02 November 2018

Autumn Snapshots from Washington, DC

After experiencing cold, snowy climes on my previous two visits to Washington, DC, I was relieved to find it much warmer when I touched down at Dulles Airport. The metro extension to Dulles still isn't complete, and by the time I'd caught the bus to the end of the silver metro line and then journeyed into the downtown area, the heavens had opened. I checked into my hotel, the Washington Marriott Georgetown (something of a misnomer as it's really closer to Dupont Circle or the West End), and then braved the rain to head into Georgetown for an early supper. By morning, the temperature has dropped but the sun had come out. Perfect fall weather.

I went to Washington for a conference and had very little free time, but as usual, I did my research to find the best coffee shops and eateries close to where I was working. Here are some of the places I visited.

Food and drink
I read on a blog post offering restaurant tips for DC that if you're struggling to find somewhere good to eat in the city, try to find one of chef José Andrés's numerous and varied eateries. On my first night, I ate at America Eats Tavern, a restaurant offering 'modern takes on American classics on Georgetown's main drag, M Street. As soon as I arrived, I realised I'd been to the restaurant two years earlier, when it was occupied by barbecue restaurant Old Glory. Barbecue is also on the menu at America Eats, and I ordered a beef brisket sandwich, which came with spicy BBQ sauce and Saratoga chips. It was tasty and filling — just what I needed after a long day that began with three London Underground incidents that resulted in me almost missing my flight. The cocktail menu looked great, but I stuck to a 'cukes & lime' mocktail while watching the rain-drenched people of Georgetown stroll down M Street.

Foggy Bottom
For a completely different José Andrés experience, head to Beefsteak, near the GWU campus in Foggy Bottom, where I was based. The bright, modern, veggie-centric eatery serves creative and delicious vegetarian comfort food. I had the Little Wild Curry — rice, lentils and assorted blanched veggies whose colours spanned the rainbow. After indulging in rather more meat than usual, it was good to up my vegetable intake and the food was fresh and tasty.

With its location on I Street just a few blocks from the GWU campus, I went to CIRCA at Foggy Bottom three times: twice for happy hour drinks in the bustling bar and once for Sunday brunch with work contacts. I went for the southern chicken benedict: fried chicken with buttermilk biscuits, poached eggs, sausage gravy and home fries. Although my colleague's almond granola French toast looked amazing, I didn't regret my savoury brunch choice.

There are plenty of food trucks near the GWU campus, including several at the junction of 22nd & I. For a quick lunch, we popped over to Cap Mac one day for some comforting mac and cheese. We ordered the ragù option, which actually just ended up being pasta with ragù, rather than bearing much relation to the classic mac and cheese, but it was tasty and filling on a rainy fall day. We also shared a few dumplings from the nearby Yumpling truck.

We walked past Bobby's Burger Palace on K Street, near Washington Circle, one night on the way to a reception and I thought it looked familiar. It turned out I'd identified it as a top burger joint when doing my research. The titular Bobby is chef Bobby Flay and I was excited to try the bacon crunchburger, which has potato chips as well as cheese and bacon on top of the patty. Alas, when we arrived, the eatery was about to close for a private event, but we were able to order takeout, which we devoured in the lobby of our hotel. The burger was great: juicy and very flavoursome. I probably didn't need the side of sweet potato fries but they were great too.

Taking a night off from all of the evening work events we'd been attending, my colleague and I decided to go out for dinner. We picked Espita Mezcaleria, a bar and restaurant known for its southern Mexican cuisine. It took me right back to my time in Oaxaca! After enjoying some creative mezcal-centric cocktails (I had the Tom Waits-inspired House Where Nobody Lives), we ordered a selection of food to share, starting with the chips and guac, followed by tacos al pastor and some stunning and beautifully presented ceviche, served with jalapeño lime ice, tomatillo cucumber salsa, kohlrabi, cacao and avocado crema. The restaurant itself has cool, industrial décor and was a fun place to hang out on a chilly Monday night.

Capitol Hill
Just before catching our train to New York from Union Station, we met a journalist contact at Art and Soul a southern eatery inside the Liaison Hotel. At lunchtime on a Tuesday, it was bustling with a Capitol Hill crowd. The food here is sourced from local farms and had I been on my own dime, I'd have loved to try the salmon, but in an effort to keep my work expenses down, I went for the fried chicken sandwich, which came with a habanero-mango glaze and guac. The food was really good and the service was excellent.

Georgetown is one of my favourite parts of DC, and I love to stroll through the neighbourhood with its red-brick streets and pastel-coloured buildings, especially in the autumn when the leaves are starting to turn and the Halloween decorations are starting to come out.

The Chesapeake and Ohio Canal was looking a little depleted — they are fixing two of the locks — but I still enjoyed jogging along the towpath with its mix of modern and new architecture.

The Mall
On my past two trips to DC, the National Mall has been snow-covered and is muddier rather than verdant. This time, it was in much finer condition. I woke up early on my first morning to go for a run through the Mall, and managed to catch sunrise from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. There were a few military celebrations taking place, and I also ran into a couple of Navy workout squads, down by the reflecting pool.

Although I was mainly based at GWU, I went into my company's office in the National Press Building, just across from the White House, on a couple of days. I always feel a stab of pride and excitement when I work from this building and I love the grand building.

Outside Whole Foods, meanwhile, the pumpkins were out in full force.

Union Station
My first visit to Union Station was brief, but I enjoyed the grand architecture and I was pleased to note that there was a Blue Bottle coffee shop there.

M Street and the surrounding Georgetown streets are my favourite place to shop in DC. A lot of my favourite clothing chains, like Lululemon and Madewell are located there, along with some great independent boutiques.

Slightly groggy from my flight, I went to the Georgetown Apple Store on my first night to buy a new iPhone, only for Kanye West to show up wearing a USPS jacket and to deliver an impromptu 'keynote' speech on top of one of the tables. It was very surreal, and even got written up by the local press.

Dupont Circle
One of my favourite book shops in the world is Kramerbooks, near Dupont Circle. It's fairly small but has a very well curated selection of books, as well as gifts and stationery. There's a cafe/bar too.

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