Posted by: acooksca | 10/28/2011

Cuisine and Cocktails in Washington D.C.

the new MLK memorial in D.C.

Our nation’s capitol packs in so many celebrated museums, inspiring monuments and architectural classics that a visitor has the pleasant dilemma of deciding which to see first. Earlier this month, Bruce and I began each day at The National Mall, the 2 mile long park at the heart of D.C.  One day we start at the east end of The Mall and the ornate Library of Congress, where our most significant national documents are displayed. Multiple Smithsonian Museums line the park and absorb many of our hours. At the far end we pause one evening to contemplate the new Martin Luther King memorial, set to be dedicated three days later.

 But we can’t live on culture alone and come meal time good choices are less transparent. Government and not culinary artistry is the main industry in D.C.  Over-sized martinis are everywhere…micro greens are not. Starting with cocktails is logical, therefore. Comparing recommendations for top cocktail lounges we find a few names repeatedly popping up.

Just steps from the White House, we grab a seat at the bar of Old Ebbitt Grill. Nineteenth-century gas lamps flicker over head and Justin, one of their famously amiable bartenders, brings us cocktails made with small batch bourbons and fruit-infused syrups. The atmosphere is my idea of a traditional D.C. power bar, complete with a menu designed (and executed) not to compete for anyone’s attention. Except, that is, for the oyster bar menu. D.C. rightly claims wonderful seafood and the selection and freshness of oysters, clams, prawns and lobster on our huge iced tray is made even sweeter by the half-off price during happy hour.

Maine Avenue open air fish market

The next day we are hoping to lunch like a local and head for the Potomac River, looking for the oldest continually operating fish market in the country. The Maine Avenue Fish Market is a collection of floating barges under an overpass of Interstate 395. An awe-inspiring selection of fish and shellfish is on display in the open air. Many sellers will cook your purchase right there. This morning it is lightly raining and we huddle under an awning to munch fried clam sandwiches and to-go cups of spicy Maryland blue crab chowder. 

As the quote goes “What happens in California gets to Washington 20 years later”. Founding Farmers Restaurant, which opened in 2008, has its own quotes: “farm-inspired American true food and drink” and “scratch-made traditional American classics inspired by the heartland”. All this to explain to Washingtonians the concept of a sustainable-product driven menu.

On our way to a dinner reservation elsewhere we stop by Founding Farmers, the winner of numerous mixology awards. From the extensive menu of fresh ingredient cocktails we order The Clementine: Clementine and chili-infused Reposado Tequila, Benedictine, lime and pineapple juices, agave nectar. Sitting next to us is a young San Diego law student, in Washington to try and win an internship in a politically well-placed law firm. He talks about his father who is head of an agricultural union in Southern California while at the same time exclaiming over the pan-fried chicken and waffles he is clearly enjoying.

Clementine and chili-infused tequila at Founding Farmers

We still are not sure that D.C. rates as a culinary tourism destination. But there is one more place on our list. Bourbon Steak, at the Four Seasons Hotel, gets top ratings for inventive cocktails and well executed small plates in its lounge. The menu suggests expressive adaptations of traditional bar items: Trio of Duck Fat Fries with different Truffle Salts. Potato Skins with Braised Oxtail, Caramelized Onions and Maytag Blue Cheese. Lobster Corn Dog. Apple and Sharp Greens Salad and White Cheddar Gougeres.

We order my favorite cocktail of the trip, a Lion’s Tale: Bulleit Bourbon, Allspice Dram, lime juice, cane syrup, Angostura Bitters. Small plates begin to arrive at our table and they are whimsical, perfectly executed and delicious. As we leave the lounge, utterly satisfied, I see a stack of Michael Mina cookbooks on a table. Of Course! San Francisco’s own Mina heads 4 restaurants in The City and one, in the St. Francis Hotel, is also called Bourbon Steak! Mina is regarded as one of the top San Francisco chefs.  I am pleased to see that his culinary vision is so well represented in our nation’s capitol.




  1. We are looking forward to tasting your new releases! see you Friday, Ron!


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