I remembered that the cake sat waiting for me in the fridge.

In addition to cake, Baked and Wired also does granola better than any place we've been. They make a "homegrown" variety called Hippie Crack, and it is as addictive as its title indicates. I like to eat it in a bowl with milk, but it also makes a fantastic topping for yogurt, and is yummy enough to eat plain right out of the bag.

The next time you're in Georgetown, skip right past the ridiculous 2 hour line at Georgetown Cupcake and turn down tiny Thomas Jefferson street. There you'll find a cute little shop with a laid back vibe and some of the tastiest treats you'll ever eat.

Second Thoughts from B

Ever have to work out with a medicine ball? Remember the first time it was thrown at you and you were shocked by its weight? That's exactly what I thought when I first picked up this sneaky-heavy cake. But despite the weight, it remains light on your fork (although maybe not your waist line) and is shockingly delicious even after sitting around for a week.

As for the Hippie Crack, nothing has ever been so appropriately named. More than granola, it is indescribably moist and flavorful with its combination of oats, nuts, dried fruit, coconut, and honey, and I suspect that it was mixed together by the hand of God.

So let's review. Best cupcake in town, as determined by our highly scientific taste test. One of the best cakes you'll ever have, with the size (and probably calories) to feed a small village for a week. And something so wonderful that it can be accurately compared to a drug... without the whole chemical addiction/ruin your life thing. What can't these people do?

Every time I walk into Baked and Wired, I have the look on my face that Kevin Costner's father in Field of Dreams had, right before he asked if the field was heaven. Costner's character responded sheepishly by saying, "No, it's Iowa" which might be what you're thinking. "B, you're talking about cake and granola, what's the big deal?" Honestly, I don't know to respond other than Baked and Wired might just be heaven. It is that good.
Baked & Wired on Urbanspoon