Got a light?

Washington, D.C.

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I’ve started contributing to Free Ride, the blog for the Washington Post Express. My piece out yesterday is the first in a series leading up to the one year anniversary of the D.C. smoking ban. Read it on the Express site — or, if you’d rather stay here, I’ve also got it posted on MZ.com.

And, if you ever need any matchbooks, let me know. I’ve got a couple to spare after reporting this out.

Photo illustrations courtesy of Chris Combs/Express

1789: A true D.C. dining experience

Washington, D.C.

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When you think of Georgetown, you’ve got to think of 1789.

It’s really the quintessential restaurant here in D.C., housed in a renovated 19th century Federal house whose walls have been lined with historical prints and tables filled with Grandma’s china. Unfortunately, the surroundings and great food don’t come cheap, which means it isn’t every day that you get to visit. Luckily, it’s August, which also means that no one is around the nation’s capital and restaurants are desperate for business. Thus, our trip to 1789 on Saturday night.

As part of a summer offer, you’re entitled to an appetizer, entrée and dessert for $36. Considering main courses average around $30 bucks, it isn’t a bad deal. My veal short ribs starter — with grilled corn, smoked paprika and pickled ramps — was fall off the bone delicious. It was followed by yellow fin tuna, seared to perfection over a bed of arugula, piquillo sweet peppers, botarga and fennel. Dessert was a valhrona chocolate truffle — basically a hazelnut chocolate cake with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. All washed down with a glass of white wine,  it was near perfection.

Too bad we won’t all be back there again until next summer.

Go get a Sick(o) steak

Washington, D.C.

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If you haven’t seen Michael Moore’s newest documentary, “Sicko,” it’s worth checking out. I’ve seen most — if not all — of Moore’s films, and this one was, at least for me, the most compelling for two reasons.

First, unlike “Fahrenheit 9/11,” “Roger & Me” and “Bowling for Columbine,” Moore largely stays out of this film, instead opting to let the stories speak for themselves. (Abridged version: HMO abuse and neglect is rampant in this country and you’re more apt to find better health care in places like France or Cuba.)

Perhaps more importantly, Moore keeps politics to a minimum level, which allows the more important message to resonate. True, the film opens with a fantastic Bushism: “Too many good docs are getting out of the business. Too many OB-GYNs aren’t able to practice their love with women all across this country.” But, Moore also takes Senator Clinton to task for accepting the second most political contributions from the same lobbyists she was fighting against during her push for universal health care.

While on the health note, a question: is red meat good for you? Those who think so might want to check out Ray’s the Steaks in Arlington next Sunday. It’s like Ruth’s Chris stripped to the bare bones. And, on Sundays, they’ve got a $25 meal — appetizer, entrée and sides and desert — with $10 going to charity.

Can’t beat it.

Crabs at Cantler’s

Annapolis, M.D.

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Finally got a chance to head out to Cantler’s this weekend for their notorious crabs. It’s something I’ve been dreaming of doing since first moving to D.C. almost 2 years ago. We got crab cake sandwiches, onion rings and iced teas at Cantler’s, walked around the historic downtown and sat on the wharf eating ice cream from Storm Bros. A great day.

We also attempted the “Dine & Dip” at the Omni Hotel on Sunday in Woodley Park. The brunch was pretty good but by the time we had finished, our waitress informed us that with 175 other parched folks already at the pool, the “dip” had sold-out.

We got a rain check for this week and will be back on the 4th.

An Indian Acres embarassment

Washington, D.C.

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In a sign that the apocalypse truly is upon us, my beloved summer camp, Indian Acres, was just ranked the 9th most expensive sleep-away camp in the country. How embarrassing. It now costs a mind-boggling $8,500 for 7-weeks of cabin-living, freezing cold instructional swim and 5-star cuisine from acclaimed chef, Don Wentworth. At least we can all take solace in the fact that it’s not Camp Laurel.

Tuition there runs $10k.

Think you’re addicted to Starbucks?

Washington, D.C.

Starbucks Closings

Last year, while doing research for a People story on “obsessed fans,” I heard about a man named Winter. In 1997, he quit his job as a computer programmer and decided to try and visit every Starbucks in the world.

With ten years of crisscrossing the country and 6,959 domestic stores under his belt now, he’s 96.8% of the way there. (Winter has also visited 457 stores worldwide.) The problem is, Starbucks is opening stores faster than Winter can hit them up – so he stays on the road, sleeping in his car, fighting tirelessly to meet his goal of having a cup of Joe at every licensed, corporate-owned store.

Winter has come through DC a couple of times. After the jump, his candid thoughts on a few of the Bucks we’ve got here in the District. [Read more…]

Why isn’t there a Metro stop in Georgetown?

Washington, D.C.

Seriously, why isn’t there?

You’ve probably heard the rumor that residents objected to the construction of a stop there out of fear that it would lead to an influx of riff-raff and other “undesirables.” But, according to Prof. Zachary Schrag, an assistant professor at George Mason, that’s not the underlying reason. Instead, he says that a Georgetown metro stop would cost too much (due to preservation efforts and proximity to the Potomac) and provide only limited benefits (Georgetown is not a big employment center and the commute from Virginia would be slowed with a stop there).

Interestingly enough, also according to Inside the DC Bubble, “the only station killed by local opposition was the Oklahoma Ave. station in Northeast. The largely African-American neighborhood wanted to remain quiet. The residents convinced the powers that be that the station was a bad idea.”

Mika rips on President Bush’s house (literally)

Washington, D.C.

Lucked out big time yesterday and was able to score two tickets on craigslist to the sold-out Mika show at the 9:30 Club. (No cameras were allowed inside, the photo above is from his concert in Hong Kong although he was wearing the same outfit last night.) For those not yet in the know, Mika is a British pop sensation – trained by a Russian opera professional – whose single “Grace Kelly” reached number one on the UK Singles Chart in January. His debut U.S. album, Life in Cartoon Motion, released a month later.

And last night, Mika proved himself as truly a performer to those of us in the nation’s capital. It started with girls from the audience handing out lollipops by the box office and later included a Big Girl dancing on stage during “Big Girl (You Are Beautiful),” Mika banging on trash cans during “Love Today” and a confetti, balloon and dancing-bunny-costumed encore of “Lollipop.”

Along the way, he reflected on impressions of his first visit to D.C. “We did some sight-seeing today and saw the White House,” he said. “It was very small. I thought a man that powerful would have a bigger house.”

And then, barely audible, Mika gave one last compliment to the roaring crowd. “I don’t know if you all know how cool it is to show up in a place and see people like you,” he said. “It’s like nowhere else on the tour.”

BODIES, bodies everywhere

Washington, D.C.

A bunch of us had an opportunity this weekend to visit BODIES, a controversial traveling exhibit currently on display at the Rosslyn Dome in Arlington. It features unclaimed human bodies (from China) that are preserved through a process called polymer preservation, in which body fluids are removed and replaced with liquid silicone rubber. The results are fascinating. Here are the basics of what I learned:

  • Smoking is bad. One display featured two lungs, that of a healthy individual and that of a smoker. The latter was blackened and probably one-third the size of the healthy one. Underneath a placard stating that each pack of cigarettes cuts 2.5 hours from your life, a plexi-glass box was filled with discarded packs and lighters from those in attendance.
  • Skin is the body’s largest organ. To demonstrate this, a display showed a single piece of flattened skin from one body. It was pretty amazing to look at.
  • Our digestive system is long. Another display showed an entire human digestive system, from mouth to anus. Seeing it all like that, in one place, helped demonstrate the extraordinary ability of our body to coordinate complex processes.
  • Babies grow fast. An optional part of the exhibit showed the development of fetuses, starting as something the size of a pencil’s eraser and then doubling in size every week or so.
  • Testicles aren’t kidneys. As one astute observer – who had a little difficulty identifying parts of the human anatomy – learned, those things hanging below the stomach are part of the male reproductive system.

This isn’t anything like you’ve seen before. A doctor with us said she hadn’t even see the body presented in such a way during med school.

And if that’s not an endorsement, I’m not sure what is.

Ride the Chinatown bus at your own risk

Washington, D.C.

For those heading to New York for the weekend — and also watching their wallets — the “Chinatown bus” is often a tempting option, with roundtrip service starting at around $35. And there’s plenty of options to choose from: Apex, New Century Travel & Vamoose, are just three of many.

But as New York points out this week, these low fares might come at a cost. Like, your life. Let’s take a closer look at the history of Fung Wah, the first “Chinatown bus” operator that offers $25 Boston-New York trips:

  • August 2005: Bus catches fire en route to New York; 45 passengers evacuated before flames engulf bus.
  • August-September 2006: A Pittsburgh-New York bus crashes; 5 hospitalized. Thirty-four are injured when another bus flips over in Massachusetts.
  • May 2007: Chinatown-bound bus crashes in Pennsylvania; two killed, 32 injured.

As this WaPo story reports, many D.C.-based operators have become skillful at hiding their safety records. Which might be a good idea, considering the number of accidents they’ve been involved in across the East Coast the last 2 years.

Senator Chuck Schumer has pushed for legislation to create national safety standards – but, unfortunately, interest in its passage only arises following accidents.

Until then, I’m sticking with Amtrak.