Saturday, February 21, 2009

Inauguration and A Glance at DC Dining...

It is getting on towards the end of February and I know that makes it a bit late to be talking about the inauguration, after all, that was so last month! But here in DC we are still getting used to having someone in the White House that we actually voted for (something like 94 percent of the city votes Democrat), and the civil rights history of Washington DC gives Obama's presence in our town a special meaning for those Washingtonians who saw the marches, riots and struggles for equality first hand.

The inauguration was a time of hope, celebration and insanity as roughly 2 million people descended on Washington DC. Restaurants and bars were given special dispensation to stay open for 24 hours at a time and many took advantage of the crowds, hoping to make enough over the weekend to keep from going under in this time of recession. Personally I hosted friends from New Orleans, who made us a mean jambalaya one evening, but we also enjoyed a couple of restaurants that are worth mentioning (I'll get to them in a bit).

The morning of the inauguration itself we headed to the World War II Memorial, which is located on the National Mall on the end further away from the Capital. We knew we weren't going to catch a glimpse of the first lady and president in person, so we settled for a less crowded area where we could watch the ceremonial events on an enormous video screen with a bunch of other freezing, excited folks. Some people had already been on the mall or along the parade route since 5 in the morning. We weren't quite that extreme, sauntering down past the national guardsmen and the security blockades at a decadently late 9:30 AM.

A friend and I in the crowds at the National Mall.

The folks standing to our left.

It was cold out there and by the time the swearing in had occurred, certain of our party could no longer feel their feet. So we hightailed it back to the warm apartment and settled down with hot cocoa, tea, orange slices, tortilla chips and salsa, pretzels and other snacky items. Soon phone calls came from frozen friends and it turned into a little post-inauguration get together as other people dropped by to warm up on their way home.

Maybe it was all those hours standing out in the cold, or maybe it was the food, or the pre-inauguration parties the night before, but some ended up staying longer than they expected. Snack-time turned into a mid-afternoon slumber party. The cat whole-heartedly approved.

But enough about the inauguration, let us talk about dining out in Washington DC! During that exciting week I ate out a couple times, once at Mourayo, a fabulous, somewhat upscale Greek restaurant in Dupont Circle, where we enjoyed attentive if unsmiling service, grilled pita with an excellent olive oil, a beautiful octopus appetizer and hearty and filling bowls of goat stew, and once, as a very belated birthday present, at the famous chef Michel Richard's relatively affordable bistro, Central. There I sumptuously dined on the most delicious tartare (of filet mignon) that I have ever eaten in my life, and a very tasty salmon and lentil entree. I left vowing to return just so I could have the tartare experience again. The service was wonderful-when the waiter saw me staring over a half wall to catch a glimpse of the cooking action, she offered to re-seat me and moved us to a table right next to the open kitchen.

I highly recommend both locales. If you go to Mourayo, get the octopus appetizer, and Central's filet mignon tartare, if you aren't a vegetarian, is really to die for. Mourayo recently expanded their space so it is almost twice its former size and the atmosphere has improved as a result. Central is chic to the max, and the best deal, so they tell me, is to sit at the bar, get a famous cocktail from their mixologist and order one of the hearty appetizers (like the tartare), which are really a meal in themselves. The inauguration may be over, but if you come to DC for some other reason (and if you don't currently have a reason to come to DC, these restaurants should be excuse enough), these are two dining options that you don't want to miss.