Capital Chefs, Food and Drink, The Features

Capital Chefs: John Critchley of Urbana (Part 2)

Photo courtesy of
‘Shellfish stew at Urbana’
courtesy of ‘bonappetitfoodie’

With spring finally in the air, chef John Critchley’s shellfish stew with coconut and lime is great for this time of year. The coconut milk and lime keep it light, but it still has a rich and creamy broth. For all you seafood wary cooks, this isn’t a difficult recipe to make, so it’s good for taking the plunge into cooking with shellfish. The flavors are great and it’s a dish that will definitely impress your friends.

Click through to find the full recipe after the jump.
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Capital Chefs, Food and Drink, The Features

Capital Chefs: John Critchley of Urbana (Part 1)

Photo courtesy of
‘John Critchley of Urbana’
courtesy of ‘bonappetitfoodie’

Like many chefs, John Critchley, the new executive chef of Urbana, is cooking because he says, “I don’t know anything else.” Cooking, albeit his full-time job, doesn’t even feel like work sometimes. John started working in a kitchen in his freshman year of high school where he learned that many times your kitchen staff becomes like a family.

“I try to promote that same feeling in my kitchens now,” he says. “You spend 60 hours a week working with each other so it becomes a family. It becomes what you grow to love doing.”

While working in the kitchen creates a family of sorts, he does admit that it’s a challenge to balance everyone’s different cultures, attitudes and work habits. However, John strives to bring his team together and says that he likes seeing people reach their goals because it helps the development of his team in the kitchen. “I want to see my line cooks move up to sous chef. I want to see that they’re motivated to improve,” he says.

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Entertainment, Special Events, The Features, We Love Arts

Backstage with the Washington National Opera

Photo courtesy of
‘Kennedy Center – JFKC Opera – 03-08-11′
courtesy of ‘mosley.brian’

Touring the backstage of the Opera House at the Kennedy Center for me was rather like being a very small mouse in a very large cheese shop. I’ve been backstage at many theaters, but never one as massive as this one. Photographer Brian Mosley and I joined a private press tour minutes before a Washington National Opera performance of Madama Butterfly earlier this month, and there was an eerie quiet backstage. We were in the proverbial calm before the storm. Technical professionals in black were moving about, readying the stage, and it reinforced just how much goes into a production of that caliber and size.

First off, the stats. When I say the Opera House is massive, I’m not exaggerating. The house seats 2,219 patrons. The stage is 100′ wide by 70′ deep by 100′ tall, with wing space of 50′ on each side – you are also dwarfed by the backstage stage space as two huge fire doors the width and height of the stage, located stage left and upstage, allow for enormous pieces of scenery to be moved on and offstage.

I am going to run out of adjectives to describe size, so just trust me when I say, um, it’s big.
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The Features

Behind the Design: Westend Bistro

Photo courtesy of

courtesy of ‘Chris Rief aka Spodie Odie’

“When I came on board with the project, the design aspect was quite well advanced, however I participated towards the end in making sure we created a concept that was casual, friendly, warm and high energy, keeping in mind we were building a neighborhood bistro.”   – Eric Ripert on the design of Westend Bistro, exclusively for We Love DC

Westend Bistro by Eric Ripert, opened in 2007 at the Ritz-Carlton, Washington D.C., is not your typical, often lackluster hotel restaurant.  Apart from the exceptional service – synonymous with the Ritz-Carlton brand, one would never guess that they were dining amongst hotel guests and visitors.  Westend Bistro feels like that friendly, neighborhood spot.  The place you know you can always count on – with phenomenal food and a warm, welcoming atmosphere. 

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Dupont Circle, The Features, Where We Live

Where We Live: Dupont Circle

Photo courtesy of
‘a hug on Riggs’
courtesy of ‘NCinDC’

Welcome to Where We Live: Dupont! Dupont Circle is one of the District’s best-known neighborhoods, and there’s so much history and beautiful architecture to love here.  Dupont is home to everyone from recent grads in group houses to young professionals in condos to well-off diplomats with kids, and yes, even some new stars.  I know I’m probably supposed to be unbiased in my descriptions of all these neighborhoods, but to be honest, Dupont’s my favorite.  Read on to find out why.

History: Not much was really going on in the Dupont area until the Civil War.  Up until then it was a rural backwater, but a massive modernization program built streets and sewers in the 1870s, making the area a fashionable new residential district.  In 1871, the circle itself (then known as Pacific Circle) was constructed, and in 1882 Congress decided to use the circle to honor Civil War admiral Samuel Francis Du Pont.  A statue of Du Pont was erected in 1884, and replaced in 1921 with the fountain that we all know and love today.  The traffic signals in the circle were added in 1948 to make it easier for pedestrians to cross, and in 1949 the Connecticut Avenue tunnel was built to separate thru traffic and build a streetcar station.

By the 1870s and 1880s, impressive mansions were built along Massachusetts Avenue, and Connecticut Avenue had more shops and offices.  Much of the area was developed with rowhouses, many of which remain today.  The neighborhood began to decline after the 1968 riots, but in the 1970s some urban pioneersmoved in.  Dupont Circle took on more of a Bohemian character, and the area became a gay enclave.   It is considered the historic center of the gay communityin DC, though many of those original urban pioneers later moved on to Logan Circle or Shaw.  The 1980s and 1990s saw more reinvestment in the neighborhood, and today Dupont Circle is again one of DC’s most desired neighborhoods.

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Essential DC, Foggy Bottom, Life in the Capital, The District, The Features, Where We Live

Where We Live: West End

Photo courtesy of
‘Schneider Triangle’
courtesy of ‘NCinDC’

Welcome to another installation of Where We Live. This time we’re focusing on the area between Dupont and Georgetown. Some call it Foggy Bottom, others call it GW, but the neighborhood most recently has been calling itself West End.  Read on to hear why this area is among the city’s oldest, but also one of the most rapidly changing, neighborhoods.

History: The area is known as West End because it literally was the west end of Pierre L’Enfant’s original plan for Washington.  It was also known as Foggy Bottom because of the marshy, humid conditions and the concentration of smoke-emitting businesses in the area along the waterfront (so really, it’s more like Smoggy Bottom).  The rowhouses in the neighborhood housed these industrial workers, so the area was home to many Irish and German immigrants back in the 1850s, along with their breweries.

Then the area started changing rapidly.  Columbian College (what we now know as George Washington University) was established near Meridian Hill in 1821, moved to the Foggy Bottom area in 1912, and expanded significantly in the 1920s and 1930s.  The decline of river-oriented industries led to the closing of many waterfront employers, and the area lost a lot of ethnic diversity as industrial workers left the neighborhood.   By the mid-twentieth century, rowhouses were being torn down in favor of high-density apartment buildings, and much of the character of the neighborhood was lost.  We can thank the Foggy Bottom Restoration Association and the DC Restoration Office for preserving the rowhouses that still exist in the area today.  (If you’re interested in more history of the neighborhood, check out this PDF brochure put out by the DC Office of Planning.)

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Foggy Bottom, Food and Drink, We Love Food

We Love Food: Brunch @ Circle Bistro

French Toast at Circle Bistro

Okay, okay, I know, I get it. I’m on a brunch kick. I promise next We Love Food, I’ll write about another meal, I’ll branch out, but really? LOOK AT THAT PHOTO, you can’t not love brunch. Om nom nom nom. That my friends, is the french toast with whipped marscapone from Circle Bistro.

Circle Bistro is located in the Circle Hotel, right off of Washington Circle in Foggy Bottom/West End. My friend Rachel and I headed there a few Sundays ago to partake in my current favorite meal. We walked in about 15-20 minutes early for our reservation (it’s all about the OpenTable points, my friends!), and the manager-type/host was curt and rude, only agreeing to seat us if we were willing to wait for a server to free up to take care of us. He huffed all the way to our table, and was brusque handing us our menus, basically taking it out on us that we were early.

I realize that early guests can be an inconvenience if you’re short on staff. I too have been a hostess at one of the busiest restaurants in Charlotte, and dealt with more than my fair share of difficult table assignments and situations, I get it. But this was easy, we were happy to settle in for a while, brunch is the most relaxed meal possible. But honestly – don’t promise me slow service from the get go, it’s a bad start, and doesn’t make me feel like you are willing to be accommodating. Especially when we were one of four total tables. Color me unimpressed.  I sat down, hoping the food would save the situation. Continue reading

Foggy Bottom, History, Monumental, The Features

Monumental: The American Meridian

American Meridian

Longitude is probably one of the most important scientific solutions of the modern era. It was easy to work off a set of common star charts and figure out how far north or south of the equator you were. Take a couple readings at sunrise, midday and sunset, chart a few stars, and wham there you are. We’ve been measuring that for millenia now. But Longitude was a lot harder. By the early 18th century, it had become such a problem for sea-faring nations that the King of England set forth a prize to determine the best way of calculating it. Enter John Harrison and his clocks. If you can keep accurate enough time, you can determine your longitude. It took decades of engineering, and the promise of riches (in some cases denied, read Dava Sobel’s Longitude, which is a fascinating historiography of the events surrounding the prize.)

The thing about Longitude that is most interesting is that there’s no clear and obvious choice for a prime meridian, the way there is with latitude and the Equator. Thus, common standards of practice evolved, with prime meridians, and associated maps, appearing at Greenwich, Paris, Rome, and various other European centers. Each set of charts was keyed to use with a specific set of longitudes, with no common standard. Thus it was that Thomas Jefferson set the first American Meridian through the center of the Executive Mansion in 1793. This meridian would stay in place through 1850 when it was moved west 8 blocks to 24th Street at the site of the Naval Observatory (now the grounds of the US Navy Bureau of Medicine and Surgery at 24th and D Streets) where it remained the American line of demarcation and measurement until 1884 when we moved to the Greenwich Standard by International Treaty.

But why have an American Meridian when Greenwich’s would do? The only good way to measure longitude was to take a clock, synchronized from Greenwich’s observatory master clock, and sail it across the Atlantic. Sure, that sounds pretty straight forward, but clocks, even as late as the early 19th century were not anything we’d considerate accurate to the second, not to mention had all kinds of mechanical issues even if you sailed them across the sea. Not to mention the fact that two journeys could come up with two totally different longitudes for the final result. Thus, setting a local point of demarcation allowed for a better continuity of result. Continue reading

Foggy Bottom, Food and Drink, We Love Drinks

We Love Drinks: 51st State Tavern

51st state

When I worked in Foggy Bottom, I found it practically impossible to find a bar in Foggy Bottom proper that wasn’t overrun with George Washington and Georgetown students. Too bad I didn’t find The 51st State Tavern until now, because it’s the answer to my happy hour prayers.

Situated in a two story former row house (like oh so many bars in DC) 51st State is the perfect place to grab an incredibly affordable drink with a friend. Located where Penn meets L street, near 26th at that super funky intersection, I finally found the perfect Foggy Bottom/West End after work spot. It’s not crowded, nor is it overrun with frat boys and the girls that follow (at least during HH), and has the perfect short beer list with something for everyone. Continue reading