WASHINGTON, D.C. DISHES UP, YES, POLITICS BUT ALSO GOOD FOOD AND DRINK

This article originally was written for Out Front Colorado. Featured image courtesy of Destination D.C.

Planning a trip to our nation’s capitol, maybe to lobby for repeal of the deceptively named “Defense of Marriage Act” or to support passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act” or to encourage the Joint Chiefs to expedite implementation of the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell?” After a day of political activism, you’re going to need sustenance and something to quench your thirst. I’ve traveled to D.C. at least once each of the last five years – just got back from my most recent trip – and can help guide you to some worthy choices.

The Dupont Circle neighborhood has been the center of the city’s GLBT community since the 1970s. You’ll find an impressive mix of restaurants, bistros, and bars boutiques, shops, hotels, B&BS, galleries and museums. I (and many others) have especially enjoyed the New England-style seafood at Jamie Leeds’ Hank’s Oyster Bar, as it has become one of the neighborhood’s most popular establishments.

On my most recent trip, my disappointment one day in finding that Café Green (which  specializes in vegetarian food) was closed for the lunch turned to  culinary joy with the  lunch I had at Pizzeria Paradiso. My 8-inch special served up  a toasty, crispy crust  slathered with olive paste topped with cherry tomatoes,  Kalamata olives, basil, and  Parmesan, and hedonistically finished with Prisciutto  di Parma. It was admirably  accompanied by a pint of New Holland’s “The Poet”   Oatmeal Stout.

On this trip, though, I spent most of my time exploring the offerings in the Penn Quarter, an area of downtown not far from Union Station, Chinatown and Capitol Hill that has seen a transformation into one of the city’s most talked-about restaurant destinations. The neighborhood has long been essentially the city’s theater district. It also has become an entertainment center with numerous clubs, the sports arena, and numerous world-class museums.

I ate breakfast and dinner here all three days I was in town. Breakfast was coffee and pastries alternating at Firehook Bakery and Chinatown Coffee Company.

Dinner the first night was at celebrity chef José Andrés’ Jaleo. This trend-setting tapas restaurant did not disappoint. I enjoyed a traditional fisherman’s “sopa,” a wild mushroom studded “arroz,” and homemade “chorizo,” all washed down with a  satisfying Ludovicus Terra Alta (a fine blend of garnacha, tempranillo and syrah). I  was particularly impressed with the high quality olive oil served with bread to start  the meal.

For my second dinner, I decided to indulge both the “winie” and the “foodie” in mewith a meal  at the popularwine bar Proof. They have great looking charcuterie and cheese menus but I  went right to the main menu. My garlicky escarole salad, and roast organic chicken breast  with mushrooms, rapini and polenta were soul satisfying. My wines were pricey but very good  – a crisp, refreshing Gran Cardiel Verdejo for my aperitif and a Bergstrom Cumberland Reserve Pinot Noir with thdentrée.

My last dinner was at the elegant Ristorante Tosca. I settled on the popular pre-theater menu (something many of the restaurants in the Penn Quarter offer, though none offer as many choices as Tosca) as a more affordable way to sample the menu. As a bonus, ten percent of the price is donated to “Food and Friends,” an organization that delivers meals and groceries to people living with HIV/AIDS and other life-threatening illnesses. I enjoyed whole-wheat square spaghetti, sea bass with spinach and balsamic syrup, and finished with bites of three cheeses. The wines, a melony Kris Pinot Grigio and a full-bodied, rich Novelli Montefalco Rosso (sangiovese, sagrantino, merlot, cabernet sauvignon), were good companions.

After a morning visiting several of Colorado’s Congressional offices, I took an opportunity to explore Capitol Hill along Pennsylvania Avenue Southeast. The area has long been a social and residential center for DC’s gay and lesbian community. I walked to what many consider Capitol Hill’s “town hall” – Eastern Market, the oldest operating public market in the city (since 1873!). It is a great place to stock up on fresh produce, meats, flowers, baked goods and unique arts and crafts. I enjoyed a simple but juicy chicken sandwich at Market Lunch. Nearby Eighth Street SE, with its concentration of shops, restaurants and bars (including Phase 1, the nation’s oldest lesbian bar) is a center for alternative nightlife.

On my way back to the Capitol for more meetings, I couldn’t resist stopping by Peregrine Espresso for a jolt, followed by a stop at Good Stuff Eatery. I passed on a gourmet burger, instead enjoying excellent hand cut fries.

There are many more tantalizing options in the Capitol city. For valuable travel advice, go to the Destination D.C. website. Whether you are traveling for business, politics, culture or entertainment, Washington, D.C. is a special travel destination.

About Rich

I first became interested in wine while I worked in numerous liquor stores during college in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. In the years following college, I researched, tasted, traveled to vineyards in California and Europe, participated in countless tastings. I began writing about wine in 1995 with a column in Out Front Colorado. For me, wine is more than a drink. It is food. It is a connection to the earth. It is culture. There is just something amazing, even magical, about the transformation of grapes into wine. It is also remarkable how drinking wine with food enhances the taste and enjoyment of both. Appreciation of wine has become an integral part of my approach to life, which emphasizes balance, respect for nature, physical and emotional health, and an appreciation of our nature as social beings. In 2006, I was awarded a fellowship to the Symposium for Professional Wine Writers.