Postcard from France: Marseille

Last Christmas, my uncle invited us to spend the holidays at his house in Goult, a lovely village in the Luberon, located halfway between Aix-en-Provence and Avignon. My uncle is my mother’s brother and they both grew up in Marseille, France’s second largest city. Rather than take the train to Avignon and get picked up by my uncle there, we decided to spend a day and a half in Marseille and rent a car to drive to Goult. I have very little childhood memories of Marseille, and my husband had never been so I was excited to discover the city, especially with my favourite Marseillaise – my mom – as our guide!

FIRST THINGS FIRST: LUNCH AT CHEZ ETIENNE 

IMG_1482The trip from Paris Gare-de-Lyon to Marseille-Saint-Charles is just over 3 hours. After dropping our bags at our hotel near the vieux port, we quickly headed off to lunch at Chez Etienne, a no-thrills pizzaria in Le Panier. My mom used to go there when she visited friends and family back in the city, so it’s been around for a while, and other than adding a second room across the street from the original location to accommodate demand, very little has changed over the years. Service and ambiance are not the reason to go to Chez Etienne. You go there for the best pizza in Marseille, which here is served as a starter, not a main course, and only comes with two options, cheese or no cheese. The anchovies and olives come automatically as toppings 😉 You also go there for the pavé de boeuf, which is excellent, and the supions, small squids lightly pan-fried with garlic and parsley. Warning: there’s no phone to make reservations and it gets very crowded so if go, you might have to wait (in the street) for a table to become available. They also only accept cash and as I mentioned, service is, well, let’s say it’s very French.

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STROLLING THROUGH THE PANIER

IMG_1504The core of Marseille, the old port, is surrounded by hills and starting our tour through the city at Chez Etienne was a smart move because we then weaved our way down to the Vieux Port through the neighbourhood known as Le Panier. If La Canebière, Marseille’s main boulevard in the old quarters, is the city’s answer to the Champs Elysées, Le Panier is its Montmartre. The neighbourhood, once rather dodgy and filled with sailors from across the globe looking for a good time, has become quite trendy recently.  With its hilly narrow cobbled streets and pastel coloured houses covered in street art, it’s in the midst of a bit of gentrification and there’s been quite the influx of hipsters and artists lately (as well as public funds from the city.) From Le Panier, we made our way to the Maison Diamantée, one of the oldest house in town, and the 17th century City Hall, where my parents got married, before landing on the Quai du Port. 

OH MARIUS! THE OLD PORT OF MARSEILLE

IMG_1737Life in Marseille has revolved around the vieux port ever since the trading post of Massalia was founded by Phocaean greeks in 600 BC. In the 1840s (after Algeria became a French department) the commercial docks were transferred to La Joliette but the colourful Old Port remained the emotional heart of the city, crammed with fishing boats, pleasure yachts and visitors. You can get from the quai du port to the Quai de Rive Neuve on the other side by foot (or even those public bikes, known as Le Velo in Marseille)… or you can take the free ferry boat like we did! It’ll probably take you just as long, but if you only have one opportunity to get on the water in Marseille, you should seize it! For me, it was extra fun because I’ve read and re-read Marcel Pagnol’s Triologie Marseillaise, and I couldn’t help but think of Felix Escartefigue, capitaine of the ferry boite, as we made a quick pastis stop on the other side of the port at Le Bar de la Marine, where the author/director filmed the famous “tu me fends le coeur” scene from Marius. If you have NO idea what I’m referring to, may I recommend watching Daniel Auteuil’s version of Marius and Fanny, which are currently streaming on Netflix

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There’s lots of great stuff on that side of the port… a block away from the Bar de Marine, you’ll notice La Criée, a former fish market and now one of France’s edgiest theaters. We continued on quai de rive neuve until rue Robert on our way to the Musée du Santon (also known as Les Ateliers Carbonel) before making our way to Le Four des Navettes, THE place in Marseille to get the city’s iconic boat-shaped, orange-flower flavoured navette biscuits. I’ll warn you if you’re going to try them (which you should!): their nickname is casse-dent (teethbreaker) so don’t bite too hard into them 😉 We actually grabbed about 4 kilos worth for everyone to enjoy at the Christmas table… A few streets away from the bakery is the stunning Abbaye Saint Victor. We didn’t linger too much there because our ultimate goal for the end of the day was catching the sunset at another famous Marseille church, Notre Dame de la Garde, which was a quick but steep 20 minutes walk climb away. 

STUNNING VIEWS FROM NOTRE DAME DE LA GARDE

IMG_1608The Basilique Notre Dame de la Garde, or La Bonne Mère (the good mother) as it is familiarly known towers over Marseille and offers amazing 360 views of the city below, which are particularly striking at sunset. Topped by a massive golden statue of the Virgin Mary and Child, the Byzantine-style interior features anchor and sailing ship motifs. Since around the Mediterranean there’s a religious tradition of ex-votos to express gratitude for a wish granted, you’ll also see boat models hanging from the ceiling or displayed in glass cases to express thanks for a loved one having returned from the sea.  There’s also an Olympique de Marseille flag which was brought by the team after a victory so it’s not all sailing related (though l’OM is quite the religion in Marseille too…)

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DINNER TIME !

IMG_1750Since it was before right before Christmas, a marché de Noel and the Foire Aux Santons were in full swing at the old port and nearby Place Saint Charles respectively and we spent a little bit of time shopping at both before heading to diner at La Kahena, one of Marseille’s best Tunisian restaurant. I don’t get to eat a lot of North African food here in DC and Marseille happens to have very large Algerian, Moroccan and Tunisien communities, both muslims and jewish like my mother’s maternal side of the family. The fish couscous was excellent, as well as my brik au thon, and since we didn’t get a chance to swing by Les Delices Patisserie d’Aix, a famed oriental pastry shop, during the day we took full advantage of the dessert buffet to indulge our sweet tooth with some cornes de gazelles and makroud

 DAY TWO: MIXING THE OLD WITH THE NEW

IMG_2014Marseille is known as the gateway to the Mediterranean, so it was time for us to set sail! Well, or at least take a small boat trip 😉 First, we got up early to enjoy the small fish market that still takes place on the Quai des Belges around 8AM every morning. From there, we grabbed the Frioul If Express to the island fortress of If, where Alexandre Dumas imprisoned his fictional count of Monte Christo. Had it been summer or even spring, we may have extended the journey to the Frioul Island but instead we headed back to shore to explore the NEW Marseille. We didn’t realize how far the new Docks at La Joliette were so we only made it as far as la Cathédrale La Major before heading back to the brand new MuCEM where we had plans to meet my DC-based friend Laure, who was in town for the holidays visiting her family in Marseille. Inaugurated in 2013, the MuCEM offers perspective on mediterranean civilizations and mixes the old with the new by adding a modern building designed by Rudy Ricciotti to the 12th century Fort St. Jean. The two buildings are linked by a footbridge known as J4 (for Joliette 4.)

Lunch at the MuCEM

We didn’t actually visit the museum, focusing instead on exploring its architecture and enjoyed a sun soaked lunch with stunning views of the turquoise sea at Le Môlé Passédat, a restaurant on the top floor of the museum from Michelin-starred chef Gerard Passédat. The meal was amazing, but not cheap, so if you’re looking for a more affordable option, La Cuisine (Le Mole’s sister restaurant) offers a great lunch as well, minus the view.  Following lunch, we headed back to the vieux port to pick up a bottle of pastis at La Maison du Pastis, a shop that allows you to try any pastis from a selection of 75 different ones before you purchase the one of your choice. We also stopped at the brand new Galerie Lafayette Gourmet to do some last minute Christmas food shopping and then set out. On our way out of the city, we drove through an old industrial neighbourhood called la Belle de Mai. The area grew from the arrival of the railway and a former tobacco factory there has now become a thriving cultural center called La Friche la Belle de Mai, with lots of awesome street art nearby. We didn’t get to stop in this time but it was the perfect send-off to a quick stay at the once gritty, now thriving Marseille. Besides, I have a feeling I’ll be back soon enough! 

 

 

 

A Year In Champagne at the Angelika Film Center

Angelika Pop-Up at Union Market With its reserved seating, gourmet concessions and interesting mix of blockbuster and special interest films, the Angelika Film Center & Cafe at the Mosaic District is one of my absolute favourite movie theater in the Washington area. Keyword: Washington area. It’s nowhere near the city and pretty inconvenient to get to if you don’t have a car. So I was thrilled when a smaller, albeit temporary version, of the art-house movie theater popped up behind Union Market. It became pretty handy when I was trying to catch up on my Oscar nominated films, showing Whiplash, Still Alice and a couple of other nominated flicks. Eventually, the pop-up Angelika Film theater at Union Market will transform into a full scale permanent location but until then, its three screens currently offers around 4-6 different indie and art-house films at various times throughout the day. You can reserve your seat in advance, meaning you can hang out in the lounge area or at Union Market until right about the time your film starts. The only downside is that the theater has NO incline, meaning you’re kinda screwed if someone tall sits in front of you…But on the plus side, there’s free drip coffee during matinee shows and you can purchase wine and beer to bring inside the movie.

Speaking of wine and beer… both Angelika theaters in the D.C. area are showing a great documentary on champagne on Wednesday March 4 2015. The film, A Year in Champagne, is part of a wine trilogy led by renowned wine importer Martine Saunier. If you haven’t seen it yet, you can catch the first chapter, A Year in Burgundy,  on Netflix where it’s streaming. The third chapter, a Year in Porto, will be released later. About the film: A Year in Champagne gives viewers a rare glimpse behind the scenes into the real Champagne by spending time with six houses, from a small independent maker like Champagne Saint-Chamant, where each and every bottle is still turned by hand in the cellars to the illustrious houses of Gosset and Bollinger, which have been instrumental in shaping the image of Champagne around the world.

Both Angelika theaters are throwing a champagne tasting party to go along the film screening on March 4, 2015!
At the Angelika Film Center & Cafe in Fairfax, happy hour will start at 6PM in the lounge with wine, beer and snacks available for purchase. Experts from nearby wine shop Swirl & Sip will also be on hand to talk about Champagne before the movie screening at 7pm (movie tickets available here.) In Washington, the screening will also take place on the 4th and start with a tasting at Cordial Fine Wines & Spirits from 4:30-6:30PM (advance movie tickets available here.)

Cheers!

Olivia Macaron Venturing out of Georgetown

No, the Georgetown purveyor of colourful macarons is not opening a second boutique in Shaw. At least not yet (how great would it be though??) But there’s still some good news if you love Olivia Macaron but don’t love trekking all the way to M Street… you can now purchase a limited selection of macarons to go along your favourite coffee blend at La Colombe in Bladgen Alley.

Olivia Macaron now available at La ColombeObviously, there’s a lot less flavours available at  La Colombe, but it’s great to know that there are some available in Shaw right? Also, if you can’t make it to (or don’t want to) Olivia Macaron or La Colombe, Olivia delivers nationwide (just call 202.965.1000 for orders.)

La Colombe is located at 924 N St NW. Olivia Macaron is located at 3222 M St NW. 

Postcard from France: Cour Bérard in Paris

Cour Bérard is a small street in the 4eme arrondissement in Paris. It’s the home of the Moretti & Moretti, an art galerie which focuses on street art, digital art and installations.

Cour Bérard, Paris

I headed to the galerie to check out its Konny Stedin exhibit. If you’ve been to Paris recently, I’m sure you spotted some of the German street artist’s work. Her signature black and white portraits, with the red paint tears, can be seen throughout Paris, like this one below which I snapped a few years ago outside of BeaubourgStreet art by Konny outside of Beaubourg

But the best street art wasn’t inside the gallery. It was actually outside, in the street, which was lined with graffiti black cats.IMG_1300

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Cour Bérard is a small street, but it’s definitely a street art lover’s dream street.  And a black cat lover’s dream street too!

Made-in-DC: Vodka & Whiskey at One Eight Distilling

IMG_3092One Eight Distilling is the second distillery to open in Washington, D.C. since prohibition. It happened to open on my birthday, so I thought a little local vodka and whiskey would make for a fun celebration. I wasn’t the only one who had the brilliant idea to check out the distillery that day, and the 2,000 square foot tasting room in NorthEast’s Ivy City neighbourhood was packed!

For now there are only two spirits that can be sampled: the rye-based District Made Vodka and the Rock Creek White Whiskey. We tried both in small One Eight Distilling branded shot glasses while waiting for our tour of the adjoining 7,500 square foot production space to start. Like Green Hat DistilleryOne Eight Distilling will produce gin, but the Ivy City Gin won’t be ready for a few more weeks. Eventually, brown liquors (like an aged Bourbon) will also be added to the roster.

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Our tour was led by Alex Laufer, one of the co-founder of One Eight Distilling and its head distiller. He repeatedly described his spirits as ““grain to bottle,” pointing out that the grains and malted rye used in the distilling process are all locally sourced. He also explained the legal and local nod behind the distillery’s name: one eight refers to Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution which provided for the establishment of the district as the United States’ capital, among other things. He also elaborated on the production process, talked about the quality of DC water and plans for future spirits. Altogether, the tour lasted perhaps 15 minutes. Alexander (Sandy) Wood, the other co-founder and CEO of One Eight Distilling and Jared Earley, the marketing and events manager for the brand, were also at hand giving tours that day.

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You can tour One Eight Distilling (located at 1135 Okie Street, NE) every Saturday between 1 and 4PM. A different food truck will be parked outside the distillery every week as well, starting with Red Hook Lobster Pound on the day that I visited. If you’re really ambitious and haven’t been to Green Hat yet, it’s about a mile away so you might be able to hit both in one afternoon… I’ll definitely be back once they release their gin!

Postcard from France: Visiting the Louvre-Lens

Lens, a small town in northern France, boasts a football stadium with a capacity larger than its population, but doesn’t have a movie theater.  A former mining strong hold, its main touristic and cultural attractions used to be world war I cemeteries and Europe’s tallest slag heaps (known by their formal French name of base et terrils jumeaux du 11/19.) That all changed in 2012. That year, one of the world’s most famous museums, the Louvre, opened an outpost in Lens, attracting some 900,000 visitors its first year of operation. While that’s barely anything compared to the 8 million visitors that go through the Parisian museum each year, that’s still very impressive.

Lens is easily accessible from Belgium, the Netherlands and England. It’s also just an hour away from Paris by train, so during my last visit home, we hopped on the TGV to check it out. We rented a car to do a little more sight-seeing beyond the museum but you can also easily do without. Free shuttles bring visitors directly from the art deco train station to the Louvre-Lens and back. Starting in January, the shuttle will also stop boulevard Basly, the main commercial street in the city lined with a few art-deco reconstructed houses, on its way back from the museum.

Gare de Lens

Gare de Lens

Downtown Lens

Downtown Lens

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But let’s get back to the main attraction: Louvre-Lens. The sleek, minimalist building, designed by Japanese architect firm Sanaa (they also designed the New Museum in New York City,) is a steel and glass structure on a 20 hectare wasteland that was originally used as a coal mine before the ’60s. On a clear day, visitors can spot the giant through the museum’s  floor to ceiling glass windows.

Can you spot the twin giant slag heaps at Loos-en-Gohelle?

Can you spot the twin giant slag heaps at Loos-en-Gohelle through the windows?

The Louvre-Lens creators have said they want the museum to be a Louvre in its own right, and not just an annex of the Parisian Museum. That being said, the Louvre-Lens doesn’t have its own collection and relies instead on long-term loans from the mother-ship. Since the Louvre has some 460,000 works of art in its collection but only has space to display 35,000 of them, this is actually a mutually beneficial relationship. The first 250 pieces that were loaned to Louvre-Lens have been curated in a rather novel way to give visitors a brand new perspective on some pretty classic art pieces and artifacts. While other museums, the Louvre-Paris included, typically separate artworks by style or era (Egyptian pieces together, renaissance painting separately,) the art at Louvre-Lens is displayed in chronological order in one long, light-filled gallery called the Galerie du Temps (time gallery.)

The "permanent" collection at Louvre-Lens is housed in the Galerie du temps

The “permanent” collection at Louvre-Lens is housed in the Galerie du Temps

We spent two hours going through the collection like we would have reading through an art book, starting with Egyptian antiquities (statues, sarcophagus, etc.,) a statue of Alexander the great, roman mosaics, greek vases and a celestial globe from Iran going all the way to a portrait of Louis XIV, a statue of Napoleon, a virgin and child by Botticelli and yes, a Goya and a Rembrandt too… While we were there, the museum was busy preparing for the opening of a new temporary exhibit, “Des animaux et des pharaons,” focusing on Egypt’s fascination with animals. Every year, the museum will offer 2 different temporary exhibits while changing up some of the pieces in the “permanent” collection, giving residents of the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region plenty of reasons to keep going back to their new local attraction.

Chez Cathy, across from the Louvre-Lens

Chez Cathy, across from the Louvre-Lens

Le Centre Historique Minier Lewarde

Le Centre Historique Minier Lewarde

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Whether the museum will provide a long-term economic boost to the depressed town remains to be seen but it certainly cannot hurt. I was glad to visit. While we were in the area, we had some traditional northern-France food at nearby Chez Cathy (the museum also offers its own more elegant restaurant, l’Atelier de Marc Meurin,) visited the excellent Centre Historique Minier Lewarde before grabbing dinner at Aux Vieux de la Vieille, a traditional estraminet in Lille.There’s plenty more we could have done if we had opted to do an overnight trip instead of the day one, like visiting the historical town center in Arras or even going as far as Roubaix to visit Le Musee de La Piscine de Roubaix, a former art-deco swimming pool turned, you may have guessed it, museum. And I might have an opportunity to in the next few years, actually. In 2016, Lens will be one of the host cities for the Euro Cup, which will be held in France between June 10 and July 19, 2016 and which I am totally planning on attending! Its Stade Bollaert-Delelis, which previously hosted some world cup matches back in 1998, will see 3 group-stages matches and one round of 16 match (so if you’re planning on seeing a match there, maybe double down and see the museum too!). Before that, though, the Louvre will further spread its collection, going outside of France this time with the opening of the Louvre-Abu Dhabi scheduled for December 2015.

A Taste of Olney’s Taste Gastropub

Discovering new restaurants and meeting new people who appreciate food as much as a do as two of the main reasons I keep blogging. Last week, I headed to Olney, Maryland for a private tasting at Taste Gastropub, an unassuming restaurant in a strip mall some 18 miles outside of my comfort zone, I mean, outside of downtown DC 😉 I’m definitely glad I ventured out. Lunch with my bestie Cecile, fellow DC Spotter Aparna, Lisa of #PushPlayEat, Jessica of The Dining Traveler, Carlis of Spicy Candy DC (who helped coordinate the event) and Lori of Been There Eaten That was delightful.  The wine selection, expertly chosen by chef and sommelier Danny Lledo didn’t hurt either!

Private lunch at Taste Gastropub in Olney, MD

Photo credit: Cameron Habashian

Let’s chat about the restaurant first. Owner Vic Seested is almost your typical DC-story: financial advisor (it can’t always be a lawyer I guess….) turned restaurateur… except there’s more to it. Seested grew up in Olney and he purchased Taste Gastropub as a hub for local charity work. The restaurant hosts a number of fundraisers throughout the year and makes numerous donations to local charity. I think we can all agree that’s really awesome, but wjhat’s even better is that he hired a very talented chef and sommelier, Danny Lledo. As a son of a chef, Lledo was literally born into food. And it shows. Check out some of the gorgeous food we were treated to during our private lunch, all enhanced by a perfect wine pairing.

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I wouldn’t have been able to make it to Taste Gastropub if transportation hadn’t been provided by Reston Limousine… but if you happen to be in the Olney area and are looking for a good meal, you should definitely check out chef Lledo’s creative cuisine. As for me, I’m probably not going to make it back there any time soon unfortunately, but the trip reminded me of how much I love Slate Wine Bar, which is managed by Danny (and owned by his wife Elizabeth.)

Taste Gastropub is located at 3418 Olney Latonsville Road in Olney, MD 20832 

Art All Night Returns September 27, Expands Across the District

I’ve given up on D.C.’s Art For All ever being a cultural event of the scale and caliber of Paris’ Nuit Blanche, but that doesn’t mean that I’m not looking forward to it. The main event, Art All Night/Nuit Blanche DC, now in its fourth edition, will take place Saturday, September  27  and go beyond the Shaw neighbourhood to all four quadrants of the city.

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Art All Night uses art to cast a new light on the city and one of the things I love the most about the DC version is that it allows me to explore both established art spaces and discover more underutilized venues. This year is no exception. Here are some of the highlights:

Activated! Art4All Launch Party ~ If you haven’t walked through the new City Center complex downtown (and seen its fun digital art feature the Gateway), now is your chance! D.C.’s newest development will host the official launch party for the 3 week festival on Friday, September 26 (6-8PM.) The $15 tickets include 2 tickets and appetizers, provided by recently opened DBGB DC and Del Frisco’s. That alone should sell you on it.

North Capitol Main Streets ~ That part of town is definitely not one that I would want to explore at 1AM on any other night, but during Art All Night 50 artists will turn 3 lots between 1514 and 1638 North Capitol into THE place to be on September 27. Curated by Art Soiree and the team that put the Wonderbread Factory on the cultural map, North Capitol Main Street will feature a silent disco, a commissioned graffiti mural, food trucks, projected video art and more between 7PM and 3AM.

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Dupont Circle ~ Here, Art All Night is mainly taking place in small, established galleries like Hillyer Art Space, Foundry Gallery or the Washington Studio School. Don’t miss an interactive movie making experience at the Heurich House Museum and Alex Braden‘s Outside and Play (Reprise), a 12-minute site, sound, and time-specific performance beginning promptly at 12:05am (it’s BYO headphones!) at Hillyer Art Space.

H Street NE ~ There will be a little bit of everything on H Street: golf at 3rd and H, dessert making at 646 H Street, DJs, film projections, an open house and preview of the new Ben’s Chili Bowl, live bike frame painting and custom bike making and a performance by an eclectic chamber collective at the Atlas Theater (between 8-10PM only.) Basically, a pretty typical scene for a Saturday night on H Street 😉

Congress Heights ~ Curated by Tendani Mpulubusi El., the area around the MLK corridor will host a sidewalk arts fest between 2700 – 2900 Martin Luther King Avenue SE, exciting lighting schemes and graphic projections as well as store front displays, readings, sip and paint and, of course, music.

IMG_4784Shaw ~ Shaw was the main host for all of the Art All Night events in 2013 and will be the main hub again this year. The area has changed SO much in the past 12 months though! If you want to see everything Art All Night has to offer in that part of town, start the evening at the Carnegie Library (live music) and zig zag your way up to the Popeye Building through 7th and 9th street. There’s too much stuff going on for me to list them all but I’m looking forward to the unveiling of a new outdoor mural by Kelly Towles at 1509 7th St. NW, abstract painting and sculpture (also much needed caffeine!!) at just-opened Compass Coffee, the return of Anienkan Udofia’s Marvin Gaye mural (which was recently lost to construction) at 1748 7th st. NW, and DJ + photo booth at the Watha T. Daniel/Shaw Library.

After the 27th, Art For All continues with two “PorchFests” on Rhode Island Avenue NE (October 4th) and Adams Morgan (October 18th). Inspired by similar PorchFest events across the country aimed at creating a family-friendly, neighborhood-based alternative to the nightclub music scene, these two events will celebrate local talent by turning the front porches of neighborhood homes into performance spaces.

So yes, D.C.’s version of Art All Night is more of a take on the Parisian concept, an (almost) all-night exploration and celebration of art that’s amplified through a 3-weeks long art festival. I think it mainly succeeds in showcasing local artists and bringing art within everyone’s reach in a fun, party-like atmosphere. But, in Paris, some of the major museums like the Louvre, Pompidou, the Grand and Petit Palais or the Palais de Tokyo open up to the public (free of charge and ALL night) for Nuit Blanche. Wouldn’t it be awesome if some of the Smithsonians or the Newseum could open their door for D.C.’s Art All Night? In Paris, Art Happenings take place in both unusual and underused locations as well as major buildings that are not typically open to the public. For example, this year, Motoi Yamamoto  will create an art piece using salt on the floor of the salle des Tapisseries in City Hall. Wouldn’t it be fun if we could get some of the government buildings to partake? Like all night readings of the Constitution to different music at the Archives, or something like this? Just my suggestions…

 

 

L’Heure de l’Apéritif – Green Hat Gin

Feels like I haven’t done a cocktail post in ages… probably because that’s the case. But last Saturday, after the Shortcut to Europe Embassies Open House event, I was inspired to branch out of my usual French wine and try something a little more “exotic.” Like Bulgarian wine. Well, wouldn’t you know, it is not easy to find Bulgarian wine in D.C.! But what I did find while I hopped from liquor store to liquor store, was a bottle of limited release seasonal Green Hat Gin. Probably a better choice than Bulgarian wine anyway 😉

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I visited D.C.’s first legal distillery since prohibition back on November 24, 2012 during American Express’ Small Business Saturday promotion. John Uselton, who runs the New Columbia Distillery with his father-in-law Michael Lowe, led the tour. The small-batch gin is crafted locally in a 3,500-square-foot warehouse in NorthEast D.C. It’s not that big so the tour doesn’t take took long and goes over the whole production process, starting with a quick overview of the botanicals and herbs that give Green Hat Gin its signature scent and flavour (the celery is strong in that one…) all the way to the bottling process. On Saturday afternoons, you’ll typically find a group of lucky volunteers working away, closing bottles and labeling them. I say lucky because I’ve been trying to get into their “bottling parties” for months now… Le sigh.

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A few weeks ago, New Columbia Distillery release a seasonal, limited edition spring/summer gin with cherry blossoms, citrus peels and cubeb pepper giving it a more citrusy and floral taste. John Uselton  recommends that the seasonal gin be used in a simple Rickey or in a Southside so that is exactly what I did. I tried a few different version of the Southside, with lime and lemon, with bitters and without and the version below was my favourite. The Southside is a very simple cocktail, almost like a gin-mojito. Start with a few mint leaves (5-10 depending on their size) muddled in a shaker. Next, add 3/4 oz of simple syrup (simple syrup = 1 cup sugar and 1 cup water boiled together in a saucepan. Once cooled it can be used in all sorts of cocktails as well as refrigerated for about 3 weeks), 3/4 oz lime juice and 2 oz of Green Hat seasonal gin. Top it with some ice and shake. Add a few drops of Peychaud’s bitters and shake again before straining into a cocktail glass with a few ice cubes and some decorative sprigs of mint.

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For more Spring/Summer Green Hat cocktail inspiration, head to Boundary Road on H Street NE next Thursday (May, 23rd starting at 5PM). Green Hat Gin is hosting a cocktail night with a bevy of Green Hat Gin Seasonal Release cocktails.

New Columbia Distillery is locally at 1832 Fenwick Street, NE. It’s open for tastings and tours Saturday afternoons from 1 to 4pm.

DC-to-do list ~ 2013 Edition

Yes I will drink less wine, work out more, spend less time instagramming pictures of my cat and read more books instead of just pinning images of book covers to a “books I’d like to read” board on pinterest (ps: you can follow me on pinterest to see what those books are…) We all make New Year’s resolutions but back in 2010, I decided to make a DC-to-do list instead. I barely crossed half of them off (in 3 years no less) so it wasn’t a resounding success but I think I’m ready to put this semi-failure behind me and give it another go! So here are ten D.C. things (and a couple extra non-DC stuff too) I haven’t done yet that I resolve to do in 2013:

1) Take a tour of the Supreme Court (yes, this is back from my 2010 list, and ideally, I will sit on a hearing… but at the very least I **WILL** take a tour!)

2) Visit Frank Lloyd Wright’s Pope-Leighey house (alas, this one is also back from the 2010 list…)

3) Last one from the 2010 list, but since I can’t have the shrimp toasts at Four Sisters anymore, I’ll settle for some duck at Peking Gourmet Inn instead 😉  

4) Check out if Little Serow lives up to the hype (I’m pretty sure it will.)

5) Take a class at the Living Social building at 918 F St. NW in Penn Quarter (I must admit, I haven’t even been in the building yet *bows head in DC-shame*).

6) Sip cocktails at the Columbia Room

7) Visit President Lincoln’s Cottage (did you even know this excited? me neither…) 

President Lincoln’s Cottage – picture courtesy of the National Trust for Historic Preservation in the US


Two places that I’d love to visit are also the Gunpowder Bison farm in Monkton, MD and Catoctin Creek Distillery in Loudoun County. I’m not sure they really belong on this list, so I’ll just mention them now and use them for extra points 😉

8) Catch a movie at the Arlington Cinema & Drafthouse. I like movies. I like booze. Why have I not done this before? Oh yeah… it’s in Virginia!! 😉

9) Have dinner at Ray’s the Steak (I haven’t been to a single restaurant in Michael Landrum’s ever-expanding empire… so I figure I should start with the original right?) 

10) Tour the Historic Congressional Cemetery.

Two places that I’d love to visit are also the Gunpowder Bison farm in Monkton, MD and Catoctin Creek Distillery in Loudoun County. I’m not sure they really belong on this list, so I’ll just mention them now and use them for extra points 😉

And not related to D.C., I also resolve to:
11) Visit my friend Caitlin during her yearly exile to Los Angeles. Every winter, my favourite New Yorker escapes the cold East Coast to spend a few sunny weeks on the other side of the country. I have said I would go visit her for the past 5 years. Now it’s on the list, so this better be the year…

12) Make my own bitters… can’t be that hard right? Plus I’ve got this nifty little guide by D.C.’s own Dereck Brown.

Greeting from Budapest! Or in this case, from Buda overlooking Pest 😉

13) Travel to at least one entirely new place. Last year I discovered Budapest in Hungary. I love the idea of going to a new country once a year, though I have no idea what this year will hold for me…

What are some of the things that you’ve always thought to yourself “oh I should do this some day” or make you think “I can’t believe I’ve never done this”? What would be on your DC-to-do list?