DC Brunch: Tabard Inn

Planning for vacations, brunch is always the meal that we look forward to most. As a result, brunch requires additional legwork to locate a restaurant that offers a variation of the type of brunch we enjoy. I was lucky in my DC reading, as one of our short listed accommodations also hosted a reputable restaurant within.

Hotel Tabard Inn

Tabard Inn is nested inside the Hotel Tabard Inn, a historic building in the Dupont Circle neighbourhood. Their accommodations were cheaper than George Washington University Inn, but by the time we had called to book, they were full. When we reached the hotel, we were glad with our ultimate choice because the walk to the Metro was at least double the distance.

The building was quaint – situated on a fairly quiet residential street, with flower pots and other greenery making it the most attractive residence on the block. We wandered inside, through a too-dim sitting room with creaky wooden floors and portraits of revolutionaries gone-by and into the restaurant. I had made a reservation several weeks before, and thank goodness we did – the room was packed.

To be honest, I picked Tabard Inn solely on the website photo, which showed a sunny room lined with a friendly checkered floor. In reality, the room was not as bright, likely because of the potted plants that lined the windows outside. Tabard also has an enclosed patio outside, but with the humidity out in full force that day, I was glad our hostess directed us to a table housed in the air-conditioned dining room, just below a window. Mack did notice that for whatever reason, Tabard doesn’t use cloth napkins – the paper napkins didn’t quite mesh with the décor in our opinion.

In Tabard Inn

I had given the menu a quick scan online, but unlike most times, hadn’t already picked out what I wanted. I decided upon the blueberry pancakes, while Mack stayed true to his usual egg-and-potato dish. Also being a sucker to try the resident special, we also ordered two doughnuts, which we were told were usually served before our meal. Who were we to thwart tradition?

When our bread basket was delivered prior to the doughnuts, we wondered who had come up with a tradition that stacked carb upon carb to start a meal. At any rate, the freshly-baked basket filled with a variety of savoury goodies soothed any questions we had, with our favourite being the corn bread.

Bread Basket

We hadn’t quite finished with our basket when a doily-lined plate with two petite doughnuts were delivered. They were as advertised – freshly fried, warm and with the taste of grease still lingering. They reminded Mack of mini doughnuts, and he said they were good, but nothing special.


The main event was the highlight – the pancakes were just perfect – slightly crisp on the outside, but still soft and airy in the middle. I could have done with a few more blueberries (a la Clinton Street), but it was a pretty good dish the way it was.

Blueberry Pancakes

Mack’s eggs and homefries were tasty, but the standout for him was the flaky biscuit – Tabard Inn certainly knew how to do pastries right.

Scrambled Eggs, House-made Toulouse Sausage and Homefries

If you’re not in the neighbourhood already, I’m not sure Tabard Inn is worth an exclusive trip. That said, I was happy for the opportunity to explore a neighbourhood we wouldn’t otherwise have seen.

Tabard Inn (in Hotel Tabard Inn)
1739 N Street NW
Washington D.C.
(202) 331-8528

Day 6 in DC: Last Hurrahs

This is the penultimate DC post. I can’t believe it has taken me this long to finish documenting the trip…

While I had in mind that we would visit one farmers’ market while in DC, we were lucky to have had the opportunity to visit two, stumbling upon the Foggy Bottom FRESHFARM market earlier in the week. The destination market, on the other hand, was found via a Yelp recommendation – Eastern Market was billed as one of the liveliest, and with a Metro stop named after it, getting there was just a subway ride away.

Eastern Market

Eastern Market can claim the distinction of being the oldest continually operated market in the DC area. The grounds hosted a mix of vendors – from “flea market” classified tables and arts and crafts, to ready-to-eat items and fresh produce, it was a great place to shop for both tourists and locals. An indoor facility also housed select vendors year-round, with everything from poultry to cheese to vegetables available. Unlike the FRESHFARM markets (similar to the Calgary Farmers’ Market), there appeared to be no restriction on imported products, as we saw items like bananas and pineapples on sale.

More outdoor vendors

Mack at Eastern Market

We found that the vendors as a whole were more aggressive, bordering on carney-style as they invited timid consumers to step forward to taste samples. Because of this, we ended up buying a bag of fair trade Honduran coffee and two fresh peaches (the latter of which we ate at the airport – they were so unbelievably ripe we had peach juice running down our chins).


We also picked up a few unique souvenirs – a necklace for me (it reminded me somewhat of the jewellery available at The Plaid Giraffe) and a Val Proudkii print for Mack. The print was actually one we had seen earlier in the week at the Newseum, which had won an award in the “amateur” photography category for the 2009 inauguration. When we asked the vendor whether or not it was he himself who had taken the shot, his reply was so nonchalant that we supposed he was probably tired from the exposure of that one photo.

A visit to Eastern Market also extends to the area around it – the surrounding streets were lined with charming bistros and cafes, the sidewalks brimming with patio seating. Dozens of tourists and locals alike were revelling on that beautiful Saturday morning, enjoying a meal outdoors, or, waiting in line for blueberry pancakes at the venerable Market Lunch. While we had a brunch appointment elsewhere, we couldn’t resist picking up an iced coffee at Port City Java. It was one of the best cold coffees I have ever had – I think the combination of the sweet shot of vanilla and inclusion of shaved ice elevated the drink.

We hopped back on the Metro to get to Dupont Circle. It could have been known as another kind of Circle because when we arrived at the foot of the escalator, we found that it was out of order. I’m not sure what implored us to take the stairs instead of searching for an elevator, but once we started heading up, we couldn’t stop.

Stairway to…

Out of breath at the top (ironically, there was a Krispy Kreme positioned to the left of the escalators), the moment of unspoken camaraderie we had with fellow commuters who had also braved the stairs was undeniable.

After we recovered, we found there was a Golden Triangle Ambassador positioned to help lost tourists navigate the district. Businesses in the area had banded together under an umbrella group in an effort to promote visits to a section of the city without any national memorials and museums, or the inherent urban chic of neighbourhoods like Georgetown. The guide was able to provide us with a map, and quickly pointed out how we would navigate ourselves to Tabard Inn.

Full, we headed back in the direction of the Metro. En route, we came upon a drum troupe that had set up shop in Dupont Circle park. The impromptu concert was amazing, with listeners dancing alongside the performers, the entire area electric with the infectious beat of the drums. It was one of the coolest things we saw in DC.


After being confronted with the $60 cab fee into the city, Mack and I were resolute we would use public transportation on the way back to the airport. It seemed simple enough – a bus picked up travelers from an easily accessible Metro stop. When we arrived, we found the bus had already begun loading passengers. We dutifully joined the line, but with our luck, were turned away by the bus driver, who stated that the vehicle was full. Of course, as the bus drove away, it was obvious to us that passengers at the rear of the vehicle had stacked their luggage on the seats – and the next bus was an hour away.

We contemplated sharing a cab with another errant traveler, but if the next bus did arrive on time, we would just make our check-in window. We settled in at the McDonald’s across the street to escape the melting humidity, and eventually boarded a bus that did take us to the airport on time. Whew.

While DC doesn’t changeover as often as, say, New York, the city continues its efforts to celebrate its heritage and memorialize groundbreaking figures in American history. For example, the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial is in the works, while the African American Museum will begin construction in 2015.

My DC “top five”, in no particular order, are as follows:

  • Washington Monument
  • DC by Foot tour
  • Farmers’ markets (Foggy Bottom and Eastern Market)
  • Proof
  • Paddleboating on Tidal Basin

Mack’s DC “top five”, in no particular order, are as follows:

  • Washington Monument
  • Founding Farmers
  • Newseum
  • Metro
  • Lincoln Memorial

With the rest of the world still waiting to be seen, I am not sure we will be back anytime soon, but we had a great time. Thanks, DC!

You can read Mack’s Day 6 post here, and see our complete DC photoset here.

Not Our Kettle of Fish: Hook

Mack came up with the title.

Although “seafood” isn’t a dirty word, certain varieties of fish, including bluefin tuna and chilean sea bass are heading in that direction. I readily acknowledge that I need to learn more about sustainable seafood practices, and while eating in a restaurant doesn’t necessarily provide education, I found Hook to be at least cognizant of the need for change.


Located on a busy Georgetown street, Hook’s subdued blue awning could be easily missed. The tiny storefront gave way to a long, rectangular space, loosely divided into a small front dining area, a bar, and a larger dining room in the back. Décor was minimal, but helped establish a serene sense of being – white light fixtures, sealife art, polished hardwood.

Mack at Hook

We were seated in the front, sandwiched between a glass pane that separated the host from our table, and another table that bordered the storefront window. It was a little distracting, having to see and hear other patrons as they arrived and were greeted, but the rear dining area probably wasn’t much better – the floor echoed the conversation in the room.

The menu was obviously seafood focused, with a token chicken and beef entrée available to placate those unable or unwilling to eat seafood. Our server was keen to answer our questions, particularly when it came to decoding the varieties of fish we were less familiar with. However, his efficiency bordered on annoying during our meal, as he literally stood behind us and waited for clean plates to clear. Surveillance dining is not for us.

We decided to start with an order of the grilled calamari with potato salad and basil walnut pesto, which the server promised would be amazing. Our entrees were based entirely upon our desire to try a new type of fish and our server’s depiction of them. I ended up with a prosciutto-wrapped lingcod, which was likened to most other white fish, while Mack chose moonfish, described as being “pink”, which we compared to the flesh colour of salmon.

While we waited for our appetizers, we munched on slices of baguette. Instead of butter or perhaps olive oil and balsamic vinegar, we were given a bowl of mayonnaise to accompany our bread – needless to say, we chose to enjoy our bread unadorned.

Bread course

The calamari plate was plumped up with a fair quantity of potato side. I have never been a fan of squid’s chewy consistency, but Mack was impressed by the contrasting flavours – the slightly charred tips, and the tang of a citrus finish.

Grilled Calamari

Both of our entrees contained a fair amount of fish. My lingcod was tender, but in terms of flavour, was nothing special. I’m not sure I would have been able to distinguish this variety from others. The underlying gnocchi was actually the star of the plate anyway, and easily rivalled Proof’s meltingly delicious dumplings.

Lingcod with Gnocchi

Unfortunately, Mack had a terrible experience with his fish – it turned out our server’s definition of “pink” fish spoke more to the cooking technique of simply searing the fish, leaving the core of the steak raw. He probably should have sent it back to request that it be cooked through, but he managed to finish most of it.


Dessert was a chocolate tart with ice cream and caramel. Made by “DC’s Pastry Chef of the Year”, it was indeed a decadent desert, the richness of the chocolate cut through by the salt and caramel. This was a savoury-sweet combination I enjoyed thoroughly.

Chocolate Tart

With our billfold we were given a handy pocket-sized copy of The Blue Ocean Institute’s Guide to Ocean Friendly Seafood. It listed, in descending order, types of seafood that are relatively abundant, with fishing or farming methods that cause relatively little damage to habitat and other wildlife, with species containing high levels of mercury or PCBs clearly marked. It is a great resource to have (and one which I now keep with me at all times), but for a restaurant that prides itself on sustainable sourcing (and to some extent, education of the consumer), this guide should have either been provided at the beginning of the meal, or incorporated into the menu somehow.

As a whole, our meal at Hook was the least memorable of our restaurant experiences in DC.

3241 M St NW
Washington, DC
(202) 625-4488

Where Cosby and Obama Eat Free: Ben’s Chili Bowl

Ben’s Chili Bowl is a DC institution. “Proudly black owned and operated since 1958”, read a sign posted alongside their menu board. It has seen the black population grow and prosper, react to the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., and watched as the neighbourhood took a turn for the worse. But Ben’s has survived it all, and continues to thrive, gaining national accord for its food.

Ben’s Chili Bowl

The restaurant qualifies as a bonafide tourist destination itself, as it is included in every guidebook, in addition to having been featured in Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations and Guy Fieri’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. It was the first eatery that I put on our list when I started to plan our trip.

Though I thought we had timed our visit well, conveniently arriving after 1pm, the order area was absolutely packed – the line stretched across the counter and wound itself around and back towards the seating area.

We had to be patient, but the wait was made bearable by the upbeat, funky tunes and having a front row seat to the kitchen and the culture of the place. Even though customers continued to flood through the doors, the ease at which the staff worked through it was a pleasure to watch. Our time in line also allowed us to spot a sign just behind the cashier that read, “People who eat free at Ben’s Chili Bowl: Bill Cosby and the Obamas”.

Smokies on the grill

Our order of two chili dogs, chili cheese fries and a drink came in at just $16, making it our best value for dollar meal of the trip. We had a seat at one of the tables, and waited for our order to arrive.

At Ben’s Chili Bowl

A smoldering tray of food was soon delivered – two hot dogs draped in a generous chili cape, and fries smothered in a deliciously messy combination of cheese and their trademark chili. There wasn’t any chance we wouldn’t like our food – greasy spoon diners are a particular soft spot for both of us. The chili packed a fair amount of heat, while the near-pureed beef was the right consistency to accompany both the hot dog and fries.

Chili Dog and chips

Chili Cheese Fries

Near the end of our meal, a fellow patron approached our table, and pointed out to Mack that President Obama had sat in his chair not too long ago, just across from Mayor Adrian Fenty. Though we had noticed that the Seal of the President had been placed on the wall just above the chair, it hadn’t occurred to us that the reason for it was to act as a marker. Just above the seal was a blown-up photo of Obama and Fenty, as well as a smaller picture of the President posing with diner staff.

Mack in Obama’s seat!

The man then asked Mack if his choice of seat thus pointed out his destiny to become the next President. Mack replied, “I can’t – I’m Canadian.”

Perhaps if Governor Schwarzenegger can change the Constitution, there will be hope for Mack yet. Thanks Ben’s for a great experience.

Ben’s Chili Bowl
1213 U St NW
Washington, DC
(202) 667-0909

Day 5 in DC: Tourist Mashup

The muggiest day to greet us in DC was also our tardiest start, indicative of our exhaustion the night before. We finally left the hotel at 10:30, and determined to try an alternative to Starbucks, sought out the nearest location of Caribou Coffee.

With their wooden beams, hardwood floor and stone fireplace, it would have been easy to mistake the interior of Caribou Coffee with that of a Montana’s. There was no line-up (unlike our hotel’s neighbourhood Starbucks), and I liked the cheeky statements printed on the napkins. The coffee itself wasn’t bad, though drowned in milk as it were I probably wouldn’t have been able to tell otherwise.


A cabin or a coffee shop?

Our first planned stop for the day was the last of the major memorials we hadn’t yet seen – the Thomas Jefferson Memorial. At some point after we departed the Metro we must have made a wrong turn, because we ended up not at the memorial, but at a waterfront lined with seafood stalls.

Seafood market

Crabs galore!

The aromas drifting from the area weren’t exactly pleasant – seafood never fares well in open air on hot days. There was some agreeable cookery going on though – with “fresh” (trucked in) fish, crabs, and other shellfish being offered alongside lemonade and ice cream. We were able to sample some fried fish, which satisfied our seafood curiosity.

A man among fish

Across and under a bridge, we finally reached the Jefferson Memorial. Away from the Mall attractions, it was relatively quiet, and free from large school groups. Situated on the Tidal Basin as well, this memorial was in the perfect spot to capture breezes that came off the water. I’m sure cherry blossoms would add a touch of magic to the park, but even without them, the tree-lined area was lovely, and brought me back to the West Wing episode of “Mandatory Minimums” where Toby and Andie take their walk around the basin.

Jefferson Memorial

Jefferson, the primary author of the Constitution, was quite scholarly, making the Greek columns very appropriate for his memorial. Though the statues of Lincoln and Jefferson are apparently the same height, the Lincoln Memorial still trumps all others in grandness and impact.

Jefferson Memorial

We walked across the basin to spend the best $10 we had all trip – on paddleboats! The $10 secured a rental for an hour, which was more than enough time to explore the reachable corners of Tidal Basin, and to access one of the best frontal views of the Jefferson Memorial. And after rushing from place to place for the last few days, it was nice to kick back and relax out on the water.

Jefferson Memorial from Tidal Basin

Mack on the Berry (photo #2 – yes, even on the water)

Marines and POTUS helicopters flew overhead in the direction of the White House a few times, as did numerous domestic flights in and out of Reagan National Airport. The airspace in DC was undoubtedly always busy.

POTUS Helicopter overhead

Off the water, we took a quick ice cream break at one of the strategically-placed tourist-oriented confectionary traps, and hopped on the Metro to get to our lunch destination – Ben’s Chili Bowl on U Street.

Our piecemeal day continued with a return to our hotel to change (a nod to our most formal dining experience in DC), then hoofed it to Georgetown. It was absolutely boiling at this point, so our trek was most uncomfortable for Mack, to say the least, dressed in a long-sleeve dress shirt. He was a trooper though, as we made the most of our time by shopping in the district, where I picked up some gifts at the lovely gift and stationary store Paper Source and elsewhere.

I heart Georgetown

A picturesque garden in the middle of Georgetown

A Georgetown shopping centre

We made sure to stop at Dean and Deluca, which in Georgetown was not only a café, but a full-on specialty grocer. We overturned many products to find astronomical prices, and contented ourselves with two rounded D & D mugs, which we had admired from afar in New York.

Dean & Deluca

Not a wine cellar, but hall

Bulk candies are always more expensive when stored in glass jars

On Bruce’s recommendation, we also visited Georgetown Cupcake, where the line-up was out the door. Granted, the tiny storefront could only contain so many, but given the number of large boxes waiting to be picked up, we were sure that walk-in customers formed only a tiny branch of their business.

They had a dozen varieties to choose from, all temptingly displayed on tiered stands at the order counter. After patrons put in their order, they had to pass the funds across to the staff person on the other side of the tiers, creating an awkward exchange for both parties (and a potentially messy one, even though a sign read that ‘cakes on display were indeed for display only).


At $2.75 a pop, the cupcakes seemed to be on par or slightly more expensive than the Canadian bakeries I have visited. I decided on a fairly classic flavour – vanilla² – while Mack opted for something a little less run-of-the-mill – carrot cake.

On the corner of Georgetown and cupcake

The vanilla bean cake was pretty tasty – flavoured and flecked nicely, but with sweetness in check. I was saddened to find that the icing was made with cream cheese, however, as I am not a fan. On the other hand, the cream cheese base did mean that the icing didn’t melt as fast as its, say, buttercream counterparts, and as Mack adores cream cheese, he unsurprisingly enjoyed his treat more than I did.

We ended the night at dinner – an upscale restaurant called Hook.

You can read Mack’s Day 5 recap here.

Day 4 in DC: Brush with Barack

While DC’s Metro isn’t perfect for tourists, it was pretty darn great at facilitating most of our trips to and from the most popular tourist sites. Some, such as the Mall, Arlington National Cemetery and Georgetown aren’t directly connected by Metro, but for the most part, so long as we were ready and willing to walk, transportation around the city was seamless. The stations were reasonably clean, easy to navigate, and rider friendly with electronic ETA signs at each platform (we did find it rather odd that instead of using pre-programmed announcements at each stop, however, that the driver had to personally declare each stop). It didn’t hurt that the stations were aesthetically pleasing as well, with grand, curving archways that channelled European train stations instead of the more typical dreary, underground bunker-style.

DC Metro Station

We purchased a weeklong short trip pass for $26.40, which covered all of our travel on the Metro. When we received the passes, we had to wonder if there would ever be a time when our current Prime Minister would ever appear on any Canadian subway ticket.

President Obama on the Metro pass

On Thursday morning, we allowed ourselves the luxury of sleeping in until 8:30, and then stopped at Starbucks for a leisurely coffee and the space to share the teacake we had picked up at the farmers’ market the day before (it was a start to our day of inglorious eats, to say the least). Having sufficiently awakened ourselves, we headed to our first stop of the day – the White House Visitor’s Centre.

As previously mentioned, we weren’t able to secure a White House tour, which was disappointing, but as we found no shortage of other activities, was slightly easier to swallow. As a result, we ended up at the Visitor Centre, which we found to be in dire need of a complete overhaul. While we didn’t mind the aged facility, we couldn’t believe the sad nature of the exhibits, which ranged from a DVD on repeat, cardboard cutouts, and modest information panels on the history of the rooms and the residents of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. As the Capitol Visitor Centre just had their renovation (to include, among other things, interactive electronic touch screens and 3-D models), I hope the White House Visitor Centre is next in line.

White House Visitor Centre

I will say that we did enjoy the part of the video that we stayed to watch, which provided a glimpse of the rooms we would not be able to see in person, and that the gift shop was one of the most affordable that we had seen.

We eventually made our way towards the actual White House, about a block away. While approaching the building, we encountered a group of police officers who had started to block off the intersection leading into the patrolled grounds. We didn’t have long to wonder why they were doing this, because after the crowds had been ushered a fair distance back from the road, the President’s Motorcade, complete with police escort, several SUVs and an ambulance, passed by, as the crowd cheered and waved.

Road blockade

President Obama’s Motorcade

It blew my mind how logistically complicated it must be to systematically close off the streets where the President would pass through, but Mack was probably right in his assessment that POTUS’s handlers likely have it down to a science.

The top of the Ellipse, right by the Christmas tree, was the closest we were able to get to the White House. We agreed that it was a little anti-climactic, and as some have said, partly because of the prescribed viewing distance, was definitely not as grand and breathtaking as the monuments and memorials in the Mall.

The White House

At the White House (sadly, this shot is better than the one a fellow tourist took for us)

Our next stop on our tourist mishmash was the National Museum of Natural History. For whatever reason, I had it in my head that this was the site of 2006’s Night at the Museum. Apparently I was sleeping during the movie because although the sequel, Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian, was filmed in several of DC’s museums (including Natural History), the setting of the first film was the American Museum of Natural History in New York.

National Museum of Natural History

At any rate, we made it a point to be out of the museum in less than two hours, even though the air conditioning was a welcome refuge from the escalating midday heat. We saw the Hope Diamond, the Dinosaur Hall (including examples of Albertosaurus and Edmontosaurus), and my favourite, the elephant in the rotunda (that sounds like it could be the start of a joke…).

Dinosaur Hall

Elephant in the Rotunda

By the end of our brisk museum tour, we were ready for some lunch. As we were planning on visiting Union Station next (primarily to compare it to Grand Central Station), we thought it best to defer our hunger until we reached that building.

The architecture of Union Station is grand, and we loved that the halls mirrored the look of the underground Metro stations. These arches were more magnificent, however, benefiting from illumination by natural light.

 Union Station

It wasn’t until we explored Union Station further that we discovered full-scale restaurants and cafes outside of the food court area, but that day, we were content with a fairly inexpensive meal. I’ve also never before encountered so many free samples outside of a farmers’ market or Costco – the fast food outlets were competing with each other, doing their best to capture the tourist vote. My choice of a basic plate of teriyaki chicken with rice and vegetables ($5.99) from Sakura Japan turned out to be surprisingly good, with a portion size that could have easily fed two people.

Teriyaki Chicken

We then shopped for a bit (well, when I say “we”, I mean I led, and Mack followed), where I found the perfect garment store for me – White House/Black Market, whose primary business is selling white and black clothes. I spent way too much money on a dress, but hey, the pockets and the fit were too good to pass up!

Vice-Vice President?

We had noted the National Air and Space Museum down as a potential time bridge to other Mall activities, and after Union Station, we had exactly half an hour to explore it before closing. We powered through it, and were only able to take a brief look at some of the incredible aircraft and space vehicles housed within. It is the Smithsonian’s most popular museum, and even with our concise visit, we were able to see why – the germ and power of discovery is inherent, and it doesn’t hurt that the museum holds an IMAX theatre, and some of the most visually astounding displays we had seen yet.

National Air and Space Museum

This section was closed, as staff were setting up for a private function – how cool would that be?!

We had broken our “one museum per day” rule, and paid the price. We took a break on one of the many benches along the Mall, and thought seriously about not partaking in the walking tour we had planned on joining. We both knew, however, that guided tours by locals provided some of the best insights into the city, and so we picked ourselves up and somehow managed to get to the site of the DC By Foot on time.

DC by Foot

The tours are led by eager volunteers and are free of charge, but tipping is encouraged. Our tour guide was a retired teacher who, based on his demeanour, really missed teaching. He was a little overenthusiastic in the beginning, but thankfully, mellowed out by the end, and was a great source of enlightening and humorous information.

On the tour (one of Mack’s favourite pictures captured on the trip)

The two hour tour led us to the monuments and memorials we had already seen and photographed on our second day, but was one of my highlights of the entire trip, as it furthered my appreciation for the city, and provided a lot of helpful context. I highly recommend taking the tour, preferably near the beginning of your visit to DC.

Washington Memorial at dusk

At the Lincoln Memorial (thank goodness for sneakers…)

We ended the tour at the Lincoln Memorial, and decided to wait out the darkness to see the Washington Monument and Lincoln and the Korean War Veterans Memorials in their full night glory. The latter was particularly haunting, with the semi-lit gaze of one soldier always aimed at the viewer.

Washington Monument and Capitol at night

Lincoln Memorial at night (loved how he was illuminated)

Lincoln Memorial

Lincoln up close

In dire need of dinner, we asked the tour guide for a restaurant recommendation. He took one look at our “youthful” selves said we should head to Georgetown, site of “hip” establishments, and said the walk was about 1 mile. We believed him, and set out for Georgetown. Though we may or may not have taken a wrong turn, when we realized the distance between us and the twinkling lights of the “hip” waterfront eateries was much further than we were prepared to go, we knew limping to the Safeway in the Watergate complex would be the more realistic option for food.

Along the water

Sandwich and Stouffer’s FTW!

Absolutely exhausted, we retired early to gear up for our last full day in DC.

You can read Mack’s Day 4 recap here.

Sustainable Comfort: Founding Farmers

“Local” and “sustainability” are two of the key buzzwords in the restaurant industry right now, so it wasn’t surprising that Founding Farmers, a fairly new addition to DC’s restaurant scene, seems to live and breathe both of those practices. After reading their mission statement on their website, I was hooked, despite seeing both hit-and-miss reviews on Chowhound:

“The Founding Farmers name represents a combination of ideas: it is a celebration of the land, and the American family farmer; it is a nod to the founding fathers of our country, many of whom owned and farmed land that surrounds Washington, DC; and it is a place where true, sustainably farmed, grown and harvested American foods reminiscent of traditions from across the land are brought to our guests.”

Pig and bird light fixtures

I had made a reservation for us about a week prior through Open Table, and boy, was I glad I did. On a random Wednesday, the wait for a party of two was 35 minutes (recession, what recession?). We should have asked if any tables were available on the first floor, as it was bordered by two sides of windows, and sharing the space with a large bar made the dining area a little more casual. Upstairs, where we were led, was more formal: window shades, casual-cool dark wood furniture, and rounded banquets with some semblance of privacy. There were some rustic touches sprinkled throughout though – a shelf of large coloured jars of fruit and vegetables stood in one corner, while the same tungsten-baring light bulbs as seen in Proof hung from the ceiling. And too cute – water served from old-fashioned milk jars. Our table was known as the “communal table”, a beautifully lacquered piece formed from a section of a single trunk. Though Mack initially resented our placement, when a large, friendly group joined us later that night, we did end up interacting with them throughout our meal, as they asked us for dish recommendations.

Our communal table

The menu was massive, filled with crowd-pleasing comfort food favourites, from chicken pot pie to pot roast to shrimp and grits. Dishes were a little on the pricey side, but understandable given their sourcing of local ingredients. Based on the Chowhound chatter, the baby cheeseburgers (6 for $14) were non-negotiable, and to round off my beef intake for the week, I decided on the farmer’s meatloaf ($16) – it wasn’t until later that night that I realized how much ground beef I had consumed that day. Mack, a sucker for macaroni and cheese, gave their version a spin, which involved handmade macaroni and lobster and gouda-gruyere cheese ($25). Founding Farmers does not serve a complimentary bread course, following in the tail wind of other upscale eateries in the U.S. that charge for a then-necessarily high-quality bread basket. Thankfully, we didn’t have to wait long for our appetizer plate, with six mini burgers and (a bonus) fries. They were easily the best sliders I’ve ever had – with soft house-made bread that cushioned the patty. The ground-to-order beef had been cooked to medium (slightly pink inside), and the crunch of the sour pickle inside was a nice touch. The fries were great, though slightly too salty.

Baby Cheeseburgers

When our entrees arrived, we knew finishing our meal would be difficult. My thick slice of meatloaf, made with ground beef and mushrooms, was accompanied by two gravies, which helped bring out some of the inherent flavour in the meat. Though the dish itself was very good, by the end of my serving, it became a little redundant.

Farmer’s Meatloaf with Yukon Gold Potatoes and Today’s Vegetable

Mack found the kitchen to have been quite generous with the lobster, but faced a similar obstacle with a very rich dish. He commented that the cheese was a bit like cheese whiz, actually, and was disappointed that there wasn’t any crispy, melted excess on top.

Lobster Macaroni and Cheese

It is worth noting that service was both hit and miss that night – our server was quite eager and attentive, right up until we put in our order. It took us a while to finally get a needed water refill.

As a whole, I applaud Founding Farmers for the concept behind the restaurant, and their commitment to sourcing quality, local ingredients. Something was missing for me, and though I can’t put my finger on it, I know Mack disagrees with me – it was his favourite restaurant experience in DC.

Founding Farmers
1924 Pennsylvania Ave NW
Washington, DC
(202) 822-8783

Capitol Escape: Jimmy T’s Place

While Mack and I consistently bemoan the lack of diners in Edmonton, we take every opportunity to patronize neighbourhood diners when out of town.

Jimmy T’s Place was such a diner, located just ten minutes away from the hustle and bustle of Capitol Hill, it afforded a temporary refuge from fellow tourists and busyness.

Jimmy T’s Place

A Fodor’s recommendation, like Teaism, I was drawn to this restaurant primarily because of the price, but also for its diner billing. I loved the interior, which appeared as if it hadn’t been retouched since it opened – pipes were exposed, paint was chipped, seat cushions were ripped – and yet, combined with the vaulted metallic ceiling and counter service, it looked like it had been lived-in, endearingly cozy.


Unfortunately, the food didn’t quite live up to our affection for the décor. Mack’s eggs benedict (they serve all-day breakfast), was serviceable, with a crisp English muffin base, but the potatoes were sorely undercooked. My burger was moist, but really nothing special. Our biggest beef was actually how long we had to wait for the food – we watched as several walk-ins received their orders long before ours had even reached the grill.

Eggs Benedict

Cheeseburger and Fries

I’d recommend Jimmy T’s for the escape, but not for the food.

Jimmy T’s Place
501 E Capitol St SE
Washington, DC
(202) 546-3646

Day 3 in DC: Capitol Adventures

While we found most of DC to be accessible regardless of home country, the reality is that arranging tours of two of the most high-profile attractions are easier as a US citizen. We did our best to try “back channels” to obtain a White House tour, but without a Congressional or Senate representative to turn to, we were out of luck. The same was true for advanced tour tickets to the Capitol Building.


As a result, directed by our fallback advice from the guidebooks that recommended waiting in line an hour and a half before the Visitor Centre’s 8:30am opening, we arrived at the nearly empty grounds of the Capitol at 7:30. Unlike the Washington Monument, however, not only did the Capitol website not provide any details as to when and where to line-up, it also did not have any visual placards or signs positioned at the centre to orient tourists. We approached one of the security officers, who directed us to the west entrance of the centre, but as not a single person was around, we doubted his instructions.

Site of our waiting game

At about 8, the east side of the centre (each end was equipped with their own security checkpoint) started to draw a crowd, but it turned out that those individuals had already been granted tickets for a specific timed tour. Reassuringly though, at around 8:15, schoolchildren started to arrive in herds, and dutifully joined the line behind us.

While we waited for the doors to open, we watched curiously as one of the security guards methodically combed the grasses by the stairs, every 10 minutes or so. The motive behind his actions was explained when he pulled out a water bottle and a pack of snacks, sneakily stashed there by one of the teachers supervising a group of youth (food and drink, including water bottles, are not allowed inside the building). The guard immediately directed the gentleman to dispose of the goods. One would almost think the greenery isn’t worth planting for the temptation it allows.

When the doors opened, we passed through the security check, and down a set of stairs into chaos. Blinded by the dozens of brightly colored t-shirts worn by school groups (to allow for easy identification and round-up), there was again a lack of signage to direct those without tours arranged in advance. We eventually found our way to a line on the west side of the building, and were told that any tickets uncalled for would be distributed on a first come, first served basis. It turned out I owed an apology to the external guard, and after another half hour of patience, we were awarded with tickets to the 9am tour.

Lady Liberty (the statue atop the dome)

The Capitol tour started with a 13 minute film titled “Out of Many, One”, which, although sounded cheesy and unnecessary at the outset, was a reasonably well-produced film that provided a good introduction to both Congress and the building itself.

Film completed, we were ushered by an enthusiastic, trivia-minded guide through select hallways of the Capitol. Apparently tours are shorter in the spring and summer due to the higher demand, but we didn’t notice. Highlights included: finding out that each state has two statues of prominent figures in the Capitol (and if we had a home state, we would have been craning our necks to find them too); the “whispering room” where words spoken were “magically” amplified (similar to the “waterfall” spot in the Alberta Legislature); and seeing the artwork underneath the great dome, and the surrounding pieces lining the room directly underneath. While it wasn’t as awe-inspiring as the Vatican, it was neat to be able to tour such a prominent landmark.

Room beneath the great dome

Great dome

The guide encouraged us to take advantage of the fact that both the House and the Senate were in session that day, and obtain passes to enter the galleries. This was one area where international visitors had an advantage over domestic visitors – all we had to do was request the passes directly from the respective desks located in the same building, while domestic visitors had to travel to their state representative’s office contained in a separate facility across the street.


We ended up at the House Gallery. Sadly, the number of tourists in the Gallery outnumbered the politicians on the floor – the credit card regulation bill was up for discussion, and only three members, staff, and guests were present. We stayed only long enough to watch the acting speaker likely put in his lunch order with numerous aides, then headed to look at the newly renovated Capitol exhibit. Because we had the benefit of a verbal tour, most of the displays were superfluous by that point, but for those unable to obtain tickets, would have provided good background on the history and politics of the building.

Before lunch, we quickly explored both the Library of Congress and Supreme Court buildings, located just across the street. The Library was unexpectedly stunning, with several notable exhibits, including a recreation of Thomas Jefferson’s personal library. Mack thought the Library’s “virtual passport” program was pretty innovative, allowing visitors to create an account and access files they have “downloaded” at home.

Inside the Library of Congress

Unfortunately, we had just missed a guided tour of the Supreme Court, meaning that we were not able to see inside the courtroom itself. That would have been the only area of interest, as the exhibit in the basement was unimpressive.

A model of the courtroom

For lunch, we consulted my food map and jointly decided that we wanted to venture off the tourist path to Jimmy T’s Place. The walk to the restaurant was nice, shaded and quiet, and punctuated with charming storefronts and houses.

So charming!

Our next stop was the Newseum, something Mack had been looking forward to for some time. Next to the museum, on cushy Pennsylvania Avenue, was the Canadian Embassy. It looked great on the outside, with grand stone columns, but inside, all we had access to was an underwhelming photo display and several maps detailing U.S.-Canadian trade.

Canadian Embassy in DC

We did notice a difference in patron make-up at the Newseum, primarily, we were sure, due to the $20 vs. free ticket price – a stark lack of children! The building was beautiful, which can be assessed from the outside – six levels with glass panels typically reserved only for office complexes. The natural light flooded the museum with optimism that matched the ideal of the endless possibilities of journalism.


Front pages of newspapers from all over the world

There was simply too much to see – exhibits detailing the history of the newspaper, media coverage of 9/11 (including a display of one of the fallen satellite towers from one of the World Trade Centre buildings), the rise and fall of the Berlin Wall (including a section of the wall itself), and the hunt for Lincoln’s killer. The Newseum was definitely built with a new generation in mind – there were countless interactive displays and computer screens all over.

Section of the Berlin Wall

9/11 exhibit

Newseum balcony (Capitol in the background)

Mack particularly liked the photo exhibit capturing both amateur and professional shots of President Obama, in the campaign and in his first days in office, and I was drawn to the Pulitzer Prize exhibit, showcasing photos that have won the prestigious prize since its inception.

President Obama photo exhibit

Pulitzer Prize exhibit

We left the museum at closing time in dire need of rest. Like a marathon, we probably should have built up our walking stamina prior to the trip – between the early mornings and countless miles, we were exhausted. We recuperated at Starbucks (where I saw this amusing sign – why not have a “customer of the month”?).

Ready to tackle the last leg of the day, we took the Metro back to Foggy Bottom with the intention of visiting the supermarket to pick up goods for breakfast, but even better, had unintentionally timed our trip to coincide with the weekly FRESHFARM Market at Foggy Bottom!

I wrote about how great the “neighbourhood” farmers’ market is a few weeks ago, but I’m still entranced by the idea of a small, but varied number of vendors, gathering together on a weekly basis in a strategic, high-traffic location. In this particular instance, the market was in a small park just behind a Metro stop, next to a hospital, on the greater George Washington University Campus, and surrounded by walk-ups. How great would it be to be able to pick up needed groceries, on the way home from work, directly from producers without having to make a weekend trip to a market potentially far from home?

Browsing at the market

We marveled at the array of spring produce (remember, it was still snowing in Edmonton when we left), including strawberries and asparagus, and toured the other vendors that included a baker, bison and chicken farmers, and a Mexican food stand.

The best thing about FRESHFARM Markets (they operate several within the DC area), is that in each location, they support a non-profit agency in that neighbourhood – in Foggy Bottom’s case, it is Miriam’s Kitchen, an agency that provides homemade meals to homeless men and women.

We couldn’t resist picking up some strawberries (they were unbelievably ripe) and a lavender teacake to share for breakfast the next day.

Our market purchases

After dropping off our market goodies at the hotel, we headed by foot to our dinner reservation that night – Founding Farmers (with a name like that, how could we resist?).

We ended off the night continuing to push our pedestrian boundaries by walking over to the Watergate complex and The Kennedy Centre.

With all of the spin-off “Watergate” terms now ubiquitous to describe various scandals – political and pop culture alike, and all the infamy associated with the site of Nixon’s downfall – the seemingly everyday, concrete-toothed complex was remarkably unremarkable.


The photo actually captures one of the apartment buildings – we only realized later that the break-in happened in the office building within the complex

Next door was the stunning Kennedy Centre. It was built to honour John F. Kennedy, and is, in fact, a “living memorial”. As he was a great supporter of the arts, the Kennedy Centre hosts free concerts every night, which are open to the public.

Plane over the Kennedy Centre

It is a building meant to be seen at night, the gold-tone columns illuminated, and the portico offering a romantic stroll along the serene Potomac.

Kennedy Centre

Mack and me

The interior was a sight to see as well (with some additional TV glee as well – the Kennedy Centre was the setting for part of an episode of The West Wing). Between the lush, regal red carpets, forever ceiling and crystal chandeliers, it is definitely a performance hall fit to pay tribute to a fallen President of the United States.

Kennedy Centre interior

We returned to our hotel, utterly spent. Thankfully, the following day allowed for a slightly later start – almost enough time for our feet to forgive us.

You can read Mack’s Day 3 recap here.

Piece-meal: Proof

When the trend of “small plates” began appearing in Edmonton, I was a little sceptical. Like many, I was used to the standard appetizer/entree/dessert meal (at least at restaurants serving Western fare), and I was resistant to any change deviating from that. After my experience at Proof, however, I can tell you that I have wholeheartedly embraced this new way of eating out.

My discovery of Proof came by way of DC Foodies, a website covering local restaurants, food events, and farmers’ markets, among other things. Proof was listed as one of the blog authors’ favourites, and as soon as I read that the restaurant had charcuterie on the menu, I slotted it into our plan, making a reservation using Open Table (a website subscribed to by most non-fast food DC eateries, it seemed).

When we arrived at 6:30, there were  only a few tables free of patrons. We learned very quickly that the dress code (though listed as “casual” on their Open Table profile), was elevated by the naturally dressy after work crowd, most of which were wearing suits and standard business wear.

The interior was elegant but understated – rich woods, metallic accent mirrors, dangling incandescent light bulbs, a beautiful glass wine case, and directly in my sight line, a charcuterie prep station. I wasn’t a fan of the woven chairs, though they did serve the purpose of ensuring the decor wasn’t too formal.


The name of the restaurant is derived from a quote attributed to Benjamin Franklin: “Wine is proof that God loves us.” So although the food was our initial draw, we were more than happy to sample Proof’s wine program, with 2, 4, and 8oz. pours of over 40 types of wine available, and a novel of selections by the bottle. Mack and I also agreed that we should keep better track of the wines we liked, in an effort to be more systematic about our vino exploration (of course, our favourites are noted in Mack’s moleskine and not mine…).

To put together our cheese and charcuterie platter, we asked our server for guidance, who was great at explaining the virtues of the various meats and cheeses. And while he and the rest of the service at Proof was assembly-line efficient (wines would instantaneously appear), the service was almost too formal for us to loosen up and enjoy ourselves – my only (admittedly minor) complaint about our experience.

We ended up with two meats – speck ($9), similar to a smoked prosciutto, and saucisson de paris ($8), a sausage – and three cheeses – la serena, a sheep’s milk cheese from spain, mt. tam from California, and cabot clothbound cheddar from Vermont ($13).

The bread course was a welcome change from the standard bread and butter rolls – baked pita-like strips were served with a mixture of sour cream, olive oil and chives. I can’t say I cared for the concoction, but I appreciated the fact that they wanted to do something different.

Bread service at Proof

Our starter was best described by Mack, who called it “adult cheese and crackers”. Heightened finger food or not, it was a lovely sight to behold – the cheeses were rustic in presentation, on a wooden platter served with fig and nut bread, honey, applesauce and dried figs, while the shaved meats were accompanied by toasted baguettes (and not an olive in sight!). We had a wonderful time experimenting with flavours – one of my favourite combinations was the subtly sweet fig bread with the creamy sheep’s cheese, salty prosciutto, and a dollop of honey for balance. Mack really enjoyed the cheddar, aged to the point where it had the texture and sharpness of parmesan. I think the best thing about the platter, however, was having to slow down and take time to eat it (during that time, we ran through about 3 2 oz. pours of wine each) – something that helped elevate our meal to an experience.

Cheese Platter



The menu directly encouraged patrons to share small plates, and since we had grazed over the platter to start anyway, we figured we might as well carry the sentiment over into the rest of our dinner as well. We decided to split three dishes: crispy pork confit ($13), spicy little meatballs ($10),and sauteed potato gnocchi with ramps and asparagus ($14).

Though service had been brisk thus far, we both weren’t prepared at the speed at which the dishes appeared all at the same time– the chef must have been right on top of his kitchen staff. I was also happy to see that the plating was appealing without being over-the-top.

I expected more from the pork confit, though it arrived exactly as billed – a soy-glazed slice of pork, skin crisp above a layer of fat, its crunch mirrored somewhat in the bed of jicima salad underneath. The level of spice to enhance the sweetness was perfect, but we both agreed there was something missing.

Crispy Pork Confit

Mack loved the meatballs (cooked so the meat was still a touch pink), and paired with goat cheese agnolotti, the dish was a bit like a gourmet edition of pasta and meatballs.

Spicy Little Meatballs

The gnocchi was by far my favourite – not the gummy dumplings I’ve found in my dining past, the gnocchi virtually melted in my mouth. Though the vegetables were appreciated, I probably could have done without them in favour of more gnocchi.

Sauteed Gnocchi with Ramps and Asparagus

If I ever came back to DC, I’d make a beeline back to Proof.

775 G St NW
Washington, DC
(202) 737-7663