16 February 2016

DC Part II: Pandas, Snow and WONDER

I'm back home in London now but after my holiday in Portland, I spent most of last week in Washington DC. As I was working most of the time, I didn't have much time to explore the city, so quite a few of my highlights are food- and drink-related but I managed to fit in a few non-conference-related activities too.

I arrived back in DC on Tuesday evening and, once again, was impressed with how easy it is to get into the city centre from National Airport. I took the metro to the conference hotel, up in Woodley Park, and then headed straight back out for dinner. After a fair bit of fine dining in Portland, I was in the mood for something quick and tasty: yes, it was burger o'clock. DC was much colder than balmy Portland so I donned as much winter-weather apparel as I could find and walked down the hill to Dupont Circle, a 20-minute stroll. My destination was BGR, a Shake Shack-like hipster burger joint where you can design your perfect burger. I had a perfectly medium-rare burger with cheddar, applewood bacon and lettuce (~$10) — just the way I liked it. It tasted great and I'd definitely go back if I was in need of fast food in the Dupont Circle area.

On Wednesday, I was working out of my company's DC office in the National Press Building, downtown, and although it was very crisp outside, it was also beautifully sunny so I decided to walk in. I had an ulterior motive for walking: I wanted to visit Tryst, a neighbourhood cafe and all-day eatery in Adams Morgan, a great neighbourhood with plenty of colourful houses. I ordered a Colombian coffee from Counter Culture, brewed with an Aeropress ($4), and a maple-almond muffin. The coffee was great — a little too hot, but the brisk weather soon cooled it down. I went back to Tryst on Saturday morning, when I had a very fine cortado ($3.25) and a huge plate of pumpkin chocolate chip waffles ($7.75), which were sinful but delicious. Tryst has a friendly, cosy and creative vibe and I would have liked to linger for longer.

I still haven't got over the thrill of walking past the White House on my way into work and it was looking particularly fine in the sunshine. I was worried I wouldn't get time to leave the building for lunch, but luckily, I had pre-identified a nearby spot called Buredo, which means you don't have to choose between Mexican food and sushi. They sell burrito-sized sushi wraps with a range of tempting fillings. I went for the Crazy 88 ($10.75), with slow-cooked pork, carrot, kimchi slaw, corn, jalapeƱo and plenty of other good stuff. It was spicy and delicious and filled me up for the rest of my day.

One of the places I had identified near my hotel, Open City, turned out to be an excellent all-day venue. I went for coffee and breakfast several days — they get their coffee, pastries and cakes from Tryst and I had several good macchiatos and cortados ($3/$3.25). They also do a lavender hot chocolate ($3.75), which might not be to everyone's taste but which I adored, particularly as the temperatures dropped lower and lower below zero Celsius. We went for dinner one night too. The menu is pretty broad with a range of sandwiches, burgers, salads, pizzas and some more interesting dishes. I just went for a bacon-cheeseburger ($13) in the end (we were hungry and it was late), which was rather good.

The Smithsonian National Zoo was only a ten-minute walk from our hotel and with new panda cub Bei Bei so close, we managed to skip lunch on a couple of days to go panda-spotting. The first day, Bei Bei was sleeping and we just watched his mother, Mei Xiang, and older sister Bao Bao, for a bit before giving back.

On Sunday, though, just when we thought Bei Bei was about to fall asleep, he decided to come out to address his adoring public. Yes, he was adorable and yes, suddenly everything was right with the world again. It is free to visit the zoo, although check their Twitter first if it's snowy; we were disappointed to find it closed during Saturday's snow showers.

Another Woodley Park restaurant I visited a couple of times was Tono Sushi, just across the road from my hotel. It's small and cosy inside but the sushi is really good and they do great-value lunchtime sets. I had the sushi set ($12), which came with five nigiri and a California roll — the tuna was particularly good. On my second visit, I had one of the bento boxes ($10), which came with shrimp and (mainly) veggie tempura, shrimp dumplings, chicken teriyaki and a cucumber roll. Both lunches were very enjoyable.

After a meeting downtown on Friday afternoon, we decided to get some fresh air and wandered over to the Renwick Gallery, whose current WONDER exhibition is excellent. I particularly liked Gabriel Dawe's gorgeous rainbow, Maya Lin's geographical marbles and Jennifer Angus's bugs. Upstairs, I thought I recognised the bright and constantly changing colours in the shimmering fishing-net design, and it was indeed another piece by Janet Echelman, whose work was featured at Oxford Circus during Lumiere London. At the Renwick, though, you can lie down on a carpet and look up at the art above you, which was much more relaxed than the frenetic energy of the Oxford Circus display. WONDER is free to visit and is on until the summer.

We had a late flight home on Sunday night, so we killed a few hours shopping in Georgetown in the evening. M Street was bustling as ever, despite the cold weather, but I managed not to buy very much. We took our final supper at Pizzeria Paradiso, a little further west on M Street. Their wood-fired pizzas come in 9-inch or 12-inch sizes and the 9-inch margherita with buffalo mozzarella ($13) was delicious and just the right size. There are a huge variety of craft beers and spirits on offer too, but I was abstaining ahead of my flight.

Next up on my blog will be my updated DC coffee guide (here is my February 2015 DC coffee guide; the eponymous Brian of Brian's Coffee Spot visited some of the same places last spring), followed by my review of the Third Wave Coffee Tour I took in Portland, and a Portland coffee guide. Phew! All that caffeine is just melting away the jet lag!

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