Friday, June 26, 2009

More DC Restaurants

Wow! This is long overdue! Life has been happening with a vengeance lately, but I'm finding a little time to catch up, now that my little girl is at summer camp.

I meant to post a good month ago about the food we were able to sample while in Washington DC on our last hurrah vacation before baby. In my earlier post, I talked about Ceiba, which was truly the dining out gem of the trip, but there are two others worth mentioning.

As tourists, we were most often in places where tourists go - treacherous terrain for finding remotely edible food. My big belly prevented us from running laps around the Mall, which would have been helpful in finding good food faster. Unfortunately, all that seemed to be available for ever and ever were ice cream carts, and in the muggy, hot weather, I was not interested in anything sticky or sweet. Even hot dog carts were few and far between! There was the MacDonald's at the Air & Space Museum, but that's not food.

Small tangent - since I've cleaned up my diet (which wasn't that messy to begin with), I find that even on vacation, I crave fresh veggies and fruit, healthy proteins, and whole grains. Junk just slows me down and makes me feel less alive. Good for me! but those are generally not realistic cravings in tourist areas. Fast food tends to be the "nourishment" of choice.

Well, we found our way over to the National Museum of the American Indian, which is adjacent to Air & Space. I wish we had time to explore the museum itself, but my swelling feet and hands and my rumbling tummy had other plans - the Mitsitam Cafe, possibly the best lunch option available in downtown DC.

The restaurant features a not-so-authentic Native American regional eating experience. Clearly, their preparations and prices are aimed at high end rather than tribal foods. Nonetheless, the quality of the food was far and away better than anything else available in the area, and so the prices are somewhat justified. Just don't expect to feel like you went back in time on the reservation after eating here.

Food stations in the cafeteria-style restaurant are divided by geography, and each station tries to emulate Native American cooking, highlighting indigenous foods of the region. I appreciate the homage to regionality and cultural marrying of food with locale that has become so rare in this country. My meal came from the Northwest Coast, and included Mussels with Spring Garlic and Wakame Broth and Fiddlehead Fern, Asparagus and Corn salad. My husband ate from the Great Plains, which (no surprise) featured buffalo. His dishes were the Indian Taco and the Pulled Buffalo Sandwich with Chayote Squash Slaw on a Whole Wheat Kaiser Roll.

My meal was much lighter and, I think, more satisfying than his. Probably the most unfortunate part of the meal was the taco, which was not much different than a taco salad from Taco Bell. In fact, I was reminded of Taco Bell's recent television ad, which boasts that their taco salad has just enough lettuce to qualify as a salad, while trying the Indian Taco here. With so many more interesting options (see the menu here), it was really too bad that we wasted money on this. I suppose it is necessary for the restaurant to serve something that would please the fast food masses, and my guess is that was the reason this dish was offered.

The pulled buffalo sandwich was tasty, but not incredible. I really enjoyed the chayote slaw, which was very flavorful and not at all oily. The fiddlehead fern salad was good, but a bit underseasoned. And the mussels with wakame broth hit the spot!

If we had been in Washington for more than a day (which was really all it was), we certainly could not afford to eat like this for every lunch. But, then again, if we were staying for a longer time, I would have probably visited a local market and stocked up on some stuff for picnics. That would save us money, but it would also save us from the perils of fast food, and the aggravation of trying to find somewhere to eat.

For dinner that evening, we visited Zola, which was touted as an experimental restaurant in the International Spy Museum. The food was good, but hardly experimental, and certainly overpriced. My husband found the emphasis on protein here particularly disturbing. We are accustomed to a truly balanced diet, where the protein is not the main event. Here, the protein was nearly all that there was, and anything else was a garnish. But I suppose the same could be said of a great many American restaurants. It's what the people seem to want.

The menu sounds more interesting than it actually is. I ordered two appetizers, the Citrus Cured Pork Belly and the Zola Chop Salad, instead of an appetizer and entree, mostly to compensate for the high prices, but also because we had had a late, filling lunch. Neither of these were anything to write home about, but they were perfectly adequate. My husband ordered the Butter Lettuce Salad, which was very plain and boring, and the Green Hill Farms Lamb, which he seemed to enjoy. He also ordered the Ancient Gouda Fries as a side dish, which were, well, fries. It was an uneventful dining experience. Everything was edible, nothing was astonishing. I probably wouldn't bother going here again, simply to avoid the inflated prices.

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