I’m not a movie person. There are few movies I’ve seen all the way through. Most of these movies I’ve seen at the movie theater, largely because AMC does not have a “bring your own couch” policy. This requires me to sit up and stay awake. But if I have a place to stretch out, along with a pillow and a blanket, I rarely make it to the end, or the middle even. Turn the fireplace on and it’s almost certain I won’t see the whole thing. I’ve been this way for most of my life. There are some movies I’ve seen, at home, several times, in their entirety. These are very special. Just ask my Mom. As a kid, I thought Annie was the only movie ever worth watching.
One of my other favorite movies is the American President, starring Michael Douglas, Annette Bening, and Martin Sheen. I owe the love of this flick to my Dad, who spent many lazy afternoons watching President Andrew Shepherd and lobbyist Sydney Ellen Wade play the dating game in the oval office.
So why start a post about Washington, D.C. referencing a completely fictional movie from the 90’s? Because, for the first time in my life, I’ve had the pleasure of driving Dupont Circle. The same Dupont Circle that Sydney Ellen Wade wanted declared a Federal Disaster Area.
President Shepherd: “You didn’t get stuck on Dupont Circle again?”
Sydney Ellen Wade- “It’s not funny-I hate that place! Can’t you declare it a Federal Disaster Area or something?”
She was on to something there. Dupont Circle, with all its lights and inside lanes and outside lanes is an absolute nightmare to drive. And this is coming from a Jersey Girl who was raised to properly drive a circle.
The President’s Day Weekend Begins in Baltimore (B-more)
I may be a Jersey Girl, but I’m truly in love with the state of Maryland, especially in and around Baltimore. After living there for nine years, I sometimes wish I could reside in both states or combine them in some way. It would be a culinary dream.
So, it goes without saying, that if we were going to Washington, I’d just have to stop by one of my old haunts and satisfy a craving or two. A craving that goes by the name of the Tokyo Roll.
My favorite sushi restaurant of all time is a little place in Timonium, Maryland called Yamato Sushi. The owner, Danny, is one of the loveliest people I’ve ever met and he and his family have made me feel at home for many years now. I’ve always thought that if Danny were to set up shop in NYC, he’d make a fortune. But, I wouldn’t want to share him with that many people. I love the coziness that comes with his tiny restaurant. I also love that he’s hidden in a big, cheesy shopping center. Mostly because I hate big, cheesy shopping centers, and Yamato dresses this one up a bit.
Years ago my friend Shannon and I made going to Yamato for lunch or dinner almost a weekly occurrence. It was our guilty little pleasure, something we thought was well-deserved after a long day or week of teaching, or after a strenuous rock climb at the climbing gym. We’d often order way too many rolls and spend hours, laughing and chatting with the owners and staff. We made the bulletin boards for the Polaroid photos of their regulars, and made it our duty to introduce any new friend or family member to Danny and his incredible place to dine.
Of course, during our dating years, Paul’s first visit to Baltimore was also his first visit to Yamato. Paul credits his sushi eating to me. He didn’t eat it before me and won’t order without me. He confides in me for my sushi wisdom. That’s love don’t you think?
Paul thinks that Yamato is really good, but he does like to tease me about it. We’ve eaten good sushi in big cities and little cities and I still consider Yamato to be the very best. He thinks there is probably somewhere out there in the world that has much better sushi than Yamato. I don’t want to believe it and I don’t have to.
On Friday night, the night before our big trip to Washington, we began our adventure at Yamato. Danny and his wife greeted me with big hugs, I got my Tokyo Roll, with extra spicy mayonnaise on the side (they remembered, not me), and, before we left, they gave us a big box of cookies as a belated Valentine’s Day gift. It was the best. It is the best. Even if there is somewhere in the world that Paul thinks might be better.
After Yamato we headed downtown to the Lord Baltimore hotel. This is the hotel that we always stay at when my mother-in-law has a doctor’s appointment at Hopkins. Thanks to Travelzoo (love them), we were able to get the concierge level of the hotel at a majorly discounted price. While the price was good, the concierge level was not. We got one drink and a tortilla chip out of it. Yes, one tortilla chip. The concierge lounge service closed five minutes after our arrival. However, we did get a Club Carlson card and free parking. Now that we’re Club Carlson members we can park for free and pray for our safe return back to the hotel after navigating the broken escalators in the parking garage. Next time we’ll pay to valet it, thanks.
Sleep was minimal that night. The city of Baltimore seemed to be burning down, with sirens every half hour or so. At one point, in the early hours of the morning, say 2 or 3am, I checked the Baltimore news online just to be sure we weren’t missing something. I found out the only thing we were missing was a good night’s sleep.
The next morning we got our coffee , lugged our luggage across the street and down several flights of stairs to the parking garage, and programmed our GPS to help us find our way to the Mayflower Hotel, Washington, D.C..
The Quest to Find Joel’s Rock
The Mayflower Hotel was another Travelzoo find, however, lucky for us they had the same deal on Southwest’s website. Since we are Southwest Rapid Rewards members, booking through Southwest.com gets us bonus points towards all sorts of free goodies and free flights. We would pay the mortgage through Southwest if we could. Imagine all the free flights we could rack up! If you love to travel, the Southwest Rapid Rewards program and credit card is great. Our flights to Fort Lauderdale for our recent cruise were free, all just for getting the credit card!
The Mayflower Hotel, historically known as the “Grand Dame of Washington, D.C.”, is located just down the street from Dupont Circle and four blocks from the White House. Home to many Presidential inaugural balls, the hotel was quoted to be Washington, D.C.’s “second best address” by President Harry Truman who called the Mayflower home for the first 90 days of his presidency. I’ll have to agree Mr. President. The Mayflower is quite a place.
We truly loved staying at the Mayflower. We don’t spend much time in a hotel when we travel, but there is something about staying somewhere fancy. Especially a place with so much history for such a great price.
After settling in to our room, we made our way over to the White House, then the Washington Monument, and finally to the Smithsonian to find my father-in-law’s rock.
My father-in-law, Dr. Joel Shappirio, has a rock on display at the Smithsonian Natural History Museum. When I say rock, I mean apophyllite prehnite. You know what I’m talking about right? Don’t worry. I was completely clueless on that one too. Let’s just say, I thought I was looking for a rock, but when we finally found it, it looked like a big green and white crystal. It’s far from being the kind of rock I was looking for. So the story goes that my father-in-law, who grew up in Washington, D.C., and studied mineralogy and petrology in college, traded this apophyllite prehnite for another fancy rock, with the Smithsonian. They put it on display and after he passed away, my mother-in-law wrote a letter to the Smithsonian asking them to put his name on it. And so they did. And here it is:
The photo totally doesn’t do it justice though. The lighting in the museum doesn’t make for good photos. Plus, Paul had to take the photo at a ridiculous angle just to get his name. There was a large pink “rock” in front of it, hiding the information we came to see.
After seeing Joel’s rock, we were on our way to find a good place to eat lunch. As we wandered, we came across the W Hotel. We love the W Hotel chain so we decided to stroll in and take a look around. This became a pivotal moment in our trip. Here we met a bartender who advised us of a good place to eat dinner: Brasserie Beck. Owned and operated by chef Robert Wiedmaier, he promised us it wouldn’t disappoint. He also told us to go check out the W rooftop bar and restaurant for one of the best views of Washington, D.C.. He was right! Next thing we knew we were looking at a beautiful view of the top of the White House!
The Shappirio Shuffle
After a snack on the rooftop, it was time to find our lunch. W Hotels while lovely and modern, are quite pricey, which is the reason we only settled for a snack. After saying goodbye to our new friend at the W, we started out on what is commonly known as the Shappirio Shuffle. This is what Paul calls it when we don’t know where to eat. Usually, I have every meal researched and planned out, but on the few occasions I do not, it turns ugly. You are probably thinking, “why didn’t you just ask the guy at the W where to eat?”. Shockingly, he was really pushing the restaurant at the W, despite his dinner recommendation.
So this is how the Shappirio shuffle goes: I have to explore my every option before we commit to eating somewhere. I’m not picky, I’ll eat close to anything. However my meals are very important to me and, I guess I’m a little afraid of missing something great. This drives my husband crazy. He will suggest a place and I’ll always have a reason for just walking one more block to see “what’s down there”. This time we did the shuffle around Dupont Circle. We finally landed upon a restaurant called Scion. It was packed with people and honestly, I don’t think Paul was willing to shuffle anymore by this point.
The meal was ok. Not great. Not horrible. We sat outside in the covered and heated sidewalk area. While the food wasn’t memorable, the experience was quite unforgettable. Towards the end of lunch, I went inside to the bathroom. When I returned, I found a scene I never expected. A man, bundled up in a puffy jacket, was in Paul’s face, saying something to him that I couldn’t hear. Meanwhile, the hostess was trying to pull the man away who was resisting with all his might. The hostess looked at me and I said, “What’s going on? That’s my husband”. For some reason, the man gave in to the hostess and agreed to leave. When I sat down, Paul said the man entered the restaurant, walked over to him, and demanded information from him about Obama. When Paul asked him who he was and why he was asking him, the man stated his name and asked if Paul was a lawyer. It was the most bizarre situation I’ve ever witnessed. I was impressed with how calm Paul was about the whole thing and how calm he acted while interacting with the man. I, of course, would have reacted much differently. I’m a little paranoid in that respect. We still don’t know why he picked Paul. Perhaps because he was all by himself? Either way, it made for an interesting lunch.
The rest of our afternoon was spent wandering around a used bookstore and then returning to our hotel to rest our feet a bit.
Before dinner, we took a walk over to the Lincoln Memorial for Paul to get some photo opportunities. The memorials and monuments in Washington are beautifully lit at night. In my opinion, this is the time to see them. We also went to the Korean War Veteran’s Memorial which is unlike any memorial I’ve ever seen. Nineteen sculptures of soldiers in the grass lit dimly from below.
Next, we hailed a cab to Lafayette Square for a visit to the famous Hay-Adams Hotel. Located just across from the White House, the Hay-Adams has been the place to stay since 1927. If you can afford it, that is. Since the Hay-Adams was way out of our budget, we settled on just visiting the restaurant before dinner. We got quite a laugh out of the bellman saying “Welcome Home Sir” and “Welcome Back Ma’am” when we got out of the cab as if they’d remembered us from the last time we were there. The restaurant and lounge and the hotel itself were quite remarkable. We promised each other that someday we’d splurge for at least a one night stay at the Hay-Adams.
After our brief visit to the Hay-Adams, we headed to Brasserie Beck for our 8:45pm dinner reservation. If I could have, I would have hugged Robert Wiedmaier for the meal we had at this exceptional restaurant. I would tell anyone traveling to D.C., that if they wanted just one good meal, this is the place. We started our meal with seasonal oysters that were the freshest and tastiest I think I’ve ever had. Next, we tried the bone marrow with sage and rosemary crusted bread. Yes, you read that correctly. We eat vegan on the weekdays and bone marrow on the weekends. It’s how we roll. The main attraction, the mussels with white wine, roasted garlic, parsley, and cream made me sing. They come to your table right in the pot they are cooked in, steaming hot, accompanied with frites and bread for dipping. I love you Robert Wiedmaier. We will be back.
We ended our evening with a much-needed walk back to the Mayflower before turning in for the night with big plans for the following day.
Coming tomorrow: Here’s to Joel…Part Two
More from D.C. and our short, but delicious trip to Annapolis!