In Seven Days… Do You Know Where Your Drink Will Be?

31 July 2009

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This blog began because of an urgent need to purge something painful anywhere and the whole world seemed like a logical choice at the time.  More than a year later it has become the source for more than a few friendships, a couple of … ahem, interesting dates, and a few people I can’t imagine my life without.  So when two people in that last group told me they wanted to throw a bloggy happy hour, I endorsed the notion wholeheartedly and joined the merry band to host the shin dig.

Next Friday at 7pm we’d love it if you joined us for drinks and shenanigans at Evolve.

Leave a comment, post this picture, or just drop me an email (restaurantrefugee@gmail.com) to let us know you’ll be attending.  When you arrive just look for the group with the loudest and most raucous members – that will be us.  If that fails, just look for LiLu who’ll be wearing a tiara.


Midlife Non-Crisis

29 July 2009

The Disgruntled Citizen of the World, otherwise known as Valerie, the author of the When I Become Queen Blog, is having a Midlife Crisis.  Hers is primarily related to music but I can relate on so many levels.  What began as a comment on her post has morphed into full on rant…

I am a late 30 something and exist, rather proudly for the record, on the other side of the generation gap. Lady Gaga could walk into the coffee shop where I am writing and slap me with impunity as I could neither pick her from a mug book nor identify a single one of her songs.  I generally lament the state of contemporary music and have happily severed my relationship with it with few exceptions.  I have simply decided that my time is better spent further exploring the brilliance of Coltrane, Marvin Gaye, Sinatra, and Nancy Wilson’s of the world than finding the gems among the screeching, preening, self congratulatory artists that would lay claim to their collective mantle.

I detest reality television (Top Chef being the notable exception) and brag about never having seen a single minute of American Idol.

I loathe current comedy which, to my taste, has descended into a morass of fart jokes and gross-out humor. I’ve seen every episode of Frasier (thanks to Lifetime’s reruns) and ponder if there will ever be a spiritual successor to the brilliantly pithy and wryly told stories of the Crane brothers, et al.

When forced to send text messages, I ostentatiously and unapologetically use semi colons and parentheticals. I refuse to date women who send me more than two “LOL’s” per week regardless of the medium. I will not Twitter, Facebook*, or subscribe to any other self-important social medium (though I readily acknowledge the irony of my blogging.)

I don’t begrudge anyone, especially my friends on the other side, the indulgences I reject.  I happily visit them at places like Recessions where I’ve been known to down spectacularly large mugs of Miller Lite and sing karaoke.  As the saying goes, some of my best friends are younger than me.  I don’t consider myself any wiser, more sophisticated, or better than them… just older and with occasionally differing tastes – tastes that reflect my version of life on this side.

I am happy here and have one hundred percent confidence that, for me, the grass is greener, the bourbon richer, and the women more interesting from this vantage of the generational fence.

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You know it is Wednesday and I took my turn as contributing editor at DC Blogs. Go on check out that which moved me more than most this past week.

The following excerpt is one that I wanted to include but the Executive Editor and I ultimately agreed was a bit much for DC Blogs.  It certainly deserves your attention, however, if you’re not already hip:

It took me several years to fully understand the lyrics to the Ready for the Word song Digital Display.  If I had this handy instructional post from City Girl’s Blog, my accent on the learning curve would have been much faster –  Finger Licking Good-Part III contains explicit material.


Patios, Roofs, and Balcony’s… Oh My.

28 July 2009

The Hotel Washington’s spectacularly unremarkable roof top bar and the newly renovated Point of View share the same stunning views of DC.  The drinks, cuisine and the décor have been updated and upgraded.  Sadly, mediocre service is still a component of this place.  Lines to enter are frustratingly long (even though I don’t wait in them) and woefully mismanaged.  Bartenders and cocktail servers are possessed with haughty pretentions that seem to expect a guest’s gratitude for their admittance.  With a round of drinks for my group of three being north of sixty dollars (including tax and gratuity,) I became even less enamored of this place where too many people wear sunglasses past the point of need, and take themselves far too seriously.

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About a half a mile away from P.O.V. is another newish rooftop hotel bar, the SkyBar at the Beacon Hotel.  The Beacon has never been known for high-end food or high quality service – I seem to recall one of the critics of record skewering the place with a one star review that was better than my zero star prior experiences.  I was coaxed into giving them another chance by a gorgeous summer evening and a stiletto wearing ingénue I have known for a while.

Sticking to beer on tap because of a frighteningly mundane and overpriced selection of wines by the glass is the smart way to go here – assuming that you like a dark brown ale more appropriate to cool weather drinking.  Still, I’d rather pay for the only beer on tap option, New Castle Brown, than spend twelve + dollars for a glass of wine that I know cost the bar six dollars for the bottle equaling a 1000% mark-up.

Overpricing and lack of seasonality aside, SkyBar is a pleasant place to spend an after work evening before going some place else for food.  Crab Hush Puppies were lacking in discernable crab flavor specifically, and flavor flavor generally.  Wasabi Guacamole had heat but not salt, and the Calamari Salad was rubbery and overly salted.

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Policy is another new place with outdoor space (sure, it overlooks an alley and the back of buildings but it fits with my open air/new place theme so just go with it.)  The look of this place is overly mod and severe with an all black interior on the dining room level.  Un-shaded tear drop lighting adds to the severity.  This place isn’t my style but I understand its appeals to some.

With all of its hipster striving, Policy may not seem like a place for serious dining, but the food is serious, and seriously good here.   The menu may seem like a 2001 Greatest Culinary Hits album – lamb lollipops, duck spring rolls, short ribs, hanger steak – but the dishes are executed very well and priced reasonably too.  For maximum enjoyment, I would recommend early week dining because this place can get loud without too much help from the music and chatter.

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Bar Dupont in the recently renovated Hotel Dupont is the new winner of the “We’re Really Pretty So We Don’t Have to Be Good Crown.”*  It is visually charming, but there are so many things wrong with service, food, management, and concept that the only nice thing that one of my favorite food bloggers and I could say after one visit was “at least the mustard was good.”

I’ve been back since that ill fated visit in part to confirm all of my harsh thoughts, and in part for the same reason I’ve had second dates with gorgeous but incompatible women.  I want so much to like the place.

I am fatigued with clueless restaurant owners who are satisfied with mediocrity as long as it yields profits and their fraternity of the lame is too full with members.  I place them in league with talented writers/directors who make shitty movies.  I don’t begrudge them the right to get paid for making bad movies, I just wonder why THEY ARE ok with it.

* don’t worry, Lauriol Plaza, you can bounce back and reclaim the title next year.


History, Context, and the Benefit of Doubt

22 July 2009

I was five when I learned that I had an uncle I would never meet because he was strange fruit on an Alabama poplar tree.

I was ten years old the first time the word “Nigger” was hurled at me with venom.

I was eleven the first time I noticed bias from a teacher directed at the only Black kid in the class.

I was fourteen the first time that I found myself on the thoroughly correct side of the law but the wrong side of a police officer who took me to the station in handcuffs because I had the “wrong attitude” and the temerity to be “uppity” when I was right.

I was sixteen the first time a store clerk not so subtly hinted that I couldn’t afford to shop were I was standing.

I was seventeen the first time I was stopped for driving a car in neighborhood where most people who drove there didn’t look like me.  “Failure to come to a complete stop” was the reason.

I was eighteen the first time I was advised by some Caucasian gentleman that I might need only a half tank of gas and should move on.

I was twenty the first time I was asked if I was an “affirmative action hire.”

I was twenty three the first time a grocery store owner asked to inspect my bag before leaving the store.

I was twenty five the first time I had a series of terrific phone interviews, but saw the change in an interviewer’s eyes upon first meeting, followed by the shortest interview on record.

I was twenty eight when a false alarm at my home led to the arrival of a couple of police cars, me being handcuffed in front of my then wife and neighbors, before I received an apology for the “misunderstanding.”

I was thirty the first time I began writing down the time, date, location, and taxi number of every working cab that passed me when I needed a ride home.  At the end of each week I sent dozens of incidents from the prior seven days to the taxi cab commission for investigation.  Eight months of letters, and nearly eight years later I’m still waiting for the call back.

I don’t know if it was the first time, but the first time I remember being told by a woman that she “doesn’t date black men” was when I was thirty two.

I was thirty four the last time I was confused for a valet, bellman, porter, busboy, etc. even though I was the boss*.

I was thirty six the last time someone asked for the manager and upon seeing me declared that they’d rather speak with someone in charge.

It was two weeks ago that I stood at the host stand of one the “best” restaurants in the city I was visiting when I was ignored by some past her prime flibidigibit.  A Caucasian couple entering after I did was greeted warmly and taken right to their table.

No one would call me a militant or an “angry black man.”** I have two advanced degrees from top universities, national recognition as an expert in my field, multiple publications to my credit, and am widely recognized in my city.  None of that protected me from all of the aforementioned slights and it didn’t protect Harvard Professor Skip Gates either.  There are two sides to every story, but history – mine, his, and the world’s – demand that the professor gets the benefit of all doubts.

* all of those jobs are noble and necessary occupations, and I wouldn’t be ashamed of any of them, but white guys in tailored suits aren’t often thought to work at those level jobs

** not that militancy or anger wouldn’t be a bit understandable


Attacked on the Metro

20 July 2009

The commuter dance was taking longer than normal since the accident but it didn’t bother me. My schedule was fluid and I had a newspaper to bide my time, and a seat for comfort. Then it happened…

A woman in a very short-sleeved t-shirt began pointing at the metro map next to me. The clomp of hair under her arm was waving to me. I ignored The Hair as best as a man who is revolted by such things could but it was like one of those pictures LiLu shows on Thursdays – drawn in indelible mental ink. This woman, and The Hair, grabbed the overhead bar – a thatch of gnarled string on display for all the world.

The Hair started winking at me. Then The Hair got pissed because I kept trying to ignore her. Then it started to grow like the incredible hulk of hair because she was pissed. Before I knew it, there were natty locks round my imagination choking the life from me.

Fighting back was futile – the ropes were thick, strong, and crippling.  I tried to run, but the car was too crowded to find safe distance.  This was worse than the time I couldn’t breathe; the hair had hold of my mind.

Finally my stop neared, and I darted from my seat.  I became that obnoxious commuter who attempts to bend laws of physics just to be one step closer to the door.  I really just needed to be one more step away from The Hair.

I don’t know if it followed me, but I sprinted the escalator just in case.


Housecleaning Friday…

17 July 2009

My new favorite text message: “It’s 5:30; do you know where you’re drink is?”

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The republicans are right: It is about time that Latinas end their long history of oppressing white men in this country.

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All of the people who complained about the disproportionate coverage of MJ’s death were right: the media never obsesses over the death of some people except the Billings, Joan Benet, Natalee Holloway, or too many other people to name.

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Even though I swore I wouldn’t return to Bar Dupont unless it was at the end of a Bayonet (apparently the end of a well wielded mascara wand was equally effective,) I went back recently and can confirm that it still sucks more than a hooker or a Hoover.

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I just found another reason to love a Canuck.  Margaret Wente may be a partisan ideologue but she sure is funny.

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When Screen on the Green was cancelled, I wrote this post questioning the existence of philanthropy and the moral bearings of the über wealthy.  Well SOG is back, and Richard Branson is doing a good turn too.  Virgin Festival is free this year – this almost makes up for that that reality television show he inflicted on the public back in 2004.

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Dear Chef from last night, my food ought not be a mini statue to your ego.  If I have to knock it down before I can eat it, you’re really just pissing me off.  I know that there are some people (usually with more money than good sense) who are easily impressed by the excessively whimsical aerosol spray in the mouth of a course – but do know that their numbers were small before the economic downturn and they are dwindling fast.  Rule of thumb – cook to satisfy the soul, the palette, and the eye in that order.

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To everyone that keeps asking about my Old Man, thank you again for your kind wishes and words.  He is rehabbing well and getting his ass kicked at backgammon by the home healthcare nurse that I love.


The Underlying Truths that Set Me Free

15 July 2009

You’re a really terrific woman, but I don’t have time and space in my life to start something…

With you.

I am deeply attracted to you; the reason I didn’t stay the other night had nothing to do with that…

But everything to do with the fact that I had grown tired of you and wanted a cigar more than I wanted to get laid.

I could kiss you all night…

Except for when you press your face too hard against mine and I can feel your teeth pressing through my lips and threatening to draw blood.

I’d love to go with you to a Bastille Day Party…

But I wonder how much it will cost me since in the five times we’ve gone out (in at least as many weeks) you’ve had a dozen opportunities to open your wallet but never have.

I really sorry that I had to cancel dinner with you…

However, when I told you that I had to go deal with my ailing father again and you pouted about your new dress and cancelled plans, I learned everything I needed to know about you.

I’m really sorry that timing isn’t in our favor…

And that it never will be.


Ain’t Nothing but a Family Thing – Update

13 July 2009

Thank you to all of the people who sent my father and me kind wishes through your comments, emails, and other means too.  Dad is rehabbing as comfortably as a cantankerous old man can, and I am dealing with the sundry issues that accompany our troubled relationship and his illness as well as I can reasonably hope.

I have been back to see him twice and look forward to writing the second part of Ain’t Nothing but a Family Thing soon.

Thank you again for all of your good thoughts and wishes – they were felt from wherever you were sending them.


Ain’t Nothing but a Family Thing

8 July 2009

It was a charmed evening until I got the call.  My favorite date and I had lingered over a couple of cocktails and a cigar on one of my regular patios before cabbing a mile north for dinner at a frequent dining haunt.  It was a bit embarrassing as my out of town companion watched far too many people say hello to me before we could even get to a table (it’s just an industry thing.)

We had made our way through a couple of small plates and then I got a text message from my sister: Dad in the hospital with a blood clot behind the knee, call me, call him xxx-xxx-xxxx.

I excused myself as politely as anyone who had received that message could and went outside to call my old man.  We don’t talk often, and our conversation leaned more towards the clinical.

“What has the doctor told you?”

“How are you feeling?”

“What is the course of treatment?”

I say goodnight with the comfort that this is a “serious but routine” condition and that the drugs are the logical treatment.  I am distracted through the rest of dinner, my mind occupied with thoughts of Dad’s illness and how much it is going to cost me (you want to talk about the health care crisis in this country, bring it; because it’s draining my portfolio faster than I can make fun of Rachel Ray.)

Later the next morning, I get the call from a doctor informing me that “the clot has started to move; the pharmaceutical option is no longer feasible and we’ve scheduled emergency surgery for later today.”  I am assured that, just like the blood clot itself, the surgery is serious but routine.

I’ve woken from surgery to an empty chair next to me.  It’s more painful than the site of your incisions, and scarier than any demons I’ve faced.

As inconvenient (and unnecessary according to the docs) it was, I wasn’t going to let him wake alone.  As awkward as it was going to be sitting in a hospital room with a father with whom I have not had a good relationship in a more than a score of years, I had to make the drive.  As much as my feelings were conflicted, my choice was made.

My father was alone, and scared and wanted to be neither.  I was present and emotionally drained and didn’t have a choice about either.


The Summer Meme – Answering my own Questions

7 July 2009
  1. You’re about to get into the Cash Cab in NYC.  You can choose any two or three people (from your actual life) to be with you.  Name the people with you and why? I would want my friend Uptown J who merits inclusion as the one of the smartest people I know and the only person who routinely beats me at Trivial Pursuit.  The Professor would balance the team with incredible knowledge of history and literature.  I would also take those two people because you have to really like the people who are going to help you drink away the winnings; and they’re both excellent drinking partners.
  2. The TV gods have appeared before you in the form of a burning remote.  They instruct you to select any canceled television show to be returned to the airwaves.  You do, however, have to make your case to them.  What show, what’s your argument in favor? Sports Night had brilliant writing, nuanced acting, and intriguing plotlines that didn’t lean too heavily on romance – requited or otherwise.  It was one of those shows that was too smart for enough of the public to embrace and too clever for the suits at ABC to support.
  3. It’s not summer in DC (or your city of origin, or your favorite city if you wish) without _______________? A concert at Wolftrap, movie night at Screen on the Green, late night at the museums that stay open for the residents to enjoy after tourists have bedded down for the night, Shakespeare in the Park, Crabs on the Bay.
  4. The best summer accessory in your repertoire is? My picnic basket.
  5. It took you a while to get on board with the _______________ trend but once you did, you don’t know how you lived without it. I can’t believe that I lived so long without an MP3 player – I got my first one two months ago.  Ten years ago I was also the last guy in my company to get a Palm Pilot and have no idea how I lived without that for so long.
  6. The song to which you are embarrassed to admit that you know all of the words is? Brtiney Spears – Toxic
  7. Your favorite memory of summer is? The last summer when I did all of the things in question number three was also the summer when I grilled with friends just about every night and took six weeks vacation.  It  was far too long ago, but I recall that summer with great fondness.
  8. The memory you would love to create this summer is? I need another beach memory; it’s been far too long since I have spent some time with sand in my toes, and a Mai Tai in my hand.
  9. According to Confucius, real knowledge exists in the understanding of what one doesn’t know.  What don’t you know? I don’t know much about physics.  I know enough about certain genres of art to enjoy them (classical music, opera, impressionist art, etc.) but not always enough to explain why.  I can do all manner of things in the kitchen, but don’t know how to make a decent pot of rice to save my life.  I don’t know how to deliver truth to attraction but not interest.  I know that the universe of things I don’t know will never be smaller than that which I know, nor will I ever stop trying to shrink it.
  10. What question do you wish were included in this meme? This question is not really applicable since I wrote the meme, however, I will say that I wish that the meme had been just a bit lighter.  As I write my own answers, I realize that it is harder than I anticipated it to be.

The Summer Meme

6 July 2009
  1. You’re about to get into the Cash Cab in NYC.  You can choose any two or three people (from your actual life) to be with you.  Name the people with you and why?
  2. The TV gods have appeared before you in the form of a burning remote.  They instruct you to select any canceled television show to be returned to the airwaves.  You do, however, have to make your case to them.  What show, what’s your argument in favor?
  3. It’s not summer in DC (or your city of origin, or your favorite city if you wish) without _______________?
  4. The best summer accessory in your repertoire is?
  5. It took you a while to get on board with the _______________ trend but once you did, you don’t know how you lived without it.
  6. The song to which you are embarrassed to admit that you know all of the words?
  7. Your favorite memory of summer is?
  8. The memory you would love to create this summer is?
  9. According to Confucius, real knowledge exists in the understanding of what one doesn’t know.  What don’t you know?
  10. What question do you wish were included in this meme?

Stream of (mostly) Restaurant Consciousness

1 July 2009

I have long maintained the following truths about the brunch scene in Washington, DC:

  • It is largely unimpressive with unimaginative cooking.
  • It is generally overpriced given the aforementioned mediocrity.
  • If I must go out for brunch, I would rather go to the exceptions to the prior two truths (Cashion’s, anywhere Gillian Clarke is cooking) or someplace with inexpensive mimosas because most place’s eggs are just eggs.

So it was that I found myself in a place with inexpensive mimosas and just average eggs on not too recent Sunday afternoon.  I was in the company of a food-loving woman with whom I used to be friends and to whose good graces I wanted to return.  Inevitably, our conversation centered on restaurants and food and I soon learned that she had never been to Restaurant Eve.  With a quick invitation, I returned to good graces…

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Restaurant Eve has for several years been considered, by anyone who knows anything about food, among the top five restaurants in the city and among the top fifty in the country.  Dining there is an exercise in elegant simplicity with a staff that defines superlatives for the region.  I have lauded  them before; the distinction in this mentioning is that I am stating without equivocation that it is the single best bar at which to dine in the area.

Comfortably elegant with reserved décor, Eve’s bar makes it clear that its focus is trained on libation and food.  You can have all of the “bar chef’s” in the world and I’d better serious cash that none of ‘em can make a Manhattan as good as Tammy.  As always, the food was rock-ya-socks good… which was rather important because the date decidedly sucked.…

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The date may have sucked but I did have the asparagus dish which inspired (minor inspiration, but inspiration nonetheless) the most awesomest salad ever

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That was a dish that formed in my head while I was walking through Whole Foods shopping for ingredients to be used later that evening.  It reminded me of a recent challenge on The Next Food Network Star, which got me thinking about my friend/ NFNS contestant, Teddy Folkman of Granville Moore’s.  I don’t know if it is simply the editing, a mutation induced by the presence of cameras, or an act of desperation to remain before the cameras, but I didn’t recognize the Teddy that I saw on this show.  The Teddy I know is generous, magnanimous, gregarious and a consummate gentleman.  The Teddy on the NFNS is… let’s just say, he’s not that.  This is explained in more (a lot more) detail by a blog post at the Degustation Blog written by one of Teddy’s colleagues at Granville Moore’s…

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Speaking of Granville Moore’s, despite the new crowds that Teddy’s television appearance hath wrought, this place remains one of my favorite restaurants in the city.  A recent date there found the Moules Fromage Blue (Mussels cooked in a white wine, blue cheese, and bacon broth) to still be the best in driving distance as were the Frites.  The horseradish crème fraîche sauce surely has crack as its secret ingredient, and I will never tire of the rustic charm of the diminutive décor.  My internet date on the other hand…

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Why do people insist on including some variation of “as comfortable in a dive bar as a formal occasion” in their online dating profiles?  Besides being a useless cliché, I find it false for most people.

The first sign of trouble for a date that began promisingly enough with drinks in Chinablocks* came when we left to head towards H Street.  As I was trying to hail a cab, I noticed that the bus which would deposit us at GM’s doorstep, and in only seven minutes, was a block away.  My date balked at the notion of riding the bus.

Bowing to her preference, as is a gentleman’s wont, we caught a cab.  As we moved east, her expression began to change as we moved further from her Northwest DC comfort-zone.  Passing Union Station, she inquired “We’re not going to NE are we?”  I should have turned the cab (and the date) in another direction right then.

GM’s is far from a dump but this woman used her cocktail napkin to “wipe-off” her seat before in a move that made me think I was out with a “Female Niles Crane” but without the searing wit.  Sure the décor is sparingly rustic, but it has character that usually takes years to form.  And in my judgmental nature (shocking to no one,) my date’s discomfort with this place showed me that she had no character of her own…

Have a great holiday weekend everybody.  Be well, eat well, drink well, and I’ll see you all on Monday.

*Chinatown in DC is too small to be described as such, therefore, Chinablocks is more appropriate.  Further, I refuse to call it Penn Quarter.


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