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36 Hours Visits Washington, DC – My Inputs

A regular feature in the New York Times on Fridays is the piece where someone goes and visits a city, wanders around, eats at some local places, sees the sites, and then writes about it. O.K. That might be a bit simplistic of a synopsis, but the point is that these are quick bites about a place, rather than in-depth explorations of a city’s delights.

Please don’t think that I’m faulting this genre in any way, in fact, quite the contrary, I enjoy reading the pieces each week and have pulled quite a few articles for my places-to-be-visited collection. So, I was especially interested in today’s topic for “36 Hours” – my hometown-ish of Washington, D.C. – and curious to see the writer’s take on it. (click here for article) I was sort of disappointed, however, to see that he barely touched on some of the myriad eating establishments that dot the city’s landscape (Galileo, Zola, Marcel’s, and Kinkead’s among them).
Not ever hailed by any stretch of the imagination as one of the great culinary cities of the United States, or the world for that matter, I find it fascinating at how much has changed in the 10-plus years since I’ve lived in the area. While there were always a few stand-out restaurants, the stars were usually hidden amongst the reams of mediocrity and the downright awful – and I’m not just talking about the hot dog carts or the government-agency cafeterias (though I’ve eaten at both). Now, there seem to be plenty of choices and price ranges for places where one can find a good meal.
Here are some of my thoughts on the author’s recommendations about where to go and what to eat while visiting the Nation’s Capital. You’ll note there’s not a “death dog” cart among them. [Please note that the link to the original New York Times article will only be active for a week. After that, it is available for a fee from their archives service.]

Hotel Washington (www.hotelwashington.com) – Remember the rooftop power breakfast scene in No Way Out? Here’s your chance to feel as though you are on top of the world in D.C., at least as long as you are ordering food and drink. They used to do a decent lunchtime burger and on crystal clear days the place was as packed as the Metro’s Orange Line to Vienna during evening rush hour. Last time I went there was for post-work drinks which were also good. It’s one of those places that is always on my to-recommend list for out-of-towners.
Zaytinya (www.zaytinya.com) – This is recommended as a place to go to for dinner. I wholeheartedly second the comments about how this Penn Quarter (where do they come up with these names?) locale feels like an NYC joint except that, frankly, there’s tons more space here for folks to crowd up than at most Manhattan establishments. To me, it sort of feels as though it is trying to “be New York” and to cater to the younger hip D.C. crowd that decided that they didn’t want to live further north.
The bar is huge and usually packed and the tables are close together, but the food is what made me want to try this place when I first heard about it. The small plates and wide variety of tasty Mediterranean (mostly Turkish) menu items make this great for groups and for those who like options. As a big fan of this cuisine, I was pleased to see it make it to D.C. Warning: it doesn’t take reservations so you’ll have to wait at peak time.
Café Milano (www.cafemilanodc.com) – I haven’t been here in forever. While I can’t figure out why the author of this article couldn’t find a single place to recommend in Northwest until he ate dinner on his second night in town, I can’t fault his choice in cuisine. One of the surprises of Washington is that its good Italian places are very good. The other end of the spectrum is completely awful. Definitely go with this tried and true selection and spend a night out in Georgetown in the bargain (which you probably haven’t done in a while), dreaming about how you always imagined you’d buy a townhouse here. I don’t recommend running “The Exorcist Stairs” until at least an hour after you’ve eaten.
National Gallery of Art (www.nga.gov/ginfo/cafes.shtm) – Yes, the museum cafeterias even have their own special site on the NGA homepage – no starving artists here. The food at these restaurants has always been serviceable rather than spectacular. With a dearth of places to eat around the Mall, they provide a nice respite from tromping around to all the rooms in the East and West Wing galleries.
Hey, get going, the exhibits are all viewable for free in Washington! With New York museums jacking up their prices for entry to their collections ($20.00 “suggested” for the Met?!), there’s no excuse not to try to see what’s on display in D.C. Have you seen Van Gogh’s “Roses” yet? It’s gorgeous. Then, you can see the Hope Diamond at the Museum of Natural History, which you haven’t done since that elementary school field trip.
Buon viaggio e buon appetito!