Spike goes to Rehab

Washington, D.C.

In my several trips to Sin City, I’ve never made it to Rehab, the much-hyped Sunday afternoon pool party at the Hard Rock. Tickets run around $100 bucks a pop but most say it’s worth it.

Perhaps taking its cue from Vegas, the Capitol Skyline Hotel started offering its own scaled-down version of Rehab a few weeks ago. Partnering with Spike Mendelsohn, Top Chef extraordinaire and owner of Good Stuff Eatery on the Hill, the Skyline throws Sunday afternoon pool parties. Doors open at 12 p.m. and admission is $10 bucks, which includes a Spike Cheeseburger. When we got there a little after noon today, the music was pumping and deck quickly filling up. We snagged some of the last chairs and lazed on the bright orange towels.

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This place doesn’t even come close to the atmosphere at Hard Rock but what would you expect? This is D.C. But still, drinks were $5 bucks and there were all these dope rafts to play with.

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We made our way over to the grill, which was churning out some thick and juicy burgers and crispy chips. Washed down with a Firefly Sweet Tea Vodka, it hit the spot.

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Spike was around most of the afternoon — splitting his time between the grill, talking to overzealous Top Chef fans and lounging on this gigantic floating swan.

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Tough life that he’s got.

Marjorie Merriweather Post was a baller

Washington, D.C.

Charlotte’s time in D.C. is winding down — which means so are opportunities to “play tourist.”

The nation’s capital is rich with free museums, parks and cultural exhibits. Living here for several years, however, it was easy for me to fall into a routine and not take advantage of it all. There was always an excuse: too crowded, too hot, too hungover. Not to say this stopped us from getting out and visiting some of my favorite spots, including the National Arboretum, the Newsuem and the National Archives. (And an insider tour of the Pentagon.)

Add to that list the Hillwood Estate, the former home of Marjorie Merriweather Post, the heiress to the Post Cereals empire. At one point, she was the wealthiest woman in America, splitting her time between Mar-A-Lago, the fantastic Palm Beach property now owned by Donald Trump, and her equally impressive estate in Northwest D.C.

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Charlotte’s friend, Laura, works there, so she gave us a private tour of the mansion and beautiful, manicured surrounding formal gardens — ranging from a French Parterre to a Japanese-style with a koi pond and waterfall.

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Hillwood has been preserved since Post’s death in 1973. These retro lawn chairs and umbrella from the seventies were especially cool.

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As impressive as the grounds are, Hillwood’s real treasures are inside. It turns out that Post was quite the little art collector. She had her own curator who essentially turned her house into a museum — and, in doing so, helped her amass the most comprehensive collection of Russian imperial art outside of Russia as well as a world-renowned collection of eighteenth-century French decorative art and furnishings.

Unfortunately, cameras weren’t allowed inside. But, on our way out, we did snap some photos at Post’s greenhouse devoted exclusively to orchids.

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Needless to say, this woman did not mess around.

The best pad thai in America

Washington, D.C.

One of my favorite shows on television is Throwdown! with Bobby Flay. Each episode, Flay identifies a chef who makes the best specialty food — from buffalo chicken wings to muffalleta sandwiches — and then challenges him or her to a “throwdown.” It pushes Flay to step outside of his grilling comfort zone while allowing some unknown, but highly qualified local cooks, a shot at beating an Iron Chef (on Food Network, no less).

A couple weeks back, Flay visited Thai Basil to take on Chef Nongkran Daks during a pad thai throwdown. As a fan of spicy, southeast Asian foods, this episode was one of my favorites. So, when we learned that Thai Basil was actually in Chantilly, Virginia — about a 25 minute ride from D.C. — we knew where we’d be having lunch today.

Thai Basil sits in an unpretentious strip mall not far from Dulles Airport. The decor inside is simple; a couple of conical hats line the walls, local newspaper articles boasting the restaurant’s accolades sit beneath the glass tabletops. But we hadn’t come for the atmosphere; we had come for the pad thai. After a couple of appetizers, including Som Tam, a crispy shredded papaya salad with spicy chili-lime dressing, we geared up for the real deal: the shrimp pad thai.

We agreed that the noodles were cooked perfectly and the sauce was a delicious balance of sweet, sour, spicy and tangy. The lime added a nice citrus flavor and the peanuts and bean sprouts offered some additional texture. Served with a hot sauce sampler, it was just perfect.

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I’m no restaurant critic, but I’ve ate at my fair share of Thai restaurants — including those in Thailand. And, I’ve got to say, Nongkran knows what she’s doing.

Her pad thai is the best I’ve had.

Dispatch from the Inauguration

Washington, D.C.

It didn’t take much to convince me to return to D.C. for yesterday’s inauguration. Sure, the city was predicting crushing crowds and nightmarish travel, but this was an historic event. More than just wanting to say that I’d “been there,” returning to the nation’s capital was about rallying around the country’s new president, and in doing so, renewing my hope for our future.

My flight out of RDU was just after 8 a.m. on Saturday. After a mad scramble at the usually stress-free airport — in which a TSA employee refused to let me through security with what she claimed were three carry-on bags — our flight left close to on schedule,  touching down in DCA about 45 minutes later. The plane then sat on the tarmac for 20 minutes waiting for a gate to free up, the first indicator of just how many people were coming for the weekend’s festivities.

Charlotte picked me up and we headed to REI for outdoor gear research for my trip next month to Patagonia. Afterward, we drove to Georgetown, had a delicious brunch of prosciutto-parmigiano pizzas and salads at Café Milano and then shopped around at some Recession Sales. The afternoon’s highlight was spotting Kevin Nealon, who plays Doug on Weeds. We were so star struck that we couldn’t even think of anything witty to call out!

After a late night catching up with friends, we slept in on Sunday before meeting up with my brother at the Lincoln Memorial for the We Are One inaugural celebration concert. It was packed and security check-points quickly became overwhelmed so we watched from in front of the Washington Monument, while Stevie Wonder, Usher and Shakira sang “Higher Ground” and Garth Brooks covered “American Pie.”

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The crowds were huge, estimated at about 750,000, with some onlookers scaling trees for a view (which in and of itself created a spectacle).

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We kicked off Sunday evening with an open-bar at Town Tavern, yet another new drinking hole on 18th Street in Adams Morgan. Charlotte was psyched because the cast of the Hills was supposed to be there, but unsurprisingly they didn’t show, and a bunch of super-heroes took their place.

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Moby was hosting an all-night dance party at the 9:30 Club getting underway at around midnight. We had scored some tickets on Craigslist so hopped in a cab, waited in line, checked our coats, pushed to the front and got ready to rock out until 4 a.m.

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About a half hour into his set, the power goes out, Moby improvises by banging on some empty barrels and then heads back to his dressing room. We wait around for an hour, still no lights at the club, which is a minor problem when your performer is a D.J. We’re told that the event is being rescheduled and dejectedly go to hail a cab. We learned the next day that the power had come back on shortly thereafter, Moby returned and no refunds would be given to those who left. Awesome.

Monday was spent recovering and resting for the big inauguration ceremonies the next day. At around 7:30 a.m. on Tuesday, we started the mass exodus down to the Mall. Downtown was entirely shut down to traffic, with military police and humvees at intersections, city buses used as barricades and hundreds of vendors hawking Obama gear and handwarmers. When we arrived about a half hour later, the Mall had already started to fill. There was a nice spot back by the Washington Monument, up on a hill, so we plopped down, bundled up against the freezing cold and started the wait.

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A nice lady next to us offered some handwarmers, which we graciously accepted, as crowds of spectators continued to flood through the gates. Around us, there were lots of flags. And buttons, shirts, hats, visors –  it was Obama-mania!

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Someone next to us screamed out “four more minutes!” Shortly thereafter, Biden was sworn in, followed by Obama and the flubbing Chief Justice Roberts. There was an eerie silence as everyone held their breath before thunderous applause and hollering erupted.

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The chopper carrying Bush roared overhead and we all waved goodbye. It wasn’t until our way off the Mall, which took over an hour, did we realize just how many people were in attendance. Huge masses of people, more than I’ve ever seen in my life, stretched for as far as you could see. It was surreal and also a little scary. Once back on 18th Street, crowds — from sidewalk to sidewalk — made their way all the way to Connecticut Avenue. Unreal.

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Back at Charlotte’s, we warmed up, quickly packed my bag and headed for the Metro, trying to beat the parade crowds. The cars were stuffed, but getting on and transferring at Metro Center wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. My flight out of National was delayed a half-hour, but Five Guys came through in the clutch with a little cheeseburger and cajun fries.

Landing back in Carolina, my seatmate remarked at the snow covering the ground. “Haven’t seen something like that in 5 years,” he said. I looked out at the glistening runway and thought about the last couple of days. How I’d joined millions of people from around the country, and around the globe, in witnessing first-hand history in the making. How change, very real change, might finally be in the making. How far, in electing an African American president, our country had come. And how tomorrow would be the dawn of a new day.

Where urban luxury meets suburban blandness

Washington, D.C.

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Eric Ripert’s WestEnd Bistro, located inside the Ritz-Carlton hotel at M and 22nd street NW, has had all the makings of a D.C. hot spot since opening last November. There’s a celebrity chef, trendy $13 cocktails, locally sourced dishes — and views of an Exxon gas station?

Check out the latest in today’s Express.

D.C. bars prep for Super Tuesday gatherings

Washington, D.C.

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The turnout on Super Tuesday is expected to be large — and not just at polling places. As anticipation builds over how voters in 22 states will cast their presidential primary ballots, restaurants and bars in the nation’s capital are preparing to accommodate those who will be coming in to watch the results over patriotic potables.

The best places in the nation’s capital to watch the results — in today’s Express.

After battle with church, Shaw restaurant thrives

Washington, D.C.

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On a recent evening, a pair of diners sat in the window seat at Queen of Sheba on 9th Street NW in Shaw. Between them, they shared traditional Ethiopian vegetarian plates, like Atkilt, a stew made with carrots, potatoes, cabbage, red pepper and onions. They glanced directly across the street, at the Shiloh Baptist Church, raised their Heineken beers and took a swig.

It was a somewhat ordinary scene — but, after a nearly two-year battle for a liquor license, it’s one that owner Embzam Misgina now takes comfort in.

Read more about it in my other Express piece out today.

Metro riders get a no-pants Saturday surprise

Washington, D.C.

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Metro has plenty of rules. Wearing pants, I’ve learned, is apparently not one of them. About a 100 pranksters dropped trou and hit the subway this weekend. It’s all detailed in my latest story for the Express. And no, this intrepid reporter did not participate.

You have to draw the line somewhere, right?

Photo by The Post’s Ricky Carioti

P Street is back in business

Washington, D.C.

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Nearly one year after the work began, the massive reconstruction and refurbishing of P Street NW between Dupont Circle and 22nd Street is almost complete. But what has the impact been on local businesses — and was the whole project worth the costs?

My latest Express piece is out today.

Heating up as winter sets in

Washington, D.C.

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As temperatures in the nation’s capital plummet, restaurants and bars are rolling out heat lamps and radiant heaters to keep patios and roofdecks toasty. Read more in my latest story for the Washington Post Express.

Photo by Michael Temchine for The Washington Post

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