The both of us hopped on planes early in the morning, coffee in hand, eyes still bleary from sleep, late night excitement and nerves that come with the fun of upcoming travels. I hadn't been to DC since I was a skinny, thirteen-year old eighth grader on a week-long trip with my honors American History class. Although that trip still sticks in my mind as one of the best I've been on, my memory of the city had clearly faded to a fuzzy snippet. After a short stopover in Salt Lake City, six hours later, we touched down, grabbed a cab and roughly four miles later were settling in to our temporary home for the week.
The Hotel Palomar, Washington DC is located in the historic district of Dupont Circle, a vibrant and absolutely beautiful neighborhood full of pre-1900 rowhouses, gardens and landmarks. The hotel itself is artfully luxurious, feeling modern yet melding seamlessly into the surrounding apartment homes and shops. The elegantly appointed rooms are spacious, comfortable and slightly quirky, giving them a big-city vibe, cheetah print bathrobes and all.
Urbana, the adjoining restaurant and bar is a lovely addition to the hotel's presence. The staff is amazing, the drink list is impressive and we were happy to spend almost every evening relaxing, chatting and unwinding in their cushy little lounge with new friends and coworkers. The bartenders, Joe and Lee were gracious, amusing and helpful with city insight, and the staff, especially DeDe, Rachel and Hazel kept conversation fun and enjoyable. I felt particularly spoiled by the Urbana staff's generosity and warmth. Not to mention the fantastic happy hour selections, like $1 oysters and $8 flatbread pizzas fresh from the kitchen. Chef John Critchley "prides himself on a creating bold, brasserie-style dining experience infused with Mediterranean warmth" by producing some of the tastiest Northern Italian and Southern French cuisine locally. Another perk of Urbana is the word-of-mouth feel both the bar and restaurant possess. It's a refreshing escape from the chaos that can ensue on the streets of surrounding neighborhoods that ooze college-like crowds, especially during the warm weather season.
We wandered Dupont Circle's endless spire avenues in search of those darn tasty bivlaves I've become so addicted to lately and we're finally directed to Hank's. Hank's Oyster Bar is a quintessential DC seafood institution, offering favorites like crab rolls, fresh raw oysters, fish & chips and Old Bay french fries. Along with a classic array of east coast sea delights, Hank's also offers dishes like molasses braised short-ribs, pork chops with fig sauce and blue cheese crusted sirloin. While clearly this joint is a local favorite, the hubbs and I felt a little bit out of place amongst the mass hoards of people pushing and shoving their way around the restaurant and it's outdoor patio. The restaurant felt over-crowded and quite loud, which is fine for happy hour on a Friday night, when we arrived, but I wondered if it would be the same environment for brunch or dinner on a regular school night.
There are several indoor bars at the Dupont Circle location, along with an outdoor patio, downstairs lounge and general dining room. Be warned: If you order happy hour oysters, you can only order them when seated or standing at one of the "bars". If you choose to dine in their dining room inside, or a select part of their patio, or their upstairs lounge, you will not receive happy hour oyster prices, even though the oysters are exactly the same. We ended up frustrated and incredibly put-off until we squeezed ourselves into a corner in their upstairs bar, where the friendly bartender finally eased the tension of our visit and allowed us to pull up stools near the waiter station. Things started to feel better when our two dozen New Point, Salt Pond and Malaspina raw oysters arrived- fresh and delicious. So good, we ordered an extra dozen before their $1 happy hour ended, just for kicks.
Once we were sufficiently satiated by our late afternoon snackies, we moved along to finding a spot to sit down and have a proper meal. I had my heart set on Italian food, so we ended up at the elegant Floriana, also in Dupont Circle. Floriana has been a part of the DC dining scene since 1979, and for good reason- this is some of the best Italian food I have ever tasted, all sourced from local producers and lovingly prepared by hand. The restaurant is housed in a modest rowhouse along 17th Street, right outside of the circle, with small, quaint outdoor seating and a refined yet rustic indoor dining area. We arrived without reservations (a big no-no in DC) but were lucky enough to snag a patio table, especially considering the gorgeous evening weather and busy streets.
I ordered the house Lasagna, stuffed with ground beef, which was divine. The creamy bechemel sauce was rich, frothy and light, and the fresh Mozzerella was melted to a perfect oozing crisp. The homemade pasta was just that- tasting like no other dried, boring lasagna noodle, but soft and decadent.
The hubbs ordered their Tortelloni Mignon, a plump stuffed giant pouch of tender, juicy ground filet mignon. Speaking of decadent, my goodness, putting the dish into words is difficult. Once again, we were caught in a fork fight over our dishes, both protecting them with gusto. The staff found humor in our dish swapping, but were equally as lovely as the food. Service was friendly and prompt, and we thoroughly enjoyed our meal.
As we were finishing up our dinner, we had noticed tons of people squeaking in to a tiny door below Floriana. Curiosity got the best of us, so we followed the folks down the rabbit hole and into an unmarked basement bar called Blade. Nightcaps ensued, laughter was had and many, many friends were made, from all walks of life. If you have an open mind and an open heart, you'll love the crowd here-- service with a smile is an understatement.
As you can probably imagine, by this time of night we were bedraggled and exhausted, so we made the short walk back to our hotel, completely enamoured by our surroundings. If just the first night was this much fun, what would the rest of the trip be like??
To be continued...