Gretchen the Household Deity

A blog that is all-knowing, all-seeing, and all-powerful. Now that you have visited it your soul is mine. Bwa ha ha ha ha

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Cherry the snow?

I awoke this morning, as full of love and light as usual, and was (not) surprised to see that it snowed. I was not surprised due to my omniscience, but I was surprised in the sense that it's freaking April and we are in the middle of Cherry Blossoms. So I prodded my acolyte out of bed and frog-marched her down to the Tidal Basin at an (un)godly hour of the morning to capture this once-in-her-lifetime photo op (being immortal, this has happened many times in my lifetime and will continue long after my acolyte is gone).

Here is the snow on a branch of blossoms.

This causes me to contemplate global warming.

Alas, as a household deity I have little control over the weather. I'm more of an indoor kind of goddess.

This photo shows the graceful curve of the Tidal Basin.

And here are two traditional views, the Jefferson Memorial and the Washington Monument. (Don't worry, they're building the Gretchen World Domination Statue; it's taking a while because it's so gigundus.)

This non-working cement Japanese lantern commemorates the Japanese gift of the trees the US. This was before we dropped the atom bomb on their country. After we killed their trees during the war, we gave some back. Aren't we generous. Seriously, I don't understand how they don't HATE us. Well, maybe they do but are too polite to say so.

The cherry blossoms do their best, but they cannot outshine my beauty.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Ask Gretchen: Cheap Eats in DC

Dear Gretchen-
I am coming to DC for a week and I hear you are a reigning deity in the area. I’ll be traveling with a group of college students and we are, predictably, on a budget. Can you recommend some restaurants for us?
Thank you,
Hip & Hungry

Dear H&H-

Let me be the first to welcome your crew to DC. I appreciate you recognizing my reign. There are some who might suggest there is a reason other than my presence for DC to be called “The Capital of the Free World,” but it’s best not to speak of them.

DC cannot be called a cheap place to live or visit, but there are ways to enjoy the city at a moderate price. Most obviously, all the Smithsonian museums are free. This includes not only those located on the Mall, but also the National Arboretum, a trek that requires a car or a ride on a bus but is well worth the effort, and the National Zoo, walkable from Woodley Park metro (Red). The Kennedy Center has nightly free performances on the Millenium Stage. And of course the monuments are free for the (picture) taking. Don’t forget that you can visit them at night.

As far as I know, there is no free food, but you can eat well and interesting for under $20 without resorting to McChains. Here are several neighborhoods worth of restaurants.

*Prices are estimates and do not include tax and tip. This is a big city, and a 20% tip is customary. Your server pays a lot in rent.
*If you want to enjoy an adult beverage with your meal, expect to pay a minimum of $7 for a glass of wine or mixed drink, a little less for beer (sometimes).
*DC implemented a smoking ban on January 1, 2007, for which all thanks be to Gretchen. Enjoy your clean air and be prepared to go outside to light up.
*Reservations are always recommended if your choice of restaurants takes them. You can check their websites, call, or use Open Table for the more upscale ones.
*Gretchen loves the beasts of the field, the foul of the air, and the fishes of the sea and does not eat of the animals, so this list is skewed toward the veggie friendly.

The Mall
Metro: Smithsonian (Blue/Orange); walking distance from Metro Center (Red/Blue/Orange)

It would be a shame to come to DC and not visit the museums on the Mall. If you make a day of it, you’re going to need sustenance. The National Gallery and the Museum of the American Indian both have nice cafeterias, but don’t be lulled by the word “cafeteria” into thinking cheap. Each place will set you back at least $12. However, for your $12 you won’t be served gray slop on a divided tray; the food is quality, enjoyable, and available in good variety.

The Old Post Office (look for the tower rising up approximately behind American History--it's at Penn and 12th) has a small food court with several options. Elevator rides up the tower are operated by the National Park Service and free of charge. This is a good alternative to getting up at 7 am to get in line for tickets to take the elevator up the Washington Monument. There’s another, larger food court in the National Press Club on F at 14 th, but I can’t say for sure it has weekend hours.

If you want really cheap, get a hot dog or half smoke from one of the many vendor carts lined up around the Mall. I have never quite understood what a half smoke is, not eating the animals myself, but it is apparently different from a hot dog though it looks the same to me. Unfortunately, the carts don’t really have any veggie-friendly options, unless a soft pretzel and strawberry shortcake Good Humor ice cream bar is your idea of a good meal. I’m not above it.

If you’re on the Mall during the week, it’s a bit of a hike up to High Noon, a local sandwich chain with a shop on F around 13 th, but if you make it you can get hot or cold sandwich, a variety of delicious soups, and pasta or salad built to your specs. It’s hard to get out for under $10 (there is no soda fountain and hence no free water–although if you have your own water bottle with you I don’t think they object to you drinking it) but it’s so much better than McDonald’s or Subway I’d say it’s worth it. High Noon is closed on weekends.

Union Station
Metro: Union Station (Red)

I work near Union Station and there is not a whole lot going on around there. There's a food court in Union Station where you can get some decent Indian takeout (along with many other options).

A place that created buzz when it opened last year is Taqueria Nacional, a side project of the chefs who own Johnny's Half Shell. This tiny breakfast-and-lunch-only storefront next to Johnny's is an easy walk up from the Capitol or down from Union Station and serves street-food style tacos, along with guacamole, yucca fries, a daily American-style plate, and a variety of aguas frescas. The bean tacos consist of two corn tortillas about 4 inches in diameter topped with a spoonful of beans and a sprinkle of finely diced onion; unless you're a toddler, you'll definitely need to order two to make a meal of it (but they're only around $2 each). Fill a tiny container with the sauce of your choice from the sauce bar on the right. The guac is very fresh, but I like to stir in some hot salsa to give it more punch. The yucca fries are hot and delicious. There is no dining area, but the courtyard is filled with people enjoying their lunchtime tacos. My only dislike about the Taqueria is the *copious* packaging. I feel too guilty about how much trash I'm creating to eat there very often.

Penn Quarter/Chinatown/Downtown
Metro: Gallery Place/Chinatown (Red/Green/Yellow)

This area, a blighted “bad part of town” within recent memory, has reinvented itself as the lower Manhattan of DC. With its success has come higher prices and more chains than one would like, but there are secret (or not so secret) places to go where you can enjoy the liveliness of the area without requiring your credit card to do an equally lively dance.

Ella’s Pizza is one of my favorite restaurants in all of DC. A pizza, which is mostly individual sized but you might get away with three pizzas for four people of moderate appetite, costs around $13. The pies are thin-crust and wood-fired and topped with quality, imaginitive stuff. There are plenty of choices and of course you can always create your own (though I think it ends up costing a bit more than going with one of the menu items, FYI). My favorite is the Verdura with the addition of fresh mozzarella. The menu also has salads, appetizers, and a few entrees, but a pizza is plenty to fill you up. They have specialty cocktails and a decent selection of wines by the glass and beer on tap. Dessert, alas, is not their strong suit. I’m guessing they don’t have an in-house pastry chef. Go to Haagen Dazs and get an ice cream instead. The weekday bartender is gregarious and has an amazing memory for faces.

And of course, in Chinatown your best cheap bet is one of the Chinese (or other Pan-Asian) restaurants that has survived the sharp increase in rents and property taxes that has mostly decimated the Chinatown component of Chinatown, leaving the gate over H St at 7 th and the Chinese translations of Starbucks’ and Ann Taylor’s signs as the last vestiges of what used to be an honest-to-Gretchen Chinatown. Due to some food allergies, I am not well-versed in the restaurants, so I refer you to this page for a summary and comparison. They have no rating for Mehak, the one (plain ol’ nonfancy nonfusion) Indian restaurant in the area; I am in a good position to advise a pass on that one. It’s not well-priced for what it is, though I eat there on occasion when I’m desperate for Indian food and don’t want to go to the suburbs.

RFD, aka Regional Food and Drink, is a pub with pubby grub and lots of beer. You can get a burger for under $10. They have a veggie burger. It ain’t great, but I guess it’s better than a side salad. If it’s not faux-Irish enough to seem like a pub to you head next door to Fado, but Fado is a chain so I’m not going to plug their website.

Teaism offers reasonably priced Japanese-esque food in a zen atmosphere, including the obligatory carp in the downstairs seating area. My only gripe with the zen-ness is that some of the chairs don’t have backs. Perhaps one is supposed to levitate if seated in them. Sandwiches, bento boxes, and hot plates range from $7-10. The bento box is worth it for the sesame topping on the rice alone. The salty oat cookies are a very popular Washington item. Weekend breakfasts are good.

If you want to go real cheap and save your money for drinks, there’s a Chipotle, a California Tortilla Factory, and a McDonalds.

If you’re looking for a splurge and are dining with several people, go to one of Jose Andres’s creations, Zaytinya or Jaleo. Both are small plates, Zaytinya with a mediterranean/middle eastern focus and Jaleo with traditional Spanish tapas. I’ve had pretty much every vegetarian item on both menus. The only thing I’ll warn you away from is the cabbage dolmades at Zaytinya, which are just terrible. Everything else is amazing. At Zaytinya, I highly recommend the Santorini Fava over the hummus. I’m not a big fan of hummus (were I not a deity I would get kicked out of the vegetarian club for saying that), but even if I were I’d choose the smoother, lighter, more lemony fava puree over hummus anyday. And seriously, you have to get the french fries–prepared in olive oil and topped with greek yogurt–if you go there. Otherwise why bother? Jaleo’s standout dishes are the spinach sauteed with raisins and apples, the apple and manchego salad, the endive and orange salad, the chickpea stew...ok fine, anything on the menu. A visit to either of these places is going to set you back at least $25/person without adult beverages, of which many are available.

Another splurge-yet-still-a-bargain-for-what-it-is if you don’t mind doing an early bird special is Rasika’s pre-theater menu. Rasika is one of the trendy new Indian fusion/inspired restaurants popping up. For $28 you get appetizer, entree, and dessert with a decent selection to choose from. The food is good but the portions are quite small. This is probably the best deal you’re going to find if you want to try out a hip and upscale restaurant while you’re here. The (annoying super-mega-I’m a kewl programmer of Flash) website doesn’t give the time constraints for the pre-theater menu, but as I recall it’s available only until 6:30 and they don’t make you show a ticket to prove you’re going to a show (I had it after an afternoon movie). I’d recommend a call to find out the time it’s available.

For after dinner drinks, you can go upscale at Zaytinya, Indebleu, Rasika, Zola, or Zengo, to name a few; moderate at Clyde’s (gigantic without a lot of character but better than Ruby Tuesday and with a bustling social scene); or cheaper at RFD or Fado. If you’re going for drinks and nibbles but not a full meal, I recommend cocktails and truffle fries in the courtyard at Poste (entrance on 8th St between E and F NW); the truffle fries are half price during happy hour, which ends promptly at 7 (I learned at 7:02 one evening). Zola's fries are also excellent.

U Street
Metro: U Street/Cardozo/African-American Civil War Museum (Green/Yellow)

This historically African-American neighborhood is undergoing some big changes right now. It’s gentrifying by becoming more mixed race and more trendy/expensive, and it is also home base for the area’s large Ethiopian population. This has left some longtime residents unhappy, and a bid to rename a portion of it Little Ethiopia was rejected on the grounds that it obscured its historical importance. For you this means there’s a great variety of food, but that cheap eats are getting harder to find.

The most classic cheap eat on U Street, a city institution that’s really worth a visit, is Ben’s Chili Bowl. Ben’s survived the riots of the 60s and the metro construction of the 80s, events that between the two of them closed down just about every other business on the street. It’s one of the longest-running African-American owned businesses in the city. The walls are covered with photos of celebrities (Bill Cosby is a particular fan) and the owner, Ben. However, it doesn’t stay open only because of nostalgia. The chili cheese fries are my grease of choice after a night of drinking; veggie chili is an option (and it’s good). I was afraid it wouldn’t be so good stone cold sober but I took my nephews there over the summer and the chili cheese fries are as good sober as they are with a few adult beverages in the belly. It’s possible Ben has raised his prices since the 60s, but it hasn’t been by much. Chili cheese fries are $5. The shakes are nice and thick. There’s no way to finish one by yourself. Ben’s is open late night; expect a long wait after midnight.

The Ethiopian in DC is supposed to be among the best Ethiopian available in the States, and it would be a shame to miss out on it. There is debate over which is the best restaurant. There’s a large contingent in favor of Dukem, some for Etete, and I am partial to Madjet myself. The restaurants aren’t magnificently cheap, but combo plates are around $12-14 and available in vegetarian and meat. You will marvel at the size of the injera and wonder how in the world they make it that big without breaking it.

Health Bar, aka Cafe 1612, has sandwiches under $10 and entrees around $12. Burgers are $5 for beef and $6 for turkey on Fridays after 5:00. I’ve only eaten there once but what I had was fine, and it’s a nice place for a drink as well. They have a ton of specialty smoothies that look like good combinations.

If you want to go organic, visit Coppi’s Organic. Pizzas are $13 for a personal size, $20 large enough for two, and are quite good. Entrees are around $25, though, so only go if pizza is what you’re looking for. The Bietole al Forno--seared young green chard with hot pepper, garlic, ricotta and moscato raisins–is worth the $6 as a side for two or three.

Busboys and Poets is a relative newcomer to the scene and quickly became crowded, and then mobbed. Expect a wait. The space is cool, dinner seating is loungey and it includes a small bookstore and a performance space. I find it a little pretentious for my taste, but I have a very low threshhold for that sort of thing. Sandwiches are around $7, pizza around $10, and entrees around $12.

For cheap drinks, visit Polly’s Café, a nominally tropical-themed place with a fun divey atmosphere. They serve food, too, but I’ve never had it. Chi Cha Lounge is beloved by the younger crowd and the drinks are reasonably priced (though the last drink I had there was so disgusting I couldn’t drink more than a few sips). It’s fun if you can snag a couch. For an expensive drink at a pretentious bar that just happens to have the best view in DC, head to Tabaq. The top floor is a glassed in 360 degree view of the city and it’s just sensational. They make a good strawberry mojito. This is another place that thinks it’s in New York, and it doesn’t allow jeans for men. Bar Pilar is my favorite neighborhood-type bar in the area, though I'm bitter they stopped serving grilled cheese with tomato soup and tater tots in favor of the infernally trendy small plates.

DuPont Circle
Metro: DuPont Circle (Red)

Café Luna is my top pick for cheap food in DuPont. The menu is huge with lots of veggie and meatatarian selections, and almost nothing is over $10. The staff has always been very friendly and the crowd is young and convivial. Plus, they serve brunch until 3 on the weekends. Oh, and the food is good too. The only downside is that it’s a bit of a hike from the Metro and not really close to much else.

My splurgey but still pretty darn cheap recommendation in DuPont is Sette Osteria. This is by the same chef who does Café Milano in Georgetown. While Café Milano is much more well-known for its nightly peacock strut of politicians than its food, Sette Osteria is delicious with a down to earth price and clientele and a focus on the menu. Well, it’s still Washington so the clientele isn’t quite down to earth. Pizzas and pastas are $12-13, with meatish entrees closer to $20. The wine selection is great. This is a fantastic way to get the experience of a nicer restaurant without the price.

Kramerbooks & Afterwords Café is a Washington institution that played some role in the whole Monica Lewinsky thing (I didn’t pay attention to the sordid details). The Café is fun and has reliably good food. If you order carefully you can get out for around $15, but you’re more likely going to be closer to $20, without beverages. Note that if anyone at the table is under 21, nobody can get an alcoholic drink. Learned this the hard way when a friend and I picked up some guys on a whim while all of us were waiting for tables and they turned out to be college students. Their cherry pie is the best. I want some right now. The café is open until 1 am weeknights, and 24 hours on weekends.

Around the corner is Raku, a casual pan-Asian diner. I’ve only been once but enjoyed what I had, and the menu is big so there's a lot to choose from. Entrees are around $12 and small plates around $5.

Zorba’s Café offers combination plates of edible Greek food for around $10. It’s not the best you’ll ever have, but the serving size is pretty generous. It’s nice in the summer for outdoor seating, though now that DC has gone non-smoking I wonder if outdoor seating everywhere will become a hacking fog of poison. I guess every silver lining has its grey cloud.

The same people who own RFD offer the Brickskeller in DuPont. The Brickskeller is actually the more venerable of the institutions, and offers similar pub grub and many beer selections.

More pub food can be had at The Big Hunt, your classic trashy college dive. They don’t have a menu online but entrees are around $8. I emphatically do not recommend the “nachos” with veggie chili, but the veggie chili on its own is probably fine. The cheese fries are excellent. Another grey cloud to the smoking ban is that you discover just how foul a dive bar smells. Which is foul.

Cosi’s DuPont location is pretty fancy, with a full bar that is tucked away unobtrusively during the day and then comes out at night. For a fast food chain, Cosi is a little cocky with the pricing (around $8 for my favorite, the Signature Salad), but if you eat in at this location during dinner you get table service with real plates (so add a tip to your cost) and the food is quite good. They also specialize in fancy coffee drinks.

Teaism has a DuPont location.

Cheap places to drink are the aforementioned Big Hunt as well as Café Citron. For a more upscale-y “we wish this was New York” experience go to Cloud. In a fun twist on the usual all-black uniform of cocktail servers, they wear all white. Their laundry must be a bitch, as they serve a rainbow of specialty cocktails. The DJ is decent and there’s a small dance floor. I don’t recall paying a cover. Note that the Washington Post reports that Cloud’s liquor license was suspended in February 2007, so check before going. If you want to pay a cover, visit 1221 (it’s in Roman numerals, which I don’t want to bother to calculate), Five, or Sesto Senso for OK DJs and drinks. Not that I don’t go to these places, but it’s only because DC is pathetic when it comes to places to dance and they are some of the few. For a place that’s so hip (and expensive) that even the staff acts bored (I’ve observed that the ultra-hip have fun by pretending not to have fun), head to Dragonfly.

Adams Morgan
Metro: None. Walkable from Woodley Park (Red) or take a 90 bus (90/92 and 96/97); on the weekend a shuttle runs from U St/Cardozo/African-American Civil War Memorial (Green/Yellow).

Adams Morgan is one of the major bar districts of DC, and is packed on Friday and Saturday nights (and busy the others as well). It’s a great place for bar-hopping, as many don’t have a cover. It takes a little bit of effort to get there, but once you’re there the next bar is never more than a few steps away.

The Reef is a favorite of people who actually live in Adams Morgan. Though it gets crowded on weekends, it’s a neighborhood restaurant and bar during the week. The kitchen’s motto is “free range - organic - sustainable.” Pizzas are $8 and sandwiches (including several vegetarian options) are $8-11. Entrees creep toward $20, though.

The Diner is open 24/7, and serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner all 24. It gets packed late nights on the weekend but it’s big so you don’t have to wait unbearably long. You can get out for under $10 (before tax and tip) if you order well, and your food will be good. The diner is owned by the same people who own Tryst, a coffeehouse in Adams Morgan with a similar menu, minus the breakfast. Tryst is wildly popular for its free WiFi and people-watching (and people-picking-up).

Millie and Al’s is home to a relatively cheap burger ($8) and a cheap pizza (around $6), both of which are edible (and some even say good). I believe the specials are half price pizza on Tuesdays and half price burgers on Sundays, but don’t quote me on that. It’s the kind of place that serves jello shots, so don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Bourbon is a bit pricier, but also a bit nicer. The specialty is, obviously, bourbon but you can get sandwiches for around $12, with a couple of veggie options. Entrees are closer to $15 (and there is no veggie entree).

I’m not even going to attempt to recommend bars in Adams Morgan, except to say that Heaven & Hell is one of my favorites for dancing. The DJs are great (hip hop upstairs, 80s ground level) but the males of the crowd are grabby and belligerent. I’ve experienced a great deal of aggressive groping (and thrown plenty of sharp elbows) and a male friend had his nose broken trying to defend the honor of another female friend. But if you’re comfortable aggressively pushing away the grabbers and gropers and don’t do anything stupid you’ll have a lot of fun.

Capitol Hill
Metro: Capitol South (Orange/Blue) or Eastern Market (Orange/Blue). I’ve indicated which stop is closer, but all places are walkable from either stop.

The bar/restaurant part of Capitol Hill runs along Pennsylvania and on H St SE, called Barracks Row after the Marine barracks located there. Because of all the interns on the Hill, there will always be a market for cheap beer and cheap food. The cheap food is generally of the type I don’t eat, such as wings, so I’m going to have to put you at google’s mercy for more options.

The Old Siam (Eastern Market stop) is a nice dining experience at any price, and definitely at their prices. When I was there last every table had a real orchid on it. Vegetarian entrees are around $9, meatatarian up to $14, and the food is excellent. So are the pina coladas, which will cost almost as much as your meal and probably have more calories.

Finn MacCool’s (Eastern Market stop) is one of the local favorites for pub grub and beer, and gets very busy on weekends. The menu isn’t particularly veggie friendly aside from a veggie burger, but the fish and chips are supposed to be very good. A meal is closer to $15 than $10, and that’s before the beer.

The Ugly Mug (Eastern Market stop) is another pub, and has better (and slightly more expensive and veggie friendly) food than Finn’s, I hear. Sandwiches around $10, entrees average out to $13 or so, and pizzas for $11 or $12.

For cheap beer, go the The Pour House or the Capitol Lounge (both Capitol South stop). Tapatini’s (Eastern Market stop) serves an inventive array of specialty cocktails at reasonable prices and with friendly service. For a higher end experience, Sonoma (Capitol South Stop) is one of my favorite places in the city to have a drink. They have an elaborate system for preserving open bottles of wine so they offer a ton of them by the glass or by the taste (2 oz pour). The upstairs lounge is a great place to enjoy a glass of wine, and maybe get a cheese plate (two cheeses $8, three cheeses $11). Food here is expensive, so I don’t recommend coming for dinner if you’re on a budget, but you can get a little cheese pizza for $9 (add $2 for every topping after the cheese).

On the weekend, Eastern Market is a great place to visit. The outdoor area has produce vendors and indoors you find deli-type counters. The brunch is supposed to be good, but I’ve never braved the crowds. There are also vendors of art, crafts, random merchandise, and “vintage” miscellany ranging from cool stuff to garage sale junk. It’s fun to walk around, and maybe stop by the Ben & Jerry’s, which is a special community run version of the chain; the proceeds go to the Latin America Youth Center.

Metro: None. Walkable in about 20 minutes from Foggy Bottom (Orange/Blue) or take the Circulator bus. Also walkable from DuPont but not if you don’t know what you’re doing.

If it’s not on the metro, it doesn’t exist to me, so I don’t spend a whole lot of time in Georgetown. It’s full of rich undergrads, which is another strike against it. When the handbag of someone who is an unemployed student is more than my monthly salary as a deity (or a government attorney, as the case may be), there is something not right in the world. The real problem with the undergrads having wealth is that it allows them access to more liquor than is good for them. Tourists often are hung up on seeing Georgetown, though, so I’ll give it a brief mention. And to be fair, a stroll or bike along the C&O canal on a nice day is a pleasant way to spend the afternoon.

In keeping with its “the Metro would allow poor people to get here so we don’t want it” theme, food and drink in Georgetown tends toward the expensive. However, Amma Vegetarian Kitchen is a gigantic and welcome exception to the general scene. This place is cheap, cheap, cheap (you can get an appetizer and entree for around $10), the portions are nice, and the Indian cooking is good. It almost makes a visit to Georgetown sound good.

Pizzeria Paradiso offers good pies at around $10 for an individual size, a nice variety of salads, and wines by the bottle that are not too unreasonable. As I recall, they don’t take reservations so expect a long wait on the weekend.

Snap Crepes is a fun little place for crepes and bubble tea. I find bubble tea mildly disturbing because I have a fear of choking, but if it’s your thing theirs gets high marks. Crepes come in savory and sweet and are around $6. One crepe might not be enough to fill you up, so take that into account. If you can, get a savory and then split a sweet one with a friend. Snap does not accept cash (which I believe is illegal, but whatevs) so don’t go if you don’t have plastic. Virtually all of the seating is outdoor so consider the weather. Snap is open late night.

I can warn you off Paolo’s. I went there on a junket (i.e., paid for by someone else) and the food was absolutely disgusting. I about screwed the top off the pepper shaker (note, not a peppermill) and dumped it on my food and it still had no flavor. To top if off, it’s in the $17 range for entrees.

I know even less about drinking in Georgetown than food, but there is the obligatory visit to Sequoia on the waterfront for the sunset. Drinks are expensive and watered down and the crowd is wall-to-wall, but I’ll admit on a nice night it’s not so bad.

Cleveland Park
Metro: Cleveland Park (Red)

Cleveland Park is a more residential area, but with plenty of restaurants and neighborhood bars, most of which I don’t know about because it’s not my residential area.

Cactus Cantina is, I’m not going to lie to you, a hike from the Cleveland Park metro (0.96 miles, according to metro’s calculations), but it’s decent Mexican in a land where decent is the best you’re going to get. Most entree platters hover around $10. The margaritas are good.

Next door to Cactus Cantina is the excellent 2 Amys, routinely voted the best pizza in DC. Expect to pay about $13 for an individual sized pizza, and expect to wait. They don’t take reservations and the dining room is pretty small. The margaritas at Cactus Cantina are an excellent way to while away the time.

Much closer to the Cleveland Park metro is Spices, a pan-Asian joint that does a brisk carryout business but also has a nice eat-in space. Looking at the menu, plan around $10-15.

The Cleveland Park Bar & Grill, also near metro, is a local favorite on Tuesdays when it’s buy one pizza get one for $2. The pizzas are big enough for one hungry person, or two pizzas for three people of moderate appetite. My source’s favorite toppings are baby arugula and garlic oil. Also recommended by my source are the buffalo-style chicken tenders appetizer.

Arlington (Virginia)
Metro: Courthouse (Orange), Clarendon (Orange), Ballston (Orange)

While I don’t cross the river if I can help it, and they still smoke in Virginia (Barbarians!), you may want to check out other scenes. The Courthouse/Clarendon/Ballston part of Arlington in Virginia is white people yuppie Disneyland but there are, nevertheless, a few bearable ways to pass an evening there.

Whitlow’s on Wilson in Clarendon is an institution known for its burgers (around $8; it has a full menu in addition to burgers), and live music. It’s huge and has pool tables and assorted games, in addition to the stage. Specialty burgers are half price on Mondays. The menu has the obligatory veggie pasta and veggie burger, but is not excessively veggie friendly. The bands are fun.

Faccia Luna in Clarendon offers good pizza, pasta, and sandwiches. You’ll pay about $16 for a pizza big enough for two (14 inch), and around $12 for a 10 inch single pie. They offer prosecco by the glass, which gives them high marks in my book. I love the sparkling.

For drinking and dancing, head to Clarendon Ballroom, an old (and smoke free) dance hall. They frequently have local bands, with $5-10 cover, so check the calendar on their website. In the past they’ve had swing dancing on Thursday nights, but I don’t see it mentioned on the website.

In Courthouse, Dr. Dremo’s is the dive bar of choice, with lots of beer on tap and a menu of sandwiches, burgers, and miscellany like quesadillas, with nothing over $10 (and most things closer to $6). I pretend not to notice that everyone at this particular dive bar has an income of six figures, which I am pretty sure disqualifies it from being an actual dive, but it is a fun time, especially if you can snag the silo to sit in.

Still in Courthouse, Cafe Asia offers noodles and entrees for $10-$14, and some affordable sushi rolls. I like the avocado roll and the mushroom roll in particular. The space is nice, with tall ceilings and tall windows, and a loungey area in the back.

Courthouse also boasts one of the area’s rare Taco Bells, my fast food poison of choice. I swear, they’re scarcer than hen’s teeth around here.

From Rosslyn (the first stop in Virginia on the Orange/Blue) you can get to Continental for drinks; the decor is fun though the crowd is kind of generic. This isn't a place for cheap drinks, but they have a drink that comes in a pixie stix rimmed glass! How fun is that?

There are some notable restaurants that aren’t near much else but merit a mention.

Kingdom of Yah Soul Vegetarian Restaurant is located a medium walk up from the Shaw/Howard University (Green/Yellow) metro station (exit in the direction of Howard U). You read that right, soul vegetarian. In fact, it’s vegan. The location is bare bones, but the food is delicious and extra cheap, ranging from $4 for a sandwich to $9.50 for two entrees and one veg, the most expensive item. This restaurant does not serve alcoholic beverages. It has an area for eat in but also does carryout. Full disclosure: you might feel uncomfortable walking to this restaurant at night. The Kingdom of the Heaven of Unit Six is located in the general vicinity and I love this diverse neighborhood and walk around it at all hours of day and night, but it can look a little scary from the outside.

Vegetate, near the Mt. Vernon Square/Convention Center (Green/Yellow) stop, is similarly situated to the Kingdom of Yah in terms of a neighborhood that might make some uncomfortable. Vegetate is not particularly cheap, around $15 for an entree, but small plates are half price from 6-8 pm on Thursdays and veggie sliders (small burgers) are $1 in the lounge from 7-9 on Wednesdays. Half of the couple that owns this restaurant is local spinmeister DJ Dredd and the lounge hosts various DJs and serves beer, wine, and specialty cocktails. As its name suggests, this is an all-vegetarian restaurant.

Java Green in the Farragut Area (Farragut West is Orange/Blue and Farragut North is Red) offers a vegan sandwich, wrap, soup, or hearty and generous noodle dish with an Asian flair for under $10. If you eat in you get to eat out of a real dish. The food is much nicer than the price or vegan denomination indicate (for those who conceive of vegan food as sprouts and cucumber on a paper plate)–if it were set in front of you in more upscale surroundings you’d pay about twice as much for it–and is worth the trip to this otherwise mostly unremarkable area (though it has plenty of restaurants with bars if you want a chill drink). It’s only open until 8 pm during the week and 6 pm on Saturday, with no Sunday hours. It does a brisk business during weekday lunch, so it will take you a few minutes to get your prepared-to-order food.

As my schedule of presiding over the Kingdom of the Heaven of Unit Six keeps me quite busy and tied to the house most of the time, I don’t get out much and was (not so) ably assisted by my acolyte in the preparation of this list. She, alas, is not omniscient and I’m sure missed a lot. Please offer your suggestions in the comments.

Kisses and playful smites,

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Gretchen Says: An Indefinite Number of Commandments

Bring cookies to your office. People will eat any damn thing and love you for it.

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Another Paltry Effort by Mother Nature

It snowed again last night. Nice try, Mother Nature. Work wasn't even delayed. It wasn't even liberal leave for crying out loud.

I am framed to perfection by this fence. But then again, I am always perfection.

I will give her props for the blue sky, though. It made for a lovely morning. As you can see, people in DC do not take the whole shoveling of the sidewalk thing very seriously.

The snow was dry and powdery and soft. It melted instantaneously in your hand and wasn't even cold. It was inviting so I made a snow angel.

Just kidding. Of course it doesn't take snow to make me an angel. I qualify for all heavenly forms--deity, goddess, angel, what have you.

Monday, February 5, 2007

Kiss Me, I'm Austinian-Brazilian

A journey of a thousand miles...

begins with being stuffed into a mailing tube.

I went to Austin, Texas this weekend for Carnaval.

Well, I did not actually attend Carnaval. While I condone vulgarity, I am too classy to actually engage in it (my acolyte, on the other hand? not above it). I was there for the food.

You may not be aware that I am quite the gourmande. Rest assured, I am. It's one of the perks of being omniscient. I am also an oenophile. As well as knowing everything there is to know about the history of the awl. If you ever get the chance to become omniscient, I highly recommend it.

Anyway, as I said, I was there for the food. The Tex-Mex offerings in the DC area are paltry and pallid and sometimes putrid. The Grill-Whose- Name-I-Shall-Not-Speak in particular makes a mockery of the culinary delights that can be had in any number of Tex-Mex joints in Austin and the poor East coast souls are duped and know no better. The one little place I found that had decent--even good--Tex-Mex was Leon's Steak and Grill on King Street in Old Town Alexandria, and it appears to have gone out of business. A moment of silence please.

For brunch on Sunday before boarding the plane I bestowed my presence upon Kerbey Lane (the south location).

In Austin, not only can you get good Tex-Mex, you can get good miscellaneous food alongside Tex-Mex, and you can get it all 24 hours a day at multiple locations. Magnolia Grill is also open 24 hours, but I think Kerbey Lane has superior food. Scratch that, I know Kerbey Lane has better food. Why? Because I'm omniscient.

I started with a bowl of Kerbey Queso. This is not pasteurized process cheese food with tomatoes canned with chilis. This is real queso, made with real cheese and real salsa and topped with a scoop of real guacamole. To die for. After much pondering of the breakfast foods section of the menu

(NB, breakfast available all day) I decided on the Paris Texas Platter, which is French toast and migas. Migas are eggs scrambled with vegetables, cheese, and crushed up tortilla chips or torn up corn tortillas, then topped with salsa. Something about egg and corn chips is magical. It sounds weird, but really, try it. That's an order.

I had salsa verde, an indulgence I would not attempt anywhere within 800 miles of DC. Tomatillos seem to be beyond the culinary comprehension of this area. I must sadly report that the French toast was not great; it was more like bread than bread soaked in egg. But it was liberally sprinkled with cinnamon and provisioned with syrup so I managed to choke some down.

Before (note the $3 mimosa)


After brunch I bid a fond farewell to Tory, my hostess.

I was stuffed. But the Austin airport is, like the rest of Austin, cool and awesome. Rather than your usual ARAmark food(like) service, they have local restaurants, which are required to charge the same price in the aiport as in their off-airport locations. And also have live music and a real bookstore. One of those locals is Amy's Ice Cream (though the servers at the airport location do not wear hats as crazy hats as the servers at the location on Drag, nor do they toss the ice cream long distances into the cup and never miss).

I had to do it. Alas, the camera ran out of batteries before my acolyte could photograph the creamy deliciousness of my chocolate-covered strawberry ice cream. But no photograph can convey the difference between real ice cream and ice cream packed in a cardboard carton and shipped for hundreds of miles. If you ever find yourself in Austin, I will give you leeway in your choice of Tex-Mex restaurants, because there are many good ones, but I command thee to go to Amy's and have yourself some real ice cream.


1 egg
3 tbsp milk
Diced vegetables of your choice, such as spinach, mushrooms, and red bell pepper
Corn Chips, crushed
Shredded cheese
Salsa (for those without access to fresh salsa, Herdez salsa verde is quite good, and their red salsa fairly good)

Heat a pan over medium heat. Whisk the egg and milk together until
thoroughly blended. Saute mushrooms and bell pepper (if using) for a
few minutes, until bell pepper begins to soften and mushrooms begin to
give up their juice. If the pan is not nonstick, oil it and pour on the
egg. Cook for about 3 minutes until the egg is 2 or 3 minutes from
being done. Stir in the crushed corn chips. When egg is almost done
top with shredded cheese and put a lid over the pan to help the cheese

Remove from heat. Put on plate and top with salsa. Eat with more chips
or with tortillas, or just with a fork.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Snow Falls, But How Much? Film at Eleven.

We got our first snow of the season yesterday. It looked more impressive last night, but going outside to take pictures would have required me to leave the comfort and adulation of the Kingdom of the Heaven of Unit Six and my acolyte to change out of the pajamas she'd been wearing all day. Let's be honest, she had been wearing them all weekend.

So this morning I walked to work with my acolyte to check out the snowfall. I would have preferred to ride on a litter, but mostly I was in her coat pocket. At one point I was indecorously sprayed by a salt truck. Life is rough when you leave the Kingdom of the Heaven of Unit Six.

Here I am looking coy by some wood pylons.

It may appear that this holly bush is attacking me, but it is actually offering me shelter and love.

Obligatory shot of the Capitol with its nearly imperceptible mantle of snow. (And yes, that street sign does say "G Unit.")

From my vantage point in this tree I can survey my territory and my minions.

This fence looks a bit like a cathedral. A cathedral to me.

All the fences and bare tree limbs make this look like layers of delicate bones assembled in a museum.

The ice makes these berries shiny. That's what I like to see.

I bless this plant with greenness.

And I minister to these poor cold and forlorn pansies.

I visited the embassy of Zimbabwe.

And the fountain in DuPont Circle, which was quite a popular photo spot. I had to wait in line. I could have smited my way to the front of the line, but I am too polite for that. (And don't tell me it's "smote"; I prefer smited. If you have a problem with that I'll smite you and force you to say you were smited when describing it to friends.)

All in all, however, Gretchen is not impressed. Work was not cancelled or even delayed, so I consider it an inadequate snowfall. Try to do better next time, Mother Nature, or you may be deposed by an unassuming looking yet powerful and vengeful ballerina.

Friday, January 19, 2007