Washington DC: Neighborhoods to Check Out Beyond the National Mall

This is part of a series of travel articles composed by myself and Kendra Thornton of Thornton Public Relations

sherinthecity059I moved to Washington D.C. seven years ago from Charleston, South Carolina, in need of a life change.  When an opportunity dropped in my lap to work for a national organization, I said yes, because after years of living in Charleston, I was ready to leave the small city for a more cosmopolitan life, and the truth is, something always fascinated me about our nation’s capital.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I love Charleston, it’s my hometown, but I’ve come to calling D.C. now home.   When many people think about D.C. the first things that come to mind are the museums on the National Mall, the memorials, the capital and of course, the White House. But, what makes D.C. so unique are the neighborhoods beyond the Mall within the city and outside of it.

14th Street/ U Street Corridor

In a city, where most people tend to wear formal black and gray business suits, you may be surprised that there is a hipness and coolness to our city. In my opinion, it has some of the same characteristics of New York City’s meat packing district. A mix of boutiques, restaurants, bars and art galleries, this area tends to draw more locals then tourists.    Some of my favorite places include:

  • Cork Restaurant and Wine Bar: There is something cozy about this restaurant.  Maybe it’s the brick walls combined with the low lights, but the ambiance paired with the restaurant’s exquisite wine list and menu makes it the perfect place for a girls’ night out or a fun date night!
  • Estadios:  One of two popular Spanish tapas places on the street, this is a fun place to hang out. The menu features an array of Spanish inspired dishes. My favorite dish—the grilled octopus paired with potato caper salad.
  • Pearl Dive Oyster Palace: This is another popular place for locals. You’ll find Hill staffers enjoying happy hour here. It’s got a casual vibe compared to other places in the district.
  • Barcelona Restaurant and Wine Bar: a new restaurant to enter the scene,  is another Spanish restaurant just a few blocks away from Estadios. My top favorites—the Spinach-Chickpea Cazuela and the Wild Mushroom & Leek Risotto are delicious!

DuPont Circle

DuPont Circle is another favorite neighborhood. You can spend an afternoon meandering through the neighborhood, taking in the architecture, stopping in the shops or enjoying a meal or drinks somewhere.  If you’re in the neighborhood, you may want to:

  • Spend a couple of hours at the Phillips Collection: The museum is a privately owned museum featuring a variety of art collections.  The famous Renoir painting, “Luncheon at the Boating Party,” has its own special place in the museum. The Phillips also features traveling exhibits of some of the world’s most renowned artists like Van Gogh and Degas.
  • Take a docent led tour of the Anderson House. One of the city’s most exquisite mansions, the mansion served as the winter residence of Larz Anderson, an American diplomat, and his wife, Isabel, an author and benefactress.  The home was the setting for many diplomatic affairs, performances and galas. During the docent-led tour, you will be transported back the area.
  • Enjoy drinks at Circa after a day of meandering.  Perfectly located in the heart of DuPont Circle, you can enjoy a drink and some appetizers after a day of wandering. Another great place is Kramers Books & Afterwords Café.

Old Town Alexandria

If you’re looking to spend an afternoon outside the city, a fun area to check out is Old Town Alexandria. Located off the George Washington sherinthecity110Parkway or off the Metro, Old Town Alexandra offers something for anyone in the family to enjoy.  In addition to strolling through some of the local shops, you can:

  • Enjoy ice cream on a warm summer day or a nice cup of coffee at the harbor that overlooks the Potomac River.
  • Check out the Torpedo Factory.  The building features exhibits and galleries of local artists’ work.
  • Sip some wine and enjoy some appetizers at Grape & Bean. The local wine bar also hosts some fabulous events.  They’re not your typical wine events at all!
  • Take in some music at the Piano Bar at the Morrison House especially if you’re a fan of Sinatra and Dean Martin. You’ll definitely dig this place.

Whether you live in the DC Metro area or are a tourist, try to check out places beyond the mall. DC is filled with some pretty neat neighborhoods.  They may surprise you and you’ll come to a realization that DC isn’t just a political city filled only with men and women in suits.

How France Reminded Me “It’s Ok to Feel Fabulous”

DSCN0537Imagine, sitting in the main square of small French village in the South of France drinking local wine, indulging in local cuisine with Edith Piaf performing in the background.

Well, that was me a couple of months of ago.Whenever I’d dreamed about my first trip to France (yes, it’s hard to believe), I always thought about eating local fare and taking in the culture while sipping a local wine. And, voila, here I was, experiencing what I’d been dreaming about for months.

Provence Couldn’t Have Come at a Better Time

My trip came at the right time in my life. It’d been a very long time since I’d done DSCN0553anything for myself-very long time.   Having just been dumped, and tired of celebrating everyone else’s major milestones while I was still single at 36, I decided to do something about it. I booked a trip to France with my favorite aunt. And, let me say I am so glad that I did because Provence welcomed me with open arms and made me feel fabulous. The timing couldn’t have been better.

How France Made Me Feel Fabulous

Eating breakfast every morning under the warm sun away from the daily grind and stress, I reconnected with myself. I felt happy and it DSCN0545wasn’t because of someone or something, it was because of me.  So, what did France teach me within 24 hours of arriving?

  • Spend an extra few minutes on yourself, you’ll feel fabulous.  Whether it’s adding a string of pearls or a scarf to add a bit of color around your neck, take an extra minute to add that special touch. It’ll make you feel wonderful.
  • Sit down and take in the scene. When traveling somewhere new, many of us want to rush to the next place on our itinerary. But,  look at the people around you, they are not running around instead they are sitting somewhere soaking in the culture. Remember, you are on vacation.
  • Take something back with you that you’ll incorporate into your life.  When I returned back to DC, I brought back not one but several things with me that I incorporate into my life now–I wake up early each morning and take about 20 minutes to enjoy it. It includes a short walk with Nikki, reading the paper and sipping a cup of coffee. It has changed my life. Sometimes it’s the little things that you do that lead you through life. Don’t you agree?

And finally, you don’t need an excuse to enjoy a glass of wine BUT sip it don’t gulp it down … just like life.

Have you been to Provence? How would you describe your experience? And what lessons did you bring back with you?

Am I the Indian Carrie Bradshaw?

“Maybe some women aren’t meant to be tamed. Maybe they just need to run free until they find someone just as wild to run with them. -Carrie Bradshaw”

sherinthecity099I know it sounds funny, but sometimes I wonder, “Am I the Indian Carrie Bradshaw?” A few weeks ago, I posted it on Facebook and the responses were hysterical.

The truth is, I think many of us relate to her or one of the characters from Sex and the City. I remember watching the show when it first came out more than a decade ago ( has it been that long)? I was in my 20s and I believed Carrie and I so related. I whined about my daily dilemmas,  yearned for the attention from my then “love of my life.” and yes, drank cosmopolitans because it was “trendy.”

But, let’s be honest, I relate more to Carrie Bradshaw now then I ever did in my 20s.

  • I’ve got the best girlfriends in the world. I am not bragging–I seriously do. A woman cannot go through life without her friends. I sure can’t live without mine!
  • I still have my dating dilemmas. But, I have a group of girlfriends who make me laugh about them, vent to, etc. I mean seriously, the last guy I went out with may not have ditched me on a “post it,” but did on a text. And, guess what, my girlfriends made me laugh about it instead of  sulk!
  • I moved away from cosmopolitans and moved on to scotch and on occasion dirty martinis. Let’s not forget a good glass of Pinot Noir either. Like Carrie, my style, my thinking, my philosophy is changing with age.
  • I don’t mind being single anymore. I finally came to a point that I am “ok” with being single.  Yes, it will be nice to find a companion, but if I go on one more BAD date, I think I will just die (not literally, but can’t do it anymore). So, when it is meant happen, it will.  In the meantime, I will embrace my independence.sherinthecity009
  • I love being a city girl.I love going to fabulous parties, attending the performing arts, meandering though the city, hanging out with friends and brunch (it’s one of my favorite meals).

We all are our own unique individuals, but sometimes, we relate to the characters that we come across through books, movies and TV.

Who do you relate to?

Spring Means It’s Time for Rosé!

sherinthecity004Spring is officially here!  There are so many things that I love about this time of year–the weather, the food, the fact that it doesn’t get dark at 4 p.m. and you don’t have to make an excuse to enjoy a glass of Rosé .

Rosè Renaissance!

For many years, rosés were not the wine of choice for those that “appreciated good wine.”   But,  that’s no longer the case. Today,  one would define the taste of a good rose as “refreshing, crisp and simply lovely.”  Much of this can be attributed to the experience and knowledge of today’s winemakers who have truly helped make it a Rosé Renaissance.

There are a number of Rosés that I absolutely enjoy. In my opinion they are perfect for any occasion.  Here are a few of my favorites:

  • Graham Beck Brut Rosé. from South Africa There is no better way than a glass Brut Rosé on a Saturday afternoon. Cheesetique, one of my favorite wine and cheeses shops, serves this delicious South African wine. Pair it with one of their fabulous cheese plates and you are in heaven!
  • 2011 Fourgeray de Beauclair: A Pinot Noir from Marsannay, France. I first experienced this wine at a wine tasting at Grape + Bean. The combination of the perfume aromatics and berries allowed me to experience the wine’s aromatics with both my nose and mouth (a great way to experience any wine or food to say the least). If you haven’t been to Grape + Bean for a wine tasting, I highly recommend doing so. They are great.
  • 2009 Northpoint Rosé from Chateau O’Brien. This is a great Virginia wine. Served chilled, this wine  infused with a hit of citrusy flavors, leaves a refreshing taste in your mouth. It’s a great picnic wine in my opinion.

Are you a fan of Rosés? Which ones are your favorites?

My Breakfast at Tiffany’s Moment in Georgetown

“What I’ve found does the most good is just to get into a taxi and go to Tiffany’s.  It calms me down right away….“–Holly Golightly

sherinthecity101(1)Well, I wasn’t standing in front of Tiffany’s in this photo nor am I anything like Truman Capote’s infamous Holly Golightly. But, like Holly, I have a place that calms me down right away–Georgetown on a weekend morning or early afternoon.

When I was in my 20s living in DC, I tended to hang out in Georgetown at night. I enjoyed late night drinks and going to the hottest lounge or club.  Well, not anymore. These days, I prefer hanging out during the mornings or early afternoons before the crowds come out.

My Favorite Things About Georgetown

  • There is a different vibe compared to the rest of the city.Georgetown is classic while other parts of DC tend to be more hip. DC hip? Yes, places like U Street and Adams Morgan have a completely different feel.  Just look at how people dress and the ambiance of the restaurants and the shops.
  • You’ll see more individuals enjoying some time to refuel rather than in large groups. Whether it’s in Dean & Deluca or at Clyde‘s. I’ve seen more people dining alone or enjoying a cup of coffee and completely content. I actually saw one women writing letters.  A rare sight in a tech savvy world.
  • The architecture is simply beautiful.  I have this thing for 18th, 19th century architecture. Maybe it’s the fact that I am from Charleston, but I just love it! It takes you to another world, another time!
  • Hearing interesting conversations where I get my hair done. Enough said.
  • Window shopping. I love meandering through Georgetown, coffee in hand, strolling down the street, looking at cool window displays.

Where do you go to unwind? What are your favorite places in the city?

Sparkling Wine Versus Champagne

What’s the difference between sparkling wine and champagne? Well, for one thing, champagne is considered “the king of sparkling wine,” and is exclusively produced in Champagne, France.

photo(1)But, there seems to be a buzz around sparkling wine these days. Unlike decades ago, today you don’t need a special occasion to enjoy a glass of it.  What has caused this buzz?

A few months ago, I spoke with Maud Bentley, Wine Director of Cheesetique about this trend.  Here’s what she had to say:

Question:  You don’t need a reason anymore to enjoy a glass of sparkling wine, do you?

Maud: Not in my book!  Sparkling wines are wonderful in the summer when it’s really hot outside, a true refresher!  And who doesn’t like a mimosa during a casual Sunday brunch?  Bubblies also pair beautifully with cheese, especially creamy brie-like ones.  The bubbles serve to cleanse the palate between each bite of fromage.

Question: Why are we seeing this growth in popularity of sparkling wines?

Maud: Customers are starting to see that sparkling wines aren’t just for holidays or weddings anymore.  They are wonderful during brunch, lunch or dinner.  We are also seeing more inexpensive quality sparkling wines on the market, especially from Spain or Prosecco from Italy.  Sparkling wines are crowd pleasers too, almost everyone likes them!

Question: What are some great red sparkling wines?

Maud: This is a fun and unique type of sparkling wine!  Much richer and fruitier in flavor than traditional white sparkling wines.  Loose End Sparkling MSM (Merlot, Shiraz, Mourvedre) is great.  I also like Italian Lambrusco such as Chairli Cenenario.  This light and lively red has low fizz and an abundance of floral and strawberry aromas, perfect with blue cheese!

Question: How should one go about choosing a sparkling wine?

Maud: When looking for an inexpensive sparkling wine I usually go for Cava over Prosecco as it’s made in the method champenoise. It is usually of higher quality.  If you are looking for a dry sparkling wine don’t be fooled by the term sec on a wine label.  Even though this means “dry” in French, sec sparkling wines actually have more residual sugar than brut sparkling wines.

Question: What about choosing a champagne?

Maud:  I prefer “grower champagne” from small, independent producers who grow their own grapes rather than buying them from various suppliers. All of the famous names (Mum, Moet, Cristal) are made in large quantities and taste pretty much the same year over year (and charge a lot for the brand name of their wines).

Grower Champagnes can be a great value and are made in small batches which truly reflect terrior and vintage variations.  It’s like comparing Cracker Barrel Cheddar from the grocery store to a farmstead American cheddar from Vermont.  Both might be good, but the smaller producer will always create a more unique product with higher level of care.

Question: Have to ask this,  what cheeses pair well with sparkling wine pairings?

Maud: Brillat-Savarin is a wonderful triple-crème from France.  It’s so ooey gooey and decadent and pairs beautifully with any sparkling wine.  Another fun pairing is a stinky cheese such as Epoisses with a demi-sec sparkling wine.  That hint of residual sugar will help to soften the pungent bite of the cheese.  Of course, there’s Langres, a renowned cheese made in the Champagne region.  It has a depression at the top called a fontaine which is actually meant for pouring Champagne into!  Grab a piece of crusty baguette and scoop out the runny cheese and champagne together, delish!

About Cheesetique

Cheesetique reminds you of one of those small French cheese shops that you may find while meandering the streets of Paris. With locations in Shirlington and Del Ray, the restaurant/store offers a selection of cheeses, wines and a fabulous menu perfect for any mood or time of day. And, if you are waiting for a table, you can always check out a wine tasting or taste some cheese.

Learn more about Cheesetique

Champagne Tasting at Grape + Bean Makes for a Fun Night in Old Town Alexandria

“There comes a time in every woman’s life when the only thing that helps is a glass of champagne.” ― Bette Davis

71446a6c730d11e2b74e22000a9e07d7_5I’ve always loved champagne … what woman doesn’t? So, when a friend of mine told me about a champagne tasting at Grape+ Bean in Old Town Alexandria, I immediately said “I am in.”
Upon arrival, we were given a glass of Eric Rodez Cuvee des Crayeres Champagne NV by the evening’s sommelier.  This was the perfect introduction to the night. The champagne was light and clean.  The flowery accents were not overpowering at all. Instead, they delighted my palate.

During the course of the tasting we tried several more champagnes paired with a delightful selection of cheeses, ham and pate´ (oh how I love pate´).  They were:

  • Billecart-Salmon Brut Rosé Champagne NV
  • Billecart-Salmon “Brut Reserve” Champagne NV
  • 2000 Billecart-Salmon “Cuvée Nicolas-François” Champagne
  • Eric Rodez Grand Vintage Champagne
  • Krug “Grande Cuvée” Brut Champagne NV

What I Learned:

  • I always knew that the “true” champagne always came from Champagne, France, but what I didn’t know was a ring always forms in in the glass-that’s how you can tell it’s true champagne!
  • Champagne is made from two types of grapes–Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. As we continued with the tastings, I could actually taste the intensity of the grapes.

I have enjoyed champagne for years, but I never knew why until now. As we continued with our tasting, I began to notice the similarities in the flavors, specifically the champagnes infused with fruits, such as raspberries, apples and pears (these happen to be some of my favorites).

And, while each champagne we tasted was more intense than the previous one, the flavors tended to be clean and the aromatics of each one were not overpowering.

I’ve always described my style as simple, elegant yet classic and this can be true for the foods and drinks I enjoy.

This was a fantastic tasting hosted by owners David Gwathmey and Sheera Rosenfield.They are the perfect hosts and really know how to put on a fantastic tasting.

Have you attended tastings at Grape + Bean? If not then you should definitely should.