Tuesday, September 08, 2009

From Lebanese to Japanese: Labor Day in DC

Since yesterday was the last day for summer hours at many of the Smithsonian's museums, I decided to race down and take advantage of them. Although I've been going since I was a kid, I just can never get enough of the museums - which are all free, mind you. And I got good use out of my Metro Pass, as I hauled it from Woodley Park to see the National Zoo, down to Metro Center from which I walked a good 20 minutes to the American History Museum.* I always learn something new, no matter how often I see the exhibits. A few new things from yesterday's visit:

  • There is a new baby gorilla at the Zoo, born in January.
  • No matter how many signs say "The gorillas prefer it if you approach them slowly, backs toward them, and never look them in the eye," almost nobody pays attention to that - or else all those families staring at the gorillas just misunderstood.
  • The newly-refurbished First Ladies' Exhibit at the Museum of American History is a lot more superficial these days. They've redone it from the most recent version, which chronicled the various roles of the First Lady in American culture - (national hostess, campaigner, mother figure, power wielder, etc), back down to what it used to be: an exhibition of gowns and objects. And it's much smaller now. What they had on display was cool, but the exhibition overall is now very disappointing.
  • The Julia Child kitchen exhibit, however, never disappoints.
  • I had not realized that the events in the Star-Spangled Banner - written, of course, at Fort McHenry - happened 195 years ago this Saturday, September 12.
  • Trilobites molted somewhat like blue crabs. I've seen that trilobite exhibit at the Natural History Museum for decades and this is the first time I bothered to read it.
  • There is a great new forensic anthropology exhibit. I only saw the back end of it since I entered from the Origins of Western Civilization hall (I have until February of 2011 to go back and enter from the front), so I missed a good bit of it. But the part I did get to see was the lead coffin, skeleton and forensic reconstruction of St. Mary's City resident Anne Wolseley Calvert, the most important woman in the Maryland colony in the 1650's (this page has the current reconstruction of Goody Calvert as seen at the exhibit).
  • There is also a brand new soil exhibit. I never knew that soil could be so interesting until yesterday. You think I'm kidding but I'm not.
  • And I love the new Ocean Life exhibit. The blue whale and the giant squid are back.
  • The Air & Space Museum has a new interactive exhibit that the kids will love: how can things fly? It's nifty. Oh, and they've already relabeled every instance of Pluto to "dwarf planet".
Of course I got hungry while I was down there, but it is easy to spend too much money, and with me on a budget I simply had no choice.

For lunch, I went to the Lebanese Taverna across from the Woodley Park-Zoo/Adams Morgan Metro. Honestly I had no idea it was a franchise. It was a beautiful day to eat outside - even with the rain, since I was under a canopy. Mondays in September there are low-priced lunch options (I think the Baltimore location has that, too).

The complimentary bread was, to be nice, chewy and tough. Perhaps that's how it was meant to be, but it's not how I like my bread. However, the grape leaves (about $3) that I ordered as my appetizer were quite good. Usually grape leaves have a nice tanginess but that's it. These had something extra that I can't quite place my finger on, perhaps an extra citrusiness. These were good, and made the bread a bit more bearable. It's also strange how filling four grape leaves can be, at least in the short term.

Grape leaves

For my entrée, I had a dizzying array of choices, but I finally chose the riz bel djaje ($7 on Mondays in September, more on other days of the week), which the Lebanese Taverna describes as "boneless chicken breast served on a bed of spiced rice, almonds and pine nuts and yogurt salad".

Riz Bel Djaje

The phrase "boneless chicken breast" should have been my clue to not order it, because I rarely have good experiences with chicken breast. It is usually some degree of tough and chewy on the outside, dry and stringy on the inside. Sadly, this is what this chicken breast was. It was better than many chicken breasts I have eaten, but it was still not great: the outside was mildly tough and chewy, except where it was directly touching the rice. It was moist in those spots. Inside it was a little dry and stringy. I ended up picking through the chicken breast and leaving about half of it on my plate. The rice pilaf upon which it sat was what salvaged this meal. It had a wonderful flavor and texture, fluffy and moist. Had I just eaten the grape leaves and the rice, sans chicken breast, I would have been happy.

The service was also frustrating, as the waiters actually forgot about me after I sat at my table, twiddling my thumbs while three different waiters that had come to my table during my meal passed by and helped others. One waiter apologized, but this is the kind of thing that keeps me from going back, or recommending a place to others. I hope this doesn't reflect on Baltimore's branch of the Lebanese Taverna. If I go there, I won't be ordering the riz bel djaje.

Dinner was at my perennial Chinatown favorite Wok N' Roll, in the famous Mary Surratt House where John Wilkes Booth colluded with others to assassinate Lincoln and his Cabinet (only Booth succeeded, and we know what happened to him. Surratt was hanged for treason). No doubt, Surratt didn't serve her houseguests the satisfying crunchy salmon roll or nigiri sushi I ordered last night. I forget the name of the roll, but it was only $7 and it consisted of salmon and avocado on the inside and crunchy on the outside. For another $3 I ordered two pieces of mackerel sushi, of which both the mackerel and the sushi rice were perfectly warmed to room temperature, and the mackerel was nicely velvety. Another $2 for soda amounted to $12 before tax and tip. The service was better than the Lebanese Taverna, too, so they got a 20% tip instead of a 15% one.

Other photos:

For a sec, I thought it said "Elevator Outrage". That might not be too far from the truth if you want to use the elevator.

Hey, orangutans gotta eat, too. The male on the left was monopolizing the hay in the feeder, and his "friend" was not liking it.

Julia Child's kitchen. No butter offerings left by random food bloggers that day.

Goody Anne Wolseley Calvert, wife and First Lady of the colonial governor of Maryland of Philip Calvert, ca. 1650's - before...

...and after

* Yes I know there's a Smithsonian station right on the Mall, but I didn't want to bother with transferring from the Red to the Blue/Yellow Line, and I don't mind walking.

Lebanese Taverna on Urbanspoon
for Lebanese Taverna (Woodley Park location)

Wok & Roll on Urbanspoon
for Wok N' Roll (Chinatown)