Monday, June 8, 2015

My Home City

If I had to pick a home city, it would be Washington, DC. Although I was born in Baltimore, we moved when I was five to Pittsburgh and then briefly to Philadelphia before my family settled in Hagerstown, Maryland. The nation’s capital was about 90 minutes southeast, so when I was young, my family made occasional day trips there. And visits to the museums and memorials were also common destinations for school field trips.

But these experiences aren’t why DC feels like my home city. As soon as my friends and I had our licenses, DC exuded a magnetic pull. We ventured down any chance we got to shop and take in concerts at Wolf Trap and Merriweather Post Pavilion (the Eagles, Jackson Brown, and James Taylor were some of the highlights). Eventually, we explored the watering holes in Georgetown, since this was back when the drinking age was 18. I discovered on a recent trip that a few of my old favorites are still there: Sign of the Whale, Clyde’s, and J. Paul’s. Although I didn’t venture into any of these establishments on this trip, from the exterior they appear to be exactly the same. History, of course, is an important part of Georgetown, from the classic architecture 

to the picturesque C & O Canal, whose towpath is now a popular bike and running path.

My longtime friend from Hagerstown and fellow adventurer, Anne, decided to go to college in DC, so when I was home on vacations I often found myself back in the city—celebrating 4th of July with the masses on the Mall and New Year’s Eve at the Old Post Office Pavilion (where a giant postage stamped was dropped, if I recall correctly). The summer before my senior year in college I moved in with Anne and three other young women, all of us squeezed in a small apartment. I waitressed at the Old Post Office Pavilion (the same building where my father had once worked years before), took in the culture, and caroused—in Georgetown and also at new places on Capitol Hill that Anne had discovered and that also are still there today: an Irish pub called The Dubliner, and the Rathskeller, affectionately called the Rat, which a quick Google search identifies as a dive bar. 

On my recent trip, I didn’t make it back to any of these spots, alas. I was there to drop off my daughter Isabel, herself a rising junior in college, for her internship at the National Endowment for the Humanities. I suspect her summer in DC will be more edifying than mine was. Already she has lunched with members of Congress, while the closest I came to them was waiting on their tables or perhaps rubbing elbows with them after hours in one of the watering holes. Nothing is more gratifying than when our children turn out to be an improvement on ourselves.

Isabel and I stayed for a few nights at the lovely Grande Dame The Mayflower located near Dupont Circle. This historic hotel has hosted countless presidential campaign launches and inaugural balls, and its fair share of scandalous trysts involving powerful men (JFK, Bill Clinton, and Eliot Spitzer, to name but a few). 

For dinner, we ate at some memorable restaurants in the neighborhood, such as Urbana, which serves creative Italian inspired dishes. We shared some cast iron roasted shrimp as an appetizer 

and each enjoyed grilled swordfish with fennel, blood orange, and pesto butter. 

The second night we dined at Pesce, sharing Bouillabaisse and a pan roasted whole Branzino. Isabel is the only other member of my immediate family who likes to share meals, so we’re very compatible dining partners.

By day, we explored the city by foot, covering miles and working up an appetite for these hearty meals. My goal was to give Isabel a feel for the city’s various neighborhoods and help familiarize her with the areas not so well known to tourists.

Once Isabel was settled in her apartment, I stayed in the city a couple more days to catch up with my friend Anne. She appreciates good food as much as I do. So after she met me at The Mayflower, we braved a thunderstorm and dashed through the rain to Firefly, a restaurant that specializes in upscale Southern food, one of my favorite genres. We shared creamy shrimp and grits as an appetizer, and then I had a crab cake served on top of a fried green tomato, a brilliant combination if I ever tasted one.

The next day we had planned to go out and about, but after breakfast at her house we talked for a few hours, then had lunch and talked some more, and before we knew it, it was time for dinner. One of life’s great gifts is those lifelong friends whom you’ve known since you were a child; those friends you grew up with. During fifteen important years of our lives, Anne and I laughed and cried and struggled and bumbled and triumphed and failed and laughed again. And now, more than twenty-five years later, we can pick up where we left off as if no time had passed in between.

That night, we dined in the new Mosaic District in Northern Virginia. At the Asian inspired Sea Pearl, we shared soft shell crabs as an appetizer (I can never get enough crab when I’m in the area), 

and then each had the restaurant’s signature dish, a melt-in-your-mouth roasted Chilean sea bass with shiro miso, jalapeno, and snow pea shoots. 

We also shared a bottle of chilled Muscadet, a big step up from what they were serving at the Rat back in the day, and talked some more.

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