Let’s face it: nobody really wants a staycation. However, sometimes getting away to a seaside cottage or plush Parisian pied-à-terre is just not in the cards. But if you’re going to stay home, then it’s worth making the most of it.
One way to make a staycation feel special is to give food a central focus, just as you would on a normal vacation. While D.C. is certainly in the midst of a culinary awakening, try heading off the beaten path to hotel restaurants — where you can also pretend you’re a guest — or unexpected hideaways, where you probably won’t run into your neighbors. Here’s a seven-day plan that will allow you to taste the good life without ever leaving the city limits.
Sunday: Brunch at Via Umbria (1525 Wisconsin Ave., N.W.). There’s a serious surprise behind the doors of Georgetown newcomer Via Umbria, an Italian market that boasts a wide array of specialty cheese, charcuterie and curated wines. Head upstairs for brunch in the sun-filled kitchen; for just $35, you’ll sit around the center island with other guests and sip on bottomless mimosas and Bloody Marys, while watching the resident chef whip up Italian specialties like cornetti alla crema, sfogliatelli, cacio e pepe, grilled vegetables and fresh fruit granita — depending on whatever’s fresh that day. The adjacent roof deck is also a nice place to steal away any other day of the week with a bottle of bubbly and a good book.
Monday: Afternoon snack at Blue Duck Tavern & Lounge (24th and M streets, N.W.). Voted one of the top 10 hotel restaurants in the United States by USA Today readers, this gem in the Park Hyatt feels like an escape from the everyday the moment you step into the lush lobby. Stop in for a snack or an early happy hour to try out its new line-up of matcha green tea-based beverages, with or without alcohol, from a refreshing iced matcha to an earthy twist on the gin and tonic that features housemade matcha tonic, made with grapefruit zest, yuzu juice and chinchona bark. Hint: ask about the homemade ice cream treats — you are on vacation, after all.
Tuesday: Pub lunch at the Alibi (237 2nd St., N.W. ). Hidden away in the shadow of the Department of Labor building, the Alibi is a charmingly renovated English pub that was delayed from getting a liquor license for nearly a year, but it was worth the wait. Luckily, they put that time to good use in crafting an authentic menu of steak pie, tikka masala, scotch eggs and perfectly crisped triple-cooked English chips — all of which is the right match for a wide range of draft beer and other libations to quaff your thirst. Even better, the Alibi offers a full vegan and vegetarian menu in addition to the traditional one, including vegetarian fish and chips and mushroom barbecue with a tart apple slaw. Don’t miss out on the banoffee pie for dessert.
Wednesday: Dinner at the Hay-Adams (800 16th St., N.W.). Mid-week during any vacation is a nice time for a special dinner, and the Hay-Adams offers absolute elegance in the Lafayette, its signature restaurant. You’ll be treated to superb service, with each plate showing off particular attention to detail, from Maine lobster salad with lemon curd sauce and trout roe to beef tenderloin with Madeira sauce and foie gras. Be sure to put in an order for pastry chef Josh Short’s vanilla soufflé, a light-as-air confection accompanied by a lightly tart blueberry sorbet that is, quite simply, summer on a plate. Insider’s advice: ask for Eli as your server.
Thursday: Picnic at Yards Park (355 Water St., S.E.). Weekends at this sunny spot along the Anacostia River can get pretty crowded, so plan a picnic for either lunch or dinner to get a prime spot with a view of both kayakers and herons. Another reason to head that way on a weekday is to grab exceptional sandwiches from Cornercopia (1000 3rd St., S.E.) a favorite of locals that is mostly only open on weekdays. Try the Green Line, made with homemade pesto, avocado, smoked gouda, tomato, onio, and dried cranberries, or the Capitol, a ciabatta roll filled with black forest ham, brie and sliced pears. Stop at the bottle shop at Bluejacket (300 Tingey St., S.E.) for bottles of beer to go, and snag a seat on the comfortable wooden lounge chairs under the trees at the end of 4th Street.
Friday: Poolside drinks at the Liaison (415 New Jersey Ave., N.W.) What’s a vacation without spending a day by the pool — and maybe a cabana boy bearing frosty drinks? The Liaison Hotel on Capitol Hill has a rooftop pool that offers day passes for just $35, so you can float all day while sipping on plenty of rum cocktails and noshing on pressed cheese toasties on fresh focaccia, hummus and veggies, and giant cookies stuffed with chocolate chips and pecans. Swimming ends at 5 p.m., but that’s when happy hour starts, so it’s a reasonable trade-off. If you really want to get the full vacation experience, considering renting an actual cabana for the day.
Saturday: Guilty pleasures at Esencias Panameñas (3322 Georgia Ave., N.W.). End your week by exploring the vibrant food of Panama at chef Yadira Stamp’s restaurant. In just its first year, Esencias Panameñas has developed a loyal following among Caribbean ex-pats from across the region, who line up around the block to sink their teeth into her Sábados de Fritangas (“guilty pleasures”) brunch, which is served all day on Saturdays and from 11 a.m.-3 p.m. on Sundays. It’s a decadent assortment of traditional goodies, from crispy corn fritters and twice-fried green plantains stuffed with ceviche to whole snapper in escobeche sauce — but the real draw is the homemade ice cream in flavors like grape nut, rum raisin and soursop, and chicheme frío, a delectation made of hominy corn, condensed milk and coconut milk. You won’t regret a mouthful.
Kristen Hartke is a D.C.-based food and beverage writer. Follow her kitchen adventures on Instagram.