washington, tabard inn brunch

isaac outside tabard inn

So I totally overplanned our trip, complete with a complex itinerary.  Then, after reading this article, called Anatomy of an Unplanned Adventure, in O Magazine on the plane, I threw the itinerary out and cancelled all my DC restaurant reservations.

I decided that we should eat when we were hungry and not go hiking across DC to reach a restaurant at a predetermined time.  (Duh).  Surely there were enough restaurants in Washington if I had a simple restaurant list scrawled on a map, I’d be able to find us meals.  Besides, every single meal consumed when travelling does not have to be the BEST MEAL EVER.  That is sort of ridiculous and stressful to boot.

So the first night we hiked up 14th and found Cafe Saint-Ex.  And then when we found Ben’s Chili Bowl, we were too full to eat more.  I do not like wandering around foreign cities, feeling like I’ve just consumed a Thanksgiving feast.

I had read about Tabard Inn on Chowhound, and knew it was highly recommended for brunch.  Well, we didn’t have brunch reservations, but on Saturday morning, when Isaac finally got out of bed at noon, he declared he was really hungry.

Well, the brunch gods shone down on us on that Memorial Day weekend, when Washington DC is PACKED with tourists.  On a whim, we meandered down to Tabard Inn, which was just a few blocks from our hotel, and snagged a table.

me, being shone down upon by the brunch gods

(I didn’t realize until I saw a tweet from Mack Male, that he and Sharon had been to Tabard Inn too – I loved it more than they did, but that’s ok.  I was just so delighted to get a table, nothing could have marred the experience).

pork belly and cheesy grits? sign me up.

Brunch was a cherry mimosa, two poached eggs on fatty crispy pork belly with cheesy grits. Cheese, pork, fat, alcohol.  Really I cannot quibble with that.  Service was friendly, and the atmosphere felt like this was the type of place that well-heeled parents would bring their college kids to when they were visiting in town – there was a lot of money in the room.  Kind of like a scene from a Nora Ephron movie.

mmmm, mimosa

I enjoyed soaking in the atmosphere and I especially enjoyed eating the food.  My poached eggs were cooked perfectly, and their soft yolks ran all over the crispy pork and creamy grits.  Even though we were stuffed, Isaac and I managed to sample a half order of their fresh doughnuts for dessert – sprinkled with sugar, crispy on the outside and pillowy inside. Heaven.

those famous doughnuts

I’d revisit Tabard Inn in an instant.  (Oh yeg, why oh why don’t you have more brunch places?).

Tabard Inn
1739 North Street NW
Washington DC


cafe saint-ex, washington dc part 2

cafe saint-ex

After travelling for six hours to get to DC, we were sick of Starbucks pastries and airline pretzels and had to get something substantial to eat.

14th Street in Washington is part abandoned buildings, part funky places.  It reminded me of Commercial Drive in Vancouver.

some of the scene on 14th street

Cafe Saint-Ex was around the corner from our hotel.  It is all hip and funky, with exposed brick walls, beat up hardwood floors and a tin ceiling.  I’m a sucker for that kind of place.  The waitress called me ‘miss’ and ‘sweetie’ and asked me for ID.  I wonder if she needs glasses.

We reveled in +39 degree weather with the accompanying warm service and ate our meals listening to Dixie music and watching the after-work folks imbibing with martinis in the stand up bar.

Isaac was SHOCKED to be asked:  how do you want your hamburger done? I explained to him the Americans have different standards for meat cooking and they don’t have to cook the h*ll out of their ground beef in order to serve it.  Despite his funny look (which was special for me, the picture taker, and not indicative of the burger itself), he happily consumed a medium hamburger in the United States of America.

the medium burger. and isaac.

I had little homemade paparadelle noodles piled high with Serrano ham and shavings of manchego.  With a side of smoky chard.  This made me happy.

Afterwards we walked up to U-Street and I snapped a photo of Ben’s Chili Bowl.  Since we were full and it was really hot and humid, we didn’t have chili.   But we did gawk at the storefront, along with throngs of other tourists, who were taking photos of Obama’s famous chili haunt.

the famous obama haunt

Cafe Saint-Ex
1847 14th Street NW (14th & T)
Washington, DC 20009
Phone 202.265.7839

washington dc, may 2010, part 1

isaac - guess where?

I had promised my 16 year old son a trip to Baltimore to go to Deathfest.  Yes, Deathfest.  When I told people why we were going there, I’d be vague about the ‘concert’ he was attending, but then people would always ask and I’d have to confess he was going to ‘Deathfest’.  Believe me, there’s a lot of judgement from other people for allowing your kid to go to something called ‘Deathfest’ but I didn’t care because it meant some rare time with my almost-adult son.  Besides, ‘Deathfest’ was safer for him than Baltimore was for me, but that’s for another post.

So DC.  I have been to Washington once before, to campaign for Obama in 2008. I realized quickly in America that you don’t broadcast your support for Obama unless you are really really sure of people’s political leanings.  Mostly this was a trip of keeping my mouth shut.  Keeping my mouth shut except when I was eating, of course.

We opted to stay in Washington instead of Baltimore.  I was so pleased with my choice of hotel – Hotel Helix, near Logan Circle, which is about a 20 minute walk north of the White House, near the up and coming U-Street neighbourhood, right off 14th.  The hotel was in a real live Washington residential district, a block away from a new Whole Foods.   Plus Hotel Helix is a Kimpton hotel, which means it was funky, rock and roll and boutiquey.  You gotta love a hotel that hands you a glass of sangria when you walk in the door.

hotel helix room
hotel helix lounge

This was a brilliant place to stay, if I do say so myself, because it lent itself directly into my whole ‘slow travel’ philosophy of travelling, even if it was for only five days.  (Thanks to Jennifer Cockrall-King for the link to the slow travel article from the Wall Street Journal). I found myself wandering down for a latte and to read the Washington Post every morning while I waited for Isaac to wake up from his teenage slumber.  Then Isaac would awaken and make his way to Whole Foods to pile up chicken wings and scrambled eggs for his daily breakfast.

my morning view on P street

(This blog entry to be delivered in many segments.  This is the introduction – Part 1).

heading to washington dc…


The last time I was in DC was 18 months ago, just before election night for the Presidential elections. I was in North Virginia canvassing for Obama with my friend Melissa and her brother.  It was quite something.  We walked the leafy suburbs of Washington in the rain, attended Obama’s rally the night before the election, and giddily celebrated the win in a posh Washington pub.   Whose name totally escapes me.

This time I’m going to DC with my eldest son, Isaac.  We’ve never travelled together, just the two of us.  He’s almost 17 and I’m really looking forward to it.  We’ve booked Hotel Helix near Logan Circle, and I’m open to any and all dining suggestions within walking distance.  Isaac doesn’t eat seafood, but otherwise he’s a pretty good sport.  He does love pizza, Greek food and burgers.  Because he’s a teenage boy.

Here’s my list so far, mostly generated from Chowhound:

Ben’s Chili Bowl – of course.  My touristy Obama pick.
Cafe Atlantico’s – Latino Dim Sum Brunch
Tabard Inn – for fancy dinner.  Reservations are a MUST.
Pete’s New Haven Pizza
BRG The Burger Joint
Breadline – sandwich shop
Zorba’s Greek Cafe (Dupont Circle) – cheap eats
Ooohs and Aaaahs – soul food, cheap eats
Kramer Books
Pitango’s for gelato

I love that Washington seems to have a ton of breakfast places.