Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Links I like, Tuesday 11/30

Sorry folks, I'm busy today...Links this week is a little brief.

Jane Black's first Op-Ed since leaving The Post. Boy oh boy, did this get a lot of comments, retweets and facebook shares. Some interesting points, although the immediate Republican bashing in the introduction is a bit off-putting.

What everyone who lives here knows...renting in DC is terribly expensive and super competitive. I thought this article had an interesting point...that with the downturn in home sales, more people are renting, which is partially the reason our already competitive market is becoming increasingly tighter.

A guide to hangover cures from BYT. PS: I doubt a raw quail egg yolk is doing anyone favors the morning after, Mr. Alvear.

Wow. Stetson's got served by City Paper.

Great explanation of what's wrong with the ABRA/ANC process, especially emphasizing the problems of Hank's Oyster Bar, which I've been following closely.

Restaurant Review: The Dubliner

The Dubliner…it’s named after a James Joyce collection of short stories, so you know it’s legit.
About a block from the Union Station metro, I wasn't surprised to find this establishment filled with your typical staffer-types. However, the food here was a cut above other after-work watering holes.
Of course, as at any bar, you have your standard American fare. But if you’re looking for food that’s interesting but still universally palatable, try their Irish cuisine. Their “Dubliner favorites” and specialties are well-executed Anglo-Saxon standards like fish and chips, Sheppard’s Pie and Beef Stew.
I found one especially delicious take on American cuisine was the Guinness burger. The concept is fairly simple: ground sirloin marinated in Guinness. The Dubliner serves it up on a potato pancake, and tops it with a cheese sauce that’s allegedly Welsh in some capacity. At $14 it’s a little expensive for a restaurant burger, but it definitely gets a must-try vote.
Not all the entrees are winners, though. “Irish Garden Pasta,” a dish of mixed veggies and pasta in tomato sauce, is a bit of a sub-par concept that just seems like a poor attempt to add a vegetarian option to the menu. Corned beef with cabbage? Well, maybe that’s an acquired taste. It’s traditional, alright…but doesn’t help the reputation of Irish cuisine.

I can't say the concept of breakfast at the Dubliner excited me either. From a cursory review of their breakfast menu, it seems to be a bunch of standard breakfast fare given an “Irish-y” names.
The Dubliner also offers a late night menu, which is restaurant code for “food for drunk people.” It’s available Sunday and Monday (11pm-midnight), and slightly later Tuesday through Saturday (11 to 1am). All late night menus are limited, but disappointingly the Dubliner’s late night menu lacks all of their interesting, signature dishes. Then again, if you’re looking for a hearty meal at 12:30am, maybe you don’t care as much about culinary complexity.
Drinks here are fairly standard in price and selection. From my experience, the drink to get here is Guinness. It’ll set you back $6, but the skill of the pour makes it worth it. For the uninitiated, the trick is to let the Guinness “rest,” or settle before topping off the draft and serving. It makes a huge difference in the flavor of the beer. So if you order a Guinness and the bartender says “It’ll be 5 minutes,” he’s not being rude. It’s the sign you’re about to get a great Guinness!
Other than a great Guinness pour, the other big draw here is the live music. It starts nightly at 9pm, and it’s a rousing Irish good time. I don't exactly follow the Irish music scene, and have yet to recognize a band name—but if you’re interested, their website does list upcoming artists.
My final verdict? Yes for lunch and dinner, no for breakfast and late night menu. Your best bet is to go for a late dinner and then stick around for some live music and a few pints of Guinness. It’s very metro convenient, so it’s an ideal starting point for your night. The lively music scene also makes it good for “one destination only” evenings.

Dubliner Irish Pub on Urbanspoon

Update on HR-57


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Prince of Petworth reported late last night that HR-57's new location will be 816 H street NE.

DC Raconteur first let you know about the move about a week ago, including some commentary from U Street girl about the neighborhood's loss.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Fort Myer's Quarterdeck is Closing. Tear.


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I don't often comment on Arlington restaurant news, mostly because I live in DC and don't go out to VA much anymore. It's not a political stance (i.e. I'm not one of those DC people who totally hates VA--being from there, and all) but it's more that I don't feel as qualified to comment.

But, when I saw this posting from Capital Spice, I knew this was news I too would care about. Quarterdeck is right next to Fort Myer (1200 Fort Myer Dr), and has been a summertime mainstay for my friends and I for years. Oddly, I've never actually been inside the establishment...and I'm told I'm not missing much. But on a nice warm day, nothing beats sitting outside with a pitcher of beer and a table strewn with delicious Old Bay seasoned crabs. NB: This is also how I found out that Old Bay really stings when you get it in a crab-cracking-related injury.

But sadly, it appears that Quarterdeck will be closing after 31 years of operation due to problems renegotiating their lease. As of this time, a replacement tenant has not yet been named.

Capital Spice quotes the building's owner, Haig Paul, as saying, "There is a change coming. We're still in the process of lease negotiations, so I can't go into too many details at this point. The only thing I know for certain is that a restaurant will remain in operation in some form [at 1200 Fort Myer]."

He added that a new restaurant in that location might not be a significant departure from Quarterdeck's concept, explaining, "The Quarterdeck is a niche type restaurant. It's unique, with a very steady and loyal clientele. I would like to see it continue in its current format. It won't become something radically different."

Barrack's Row Restaurant Strip Continues to Expand


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Via Prince of Petworth, it looks like the Eastern Market/Barrack's Row neighborhood will be getting ANOTHER new restaurant.

The old Capitol Video Sales is closing, and a Latin tapas restaurant named Pacifico will be replacing it soon. Per the liquor license, the seating capacity will be 120, with patio seating for an additional 30 patrons. Speaking of liquor licenses....we'll see how they fare with their ANC.

Well, 8th Street is really blowing up lately! While I know not all residents are thrilled to see more restaurants replacing retail, it's probably an inevitability given the neighborhood's rapidly increasing rents. And hey, at least it's not a Walmart!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Links I Like, Tuesday 11/23

Give thanks and be greatful for your blessings. WaPo has a seasonally appropriate article reminding us that, given the current economic state of the country, food banks will be facing record need.

And now, on a less serious note....You know what I hate about this city? Not enough monuments made out of pancakes.

Well, nothing says Thanksgiving like Jello Shots.

Defining hipster

Eyes on the street--why busy neighborhoods feel safer.

Ace of Cakes got cancelled!? I know some people who are going to be very upset.

GPS use linked to Alzheimer's? OK maybe not, but it weakens the part of your brain that Alzheimer's attacks first.

More on how technology apparently makes you stoopid.

What happens when a condo owner stops paying his condo fees?

Insta-road? NEAT!

The nicest write-up of Douglas Jemal I've seen in a while. Or, you know, ever.

What I'm Eating Now--The Best Freakin' Butternut Squash Soup, Ever

Ever. In the history of all soups.

I made this for my monthly Supper Club when the theme was....secret ingredient, gourds! (Iron Chef style).

Ingredients:

4  cups  (1-inch) cubed peeled butternut squash (about 1 1/2 pounds)
1  tablespoon  olive oil
1/4  teaspoon  salt
4  large shallots, peeled and halved
1  (1/2-inch) piece peeled fresh ginger, thinly sliced
2 1/2  cups  fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
2  tablespoons  (1-inch) slices fresh chives
Cracked black pepper (optional)
My notes on the ingredients:

4 cups of cubed squash equals about one medium sized squash (the weigh listed above, 1 1/2 pounds, I've found to be fairly accurate).

I've made this soup both with and without the ginger, it tastes fine either way. If you have all the other ingredients, don't kill yourself making a trip just for the ginger. On that note you could also probably use onion and garlic to get the same effect as shallots, but I personally really like them in this recipe and wouldn't sub them out.

The recipe, made as outlined above, has more of a puree consistency...if you want it thinner, add more broth during the blender portion of the recipe. Also, I'd recommend low-sodium broth since you're already adding some salt (I used sea salt). It just allows you to control the salt level/taste of your dish a little more.

I did not use chives, as I generally do not believe in garnishes (read-I am too cheap to buy ingredients to make garnishes).

Recipe:

1. Preheat oven to 375°.

2. Combine first 5 ingredients in a roasting pan or jelly-roll pan; toss well. Bake at 375° for 50 minutes or until tender, stirring occasionally. Cool 10 minutes.

3. Place half of squash mixture and half of broth in a blender. Remove center piece of blender lid (to allow steam to escape); secure blender lid on blender. Place a clean towel over opening in blender lid (to avoid splatters). Blend until smooth. Pour into a large saucepan. Repeat procedure with remaining squash mixture and broth. Cook over medium heat 5 minutes or until thoroughly heated. Top with chives and pepper, if desired.

My notes on the recipe:

So, what no one ever tells you (shocking, considering how often you discuss gourds, right?) is that peeling and cubing a butternut squash...not that easy. There are really two layers you need to peel off. The first is the actual outer skin, and of course it's pretty obvious that you don't want to eat that. You then need to go back and do a second peel to remove that layer with the thin, semi-translucent green veins. Help yourself out and try to get the most uniformly-shaped squash you can at the grocery or farmer's market. Those curvy squashes are prettier (and, I'm told, can be decorated to resemble geese, so that's exciting) but their unusual shape makes it tough to get your little veggie peeler angled correctly. Then again I'm also using what I assume to be a carrot peeler, so perhaps that's my problem...

Now that you've spent 30 minutes peeling your squash (worth it), you need a really big knife to begin cubing. The center is softer and has seeds, so be advised...if you're leaning your entire body weight on the knife because you lack upper body strength, you're going to get about half way through the squash and feel it give substantially. Don't fall over.

Be careful not to overcook the squash...if it gets too done (read-burnt) in the oven, it will alter the taste of your soup. If you're like me and decide to increase the temperature from 375 because you're impatient, make sure you're watching the oven closely.

Definitely use the paper towel over the blender (explained in recipe), and increase the blender speed gradually. That's probably pretty obvious, but once or twice I've started out the blender on the highest speed (see comment above re: my impatience), and trust me, not an overall time saver because with the time you've saved blending you'll be scraping a lovely orange Jackson Pollack off of your kitchen walls.

Otherwise, it's a fairly simple and straightforward recipe--enjoy!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Fast Indian Concept Coming to 7th Street


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Via Penn Quarter Living, it looks like Penn Quarter will be getting a new fast casual restaurant called Merzi at 415 7th St NW.

The concept, per their website, will serve "complex Indian flavors interpreted in a revolutionary and exciting new way." It then goes on to describe Indian-spiced rotisserie chicken, which doesn't seem terribly revolutionary... but does sound yummy.

Their menu offerings look like fairly standard mix-and-match fare (as one PQL commenter noted, like an Indian Chipotle). I've reproduced a modified version of their website's "Merzi 101" below (thanks, but I don't need instructions to know to get a fork, or their annoying exclamation mark interjections)
  1. Pick the base for your meal: naan, rice, salad or chaat.
  2. Add black-eyed peas, chickpeas or onions and peppers
  3. Choose a meat
  4. Add fresh veggies
  5. Choose a sauce or chutney
Merzi's hours of operation will be 11am-10pm (possibly counting on some post-bar Chinatown diners?). You can follow them on Twitter @Merzi DC or on their facebook page.

Update: Thrillist has posted some pictures of the interior.

What I'm Eating Now--The Pre-Vacation Fridge Cleaning Quiche

There comes a certain time of the year, a time when you have to travel for the holidays but realize that--lacking foresight--you bought an unreasonable amount of vegetables that will not last in your refrigerator for a week. Drats.

So, I thought I would share one of my favorite "fridge-clearing" recipes with you.

Zucchini, Bacon and Gruyere Quiche (adapted recipe from Epicurious)

Ingredients

1 (9-inch) refrigerated pie dough round (from a 15-oz package)
1/4 lb sliced bacon, coarsely chopped
2 medium zucchini (3/4 lb total), halved lengthwise, then cut crosswise into 1/8-inch-thick slices
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup heavy cream
3/4 cup whole milk
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
3 large eggs
2 oz Gruyère, coarsely grated (1 cup)

My notes on the ingredients:
I omitted heavy cream and instead doubled the amount of whole milk. I thought the consistency turned out great, and the overall recipe was slightly healthier than it would have been had I used the cream.

You could easily swap out the type of meat and veggies you use. I've made variations on this recipe with yellow squash, caramelized onions, mushrooms, Canadian bacon, or even entirely without bacon. Like I said, it's a good fridge cleaning option...between the buttery pie dough and the cheese, almost anything would taste good thrown into this dish.

Yes, there are only 3 eggs. I know that doesn't seem like enough. Trust me, it is. See my note below re: this is a really full quiche and you will probably spill it.

A note on cheese--I was disappointed at how expensive Gruyere cheese was at my local Safeway. The first time I made this recipe, I think I paid a whopping $7 or $8 for cheese alone. You can, it should be said, use another kind of less expensive cheese (especially if you dislike Gruyere). But I actually had good results finding cheap cheese while perusing my local Whole Foods, shockingly enough. If you can take the time to brave their monumental lines, I'd highly recommend it. I was able to pay only $3.50 for arguably better quality Gruyere, in part because the recipe calls for so little (1 cup).

And Now, the Recipe:

Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 450°F.

Fit pie dough into pie plate and lightly prick all over. Bake according to package instructions, then transfer crust in pie plate to a rack.

Reduce oven temperature to 350°F.
While crust bakes, cook bacon in a 12-inch heavy skillet over moderately high heat, stirring occasionally, until just crisp, about 6 minutes. Transfer bacon with a slotted spoon to a paper-towel-lined plate, reserving fat in skillet.

Add zucchini and 1/4 teaspoon salt to fat in skillet and sauté over moderately high heat, stirring frequently, until zucchini is tender and starting to brown, about 5 minutes, then transfer with slotted spoon to a plate.

Heat cream, milk, pepper, and remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt in a 1- to 2-quart saucepan until mixture reaches a bare simmer, then remove from heat.
Whisk together eggs in a large heatproof bowl, then gradually whisk in hot cream mixture until combined. Stir in bacon, zucchini, and cheese and pour into pie crust. Bake until filling is just set, 25 to 30 minutes. Transfer quiche in pan to rack to cool slightly, about 20 minutes.

My notes on the recipe:
There was a decent amount of debate on the discussion board at Epicurious re: pre-baking or blind-baking the crust. Trust me--bake it slightly first. I've tried both ways, and if you haven't pre-baked it for a few minutes it will end up soggy. I once cooked the quiche for an extra 30-minutes in an attempt to firm up the soggy crust, but to no avail.

The recipe above instructs you to mix the zucchini and bacon into the egg/cheese mixture. When I tried this, it was sort of a disaster. I have have much better results putting the solid ingredients into the crust and pouring the egg and cheese mixture over them. Disclaimer...you won't end up with a nice strata of ingredients, but there is so much less mess. If you really want the strata, maybe try mixing half the solid ingredients into the egg and cheese mixture, and arranging half in the crust before pouring.

Before you pour the egg and cheese mixture, examine the perimeter of your crust and reinforce as needed. Trust me. There is nothing worse than pouring in your egg and cheese mixture only to find that one edge of your crust is compromised and you're trying to put your fingers in the dyke before egg spills out onto your entire counter top. And then you're wondering whether those Seventh Generation cleaning productions you purchased in a fit of greenness will kill salmonella...

NB: This recipe makes for a pretty full quiche. You should pour the mixture in when the crust is as close as possible to your oven, to prevent a precarious transfer from counter top to oven. See note above re: spilling egg all over your counter top.

Finally, a very important thing to emphasize. Let the quiche sit for at least 20 minutes, per the recipe, before you cut it. It will be baked all the way through, but it needs some time to set. Like with scrambled eggs, the egg mixture is still firming up even after you've removed it from the heat. If you cut it too soon, some eggy veggie juice will seep out while you're not looking and form a film where the removed piece once lay. Not only does it look marginally unappetizing, but you just dried out the remaining quiche. Fail.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Update: New Cap Hill Eatery Ba Bay's Menu

When I originally wrote about Ba Bay's opening, I didn't have any concrete menu items or prices to share with you. Well, Washingtonian has now reported on Ba Bay's opening and published their menu, with prices.

I've reproduced the menu below. Looks great!


Shareable small plates
Pork loaf, Maggi dipping sauce $5
Trotter terrine, kohlrabi slaw $6
House pâté, pear mustard $6
Purple-cabbage salad, peanuts, herbs, soy vinaigrette $7
Meatballs, pork broth, shrimp crackers $8
Autumn roll, egg, jicama, Chinese sausage, peanut-hoisin $9
Shrimp on sugar cane, fatback, pickles, herbs $11
Grilled oysters, scallion, soy $11
Squid, lemongrass lamb sausage, mung beans, sesame cracker $11
Chili-glazed wings, scallion $12
Spicy pork-shrimp broth, thick rice noodles, Thai basil, pork loin and shank $14
Pho, rice noodles, ribeye, tendon, tripe, herbs $15
Pork belly, clams, Thai basil, Thai-chili broth $15
Cellophane noodles, Maryland crab, padron peppers $16
Steamed chicken, cabbage salad, onions, herbs, fish-sauce vinaigrette $16
Turmeric skate, braised fennel, turmeric-dill broth $17
Chicken, oysters, red perilla, caramel sauce $18
Tuong ot marinated pork chop, pickled carrots and bean sprouts $18
Short ribs, hoisin, scallion, peanuts $19
Rice congee, almond-milk-poached rockfish, fermented black bean, cilantro $19
Lamb, madras curry, lemongrass, fingerling potatoes, tomato, star anise $20
Shaky beef, marinated onions, black pepper, watercress purée $20

Sides

Bok choy, oyster sauce, crispy shallots $4
Carrots, fish sauce, padron peppers, lime $5
Brussels sprouts, sweet chili butter $5
Kabocha squash, coconut milk $5

Desserts

Seasonal popsicles $4
Banana cake, curried chocolate, peanut brittle $7
Coffee pudding, condensed-milk ice cream, Vietnamese churro $7
Avocado milkshake, coconut caramel, bay cookie $8

Cocktails (all $12)

Saigon Mule: vodka, house ginger ale, lime
633: Brugal rum, St. Germain, cilantro, milk punch
B&B: brandy, cointreau, Dolin Rouge, absinthe
Bubble Tea Punch: rum, brandy, green tea, basil bubbles
Lloyd’s Libation: cava, cinnamon/raspberry sugar cube, twist

Renowed Jazz Club HR-57 Moving to H St NE


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This afternoon, DCist reported that 14th street jazz institution, HR-57, will be relocating to the blossoming H street corridor in NE. HR-57 (or technically, the HR-57 Center for the Preservation of Jazz and Blues) has been operating on 14th street since 1993.

Owner Tony Puesan has confirmed that the Atlas District's cheaper property taxes were a motivating factor in the move. "It's a very nice place," says Puesan. "It's just in a little bit cheaper building."

Puesan owns the building that houses HR-57, and plans to sell it once HR-57 has completed their move.

Journalists and bloggers have already begun speculating about the move's implications. Relocating such a popular establishment to H street will certainly be a boon to this developing corridor. Yet, the Atlas District is markedly less visible and not easily accessible via public transportation. From a business perspective, the cheaper property taxes may not compensate for the lost foot traffic and revenue.

According to DCist, HR-57 will pack its bags after the New Year, heading for 9th and H NE. No word yet on what establishment will replace HR-57 in January 2011.

Update: U Street Girl bemoans the loss of an independent neighborhood establishment. While I commented on PoP that I thought this was a good business decision, her point is one I hadn't considered. As U Street/Logan Circle/14th street become more popular, I hope we don't see the independently run businesses that make the area unique get priced out of the neighborhood.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Goings on About Town-Friday, 11/19/10

OK, sorry. I totally failed in finding cheap or free things this weekend. Here it goes...

God really does answer prayers. Well, at least someone's prayers. The Capital Bacon and Beer bash is this Saturday at the National Harbor. There will be Heavy Seas beer, and ten types of bacon. Tickets are $85 though...so you'd better really like beer and/or bacon.

Cava in Eastern Market is leaving their roof deck open, and allegedly it's heated. I do enjoy an off-season patio experience.

Old Ebbitt's has their Oyster Riot Friday and Saturday. Tickets range from $100 to $135...'spensive!

I used to think that Columbia Heights bar Wonderland was a hipster mecca. Then I actually went there, and realized it's just super yuppie. I'm not sure which would have been more disappointing...Anyway, tonight (Friday) they'll have "drink and draw" happy hour from 6:30-8:30...which, I've gleaned, is like drinking Pictionary with prizes. This one is free.

Brunch at Masa 14 is totally on my must-try list...every Saturday and Sunday, $35 buys you all you can eat and drink brunch. Yum!

Something about Harry Potter....Oh right, it's playing at the Uptown, which looks to be a pretty cool (crazy) experience. Good luck if you're trying to line up early.

Virginians....Bayou Bakery (1515 N. Courthouse) is opening this Saturday.

Alliance Francaise (2142 Wyoming Ave) has their Beaujolais party on Friday from 6:30-9:30...it's $35, and you have to make a reservation, but if you're a francophile you'd totally love this.

I was intrigued when I saw this in the Express...baby (I mean, Ravi) Coltrane playing at the Sixth and I Historic Synagogue, Saturday at 8pm. Tickets are $30.

Well, I Have Your Ellwood Thompson's Update


So, earlier in the week when I wrote about IHOP opening, I mentioned that I hadn't heard any news about the next door Ellwood Thompson's organic market.

If I can be totally self-aggrandizing here and quote myself, I commented, "Washington City Paper's Lydia DePillis reported back in June that the anticipated [Ellwood Thompson's] opening date would be January 2011. However, I've recently walked past the site and it looks like little progress has been made."

Saying I told you so is really attractive, right?

Via PoP and Washington City Paper, Ellwood Thompson's has officially backed out of their deal with DCUSA. Considering they've been "coming soon" for so long, I don't think this necessarily surprises anyone.

Jim Graham was quoted by WCP as (pretty aggressively) claiming, "I was the one who sent them there. Little did I know how conservative, really timid, they would become...they're going to pay for this very bad decision."

I'm going to assume this last sentence is in reference to the financial penalties they've incurred, and not some Soprano's style revenge that he's planning......

Ellwood's (which is a small, Richmond, Va-based grocer) will face $1 million in fines for prematurely breaking their lease with DCUSA.

Apparently, DCUSA is continuing to court other organic grocers, in hopes of filling the vacant retail space. However, as a few PoP commenters accurately noted, it'll likely be difficult now to convince a grocer to lease here. Giant is only 3 blocks away, and the Target directly above the site is now selling groceries too.

I, for one, would love to see a Whole Foods or possibly a Trader Joe's here. However, as the 3rd and H street grocer pursuit would seem to indicate, neither chain is attempting to aggressively expand their DC presence.  Yet, given the proximity of two relatively inexpensive grocery options, I think only a Whole Food's, TJ's or some other expensive niche retailer would be able to grab enough market share here to merit the investment.

I'm sure Columbia Heights residents will be waiting with baited breath to see what happens next.

Update: In keeping with the convoluted nature of Ellwood's entire attempt to come to DC....DCist now reports that Ellwood Thompson's owner Richard Hood has stated that they are continuing to work with DCUSA to open their Columbia Heights location.

"I don't know why Jim Graham is saying this. We are not in default. We continue to work with the landlord to make this happen," Hood said.

ARGH. I'll keep you updated as more information rolls in about Ellwood's coming/not coming. Don't be surprised if it's another 2 years until we have the actual answer....

Update: The plot thickens. Washington City Paper noted at 9:35am on 11/20:

"Graham reiterates that he has spoken with Drew Greenwald, president of DCUSA owner Grid Properties, who says that Ellwood Thompson's is 'in default four times to the tune of $1 million.'

'We don't know what Mr. Hood is talking about,' Graham says."

Von Storch Taking Over DC--Next Up, 901

Concept rendering, from DCMud
Via Penn Quarter Living, DCMud, and TBD...DC business mogul David Von Storch, who owns the VIDA gyms and Capitol City Brewing, is opening a new 7,500-square-foot restaurant at 901 9th st NW. The estimated renovation costs? $5 million.


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Simply called 901, the Von Storch's latest dining venture will offer internationally-flavored small plates and craft beers. The upscale concept, tentatively opening in April 2011, will likely be heavily marketed to patrons of the next door Renaissance Hotel.

Concept rendering, from DCMud
Von Storch has been vocal about his confidence in 901, and was recently quoted by DCMud as saying, "This vibrant corridor caters to residents and visitors alike and we think patrons will enjoy the creative design and relaxing venue as they settle in for lunch or dinner and unwind from their day. We’ve designed a wonderfully edgy, urban dining experience wrapped in its own unique style of elegance."

Ba Bay on Pennsylvania Avenue Opening 11/24

Photo courtesy of Babaydc.com
BaBay, a modern Vietnamese restaurant, is opening next Wednesday, November 24th at 633 Pennsylvania Avenue SE. The 45-seat restaurant has been soft-opening this week, with a reduced seating capacity. If you plan on trying them during their soft-open, get there early--for now, they're not taking reservations.

BaBay owners Khoa and Denise Nguyen, who are cousins, have employed the culinary skills of former Sonoma chef Nick Sharpe. Sarah Siegel, formerly of Mario Batali's Babbo, will be BaBay's sous chef and pastry chef. Khoa himself is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, and all three chefs have worked at Dupont Circle's high-end southern restaurant, Vidalia.

BaBay's menu will feature tapas-style Vietnamese dishes, with approximately 25 small plate-style options ranging from $6-$22 each. Open for lunch and dinner, the Nguyens hope that BaBay will attract both Capitol Hill professionals and local residents.

The cocktail concepts were designed by Owen Thompson (of Bourbon, Cafe Atlantico) and Joseph Ambrose (of the W's Hotel's POV Lounge). According to a press release, BaBay's cocktails will be historically colonial in flavor, with "traditional Vietnamese ingredients."

So what's up with the unusual name? BaBay is named after the Nguyens' Vietnamese grandmother (who, incidentally, has been the taste tester for Sharpe's crash course in traditional Vietnamese cooking).

You can follow BaBay on Twitter @babaydc or on their Facebook page.

Update: I've posted BaBay's menu for your perusal.

ChiDogO's is Opening Monday at 14th and U

Photo courtesy of ChidogOs.com
Via U Street Girl, ChiDogO's is opening this Monday, 11/22. While their website doesn't offer any more information about the opening, you can find their menu here. My first reporting on ChiDogO's was back in September, when I wrote about classic signs of chain restaurants.

Speaking of hotdogs, since apparently that's the new thing in DC....Two DC recently tried DC-3 in Eastern Market. If you want to hear read their review, click here.

Pret a Manger Coming to 18th and L NW


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DC's newest outpost of Pret a Manger is opening this winter at 18th and L near Farragut North--specifically, 1828 L St NW. Their Metro Center location opened this summer.

I had their superfoods salad yesterday for lunch--gotta say, I love the no frills ready-made concept!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

More Info on La Fonda's Progress at 14th and V St NW


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I originally reported back in September that a Tex/Mex restaurant La Fonda would be going into the old AM/PM carryout space at 14th and V. Well, U Street Girl has some updates and pictures this week.

Per the October ANC 1B minutes (you'll need to click though, as I can't directly link to each month's notes), the owner of La Fonda is identified as Michael Askarinam (who also runs Dupont Italian Kitchen on 17th).

According to Mr. Askarinam, he and his brother purchased the AM/PM carryout building 3 years ago and waited out the expiration of the existing tenant's lease. As they own the building, Mr. Askarinam asserted, they have a vested interest in the neighborhood and running their business responsibly (specific mention to discouraging loitering and congregation, which are currently a problem at 14&V).

Apparently the building also has a historic designation that will require the owners' modifications to be approved by the Historic Preservation Review Board.

One concern raised by the ANC commissioners back in October was La Fonda's hours of operation, especially in regards to serving alcohol. The original liquor license application stated that alcohol would be served from 8am-2am. Mr. Askarinam clarified that this was a typo, and that his business model was a restaurant primarily serving food, but where it would also be possible to purchase drinks. He asserted that he did not want an establishment where people came to get drunk.

However, additional concerns had been raised by community members because there is a nearby daycare that cares for approximately 250 children daily. There is also a school across the street. In deference to resident concerns about "peace, order, quiet and parking" the commissioners unanimously voted 8-0 to protest La Fonda's liquor license.

Yet throughout the October meeting, Mr. Askarinam repeatedly indicated he was very willing to compromise and make accommodations as requested by the community.

A Voluntary Agreement was drafted and presented. During the November ANC 1B meeting, the commissioners voted 7-1 to withdraw their liquor license protest, and approved the establishment's Voluntary Agreement. DC's ABRA (Alcohol Beverage Regulation Administration) will of course have the final approval on the liquor license.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Lead in Your Reusable Grocery Bag

Great. Just great.
Photo, Washingtonpost.com
The Washington Post has an article today about levels of lead detected in reusable bags. Winn Dixie (not that I know of any nearby) recalled the reusable bags that they sell due to lead concerns. Apparently, the Winn-Dixie bag with the highest detected lead amounts was a collage design of baby faces....ugh, talk about your PR nightmare.

But more importantly, how did area retailers compare? Well, Wegman's also recalled their bags as a result of trace lead-concerns. So be forewarned if you've done any shopping at the suburban mega-grocer.

Safeway says their bags contain no traceable lead, and that they plan to continue regular testing to ensure it stays that way.

And Giant? There is lead present...but in "acceptable" levels. That's not exactly comforting to me...especially because 90% of the people I know use Giant bags, as the grocer apparently blanketed DC with free bags in preparation for the bag tax implementation.

I realize it might be an overreaction, but I personally wouldn't use the Giant bags anymore...there are some experts who don't think any level of lead exposure is safe, and why chance it?

Update: Senator Schumer (D-NY) is calling for investigation into the issue by FDA, EPA and Consumer Product Safety Commission. DCist comments that maybe lead in our drinking water is a bit more dangerous.

Links I Like: Tuesday, 11/16

I knew it!!! Jaywalking really is contagious. The average person is 1.5 to 2.5 times more likely to jaywalk if someone next to them starts crossing.

DCMud has a nice little blurb about H street's promise, and how it's development could have gone another direction entirely.

This blog is "hilarious."

I didn't even know there was such a thing as a Beaujolais party....amazing.

UrbanTurf finds me a sweet Capitol Hill bachelorette pad...now I just need to win the lottery...

The 42 Bus covered this weekend's Carrot Mob of Teaism in Penn Quarter.

SUPER interesting opinion piece from a restaurant owner about the economics of Open Table.

Organic Southern Cusine on Georgia Ave


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Ma Ma's Southern Cuisine, in the old Hadiyah Cafe space, is now open at 3118 Georgia Ave in the Pleasant Plains/Parkview neighborhood. Seating capacity at Ma Ma's will be for 23 people, and the cuisine emphasizes "healthy southern food," an oxymoron if I ever heard one. (OK OK by healthy they actually mean organic).

Parkview DC has the ANC notes here, detailing the intended hours of operation and liquor license status.  According to On Tap Magazine, there will also be live jazz music.

Columbia Heights' IHOP Opening Next Tuesday; Still No Word on Ellwood Thompson's

Photo courtesy of IHOP DCUSA twitter
Over the weekend, New Columbia Heights reported that the DCUSA shopping center's IHOP would be opening Tuesday, November 23rd. Apparently their soft opening is today, Tuesday the 16th.

I can't say I'm terribly enthused about this development. DCUSA is already ridiculously chain-y. And, I'm dubious of the crowd a cheap, 24-hour restaurant will attract...I'm thinking, a lot of post-bar crowd which could potentially mean some troublesome loiterers.

Then again, this franchise location is apparently owned by an MPD officer, so presumably the ownership will be keener on preventing noise, loitering and the like. As DCUSA Chief of Building Operations Dave Stein asserted, "There's not going to be any noise associated with it. It's going to be owned and staffed by police officers."

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The development of this IHOP location has been much anticipated. Prince of Petworth first broke the news that IHOP was coming in DCUSA in April 2009. And, according to Washington City Paper, the new IHOP location will bring 110 jobs to the area.

No news yet about the next door Ellwood Thompson's space, which has been advertised as "coming soon" for well over a year now. Washington City Paper's Lydia DePillis reported back in June that the anticipated opening date would be January 2011. However, I've recently walked past the site and it looks like little progress has been made.

Update: Prince of Petworth reported this morning that on 11/23 IHOP will be giving out 1,500 free pancakes to celebrate its opening.

UpdateDCist identifies IHOP's owner as Tyoka Jackson, who is quoted as saying that 95% of the IHOP's employees are DC residents.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Panera Opening in Dupont Circle

Photo courtesy of Panera.com
Panera's first DC location is opening this Friday, 11/12/10.


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 Hour of operation will be Monday-Saturday 6:00 am-9:00 pm and Sunday 7:00 am-8:00 pm. And, free Wi-Fi!

Farmer's Markets Closing Soon

DCist had a nice little roundup of upcoming closing dates for area farmer's markets that are closing for the winter. I've reproduced it here:
  • USDOT farmers market at Navy Yard closes November 16th.
  • McPherson Square farmers market closes November 18th.
  • 14th/U farmers market closes November 20th.
  • Chevy Chase farmers market closes November 20th.
  • Bloomingdale farmers market closes November 21st.
  • Mount Pleasant farmers market closes November 21st.
  • Foggy Bottom farmers market closes November 24th.
  • Adams Morgan farmers market closes December 18th.
  • Penn Quarter farmers market closes December 23rd

Big Bear Cafe Finally Gets a Liquor License


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Well, congratulations to Big Bear Cafe...I know it's been a heated process getting their license. Ironically, many local residents were arguing in favor of the license (usually it's the other way around). Neighbors claimed that having Big Bear Cafe, a Bloomingdale fixture since 2005, put more eyes on the streets and has made their neighborhood safer.

It seemed like this well-liked, locally-owned and responsible business would have no problems acquiring a liquor license.

Big Bear ran into problems, however, with their local ANC. The ANC complained that Big Bear illegally served alcohol at special events (which was actually legal, because they used an outside catering company) and that their patio area was operating without a permit. Also, the ANC made claims that the establishment had not "sufficiently reach out to its neighbors." Really, that last complaint just sounds like a local ANC member with a grudge.

The ABRA's final ruling in Big Bear's favor has all the details, and actually made for a pretty interesting read.
There are certainly some concessions on the part of Big Bear...sidewalk entertainment will cease at 9pm, and inside music will cease at 11pm Mon-Sat and 10pm on Sundays. And Big Bear won't be able to stay open as late as they'd like....they originally proposed 1am closing on weekdays and 2am on weekends. The ABRA ruling states that instead hours of operation will be through 11pm during the week and 12am on weekends.

I'm thrilled to see this license passed as I think it will greatly improve the economic viability of Big Bear Cafe, a restaurant whose presence improves both Bloomingdale's safety and its quality of life.

DC's Suburbs are Rich (surprise!)


I've seen multiple blogs posts today about Newsweek's list of the richest counties in the country. Here's the list, with our local counties bolded, reproduced from UrbanTurf.
  1. Loudoun County, VA, with median household income of $114,204
  2. Fairfax County, VA, $102,499
  3. Howard County, MD, $101,940
  4. Morris County, NJ, $96,787
  5. Arlington County, VA, $96,218
  6. Montgomery County, MD, $94,420
  7. Nassau County, NY, $92,776
  8. Somerset County, NJ, $89,871
  9. Calvert County, MD, $89,289
  10. Charles County, MD, $89,115

Dirty Martini Opens in Dupont

Dirty Martini is now open! RIP 1223...you were too clubby for me anyway.


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Thrillist reports that Michael Romeo's latest edition to the Dupont Circle nightlife scene is open. The location, which I've passed several times, is palatial...think 35-foot ceilings expanding over seating for 200! However the part I'm most excited for, the second-floor deck, is still a work in progress.

Dirty Martini's website is pretty much barren, and apparently your only option is to enter your e-mail address to receive updates. Unclear whether this is an exclusivity thing, or if they just haven't paid their web designer.

What little detail I can glean from Thrillist seems to indicate we're looking at upscale, modern American cuisine and a speciality drink menu consisting of 16 speciality cocktails. If I were to guess on the prices, I'd bet $8-$14 for cocktails and probably $14-27 for entrees. That's a total shot in the dark though, of course.

Looks like a decent addition to the neighborhood, probably more Russia House than Rumors. And maybe it will help thin the crowds a bit at Public Bar...seriously, that place was so great before people realized it was there...

Will New Staffers Have a Place to Live?

Apparently this is not a new conversation.


Photo courtesy of UrbanTurf.com
As UrbanTurf reviews, each election cycle brings questions about how the influx of staffers will affect DC's real estate market. This year, according to Lydia DePillis (CityPaper, The Housing Complex), we can expect to see as many as 2,500 new staffers coming to the area. Washington Post's Al Kamen (who estimates about 2,000) has a more detailed breakdown here.

DePillis' article concludes that these new staffers won't significantly affect the market, as per the real estate professionals she approached. However, I think these experts are discounting how tight DC's rental market has become. Granted, some existing staffers will leave DC. But I think such a high number of new residents is going to overwhelm DC's already stretched supply of rental units.

UrbanTurf draws a similarly pessimistic conclusion. They cite an instance of an owner receiving a whopping 50-60 applications for a Mount Pleasant "group rental" house. And, as one of their own writers recently shared , finding an apartment along the 16th street corridor seems virtually impossible. As UrbanTurf cites,vacancy levels in some neighborhood's have already dipped as low as 2.5%.

Why such a difficult rental market? DC's job market has remained brisk, if not booming, but developers' economic woes have slowed the pace of new development. Construction has picked up recently, especially in areas like H street, NOMA and Shaw. But the majority of these projects won't be finished until 2012...i.e. not in time for the influx of new renters.

So, good luck to those incoming staffers and interns--finding an apartment will not be easy!

Friday, November 12, 2010

In Defense of Airbrushing

You won't find me taking this stance often...airbrushing! It leads woman to have unrealistic standards for their bodies! It makes men expect that all women look like Barbie dolls! It enabled Cher, of all people, to be on the cover of Vanity Fair!

But OK, in this case...maybe the folks working on branding 14th street as the MidCity Art's District should have considered their own artistic reinterpretation of the sign in this picture's background. Thanks to The District Curmudgeon for posting this hilarious pic.


Goings On About Town-Friday, 11/12/10

It's Wok N' Roll's opening weekend at 2400 18th street NW (Adam's Morgan). I'm a huge fan of the Chinatown location, and I hope this one will be just as good as the original!

The Ice Skating Rink at the National Sculpture Garden (700 Constitution Ave NW) opens this weekend on Saturday 11/13...is it really cold enough for that yet?

DC's Tweed Ride on Sunday 11/14 will be full of hipsters beginning at 12:30 at 1808 Adam's Mill Rd (Adam's Morgan).

Crumbs Bake Shop (604 11th St NW, Metro Center) has its first day on the DC cupcake scene tomorrow, Saturday the 13th.

Apparently all metro lines are going to suck this weekend.

ACKC (1529 14th Street NW, Logan Circle) has a brunch special, half price bottomless mimosas if you use the phrase "bottom's up" this Sunday the 14th.

The DC Metropolitan Cooking Show (at the Convention Center) will feature Paula Deen, Rachael Ray, Bobby Flay and others, Saturday and Sunday (11/13-14).

Madewell, an extension of preppy purveyor JCrew, opens in Georgetown.

Little Miss Whisky's (1104 H St NE, H Street Corridor) is having a garage sale featuring their unusual decorations. Go get yourself a conversation piece on Sunday, 11/14.

If you hate children, you might not enjoy this Sunday's (11/14) Cap's game against Atlanta...it's kid's night.

Restaurant Review: Lupe Mexican Cantina


Continuing my survey of DC Mexican restaurants, last night I had dinner at Lupe Mexican Cantina in Dupont Circle. Next to the always busy Public Bar and the (pardon my pun) jet set Fly Lounge, Lupe offers a much more relaxed scene.

The decor is decidedly "Mexican hodge podge"...some semi-authentic rustic-looking wooden chairs, paired with benches upholstered in the prototypical "Mexican restaurant pattern" fabric, lit by more modern light fixtures. One of the defining features of the restaurant is a wall mural that I took to be a representation of "Mexican culture" (see below). The overall visual result was like someone mashed Oyamel and Cactus Cantina...some upscale elements paired with stereotypical Mexican restaurant decor.

Photo, courtesy of Lupecantina.com
The restaurant was decently busy for a Thursday evening, although we were able to sit almost immediately. The majority of the patrons were mid-twenties to early-thirties, apparently on dates. I had read disparaging reviews of Lupe's service on Urban Spoon but found both the hostess and our server to be polite without being overbearing. It wasn't memorable service--in a good way--which is ultimately what I want from a $12 a plate restaurant.

One of the first things I want to know when I go to a Mexican restaurant is--how are the margaritas? At Lupe, they're pretty darn good. Lupe's margaritas are simple...lime juice, tequila, triple sec, salt. That's it. As it should be. No cloyingly sweet sour mix. No goofy jumbo glass (just a highball, thanks). All in all, a good cocktail. And at $5 apiece during Happy Hour (M-F, 5-8pm) they're a pretty good deal too.

As an appetizer, we started with the guacamole. I was a bit surprised that the $5 option was the same size as our (very small) salsa ramekin. The size actually appropriate for two people was $8, which seemed priced a bit high to me. While guac was enjoyable, the recipe was too heavy on the onion. The tortilla chips were the perfect thickness for scooping, and not at all greasy, but didn't taste homemade either. The salsa itself had a good kick, but the consistency should have been thicker. A good start so far, but not mind blowing.

For entrees, Lupe's prices range from $8 to about $16. The full menu (minus prices) is on their website here

We had the chile relleno ($12) and the skirt steak ($15). The skirt steak was seasoned nicely, but a little overcooked and tough--considering we had ordered it medium rare. It came with an arugula side salad, which was nice although somewhat unexpected for a Mexican dish. The chile relleno, however, was definitely a must-order again! Stuffed with beef, pine nuts and raisins, and topped with sauce and cheese, it was spicy and surprisingly substantial. My only qualm was that it could use a more interesting side dish and better plating...two small chili's with a pat of (completely generic) Mexican rice and a ramekin of refried beans was not visually exciting. Maybe I just had arugula envy, but I thought another vegetable on the plate would have rounded the dish out nicely.

Lupe's has definitely worked out many of the kinks they experienced right after opening, but the quality of the food just frankly can't compete with pricier options like Oyamel, Rosa Mexicana and Cafe Atlantico. But, for inexpensive chain Mexican, they're well above Guapo's, Cactus Cantina and the like.

All in all, I think the location and the happy hour margaritas would bring me back to Lupe. The food was decent, but only the chile relleno was a must-order again for me. Near the Dupont metro and convenient to many other neighboring bars, I think this would be the perfect place to start your night or meet up with friends after work.


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Lupe Mexican Cantina on Urbanspoon

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Metro Center Bakery is Opening


Thanks to the 42 bus for alerting me to this opening. I've been passing this bakery, and trying to sneak a peak inside the window, for months!


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According to Crumbs' website, their first location was opened by husband-wife team Mia and Jason Bauer in NYC.

Since then, their business has exploded, with current and in-construction locations all over the country. Crumbs was actually recently mentioned in Forbes Magazine's 2010 List of the 500 Fastest Growing Companies in America (they were #422). Take that, Georgetown Cupcake.

Photo courtesy of crumbs.com
Take a look at all their signature cupcakes here.

Photo courtesy of crumbs.com
 We'll see how they fare against the local competition, especially considering that Red Velvet is just a few blocks away, in Chinatown.

Crumbs is also opening a second DC location in the Union Station shops.


Update: Via Penn Quarter Living, the official open date of Crumbs at Metro Center is 11/13, and on 11/19 they'll give away 1,000 free cupcakes to promote the new location.

And, according to the WBJ, Crumbs is considering a third DC-metro area location in Clarendon.

We May Not See Any New Bars in Eastern Market

As I reported earlier in the week, there have been many recent restaurant additions to the Eastern Market/Barracks Row neighborhood. Not surprisingly, ANC 6B has something to say about it.

The Hill is Home recaps Tuesday's ANC 6-B meeting, specifically highlighting talk of new liquor license moratorium. If you're not familiar with ANC's, they can effectively block new bars and prohibit expansions of existing ones (a la Dupont Circle's Hanks Oyster Bar, this past summer).

Apparently, Eastern Market's 9th street residents are concerned about the noise, trash and increased foot traffic that may come from the new Moby Dick's House of Kabob and Nooshi. Both restaurants plan to lease the building formerly occupied by pet store Chateau Animaux. Chateau Animaux closed, co-owner Dennis Bourgault explained, due to an inability to remain profitable with their increased operational costs.

When Hill is Home originally reported the news, they anonymously quoted one local resident as saying, "The 'drums of war' are already beating, and I believe there will be major opposition, on the principle that enough is enough." The 8th street corridor in SE is already a popular bar and restaurant strip, with retail mostly clustered on the end closest to the Eastern Market metro station.

According to Hill is Home, all the businesses that approached the former Chateau Animaux space were restaurants. As Bourgault's comments imply, the increased popularity of 8th street is leading landlords to raise rents...making bars (with higher profit margins) more likely to consider 8th street locations.

In other words, 9th street residents may be fighting a losing battle against the market.

As of this week, ANC 6-B has issued a blanket restriction on all new liquor licenses. An information-gathering meeting to further discuss the issue has been set for December 6th.

It looks like all or almost all existing Eastern Market liquor licenses will be renewed, assuming that each restaurant or bar will sign a new Voluntary Agreement (VA). If you're unfamiliar with the ANC/VA process, 14th and You writes a wonderful explanation of Voluntary Agreements that I highly recommend you read.

Columbia Heights' Social is Closing


Yesterday, I read a post from CityPaper's Young and Hungry speculating that Social, a restaurant in Columbia Heights, had closed. Tim Carman links to a pretty damning review he wrote when he first visited Social, although he doesn't name the restaurant explicitly in deference to its newness.

Later yesterday afternoon, DCist confirmed that Social has in fact, closed. Allegedly, "a dispute regarding taxes and the ownership group" is the cause.

One of Social's owners, AJ Guy, explained, "Social has closed today due to an unexpected set of circumstances and we are working diligently to find a solution so that we can continue to be an active member of the Columbia Heights community."

I've eaten at Social a couple of times, and while I never found it as bad as Carman describes, it didn't wow me either. The food was fine, but overpriced, and the service was underwhelming. If Social remains closed (Guy's comment implies there's a chance of re-opening), I'd expect the space to quickly be leased by a new restaurant.


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On that note...if you bought the Groupon (or was it Living Social?) for Social, I hope you've already used it!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Pedestrian, the Bus is Turning!

Photo courtesy of TBD.com
Several sources are reporting that there's a new WMATA metrobus pilot program hoping to reduce the number of pedestrian-stuck-by-bus incidents.

WMATA's brilliant idea? Talking buses. Annoyingly loud, talking buses.

Buses participating in this pilot program have been spotted in Mount Pleasant, Logan Circle, Chinatown and Brookland, DCist reports. When making a turn, the bus sound system projects a message "Pedestrian! The bus is turning!" in both English and Spanish.

Unsuck DC metro posted this video taken by an onlooker to demonstrate the message's abrasiveness. Complains the Unsuck DC poster, "It’s so loud it wakes me at night and can be heard for blocks and blocks around."

As usual, Greater Greater Washington provides a well-argued, common sense response. GGW's Rob Pittangolo writes, simply, "Resources would be better spent elsewhere."

A talking bus doesn't address WMATA's underlying safety issue--that the unionized drivers aren't held responsible for their safety infractions. Instead, as usual, we get more posturing from WMATA.

And perhaps the worst part? By addressing the problem as a "need for better pedestrian awareness," WMATA implies that the blame for pedestrian-bus accidents lies with the victim, not the driver.

Ping Pong Dim Sum Coming to Dupont

Photo courtesy of PoP
After some zoning delays, Ping Pong Dim Sum has announced that they are opening a location at 1 Dupont Circle. This second DC location is tentatively set to open in Spring 2011. See my review of Ping Pong Dim Sum here.

Update: The new location will seat 223 inside, with additional seating for 104 outside.