Monday, January 14, 2008

Baby-moon Road Trip!!! RVA to DC and Back

We picked out a couple museums, a fancy Italian restaurant, a hipster brunch spot, and a hotel with a pool. Every stop was a high point for us and we didn't argue once. All in all, it was an ideal getaway.

First Stop: the Native American History Museum

Actually, having skipped breakfast and just getting off the road, we went straight for the very popular cafeteria which featured food inspired by many of the ingredients and dishes that were typical to Native Americans. The place was a chaos of curious customers and a frenzy of confusion. However, once past the lines the swarming throngs, we could see the grub and their labels. We split up and brought back a tamale, savory corn pudding (our fave), smoked squash salad, fry bread with honey, and a white chocolate papaya smoothie. The food was fantastic! I don't think I've had fry bread like that before.

As for the exhibits, we were less than impressed. Sure, there were lots of Indian artifacts and examples from the modern day Native American experience, but something connecting these two was missing. It was almost as if the Indians have simply assimilated seamlessly into American culture as soon as Columbus showed up. I didn't see any overt references to the extermination of the First Nations in America. In fact, the impressive modern layout of the museum was on display more than anything else.

National Gallery of Art

Karen showed me a bunch of her favorite artists, some of which gave us ideas for baby names (that's the only hint you're getting). This all came about when I spotted three books about Joseph Cornell on Karen's shelf and had no idea who this other man was in my wife's life. So, she took me there and showed me three cute little shadow boxes. My assessment: No threat.

Dinner at D'Acqua

After lounging and swimming at the Hilton (and reading this awesome interview with Anthony Bourdain in the Onion newspaper), we took a series of trains to a charming little Italian seafood restaurant on Pennsylvania Ave. It was a bit of a splurge for us, but Karen had just come home with some good financial news (good enough to afford a nice dinner, anyhow). So, this restaurant was fine dinning for sure, but it was also really special. The first two courses were easy enough. We put in our orders for the seafood carpaccio platter and the fennel/endive insalata and then we asked for help deciding on the rest. This was a great choice on our part, because the server brought us over to the "fish market," which was a really attractive display of iced down fish, octopuses, lobster, etc. The chef, Enzo Febbraro, explained that their fish are brought in each day from the Mediterranean. The guy was the real deal and the seafood looked like it might even be worth the hefty prices.

I ordered a whole branzino baked in a mound of sea salt. This salt crust cooking style is a traditional method and is said to lock in moisture. Holy-moly was this fish de-lish. I'd seen the salt baking technique on TV, but this place actually brings it to you, breaks through the salt and debones the fish for you. Since it was only about a one pounder, there wasn't a whole lot to eat, but what was there melted in my mouth. Karen ordered sea bass fillets in a saffron reduction and she loved it. The broth was phenomenal. There were some sides that also pleased: perfectly grilled veggies and a potato pancake with Italian ham and moz cheese (just for Karen). After this dining treat, we walked back to the metro with our heads in the clouds.

Teaism in Dupon Cirle

On the way to brunch, we passed through a tempting farmer's market. I bought some high-brow pepper jack and Karen took a picture of these awesome looking mushrooms.

By the time we made it to Teaism in Dupont Circle (after more swimming and checking out of the hotel), I was not in the mood for tedium. And Sunday at brunch time is probably not the best time to get introduced to this very hip zen libation laboratory. Since all the seats were taken up, we wound up out front on a bench under an over-sized bonsai tree. We each had our own pots of tea (green for me and something fruity and herbal for karen), a couple of their famous "salted oatmeal cookies" (pretty darned good), and we split a cilantro eggs scramble (divine!). The combination of soothing teas and satisfying foods really helped us get closer to the dharma. After that, we weren't even phased by the the site of Burrito Brothers replaced by a 50's style burger joint.

the hightened state of consciousness made me take this pic in the Dupont Circle Metro station

Sammy T's in Fredericksburg

On the way back to Richmond we stopped at what might be my favorite restaurant in the world. Did I just say that? Sammy T's on Caroline Street in "downtown" historic Fredericksburg was a frequent treat when I was attending Mary Washington College. The place is a vegetarian mecca, but you wouldn't know it by it's appearance. It just looks like a plain old wood grain restaurant where you'd find sandwiches and a few semi-fancy entrees. Well, that's actually Sammy T's to a "T", but they also happen to have numerous vegetarian items that simply couldn't be better (felafel, tempeh, bean and grain burger, lentil burger, tabouli, and a bunch of invented classics like the Camper's Special).

Sure, Sammy's serves meat too, so you can bring your finicky friends, but why would you when you can order veggie and get a ramekin of lemon tahini sauce that will blow your mind. Seriously, if you have tried tahini and wondered why people eat the stuff, this sauce will clue you in to the potential of sesame paste. Sammy's was sooo good to both of us on Sunday that we couldn't even squeeze in a cup of joe from the best coffee shop in all of Virginia: Hyperion Espresso. I religiously order the Sumatran, but everything is good at Hyperion when enjoyed from one of their extra-wide mugs.

So, that pretty much concluded our trip. On the way home, we jumped off the highway one more time at Masaponax to visit a strip mall where there's a Marshalls and a Ross next to each other. Hunting for bargains at these two discount stores is one of our favorite past-times, but this visit was simply an attempt to squeeze in one last favorite. I strapped a baby harness to my chest and walked around Marhsalls looking for my wife (everyone probably wondered where my infant could be, until they saw my pregnant wife), but didn't end up buying it. Ross is good for some clearance clothes, but not for high end brands. They're fading from my list of top discount shopping stores (too bad Willow Lawn put so much hope in their allure).

Once home, Karen and I basked in our successful "budget baby-moon" and had a home cooked meal from one of my favorite cookbooks, Perfect Vegetables. We had braised baby bok choy with shallots (and fake bacon and bacon salt). There were also some Trader Joe's dumplings from a previous visit to NoVA (is there a pattern here?. Anyways, now it's time to hunkner down for the rest of this pregnancy. The due date is early April and we've got my graduate course starting this week, Lamaze classes, and what's that other thing? Oh yeah, the dreaded awkward immobility of the third trimester. Well, wish us luck. Better yet, buy us stuff.


  1. I had the exact same reaction to the Native American History Museum -- come for the food, skip the museum (and half my family's Native American!). We'll have to try the Hyperion next time we're up in Fredericksburg.

  2. I live in Richmond, but I grew up in Fredericksburg. I love Sammy T's and everyone I've ever taken has found the same love for it. What about Carl's icecream? You should have made a quick stop by there as well.

  3. I would have included Carls, but this trip took place during the cold months when they're closed. The soft-serve there is the best and it breaks my heart to think that I will probably only taste it once every other year or so.


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