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Eat like a tourist

Treat yourself to a week of dining out

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staycation, gay news, Washington Blade

The Lafayette Room (Photo courtesy Hay-Adams)

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.

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As You Are Bar offers a place to belong

Bar-coffeeshop-danceboutique to open brick-and-mortar soon

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AYA, gay news, Washington Blade

Rachel Pike and Jo McDaniel are the bar industry veterans behind As You Are Bar. (Photo courtesy Pike and McDaniel)

Vodka soda, pinot grigio, light beer, ginger ale, or all of the above: whatever your tribe, As You Are Bar recognizes your flavor.

Currently virtual and soon physical, As You Are (AYA) Bar is the new joint venture from bar industry veterans Jo McDaniel and Rachel Pike, partners and both queer women.

Launched earlier this year, AYA is “a virtual queer space with a priority of safety and inclusion,” says McDaniel.

McDaniel, who has been recognized by the Washington Blade in the past for her cocktail crafting skills, began her career at now-closed gay bar Apex, and later as a bartender at Phase 1, Phase 1 Dupont, Freddie’s Beach Bar, and Cobalt.

McDaniel went on to open and then manage A League of Her Own (ALOHO), located aside Pitcher’s in Adams Morgan. For her part, Pike started in the industry in security at Nellie’s, and was also on hand to open ALOHO. She moved up to lead security and bartender at ALOHO.

At ALOHO, the duo teamed up to make it “as safe a space as possible,” says McDaniel. But, as for the entire industry, the pandemic threw a wrench in their in-person abilities to do so.

When the pandemic hit, “we realized it was time to do more,” she says. “Humans are made to connect, and we couldn’t support them well at a brick-and-mortar-space. Thus, AYA bar was born.”

Having left ALOHO to expand their dream bar model, AYA allowed them to entirely rethink the bar space. At times, they admit, “the 21-35 crowd can dominate nightlife. The goal is to pull away from that,” McDaniel says. In addition, Pike notes that “pandemic, and the time off, opened many people’s eyes to so many injustices, inequities and racism in our world.” They want to address those concerns at AYA by accepting every part of the queer rainbow.

Right now, AYA is creating that welcoming space virtually. One popular event on the AYA website is Click in with Coach, a Zoom-based happy hour hangout. It’s a place to have bar talk without the physical bar. McDaniel hosts Hey Jo, an Instagram live interview show where McDaniel speaks with a guest from the community to discuss queer spaces, ways to support community causes, and lessons over the years and from this time in a pandemic. Other events include a YouTube virtual dance party hosted by DJ MIM (a popular queer DJ) and Our Side of the Bar, at which McDaniel and Rach take the hot seat and dish what life is like on the other side of the bar.

Regardless of location, McDaniel stresses that the team wants “to expand our reach and center marginalized communities within this larger community: Black, brown, and indigenous people of color (BBIPoC), queer youth, and queer elders.”

The two are actively searching for a physical location, and hope to have more news on its opening by the summer.

Their goal is to make AYA a daytime-to-nighttime café-cum-danceboutique. In the morning and afternoons, it will serve as a coffeeshop for families and youth, and welcome after-schoolers. In the evening, a part of the space will dim the lights and turn up the tunes, allowing the bar to transform into an accessible, everyone-welcome bar. They hope to include the 18+ crowd on certain nights, too. The café section will likely stay open for those looking for a quieter nook at night.

“Because we identify under the queer umbrella,” says McDaniel, “our passion to provide safety to this community courses through us in everything we do. Because we’re white, we believe we have a responsibility to BBIPoC to center the needs and voices of marginalized people. We were both also young queer people at one point looking for a place to belong, come as we were, and feel safe. Everyone deserves a space that is theirs. A space they can be who they are and know they will be respected, protected, and nurtured. As You Are is for anyone that couldn’t find that place elsewhere.”

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Dining

Gin & Tonic Festival to benefit restaurants, workers

ThinkFoodGroup celebrates Spain’s favorite cocktail

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José Andrés (Photo by Blair Getz Mezibov)

José Andrés’ ThinkFoodGroup celebrates Spain’s favorite cocktail with its annual Gin & Tonic Festival April 9-29 at all Jaleo restaurant locations in the D.C. area.

The Botanist Gin will donate $5 of every Botanist Gin and Tonic sold during the festival to the Independent Restaurant Coalition. Donations will be doubled to $10 on International Gin and Tonic Day on April 9.

The Independent Restaurant Coalition is a grassroots movement formed by chefs and independent restaurant owners across the country to protect the independent restaurants and their workers impacted by the ongoing pandemic.

For more information, visit ThinkFoodGroup on Facebook.

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Dining

Paraiso Taqueria is a riotous rainbow of a restaurant

‘A vibrant atmosphere where all your senses get stimulated’

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Paradiso, gay news, Washington Blade
Scenes from the new Paraiso Taqueria in Capitol Hill. (Photos by Evan Caplan)

Green tortillas, pink mole, and blood-orange margaritas: the new Paraiso Taqueria in Capitol Hill is a riotous rainbow of a restaurant.

Launched last December, Paraiso Taqueria is just coming into its stride, as the city government relaxes dining restrictions, chef Geovany Beltran expands the menu, and the restaurant debuts a funky coffeeshop.

Beltran, a native of Mexico, has seized the opportunity in his first starring chef role at a restaurant, having previously worked at Jinya Ramen Bar, among other area eateries.

“Growing up in a mezcalero family in Guerrero, Mexico and being a D.C. local for many years, my dream has been to share those recipes and memories here in Capitol Hill,” he says. 

Unlike other recent taqueria openings, this one takes inspiration from both street food and home kitchens, as well as international influences. But Mexico is front and center. According to the restaurant’s Brand Director Tahmina Ghaffer, “we source our heirloom masa [corn flour] from Oaxaca, Mexico. This flour used for tortillas has been nixtamalized, or treated with slaked lime to remove the hulls, soften it, and improve the digestibility of its nutrients,” she says.

About those tortillas: Beltran livens up the Insta factor by mixing batches of masa with beet or cilantro, resulting in brilliant pink or green colors, in addition to the traditional yellow. Siting on those tortillas are a bevy of taco options, from traditional al pastor (with braised pork, pineapple, and cilantro) to a creative salmon crudo (with chamoy honey sauce, pickled onions, and mango). There is also an eggplant taco with tomatillo jam for vegetarians. All salsas that accompany the tacos are made in-house.

For bigger plates, look to the adobo lamb, served aside red and green salsas, escabeche, and tricolor tortillas, as a kind of DIY table side taco party. Another creative dish is an elegant cauliflower burrito, painted with a pink mole fragrant with beets, thyme, pine nuts, almonds, and pink peppercorns, and then elegantly drizzled with in a white chocolate sauce.

Beltran also takes cues from the sea, serving ceviche and coconut-curried mussels that would be right at home in an Indian restaurant.

On the sweet side, pastry chef Blenda Navarette crafts desserts like a tres leches topped by mango gelee and a chocolate flan; a pan dulce is in the works. 

The drink list, Ghaffer notes, is heavily focused on an extensive collection of mezcal and tequila. Bar manager Jose Diaz aims to “tell the myths, legends, and stories of Mexico through drinks.” 

The Oaxacan Old Fashioned is inspired by the classic cocktail, but Diaz uses mezcal and agave. The El Chamongo marries tequila with mango, lime, chamoy, and the popular Tajin spice mix for a spicy-salty kick.

Paraiso takes over the space formerly occupied by Emilie’s, where star chef Kevin Tien helmed the kitchen. When Tien left, owners Sam Shoja and Johann Moonesinghe revamped the space and handed the reins to Beltran (Shoja also owns several Jinya Ramen franchises). Beltran and his chef team are also partners in this operation.

“This team have been the true heroes of the restaurant industry and we want to give them a space where they can be celebrated and have ownership,” says Ghaffer.

The industrial-chic design with a 360-degree open kitchen (seats at the kitchen bar are not being used during pandemic restrictions) is brightened by prints from a family favorite Mexican illustrator, Ana Leovy. “She celebrates diversity through her work, weaving stories through shapes and colors, inspired by feelings, dreams and everyday life,” says Ghaffer. Neon lights and lots of greenery round out the space. 

Paraiso’s aim is to create “a vibrant atmosphere where all your senses get stimulated,” she says. 

An immigrant herself, Ghaffer (who hails from Afghanistan) notes that “being a minority has shaped our work, and we are here to set an example. As immigrants and people of color, we had to break barriers and now we want to help others do that. We want to let people know that anyone who puts in the hard work will achieve their dreams.”

Moving forward, Paraiso will soon house an all-day café-bookshop, decorated with photography from Mexican women, selling fresh coffee, packaged treats, goodies, and bottled drinks. The restaurant also has plans to set up a “mezcaleria” bar area, expand its outdoor patio, launch a monthly wine club series, and host specials for Cinco de Mayo.

(Photo by Evan Caplan)
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