Monday, June 29, 2009

Eastern Market - Grand Re-Opening

It's back! After the original building was nearly destroyed in a fire in 2007, Eastern Market, 2.0 reopened this past weekend (June 26-28, 2009) and drew massive crowds. It seemed like every farmer's market-loving family throughout the District was there enjoying the festivities and the rebirth of Capitol Hill's finest non-tourist attraction. Since J and I are relatively new to the area, we never knew the "old" Eastern Market. However, we did frequent the temporary set-up, and it goes without saying that version 2.0 is bigger and better than ever.

In addition to the historic indoor (and now air-conditioned) building, the outdoor flea market space is filled with vendors and artists of every background. The temporary market that many of us remember from the last 2 years can't compare to what has replaced it. They simply aren't in the same league. Many, if not all, of the old standbys have reclaimed their familiar indoor spots, including our favorite Market Lunch. More notable is that what used to be a somewhat pedestrian farmer's market is now its own village, with a high density sprawl of tents and booths that stretch a block or two in each direction.

Besides the increase in vendors, the thing that was so noticeable and heart-warming was the tremendous response from the community. Opening weekend had a palpable sense of pride in the air. The scene was filled with parents and children reveling in an old-fashioned block party of sorts. Families and friends sitting on the sidewalks enjoying fresh fruit on a warm summer day begged for Norman Rockwell to show up to capture these classic scenes of Americana. This was a day where people came together and took ownership of their city, celebrating a common place that reflects the history and diversity that makes up DC.

It should also be mentioned that among the hustle and bustle was an exhibit in the north end of the building that detailed the history and reconstruction of the market. We also saw that tours were being given.

Clearly, opening weekend is a high point for Eastern Market and the crowds in coming months and years will not reach such heights. However, you can count us as two locals who fully intend on making Eastern Market a regular part of our DC life. Welcome home!

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Wedding Planning From His Perspective

While talking to a recently engaged female coworker, I found myself being asked for the 100th time about guys and wedding planning. It seems that the majority of grooms approach the process with emotions ranging from ambivalence to annoyance. Personally, that was not the case for me. For the record, I'm not saying that I found the 15-minute debate over the preferred napkin fold to be completely necessary. However, I did have a great time at my own wedding and enjoyed the overall process of throwing the biggest party that I'll probably ever host. So why was my experience such an exception??? (For you guys out there, take this as your survival guide. For the ladies, here's a little insight that may prove useful.)

The wedding industry seems to make everyone believe that all brides have been dreaming and planning their wedding day ever since they received their first Barbie. This idea, whether real or perceived, is very intimidating to us guys. Maybe this is in fact the case, but in my experience, few brides have every single detail predetermined. More often than not, it seems like there are only a handful of ideas that are deal breakers, thereby allowing for plenty of wiggle room. So guys, unless you're explicitly told otherwise, treat your wedding as your wedding. It shouldn't be just her big day; it is your (plural) big day. Of course you want her to be happy, but your happiness counts too. And remember, chances are that one of those things that she wants for her wedding is a groom that is happy to be there.

By the time most of us are in the process of getting married, we've been to a few weddings ourselves. Think about what elements you enjoyed and what things you would change. Never been to a wedding that you actually enjoyed? (This is not terribly uncommon for many guys) Then instead think of any other big event as a reference (prom, birthday party, etc.) and use it to set a priority list. Figure out what you want for your wedding. Long or short? All inclusive or intimate? Simple or extravagant? Sentimental or humorous? Elegant or boisterous? Do you care more about great food or great music? You get the idea. Above all else, communicate and compromise. That's good advice for wedding planning, as well as marriage in general, so what better time to start? Part of the fun of wedding planning is creating the day with your new partner in life. You're a team... so act like it.

So now that you know what you two want in general, stick to those things and don't let the minor details or outside opinions ruin your day. You may find it hard to believe now, but there will likely be heated debates over relatively meaningless details that no one will notice but you. Keep everything in perspective. The bottom line is that you're getting married, and that alone should make it a great day. If dresses, flowers, cakes, guest lists, or whatever else gets in the way of that fact, then it is time to step back and reevaluate things. No matter how much you plan, something will go wrong. Accept this fact and move on. Surprisingly, it is often those unplanned mini-emergencies that are the most memorable moments. It is up to you to make it a good memory rather than a regret. Since not everything will happen as planned, focus on the important things and just enjoy the day.

As I said before, few grooms will take interest in napkin folds, the difference between ivory and white, or have a strong opinion on calla lillies. But there are things that will interest us and therefore, are good ways to get us involved. Maybe it is working with or finding the perfect DJ or band. Maybe it is creating a website or slide show. Maybe it is planning the honeymoon. Most guys won't mind planning a big party but if that party is all of a sudden renamed "wedding," they avoid it like the plague. Wisely chosen delegation of tasks is key.

Finally, have fun. If it isn't fun, then why are you doing it? And for the record, no matter how much you love your parents, their expectations cannot be your only motivation behind your wedding. There are no rules to what must be part of your day. You're spending a lot of time, money, and emotional energy on this, and it would be a shame if you didn't make it your own (I'm so ashamed that I've resorted to sounding like an American Idol judge).

As for us, we wanted the ceremony to be personal. We had family members perform the music and ministers who knew us well conduct the ceremony. Family history was referred to in the service and bios of the wedding party were in the program. Custom details were sprinkled throughout the entire event, and even if the symbolism was lost on the majority of the guests, each was special to us. As for the reception, we just wanted to have a good time with our friends and family. The two biggest factors that influence your wedding’s fun-factor are good music and a fun-loving wedding party that sets the tone. Lastly, we saved money and cut corners on certain things but invested in a good photographer. After all, once it is over, all you have are the memories and the pictures (and how many times are you really going to watch a wedding video?).

The Bride Weighs In

Yes, I am absolutely lucky to have had a groom that actually wanted to be involved. If this isn’t the case for you, take a step back and evaluate the situation. Is he not involved because your wedding obsession has scared him away? It may be hard for you to relinquish control of certain parts of the big day but you can’t (and shouldn’t) do everything. Help him feel more involved by giving him a defined task, and once you’ve given it to him, let him do it. Don’t micromanage or second guess. Instead, trust that he’ll do a good job and let it go. Now I’m not saying that you should let a guy who thinks jean shorts are in vogue pick out your bridesmaids dresses (or any garment for that matter...). There are, however, a multitude of tasks for the eager and not-so-eager groom. B and I had a blast working together on our wedding, and while there were tears (mostly mine), we learned a lot about each other in the process. We still crack up every time we think about the awful ballroom dancing instructional video we bought in the clearance bin at Borders, and I giggle when I think about the meltdown I had at the Post Office when learning I’d have to forego the wedding stamps on our invitations for American flag stamps. Have fun and try to relax. Easier said than done, but if I did it while studying for the California Bar Exam, you can do it too!

For more marriage-related commentary, see our posts on our engagement and our honeymoon.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Fire and Sage

The last time we tried a hotel restaurant, it didn't go so well. We were intrigued, however, by Fire and Sage, which recently opened in the Marriott near our house. We stopped in on a Thursday evening and found a partially-full restaurant. For some reason, instead of being seated in the main dining room near the other diners, the hostess led us to a side room that was completely empty (I promise we showered that day and were dressed nicely!).

We took our seats at one of the 8 empty tables in the room and were greeted by the sounds of CNN blaring from the flat screen TV on the wall. Being all alone with the TV made it feel like we were the only ones to show up to a business meeting, so B turned off the TV and we studied the menu.

Instead of the usual boring bread basket, Fire and Sage serves a giant skillet of freshly baked cornbread. It was really tasty but way too much bread for two people. We could have easily made a meal of the cornbread and a salad.

Since I couldn't decide between the flatbreads and the entrees, we decided to order a flatbread as an appetizer. Unfortunately, our waitress failed to mention that the flatbread was the size of a Domino's pizza!

It was a tasty combination of andouille sausage, chicken, caramelized onions, bell peppers, mozzarella, and tomato sauce. I can't tell you why they call it flatbread instead of pizza, since the crust was the same thickness as pizza crust. Maybe flatbread is the trendy new term for "pizza that we didn't make perfectly round"?

We ate a few pieces of the flatbread and decided to take the rest home so we could save some room for our entrees (it was a better than usual lunch the next day). B ordered the tea smoked halibut served with a char-grilled corn salad. It was a great, light summer dish with the unique flavor of tea permeating the fish. We're not exactly sure that it was halibut though because the texture was unlike any halibut we've ever had.

I ordered the short rib ciabatta sandwich served with three onion soup and french fries. Even without the giant pizza appetizer and crock o' cornbread, this entree would have been too much food for me. The enemy of most ciabatta sandwiches is the ciabatta; it is often tough and dry, and takes away from the sandwich experience. (and who likes getting all that flour on their hands?) However, Fire and Sage's ciabatta maker hit this one out of the park. It was soft and perfectly complemented the tender short rib meat. The onion soup was traditional french onion soup with a hefty helping of bubbly cheese on top. The fries were not memorable and I skipped them. It was all I could do to eat half of the sandwich and soup after the monster flatbread.

The dish I was most eager to try turned out to be the most disappointing. The menu advertised a "hot bag o' doughnuts" served with honey butter and strawberry compote. What we got was more like a "hot bag o' croutons." They were the weirdest donut holes I've ever encountered. They were dense and bread-like and had very little flavor. The butter tasted like... well... butter. If you would've told me this was the bread basket I would have believed you. At this point the button on my jeans was in danger of flying across the room and taking out the eye of an unsuspecting tourist, so I left most of the "bag o' croutons" alone. Blah.

Would I go back to Fire and Sage? I think the sandwich was good enough to warrant a return visit but even after a fancy makeover this place just screams "hotel restaurant!" With so many other dining options in the neighborhood, I don't think I'll be back at Fire and Sage too soon.

Second Thoughts from B

One thing I often tell people who are visiting or new to DC is that we have lots of high-end restaurants in downtown and enough fast food-like chains, but we are lacking in the mid-range area. So where do you go if you want something nicer than Five Guys or Potbelly, but don't want to dress up and spend $100 per person? Fire and Sage seems to be trying to fill that void. With enough food to literally feed 3-4, we spent under $75 including tax and tip. As for what we got for our money, that was more of a mixed bag...

The winners would be the cornbread, flatbread, and J's soup and sandwich combo. The doughnut holes were clearly the loser. As for my mystery fish? I'm still undecided.. good idea, OK execution, yet something was missing. But win, lose, or draw, you could tell that significant thought had gone into the conceptualization of each dish. That alone elevated Fire and Sage above the average hotel restaurant in my book. As for the execution, that seemed a little less consistent. Lastly, I must mention that the service was very attentive (although a warning about the size of the dishes would have been appropriate). The bottom line for me is that if you order well (and aren't thrown off by the hotel crowds and somewhat awkward layout), Fire and Sage could be a nice addition to downtown's dining scene.
Fire & Sage on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Co Co. Sala - going the extra mile

Sometimes it is the little things that mean the most. This is especially true in the cut-throat restaurant business. As we've said before, downtown DC is crowded with countless options, especially if you're looking for high-end food in a modern space.

Because of this abundance of culinary riches, J and I often opt for a new dining experience over a repeat of a past one. Only the truly memorable and outstanding make us regular customers. Co Co. Sala is one of those places that has made our list due to its parade of always interesting dishes. But the thing that makes a good restaurant great is often found at the top, with the management. In other words, it pays to care.

J and I have no illusions of grandeur with regard to our blog. We have no aspirations for it launching a second career or being an influential part of anyone's life, outside of our close friends and family. It is just a very minor blip in a universe of opinions on the internet. This makes it all that much more commendable that certain managers monitor what "the little people" are saying and in our case, spent the time to contact us. Whether our experience was positive (e.g., Sticky Fingers Bakery, Mr. Yogato) or not up to their normal high standards (e.g., Oceanaire), the dedication and desire to improve shown by each of these exceptional business owners makes us certain that they will succeed.

If leadership, energy, and vision has anything to do with success, Co Co. Sala is here to stay. In our opinion, and in the opinion of people who actually know something about the restaurant biz, Co Co. Sala would have been fine to rest on their laurels. However, the owners decided to invite all of their repeat customers, in addition to some of their harshest critics on Yelp, to a "Customer Appreciation Night" featuring free food and drink. Now you may say that they were buying loyalty and praise, and that could be the case. But we see it as a very savvy business move by a group that passionately loves their restaurant and the people that enjoy it... and it shows. Maybe not everyone is as enamored by Co Co. Sala as we are, and that is understandable. As they say, you can't please everyone. But you sure can try, and at Co Co. Sala, they do.
Co Co. Sala on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Smithsonian Air and Space Museum at Dulles

So you've been to National Mall to visit the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum. You've seen the Wright Brothers plane and taken the requisite postcard photo in front of the Apollo 11 capsule. You've eaten astronaut ice cream and can explain the basics of aerodynamics. You've even endured 30 ultra-hyper 8th grade students clad in fluorescent green, just so you could piggyback onto their tour. Congratulations, you've graduated from Air and Space 101 and can now move on to bigger and better things! And when I say bigger... I mean BIGGER!

The Smithsonian's Air and Space Museum is actually made up of two locations. The Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center is the second and lesser known site that is located next to Dulles Airport in Virginia. But just because it is less well known, don't think it is any less worth your time. Many museums have off site storage facilities to house their less popular (read: less interesting or less significant) items. This is not the case here.

The Space Shuttle. The SR-71 Blackbird (world's fastest jet). The Enola Gay (dropped the Atomic Bomb on Hiroshima). The Concord. These are not aerospace minor leaguers and this is no storage unit.

But beyond all of the amazing artifacts, the thing that impressed me was the facility itself. In addition to being immense, it also felt intimate. I loved being able to walk around, under, and over these legends of aviation. The hanger is littered with cat walks that allows visitors to view each plane from all angles and perspectives. Besides getting great photo ops, it helps make it feel less like a museum and more like a living hangar.

As the resident science geek (yes, photos of me as a kid dressed in NASA-related garb probably exist) in our relationship, I'd be remiss to not mention the entire "room" of space stuff.

Beyond the shuttle, there are rockets, probes, and satellites, along with space suits and tools. Again, few things are behind glass, making them feel all that more accessible.

I understand that there are a lot of things to see and learn when visiting Washington, D.C. I can even understand the argument that the "second" Air and Space Museum doesn't make the cut when you only have a couple of days in the city. But for those of you on your second or third trip, much less you locals out there, this should be a stop that is high on your list.

J says

This is my kind of museum because it doesn't feel at all like a museum. As B mentioned, the catwalk system lets you go under, above, and around full size planes and spacecraft. My favorite part was the 164-foot observation tower that provides great views of the Dulles runway and teaches you about the world of aircraft controllers. Fascinating stuff!

As you can tell from this blog, I really like food. Naturally, I was drawn to the display of astronaut food. There was an array of different culinary items from across the world that had been developed for space dining. None of it looked particularly tasty, but it was interesting nonetheless.

The museum has free admission but there is a $15 parking fee. Also available (for an added fee) are IMAX movies, flight simulators, and junior astronaut space suits for sale in the gift shop (halloween costume anyone?).

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Getting Engaged - two perspectives

B - the planner

Ok, you found “the one.” Congratulations! Now for the big test: how well do you know this person? Can you plan the perfect moment to pop the question? I hope so because nothing I can say will be of any help. Each engagement story is as different as we are as people. Therefore it would be foolish for me to think that I could impart any wisdom that may be applicable to anyone but me and J. Instead, here are some things that I learned along the way…

There are two things about rings that most guys can tell you. First, they are central to any traditional engagement and second, any details are a complete and total mystery. While it is becoming increasingly common for ring shopping to be couples activity, for those of us that must learn the 4Cs on our own, it can be a bit overwhelming. If maintaining the element of surprise is a priority for you (as it was for me), do your homework online (I started here), find a trusted jeweler (for those in LA, consider Sarah Leonard), ask lots of questions, and be observant to hints from your significant other. The old fashioned standard is 2 months pay but instead, I would recommend working backwards. What will make her happy? This includes her tastes, ego (don't think it won't be compared to everyone else's ring), and activity level (big rocks don't mix with rock climbing) but in the end, you both need to remember this is, at most, a symbol of your love and at least, a fancy shiny bauble. Keep it in perspective. Finally, as far as finger sizing goes, only the very brave (or dumb) should attempt using a ring-sizer on a sleeping girlfriend…

The same type of planning goes into the event itself. Is there a place that is special to you both? Would you like to include family and friends? Do you need/want to ask for permission? Should it be a big event or a secluded and private moment you share only with each other?

As for us, I was in grad school at the time so the ring was modest. However, I spent a little extra on getting a "designer diamond" (a Gabrielle) and designed the setting myself. I popped the question on the top of a mountain in Southern California (San Jacinto - 10,834 ft) and had veiled plans to meet up with our families that evening to announce the engagement to them.

If you hadn't figured it out already, I'm a planner. I knew I'd be nervous and was able to anticipate the rush of emotions, but the one thing I couldn't anticipate was the quick transition to wedding planning mode. Have you set a date? Where will it be? Who is invited? Have you found a cake? What about a dress? You get the idea, and that's just the wedding. I didn't process how much was involved beyond that; the engagement party, bachelor party, bridal shower, rehearsal dinner, honeymoon... In other words, brace yourself but at the same time, slow down and enjoy the moment because for some (and this includes me), getting engaged is at least as pivotal as getting married. You may make all the formal promises on your wedding day in front of friends and family, but you make the decision and the promise to yourself when your get down on that one knee.

The hoopla surrounding an engagement is an interesting paradox. On one hand, making the event perfect for the two of you is appropriately the first test of really knowing your mate. On the other hand, it is just a moment in time and hopefully, the first of countless moments you will share as a couple. Ultimately, any engagement that ends with "yes" is perfect. So don't stress out. Instead, embrace it for what it is worth and enjoy it... and if you can figure out that balance, don't forget it during your wedding planning.

J - The Ring Recipient

B did a fantastic job of planning the proposal. Unlike a lot of couples, we never talked about weddings, rings, proposals, etc. I am just not the type of girl to pre-select my engagement ring. I wanted it to be a surprise and it absolutely was! I really had no idea that the proposal was coming. I only suspected that something was up when B got all emotional and started stumbling over his words as we stood on the top of the mountain. I was really just ready to sit down and rest after our long hike, but all of my energy surged back as soon as B got down on one knee. I hope I never forget the feeling that came over me when he proposed. It was this amazing combination of shock and pure delight.

I second B's advice to stop and savor the moment before you launch into wedding planning mode. You'll (usually) have months and months to stress over wedding details. Force yourselves to take a time out and enjoy the engagement part. This is a big deal, don't rush past it in your hurry to get to the married part!

I also liked that I was the first to know about B's proposal. B was right to assume that my parents would be delighted and wouldn't be offended to not be asked beforehand. Years earlier, when my brother-in-law called my dad to ask if he could "marry his daughter" my dad said simply "which one?" You have to have a good sense of humor to marry into my family.Best of luck to all you guys (or maybe girls) out there who are planning the big proposal. Don't hesitate to contact B for advice as he flawlessly executed a very complicated proposal weekend.

For more marriage-related commentary, see our posts on our wedding and our honeymoon.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Life as Two - how it all started

Most of our blog has been, and will continue to be, centered around things that J and I do around the DC area as a couple (mostly eating if you hadn't noticed). However, we'll also be writing about some of the recent events that got us to this point. Just in the last couple of years we've both finished graduate school, changed jobs (one of us multiple times), moved cross country, got married, and bought a home... most of which happened within the same couple of months. Somehow, we have lived to tell/blog about it.

As with most major life events, the advice and past experiences of others has been invaluable to us. So along those lines, we'd like to share our own experiences and observations in this space. However, as someone far wiser than either of us once said, “Advice is a form of nostalgia, dispensing it is a way of fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts and recycling it for more than it’s worth.” Whether helpful or just entertaining, we look forward to taking a look back.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Kyoto Sushi

We don't get up to the Capitol Hill neighborhood too often (this may change things) but after our friends recommended a casual sushi place near Union Station, we felt we had to check it out. When we lived in Santa Monica, CA there was a fantastic sushi place right around the corner from our house called Ninjin. It's the kind of place where the sushi chefs greet you when you walk in the door and the menu is varied and moderately priced. Ever since we moved to DC, we've been looking (in vain) for Ninjin East.

When we climbed up the steep steps and opened the door to Kyoto Sushi, we looked at each other and smiled huge smiles. It just felt like home. Casual restaurant? Check. Sushi chefs greeting you when you walk in? Check. Stereotypical "American Japanese restaurant decor"? Check.

Kyoto is located in a long, narrow rowhouse. It has a small front seating area, sushi bar, and larger back seating area. Best of all, we didn't have to wait for a table at 8pm on Friday night (yes, I'm looking at you Sushi Taro...)

We kicked things off with the Japanese restaurant appetizer trifecta: edamame, ginger salad, and miso soup. Solid.

I love udon noodle soups and was very happy with Kyoto's Nabeyaki Udon. The broth was flavorful, even a tad sweet. It was packed with veggies and noodles, and served with a side of shrimp and veggie tempura. Not the best udon I've ever had (that award goes to Yashima in LA) but no complaints here.

B ordered an assortment of sushi rolls, as well as hamachi (yellowtail) and maguro (tuna) nigiri. Unfortunately he missed out on the toro (fatty tuna) which was not available. The rolls were generously stuffed with fresh fish and the nigiri melted in our mouths. If you're a big eater, you're probably going to want to order at least 3 rolls because they aren't huge.

Kyoto isn't fancy and the menu is not exactly what I'd call innovative, but that's exactly why we liked it. We can go to Kaz if we want sexy sushi. When we don't want to spend an arm and a leg and are craving Japanese, Kyoto is where we'll be heading. They have a 99 cent sushi happy hour that we might work up the courage to try, but isn't there an old saying that goes something like: don't eat raw fish that's on sale?

Second Thoughts From B

I write this from the perspective of someone who has recently O.D.ed on sushi. Two days after going to Kyoto Sushi, I was able to learn the art of sushi making from Russell Saito, who is the sushi chef at Roy's Restaurant in LA (one of J's favorites) and a family friend. Not wanting any of the amazingly fresh and tasty ingredients to go to waste, I ended up taking home and eating enough sushi over the past four days to grow gills and a tail.

While this experience left me satiated, if not adverse to the thought of raw fish for at least a few days, it also helped grow my appreciation for the art of quality sushi. Simply put, the artists at Kyoto Sushi are no hacks. The rice is light, fluffy, fresh, and sweet, setting a great foundation. The fish was plump and generous, allowing it to take center stage. The presentation, always a heightened priority for sushi, was artfully done. But most importantly, it all tasted good.

Of particular note was the House special roll (I can't remember the official name). It seems like at most places, if you want to taste great fish, you have to stick with nigri or sashimi. If you want bold flavors and interesting textures, you're stuck with rolls. In the case of Kyoto Sushi's House special roll, however, you could get both. It might be the first roll that I've had which prominently features the flavors and textures of the fish. What a delight.
Kyoto Sushi on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Wolf Trap - Indigo Girls and Matt Nathanson

Maybe we hit it on a good day, but I think Wolf Trap is amazing. It has everything that an outdoor concert venue should have (good acoustics, pretty setting, lawn area for picnics) and I was floored that there was free parking and no lines! We went to see the Indigo Girls, one of our favorite singer-songwriter duos. The opening act was Matt Nathanson, an up and coming singer-songwriter that played a lighthearted and soulful set. You can currently hear his hit "Come on Get Higher" on the radio. As an added treat, the Indigo Girls welcomed Matt Nathanson back to the stage at the end of the concert to join them on their hit "Closer to Fine."

"There's a place we like to drive, way out in the country,
five miles out of the city limits we're singing..."

As the Indigo Girls took the stage, a huge thunderstorm rolled in. The lights went down and the lightning intensified. It was a beautiful backdrop for the Indigo Girls' music and we were very thankful that we could watch the show under the protective cover rather than getting drenched on the lawn.

There was something uplifting about joining together with thousands of people and singing along to the soothing voices of Emily Saliers and Amy Ray while a spectacular lightning show danced behind us. Wolf Trap is only about 30 minutes from Washington, D.C. but it felt like we were in another world. What a treat after a long day in the office.

"The best thing you've ever done for me,
is to help me take my life less seriously, it's only life after all...."

Second Thoughts from B

nos·tal·gia: a wistful or excessively sentimental yearning for return to or of some past period or irrecoverable condition

Some of my fondest college memories in the entertainment capital of the world are the late nights in hole-in-the-wall bars, clubs, and coffee houses listening to aspiring singer/songwriters, several of whom were good friends. Some of these people, like Sara Bareilles, have emerged from the tremendously deep pool of talented - and yet unsigned- artists to become household names. Others, like the Elevaters, are on their way. Why do I bring this up? Because it is written in the official code of conduct for singer/songwriters that all sets must contain at least one Indigo Girls cover.

Flash forward to the other night at Wolf Trap, where I found myself surrounded by stereotypes, huddled under the overhang that protected some of us from a lightning storm that would make any roadie light tech proud. In the sweet-smelling fresh air and beautifully sounding arena, each socially conscious lyric came back to me and I was home.

Some would argue that is the power of music - to transport you to another place and time - and I would not argue. But I would also say that the environment surrounding the music that night played a part. Maybe it was the freedom to bring a picnic or breathe fresh air. Maybe it was the power of the storm. Maybe it was an exceptional performance. Maybe it was the subject matter that seemed so appropriate for this particular time and place. I honestly can't put my finger on it. Regardless, I hope that our next trip to Wolftrap is half that much fun.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Mr. Yogato

Meet Mr. Yogato, the host of 450 sq. ft. of pure, unfiltered fun that J and I have been regulars at since its opening last year. If we went any more often, an intervention might be necessary.

As transplants from the land of avocado and sprouts (key words on any DC menu for "California"), we were born and raised with frozen yogurt spoons in our mouths. Believe it or not, there was fro-yo before Pinkberry, but apparently not in DC...

About 1 year ago, Dupont Circle birthed two frozen yogurt shops that couldn't be more different; Tangy Sweet and Mr. Yogato. To be fair, we've never been to Tangy Sweet (they were out of yogurt the one time we tried to go), but a lifetime of experience has taught us that most yogurt is about the same, and it is the toppings and the environment that sets one shop apart.

As far as toppings go, Mr. Yogato generously doles out all of the standards (many are free like chocolate syrup). You'll also find a large and highly diverse treasure chest of atypical toppings, which are the result of a store policy that fulfills almost any customer request. Some are clearly motivated by a sweet tooth, while others must have come from a dare (Old Bay Seasoning or Vinegar anyone? At least they are free).

So they get points for toppings but what about the environment? This is where Mr. Yogato shines. In stark comparison to the chic and sterile Tangy Sweet, Mr. Yogato is unapologetically goofy and fun (and yes, the yogurt is good too). The shop is a perfect reflection of the fun-loving owners (a group of aerospace engineers), and in particular, the host with the most, Steve. Always quick with a joke or trivia question, Steve and his wonderful cast of characters are much of the reason that we, like so many others, are such loyal customers... even in the dead of winter.

For example, among the many "Rules of Yogato,"
  • If you will wear a yogato stamp on your head, you get 10% off.
  • If you can recite the Stirling battlefield speech from Braveheart in a great Scottish accent, you get 20% off yogurt.
  • Order a yogurt for 30 consecutive days and we'll name a flavor after you.
With that in mind, it shouldn't surprise you that trips to Yogato feature an original Nintendo game system for all to play, a pre-school sized table and chair set surrounded by cartoon yogurt and fruit murals, physical challenges, geography trivia (can you name 3 countries that don't share any letters with "mackerel"?*), and a free-for-all white board that allows for our personal favorite fro-yo eating activity... haiku writing.

So in tribute to our little taste of frozen and fat-free heaven (and as a 1st year birthday gift), we have commissioned some of the top fro-yo experts (read: Californians who have visited us in DC and made the pilgrimage to Mr. Yogato) to sing the praises of Mr. Y in the classic Japanese art form that is 5-7-5.

Childhood memories
Frozen yogurt everywhere
Yogurtless D.C.

Summer of '08
Yogato comes to DC
Happiness for all

Now when friends visit
Yogato fills the great void
Place to meet and eat

Lacking in most engineers
Not at Yogato

Smiles, fun and laughter
What more could you want in life?
How about fro-yo...

Mr. Yogato
Teaches more geography
Than most middle schools

Some say the world's flat
Geography: obsolete
Not at Yogato

Nobody valued
My geography major
Until Yogato

Country names with "Y's"
Because I know all of them
I save forty cents

Love haikus so much
See many on the white board
Yogato more fun

For discounted treat
Get a stamp on your forehead
Look silly like us

Like William Wallace
Mr. Y is a hero
And no fire from arse

No sweet tooth resists
Yogurt with candy on top
Or perhaps cookies?

Yo Yo Yogato
How'd your fro-yo get so good?
Must be the toppings

Peanut butter chip
Mixed with chocolate on my lips
What a pretty face

Praise for Yogato
Praise with prose, pictures, and verse
Yogato is king

*Djibouti, Togo, Fiji^

^Yes, Mr. Cartographer, I'm aware that their formal names are the Republic of Djibouti, the Togolese Republic, and the Republic of the Fiji Islands. By the way, you're no fun.
Mr. Yogato on Urbanspoon

Friday, June 12, 2009

Butler's Orchard

"Let me take you down, 'cause I'm going to... Strawberry Fields..."

Strawberry fields forever, indeed! And blueberries, blackberries, sweet peas, pumpkins, and everything else you can imagine. For those folks lost in the concrete jungle of the metro area, temporary salvation can be found at Butler's Orchard in Germantown, MD. Less than a half hour drive from almost anywhere in the area, Butler's allows guests to have fun in the sun and go home with literally hand-picked fresh foods at a great price.

Just recently J and I made the journey to this little rural oasis to enjoy the strawberry season (a fall trip to pick pumpkins is detailed here). Upon arriving, you are directed through the beautiful fields to rows and rows of plump berries. After obtaining a flat, we were assigned a row. This day happened to be more crowded that the day last year when we picked blackberries, but the row assignments facilitated things nicely. Aside from the joyful squeals of our younger neighbors, we could have been all by ourselves.

Despite the constant flow of eager hands and mouths, there was no lack of juicy goodness to be found. The picking was easy (says the city slicker) and even after a week of rain, the mud was minimal due in large part to the straw laid down in between each row. The strawberries were large and plump (and quite sweet) while the blackberries were enormous. I don't know what they put in the water up there but I have a suspicion that it wouldn't pass a drug test. In no time (read: 15-20 minutes), J and I were able to fill our flat with a little over 10 lbs. of strawberries. I can't remember how many blackberries we ended up with last year, but we did fill two buckets rather easily in about the same time.

The fun doesn't end when you leave the fields and for some, it may be just beginning. The Butler's Orchard market is filled with fresh produce and all the homemade sauces, jams, pies, and mixes that you would expect. Finally, don't miss the slushy machine in the back for a refreshing taste of Butlers, especially on a hot day in the sun.

To sum up, let me again use the words of my favorite four lads from Liverpool...

"Good day, sunshine."

J Says

The orange groves and strawberry fields that surrounded my hometown have been replaced by a Target, Best Buy, and movie theatre. I'm happy to see that a place like Butler's Orchard still exists and appears to be thriving. I love everything about Butler's: from the pick-your-own fruit to the quaint country market. It's so different from our normal downtown life and such a breath of fresh air.

Picking strawberries isn't as glamorous as you might first think (as a socio-political aside, the nation's strawberry pickers are some of the most ill-treated workers in the country). Bending over in the hot sun with bugs buzzing around your ears can get old after about 20 minutes. Luckily, in 20 minutes at Butler's you can pick enough strawberries to feed a small village.

I happily spent most of a Sunday baking up strawberry muffins and still only used about a quarter of the fresh strawberries we picked. Those berries won't go to waste though. We've already whipped up a strawberry pie and strawberry shortcake. I'm already checking the calendar to see when we can go back to pick blackberries or blueberries.