Well, blogosphere, I’m back. While confronting my self-imposed two-month sabbatical, I attempted to adopt a myriad of excuses: holiday obligations, grad school applications, work/life balance, and other fluffy reasons. Truth is, I’ve been lazy in reporting about my commitment to exploring the District, but have not been lazy in my explorations. A lot has happened since my last post on the heels of Snowpocalypse Senior and now with the demise of Snowpocalypse Junior (junior in psychological timing, not size). I’ll try to catch up.
DC is lovely during the holiday season. From Thanksgiving to New Year’s, you have your pick of special events, menus, concerts, and window-shopping. Highway and parking garage traffic lessens everyday and garish decorations double everyday. The attitude on metro and in taxicabs remains the same. It’s a beautiful thing. I celebrated by enjoying what the city had to offer in terms of holiday spirit.
Downtown Holiday Market
I ventured to the Downtown Holiday Market, a 5th annual event centered at 8th and F Streets, NW, in front of the National Portrait Gallery. It features 150 local artisans peddling gift ideas, such as jewelry and paintings. The most intriguing exhibitor sold handbags converted from aged editions of hardback books. “No, you can’t borrow my collector’s edition of Pride and Prejudice because the pages have been replaced with three chapsticks.” I was tempted to buy a handmade cherry wood cutting block, but reconsidered after seeing the $125 price tag. Most of the booths looked similar to what could be found at Eastern Market and similar fairs.
Daily entertainment consists of an eclectic schedule of musical performances. No exaggeration, genres ranged from a capella and Andean fusion to boogie woogie and rockalypso. I didn’t purchase any gifts, but did snack on warm candy-coated pecans and enjoyed listening to this guy rock out.
The market runs for most of December and will surely return for the 2010 shopping season. Add it to your list of festive, can-cost-nothing DC attractions.
Not Your Typical Office Party
One of the perks of living in an urban setting is the potential for your place of employment to throw an awesome holiday party at an awesome venue. JP’s office went to the ESPN Zone last year and Lucky Strike bowling alley the year before. I was fortunate to go to two parties: one at CulinAerie with my team and the other at the Ritz Carlton with the entire company.
First: CulinAerie is a recreational cooking school on 14th and L Streets, NW. They offer one-time or series of classes including baking and pastry instruction, wine and spirits tastings, knife skills, and cooking technique workshops. My supervisor called for venue suggestions and yours truly proposed the winning idea! At last, I thought, I could add a few dishes to my novice-cooking repertoire. Point of fact, CulinAerie is not where you become an expert in three hours. It’s where you come to assist in cooking your own meal minimally, as though you were at the Melting Pot, and enjoy eating your meal thoroughly.
The menu included: Parmagiano and gruyere soufflé, Classic coq au vin OR Roast leg of lamb with a gratin of tomatoes, onions, and potatoes, and for dessert, Torta caprese. We each had a station with a hot plate, relevant utensils, and ingredients. The group follows along, watching flat screen televisions from an overhead camera, as the lead instructor first demonstrates every step. It sounds impressive that we made all of this challenging food, but the instructors assisted by preparing many of the ingredients in advance (as you may know, coq au vin requires marinating in a wine mixture for not less than one day). Even with the help, my table managed to mess up the coq au vin by removing the meat from the pan for too long and we had to take from another table’s entrée. Evidently, we incorrectly relied on the written directions for take-home preparation put in front of us instead of paying attention to the live instructor – oops!
Our souffles, on the other hand, baked perfectly!
Everyone then eats dinner at the same time in another common room at a large, family-style table. It’s an ideal private party venue because you leave having learned a couple of things – even if it’s to pay attention when a teacher is teaching – and having had the fun group experience of preparing and eating a meal.
Second: How can one criticize an evening at the Ritz? A seated meal, dancing, and cocktail attire. It’s like a wedding without the requisite ceremony. DC, of course, has many luxury hotels that would be beautiful holiday party venues.
Ugly Sweater Party
My friends held their 3rd annual Ugly Sweater Pub Crawl in mid-December. This might not be particular to DC, but it was my first one anyway. We had an ambitious crawl designed that would take us to Front Page, Lucky Bar, Public, and Sign of the Whale. Due to freezing weather, unprecedented crowds, and competing ugly sweater crawls, we stayed at Lucky Bar for most of the night. That night was also the first time that I had to wait in a 20+ minute line to get into Lucky Bar of all places. During my wait, I overheard the bouncer complaining about all the weird people in ugly Christmas sweaters who were not leaving. It was then that I put down my camera, so sorry for the lack of pictures from this event.
Finding my ugly sweater and holiday flair took more effort than I expected. Goodwill had nothing holiday-ish and I didn’t have time to order anything online. I picked up my “costume” from Kohl’s; however, to date I have seen two different women wearing my identical ugly sweater in public without irony. Where can I go in the city to find something colorful, noisy, and especially annoying for next year?
Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future. With a baguette.
To get into the spirit, I saw A Christmas Carol at Ford’s Theater.
Charles Dickens’ magical story was brought to life in an imaginative retelling, with more children and an affable actress playing the traditionally male role of Ghost of Christmas Present. The theater is a very intimate and there were not many set changes.
I love that story in almost all formats from The Muppet Christmas Carol with Kermit as Bob Cratchit to the Bill Murray classic, Scrooged. This show is a Washington tradition held at many local venues every year, and I have never been to a single stage performance.
We sat not too far from the infamous box where President Lincoln was assassinated.
I also had never been inside Ford’s Theater, a national historic site, which has free entrance and a museum below the performance hall.
Honest Abe and dishonest Monica.
Before the show, I went to Bistro d’Oc across the street for the pre-theater menu. The stretch of road between the theater and restaurant, 10th and E Streets, NW, is one of my favorite spots in the city. The road is anachronistically cobble stoned and always so quiet compared to the bustle of Constitution Avenue down the block.
My expectations of the restaurant were low after reading lackluster reviews on the Post and Yelp; however, those reviews did not give it nearly as much credit as it deserves. For $23.95, you get three courses plus a glass of wine.
I had never tried Languedoc cuisine from Southern France, and it seemed to have heartier flavors and simpler sauces than most French meals. One flaw, though, is that despite the robust taste, the portions were too small. I was amused by how the wait staff shifted this one white board listing the house specials around the restaurant, eventually getting to every table.
For location and price, I would certainly return to Bistro d’Oc if I have tickets to another performance at Ford’s. Further, I would recommend this very same evening – dinner and the show – to others when the holidays roll around again.
Holiday Plans for Next Year, which is now This Year
2009 will be remembered for many things. Among them, for me, will be that it was the first year in recent memory that I did not visit the White House Christmas tree. I used to visit the holiday scene every year with my family and then continued the tradition once I was in college since it was such a short walk. For the first time, tickets to the lighting of the National Christmas Tree on the Ellipse were distributed by an online lottery. Unfortunately, I did not get tickets and neither did any of my friends. In addition to viewing the tree next season, I plan to make it to Union Station and the Botanic Garden to see the holiday displays for the first time. Who knows what else will come to mind between now and then, convincing me to love DC or move my affection along?
Filed under: Holiday, Hotel, Penn Quarter, Restaurants, Shopping, Theater, Why Love DC? | 10 Comments