Out of town report: The Monk Room (Newark)

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After Beauty & Essex in NYC, I headed back to Newark with my sister and brother-in-law to their apartment, where I passed out on the air mattress in their living room. The following morning, I woke up to the sound of my brother-in-law coming into the kitchen. I groggily asked him what time it was and was shocked when he replied, “11:30!” Eleven thirty??!!!! I never sleep in the late! It felt absolutely glorious knowing that I had over ten hours of sleep in my system. I guess lugging that giant weekender all over lower Manhattan had really exhausted me. My sister came out a few minutes later and we decided to head to their favorite pizza spot a few blocks away for lunch before I had to go back into the city to meet up with friends.

The Monk Room opened up on the other side of the Prudential Center about a year and a half ago, with a small and concise menu of Italian dishes. My sister and B raved about this place, which I consider a great sign, especially since pizza is not really my sister’s favorite kind of cuisine. I, on the other hand, was totally ready to house another pizza after my restful night of sleep. When we arrived, the bartender informed us that the dining room was not yet open, so we would have to sit at the bar.
The restaurant is brightly lit with the large windows which made up slightly for the lack of outdoor seating. We sat down at the bar and chatted up the bartender while waiting for the kitchen to finish setting up. The friendly bartender was nice enough to bring us out a plate of the restaurant’s mozzarella to sample. The house-made cheese is served with sundried tomatoes and fresh basil, and tastes fresh and creamy.
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For her main dish. my sister decided to get the Bootzin pasta dish, which consisted of fresh orecchiette, tomatoes, fennel sausage, cherry peppers, olives, parmigiano reggiano, basil, and fennel pollen. She approved of the al dente pasta and fragrant toppings. My brother-in-law went with the Meatball Sandwich, which came out on a toasted roll. He also enjoyed this, and said the slightly spicy meatballs, sharp pecorino cheese, and soft bread were a good combination. I knew that I wanted a breakfast pizza (clearly having a pizza less than 18 hours ago had done nothing to quell my pizza cravings), and went with the Carbonara, which was topped with guanciale, parmigiano reggiano, roasted egg, parsley, black pepper, and extra virgin olive oil. The roasted egg was a little overcooked for my taste; I love when the egg on a pizza is slightly running so that I can spread it all over and enjoy the additional creaminess the yolk adds. Despite this, the pizza was a very good, mostly due to the guanciale. Guanciale is probably one of my favorite cured meats (comes from the pig’s jowel), especially when the fat has been rendered and the meat becomes extremely crispy. The strips of smoky pork cheek on this pizza were cooked exactly the way I prefer. The slightly sweet, yeasty thin crust help up well under the toppings and each bite of the pizza was a chewy, savory overload of flavors. Despite filling up after three slices, the combination of the salty guanciale and melted cheese on the charred crust was addictive and I did not stop eating until I had polished off the entire pie. Surprisingly, I did not have any room for dessert, despite the bartender’s insistence that their desserts are not to be missed. By that point, both my sister and I were leaning over in our chairs, trying to adjust our bodies in a way that allowed for faster digestion. When it comes to good pizza, my self control goes out of the window and this pizza definitely fell into that category.

Out of town report: Russ & Daughters (NYC)

 

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Russ & Daughters has been providing Jewish “appetizers” in Manhattan’s Lower East Side since 1914. My ex-boyfriend first took me to Russ & Daughters last year when we went to NYC for a hazy, three day food and cocktail binge over Memorial Day Weekend. He had been raving about this spot for months, and when we finally entered the little shop, I could see why. The adorable tiny shopped is almost always packed with people, and has a retro vibe with gleaming white tiles, and giant glass display cases showcasing their fish salads, cream cheeses and cured fish. While I don’t actually think they have the best bagels (recommend Ess-a-Bagel for that), their cream cheeses and smoked salmon options are just incredible.

I was not planning on making a stop to Russ & Daughters during this trip. This changed when I woke up on Sunday morning in my friend’s East Village studio after an extremely long night celebrating our other friend’s birthday and engagement (!!!!). I set my alarm an hour before my scheduled departure so that I could walk down to Chinatown where my bus was taking off. I had a slight headache from the festivities, but felt relatively functional as I tossed my things together (into that same damn weekender). It was a beautiful morning, and a two mile stroll down 2nd Ave seemed like a nice way to start off the day. A few blocks in however, I started to feel hungry and my stomach was signaling to me that it needed something to soak up the remaining alcohol in my system. I debated going to Doughnut Plant (the absolute best place to get doughnuts in the world) before getting on the bus but I was in the mood for something more savory. I realized that I would be passing Russ & Daughters, and an everything bagel with their pastrami-cured salmon sounded absolutely perfect. When I got there at 9:30am on a Sunday morning, the shop was slightly quieter than usual, but I still was behind 12 other orders. This gave me a little bit of time to debate whether or not I should order a sandwich, but decided the best option was a classic: everything bagel, pastrami-cured salmon, lox cream cheese, onions, tomatoes, capers. The staff here are all clearly professional sandwich makers, and it is mesmerizing to watch them execute the orders by slowly slicing the salmon, angling the tomato, and carefully finishing everything off with a few capers (also I was slightly fading at this point due to hunger and slight dehydration so I basically could not do anything else besides stare).

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I waited until I got into the bus to dive into my bagel, and could almost hear my stomach’s sigh of relief when I bite in. The combination of hearty carbohydrates with the salty fish and rich cream cheese was just what my body needed after the previous night’s combination of wine and champagne. The cream cheese is double-whipped, so it is fluffy and light, while the silky slices of salmon are slightly smokey and the onion is the perfect amount of tangy. I housed the first half of the sandwich quickly, and tried to chew the second half a little slower. It still disappeared faster than I wanted it to, but padded my belly enough to allow me to sprawl all over the seat next to me and pass out for a few hours. Overall, that bagel from Russ & Daughters was a great way to start my Sunday trip back to reality in DC.

 

 

*For people looking for more of a sit-down spot, Russ & Daughters recently opened up their cafe, located around the corner from their shop.

Out of town report: Emporio (NYC)

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Last weekend, I made a quick trip to NYC to see my sister and some friends from college. I knew it would be a weekend of running around from spot to spot, which meant that I would basically be carrying all of my belongings with me almost at all times so I attempted to pack as lightly as possible since 1) I did not want to be profusely sweating the entire time and 2) I have weak arms. I boarded a 10am bus on Friday and was in Chelsea by 3pm afternoon. I had early dinner plans, but wanted to squeeze in some shopping beforehand since my Saturday was completely packed.  So after getting off the bus, my weekender bag and me made our way to East Village and Soho in search of summer clothing. After running around for a few hours, still with my weekender on my arm, sweating up a store (this could not be helped) and with sore shoulders, I had definitely worked up an appetite. I met up with my sister, my brother-in-law, and some of their friends at a small Italian restaurant in Nolita. Emporio opened in 2009 from the same team behind Aurora (in Williamsburg and Soho) and was inspired by a twenties-era Italian grocery. The restaurant is cozy and intimate, with wood walls and hand painted wallpaper. We were seated in the adorable back dining room, under a large glass ceiling.

For such a small spot, the menu at Emporio is fairly diverse, with numerous appetizers, cured meats, cheeses, handmade pastas, pizzas and grilled entrees. We started with two appetizers for the table to share: the Charred Octopus and the Prosciutto & Burrata. The Charred Octopus was perfectly grilled, and served over a romesco sauce, onion confit and fingerling potato salad. While it was delicious, I thought that $15 was a little hefty for this small serving. The Prosciutto & Burrata came on a large wooden board with several long slices of 18 month cured prosciutto, burrato, and three thick slices of bread with crushed tomato bruschetta. The slightly garlicky bruschetta tasted incredibly fresh, and the burrata was creamy. I spread the burrata on top of the crusty bread, topped it with the salty prosciutto and popped this perfect combination into my mouth.

Since I am still on a (now two month long) pizza kick, I decided to split a pizza with one of the girls. We went with the Speck & Mushroom pie with smoked scamorza, ricotta, and truffle oil because I’m going to pretty always take the truffle oil option if it is presented to me. The pizza came straight from the large wood-burning brick oven, and definitely large enough for two hungry girls to share. I was not disappointed with our order. The thin crust was crispy (some bites almost tasted cracker-like) and delightfully chewy. Most importantly,  the crust did not get soggy even as I picked up the last slice. Each bite was extremely aromatic, due to the mushrooms and the truffle oil. In addition, we ordered the Brussel’s Sprouts and Kale salad in an attempt to make our dinner slightly healthier. The lemon dressing was nice and light and complemented the slightly bitter greens well.

After the very satisfying second courses, it was time for us to move onto dessert. While I would have loved to order the Nutella turnover, I did not want to force my Nutella obsession on others (especially near strangers), so I tried to be too aggressive about ordering it. The group decided to go with two dishes to share: the Tiramisu, and the Vanilla Panna Cotta. Sharing two desserts among eight people meant we got about a bite of each dessert, which was the perfect sweet note to end our meal. Both of these desserts were delicious. The silky and delicate panna cotta was fragrant, while the tiramisu was velvety and indulgent. I would highly recommend Emporio to anyone looking for a solid Italian spot, especially for a date night since the cozy ambiance of the restaurant gives it a romantic feel and the expansive menu gives you the option for sharing dishes, or ordering your own.

Afterwards, we headed to Beauty & Essex in the Lower East Side for a drink, before we headed back to my sister’s place in Newark. The front of Beauty & Essex is set up as an old pawn shop, and you enter into the bar/lounge through a back door after walking through glass display cases in the shop (not sure if people ever actually buy anything in the pawn shop though). Even though it was still early on a Friday night, the bar was packed with well dressed people. I felt bad about constantly whacking everyone as I walked through the bar, especially since 90% of the women were in heels. Meanwhile, I was still in my bright red harem pants from earlier (that kind of look like silk pajama pants), with a day’s worth of sweat dried all over my body and a giant weekender over my shoulder. Definitely was not fooling anyone into thinking I was New Yorker. Beauty & Essex is pretty large, with two floors (with dining rooms and lounge areas on both) connected by a giant spiral staircase. Besides the sleek decor and dramatic crystal chandeliers, I was also impressed by the ladies’ room, which provides all the women waiting inside with free pink champagne. After staring at the champagne station for at least forty-five seconds like the out-of-towner that I am, I grabbed a glass of bubbly and went back out to rejoin the swanky crowd (still with that damn weekender on my shoulder). The free champagne was surprisingly good! I actually did not even feel like finishing it though, and passed it off to my brother-in-law, who is man enough to swig pink bubbly from a tiny flute. We decided to head across the river back over to Newark to their place not long afterwards, which meant I could finally put my bag down to rest for the night. Even though our time at Beauty & Essex was brief, it seemed like a fun spot to spend an evening. The next time I am back in NYC, I would not mind returning here for drinks (without the bag of course).

 

Recovery brunch at Old Ebbitt Grill (and etc)

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Unlike the Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon, the morning of the Cherry Blossom 10 mile race was absolutely beautiful outside. It was the perfect running weather: 50’s, sunny, with no breeze and not a single cloud in the sky. The course was flat and fast, and I ended up running over 30 seconds faster per mile pace than the half marathon. After the finish, I was full of adrenaline and endorphins, and after waiting for everyone else to finish, a group of us headed to Old Ebbitt Grill for a recovery brunch. Old Ebbitt is actually Washington, D.C.’s oldest bar, and is now owned and operated by the Clyde’s Restaurant Group. While I have enjoyed Old Ebbitt’s oyster happy hour, and perhaps have gotten tipsy off a few martinis at the bar (for some reason, all the taxidermy and wooden furniture inside make me feel like sipping on a martini instead of bourbon), I have never been there for brunch.

We got there around 10:30am, and since our reservations were made for 11:30am, we posted up at the bar upstairs to wait. By this point, I was getting relatively hungry so got a Blue Moon (instead of my normal go-to Bloody Mary) to start. We all realized by the time our name was called by the hostess an hour later that drinking on an empty stomach after racing ten miles meant that we were all starting to feel slightly buzzed. We were seated in the back, and our wonderful waiter, George, introduced himself to us. At this point, I felt like I needed some form of nourishment immediately and decided we needed to put in at least an appetizer. George suggested splitting the Breakfast Club, a fried French toast sandwich consisting of bacon, ham, strawberries, maple syrup. I mean, that obviously sounds like heaven in sammy form. We put in two orders of this, and I basically had to remind myself to keep breathing until I finally had food in my mouth (overdramatic much?). The sweet and savory combination of the Breakfast Club was amazing and I immediately felt like a new person as soon as I had some sugar in my blood again.

When it was time for us to put in our entree orders, I turned to George for some help. I was having a difficult time deciding between the Steak Frites, and the Fried Chicken and Waffles.  George recommended the Fried Chicken and Waffles, which I immediately ignored and told him I would be getting the Steak Frites. For some reason, I was feeling incredibly carnivorous, and intensely craving a giant piece of red meat. The Steak Frites came with a watercress salad and garlic French fries. I also requested some sriracha mayo to dip everything in. The steak was tender and definitely hit the spot. The watercress salad made me feel slightly less guilty about housing all of the French fries along with a bowl of spicy mayo (see picture above), and before I knew it my plate was almost completely empty. I looked around at the table and realized that everyone else had cleared their dishes fairly quickly as well. We all agreed that this was a great post-race brunch, with enough options to satisfy a diverse group of people.

With a slight buzz in our heads, and bellies full of food, SM and I decided to make the most of the beautiful weather outside and engage in some outdoor activities. By outdoor activities, I mean “day drinking.” We headed back to our apartments after brunch and I changed (not showered, just changed) into another pair of running shorts and threw on another tee shirt before walking over to the Standard beer garden (like the rest of DC residents, I still refuse to call it “Garden District”). Since it was still early at this point, we managed to find some seats and were joined by KBS and my old co-worker, Johanna. After a few refreshing beers here, we headed over to Barcelona Wine Bar where we grabbed a table on their patio. By this point, I was hungry again (of course), so in addition to some wine, we also put in a few orders for food: patatas bravas, the chorizo with sweet and sour figs (one my favorite tapas here), roasted cauliflower. In addition, the general manager, an incredibly good looking man I wish would break up with his 22 year-old trashy girlfriend so that one of my friends could date him (looking at you SM), sent over a few dishes: the grilled Iberian pork shoulder and the Tuscan kale salad. As usual, the chorizo with sweet and sour figs was delicious. The pork shoulder was incredibly tender and seemed to melt right into my mouth, and the hearty kale salad was the perfect light, spring dish with a citrus dressing and sharp white cheese. The patatas bravas and roasted cauliflower were also solid, but relatively unmemorable (maybe due to my second glass of wine at this point). While I have yet to be wowed by any meal that I have had at Barcelona, I love the ambiance, the staff and the patio here which makes me a repeat customer of this bar.

You would think that by this point, we would have given up on the daydrinking, but the incredible weather, and the high from running sub 7:45min/mile pace for the race was still in my head so after closing out our bill at Barcelona, we hopped on down to Pearl Dive to continue our Sunday Funday. After half of a beer here and a dead phone, I decided it was probably time to call it quits and go charge my phone, as well as give my legs a rest. The next day, I felt like I had been completely run over my a train. But it was one of those glorious Sundays where you are surrounded by friends, food, and sunshine so I would say the painful 30 hours that followed were completely worth it.

Introduce me, immediately

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About two summers ago, my boyfriend of 2.5 years and I broke up. In terms of break-ups, it was relatively painless, but break-ups still suck no matter what. That summer, I tried to get used to not just being “single” again, but more importantly being “alone” again. It was definitely hard adjusting to this new reality, and took a little bit of time for me to get used to. Towards the end of the summer, I was finally starting to feel like myself again. One evening, I was scrolling through Instagram and came across my friend Shay’s (a good guy friend who lives a few blocks away from me, and probably could be considered the king of social media in DC – I mean, seriously what kind of person gets 200 likes on average on a Instagram picture?! I’m just surprised when I get more than 6 likes, and feel the urge to bow when I get more than 8 likes) uploads from a party he recently attended with friends. The only guy I did not recognize in that picture was a stud. I took a screen shot of the photo and sent it to Shay, with the message, “WHO IS THAT?” That’s right, there was a little thirst going on there. Shay told me that the guy lived in NYC so I immediately forgot about that/him. Now let’s fast forward to a year and a half later.

On one of the first beautiful Saturdays of the spring, a friend decided to celebrate his birthday at Dacha, the beer garden located at 7th and Q. By the time Shay and I arrived, there was a line around the corner. Through some connections (not mine though, I have no valuable connections) we somehow managed to skip the 20 minute line and entered a completely packed patio full of good looking, well dressed white people. Seriously though, every time I have been to Dacha, I always notice how the entire place is 98% white. Also, everyone there is beautiful. We made it to the back area where the birthday boy was situated, and out of the corner of my eye I noticed an extremely good looking male. He looked relatively familiar, and after a few seconds of staring, I realized it was the guy I had frantically texted Shay about several summers ago. I grabbed one of my guy friend’s arms, pointed out the guy and said, “You need to introduce me to him…. immediately.” I literally made him stop his conversation, walk me over and introduce me to Stephan (name replaced in case someone reads this because I don’t want to come across like a total creep to him, yet). We started talking, and he told me that he had recently moved back to the area. I cannot remember exactly how this came about, but before we knew it we were talking about how ethnic babies are just so much cuter than Caucasian babies (COME ON YOU KNOW IT IS TRUE). In the words of Aziz Ansari, “white babies just look like people that haven’t ripened yet.” The next thing I knew, he was joking about marrying into my family so that we could have a couple of interracial kids. I stopped, stared at him and immediately responded, “Oh absolutely.” This started one long elaborate joke about marrying each other that involved us planning out our wedding, an explanation of our in-laws, and before I knew it, it was time for me to head out. We exchanged numbers, and I went to H street to meet the beautiful man, Larry. I honestly did not think I would hear from Stephan again, since there was no real substance to our conversation that afternoon, just a bunch of jokes about melding our families together for this giant imaginary wedding. However, the following morning I got a text from him during brunch continuing the joke about fictitious relationship:

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This was followed by tentative plans to hang out the following week. Now, I was totally down to see him again, but I could not tell if this was serious or not, since all of this was based on some fake romance. I decided to not think about it too much, and just wait to see if he would follow up on this date. Surprisingly, the following day he texted me to confirm our date.

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We decided to meet up at Lost & Found (right behind my apartment) the next night for happy hour. I headed over first, while he looked for parking (he had moved back to Alexandria from Brooklyn), and discovered that Lost & Found was totally packed so we went to A&D instead. A&D really is my favorite neighborhood bar. I love the chill vibe, the lighting, the drinks and the always-friendly bartenders. I ordered a beer and Stephan ordered a Manhattan, and we sipped on our drinks for the next three hours. The conversation was so easy that I did not realize how much time had passed. At 9:30pm, we decided that we were both starving, and closed out the tab a so that we could find some dinner. The fairly new location of Beau Thai was around the corner, and while that is my go-to for delivery Thai food, I had yet to try eating in the actual restaurant. We made our way over, complaining the entire time about the cold weather, and found the restaurant relatively empty. The design is beautiful, with high ceilings and wood furniture. We were seated by the window, with a view of 7th street.

We split two entrees: the Pad Se Ew with pork, and the Red Curry Duck. Pad Se Ew is one of my favorite Thai dishes because it is both simple and comforting. The Pad Se Ew at Beau Thai was solid: it was flavorful and rich, without being greasy. The noodles were soft and chewy and did not fall apart under the sweet sauce. The Red Curry Duck was also good.  It was spicy, slightly sour and sweet, with generous chunks of meat. The spiciness of chilies and lemongrass was balanced by rich coconut milk and roasted duck.

Side note: I really like sharing food with someone, and immediately give a guy 456908 points if we are compatible eaters. I think ordering food says a lot about your personality on a date, and I always pay attention to how our meal goes. If a guy is not a picky eater, if we have the same tastes in food, and if he likes sharing food, I find that incredibly appealing. Sharing food off of the same plates brings a different kind of intimacy to a date. Stephan was a great person to share a meal with! He is not a picky eater, made sure I was enjoying the food, and encouraged me to keep eating, even once he was done.

While I am attracted to Stephan, and I think that we have a lot in common, the biggest thing causing me hesitation is his schedule (and of course, the fact that I have irrationally placed Larry/the beautiful man on the world’s highest pedestal). He is moving to San Francisco in mid-May to open up the West Coast office of his start-up company. This is about a month away, and while I enjoyed spending time with him and could see myself liking him, I am not sure how I feel about getting attached to someone who is leaving. Now the easy thing would be to say, “don’t overthink it!” or “just take it slow!” That is definitely easier said than done with it comes to my brain, because I am not capable of not overthinking everything, and not wondering where things are going. Perhaps this is a good exercise for me, to hang out with someone who’s future is a big question mark. If nothing else, at least I potentially have someone to share food with for a few meals.

There is never a bad time for Donburi

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Apparently, one of my criteria for my friends is that they must have an April birthday. April is full of birthday celebrations, and last Saturday I found myself with two birthday parties (disclaimer: normally I am not this popular) to attend. The second celebration was at Jack Rose, and I arrived around 6pm which was right in the middle of their rooftop Saturday happy hour ($5 beers, and $7 whiskey). As I have said before, I do not think there is one specific appropriate time for a bloody mary. This means 6pm on the Jack Rose rooftop is the perfect time in my opinion for some tomato juice and bourbon ( because bourbon > vodka when it comes to me and my bloodies, actually bourbon > vodka when it comes to life). After sucking down two of these, I found myself relatively buzzed and absolutely starving. This might have been due in part to my conversations with Jay, someone I always find myself discussing food with. I mentioned to him that I needed to eat, and he suggested leaving the bar in the middle of the celebration to grab some food in Admo, a neighborhood we both do not go to often. I suggested Donburi, which he (surprisingly) told me he had never heard of but was down to try. To be fair, I get a little aggressive when someone starts questioning my food suggestions. At first Jay told me hesitantly, “Well, are you sure it’s good…..? I just have never read about it or heard about….” I started getting defensive and responded quickly, “it’s not my fault if you’re ignorant.” Despite this, he said he would be open to eating there with me. I made a mental note to be nicer.

We dipped out of Jack Rose quickly and walked the three blocks up to Donburi which was packed. However, with no alcohol license here, people seem to move in and out of the restaurant fairly quickly and we were seated within 10 minutes. We started with the barbecued eel with pickled ginger and radishes.to start. The eel is cooked with a blow torch, which results in this delicious caramelized flavor. We inhaled this appetizer and eagerly waiting our rice bowls.

Jay got the kaarage (chicken) donburi while I ordered the mix katsudon with panko-crusted pork and panko-crusted shrimp. Everything is cooked to order, so our food came out freshly fried. The extremely hot shrimp and pork were served over a generous serving of rice, along with pickled vegetables and caramelized onions. Then the cooks placed a soft boiled egg on top of everything. The sunny yolk mixed into the bowl created an incredibly rich, creamy texture that was so comforting in my stomach after a few drinks. This was first time getting the fried meat, and I found it absolutely amazing. I am not sure I can go back to getting the sashami (although it is probably slightly healthier, but who cares at 9pm on a Saturday night? Healthiness goes hand in hand with regret on Monday morning). Using panko results in a light, crunchy crust, while the meat itself was slightly sweet and perfectly juicy. The crunchy pickled vegetables and peppers added a nice kick to each spoonful. Of course, I can’t forget about the mayo. The spicy mayo-based sauce on the counter is so delicious. We probably used half a bottle between the Jay and I. I poured it directly into my bowl, but also dipped each bite of meat into extra mayo as well. Each satisfying bite was also covered in the sweet donburi sauce, which is similar to a reduced teryaki.

One of my favorite things about Donburi is the vibe. The simple, casual decor makes you focus on the delicious food. The cooks behind the counter are so personable and friendly, and they all love totally jamming out to old school 90’s tunes while preparing your food. As we made our way through our giant bowls of food, we laughed as the cooks just belted along to (notice I did not write “sing,” but rather “belted” because they really were yelling along with the music at the top of their lungs) Montell Jordan and R. Kelly. The music was also accompanied by hip gyrations. It was all incredibly entertaining.

I felt overwhelmingly satisfied after I finished my bowl. We both checked our phones and realized we had gotten several “Where did you go??” texts from our friends. I guess it looks a little shady when you dip out of the bar early on a Saturday evening. I debated going home and sinking immediately into a food coma, but Jay convinced me to head back over to the birthday celebration. By the time we rejoined everyone, I was slightly groggy from all the carbs and meat in my belly. I had lost my buzz but had no interest in putting anything else in my stomach so I made small talk for approximately 20 minutes before pulling out my phone and requesting an uber. In less than thirty minutes, I had re-shady dipped out of the bar and was in my bed. When I opened my eyes eleven hours later on Sunday morning, I felt incredibly energized. Not sure if this is just a sign of old(er) age, but in my opinion, this was the best Saturday night. I had spent time with friends, eaten a fantastic meal, was in bed well before midnight, slept more than I had slept in recent memory, and had absolutely no hangover the following morning. I’ll take this kind of Saturday over a crazy rave any day.

A date down 14th street, and what not to do during a first kiss

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It is finally here, the start of warm weather in the capital. After a dreary, wet, seemingly never-ending winter, the days are starting to get longer and we are beginning to feel a glimpse of springtime temperatures. This means patios all down 14th street are starting to open, and we all begin spending way too time crammed into small spaces with strangers. The Pearl Dive patio is one of my favorite places to spend a beautiful afternoon (unfortunately, 90% of DC residents also share this view so that little piece of sidewalk is often completely filled with people between 5:30pm-8pm most days of the week).

Larry and I made plans to see each other the week after I got back from California, and that Thursday happened to be a particularly beautiful day. We decided to take advantage of it and planned to meet at Pearl Dive right after work. I had worked out that morning, so I just needed to change after getting home and was ready relatively early. I started walking over to Pearl Dive when my good friend and neighbor, Kevin, started a group chat asking who wanted to meet up for happy hour at Pearl Dive. Immediately people responded, making plans to meet there immediately. This caused me to worry just a little…. while I was happy at the idea of seeing friends at one of our favorite warm weather spots, it is a little awkward when you are going on a date to a place where all of your friends are going to be. Especially when this is a relatively early date (this would be our third official date). I got there around the same time as a few other folks and as we all caught up, I told them I was meeting a guy there, and my friend KBS asked me, “Do you think your first kiss is happening tonight?” Well, I guess I had been hoping that it would happen at some point, but we also had not seen each other in two weeks so I was not sure if the momentum was still there from our previous two great dates, or if there was even still attraction there. My other friends then chimed in, “Oh it has to happen tonight. Because four dates is too long to go without something happening.” Well shit guys, way to put the pressure on. So before this conversation, the thought was in the back of my mind, but after this after conversation where everyone vehemently agreed that this kiss just had to happen tonight, my face resembled the emoji with the eyes bugging out and the rosy cheeks. Larry showed up a little bit later, and after introducing him to everyone and finishing up our beers we decided to go somewhere else for dinner.

I suggested Le Diplomate because we both wanted to sit outside somewhere and Le Dip seemed unusually not crowded. We managed to get seated right away on the heated patio where we were greeted by the world’s most enthusiastic server, who we realized was also perhaps the Le Diplomate’s most devoted fan. He was incredibly energetic while describing every dish on the menu and at one point made such prolonged eye contact with me while detailing the mushroom tart that I had to quickly look away. Instead, I focused on Larry’s perfect face (seriously though, how does someone get such flawless skin?) which actually made me slightly more nervous than the server’s intensity. We decided to start with an order of the tuna carpaccio which was drizzled with leek vinaigrette. This was the great light appetizer on a warm afternoon. For my main course, I got the steak frites because red meat prevents anemia, right? The generous serving of hanger steak was perfectly cooked: the outside was crusty while the inside was rosy and tender. This also came with a heaping pile of crunchy French fries, which I dipped into the accompanying butter sauce. Larry went with the half roasted chicken, which he said was extremely good. For dessert we got the chocolate caramel tart, which came with hazelnut ice cream. Originally we were deciding between the chocolate caramel tart and the creme brulee, but our server was absolutely adamant that we order the tart. By adamant, I mean that he actually raised his voice and insisted that we had no choice but to order the chocolate tart. And who is going to argue with that? In the end, I am glad we went with his recommendation, because the chocolate was silky and the tart was perfectly flaky and sweet. Overall, another solid meal at Le Diplomate. I have yet to be disappointed by any experience at Le Diplomate, and am thrilled that I always have this option so close to my place.

It was still relatively early when we finished our meal, and Larry asked if I still had time to grab a drink (he was on “spring break” for his grad program so did not have to go into the office or school the next morning). I suggested 2 Birds 1 Stone, which is an underground 60-seat lounge/cocktail bar located below Doi Moi. It is run by Adam Bernbach, who also handles the drink program at Proof and Estadio. It was not that crowded on this Thursday night, and we settled into one of the alcoves towards the middle of the bar and people-watched while sipping two whiskey cocktails. I still cannot get over how hilarious I find Larry (also, I find it hilarious that I am referring to him as Larry because I keep picturing Jerry Gergich from Parks and Recreation whenever I type that out). Actually, I cannot get over how insert every positive adjective ever created by the English language Larry is. Every story he tells has me either giggling or actually laughing out loud. He is so smart and well spoken. He is incredibly successful. And he is insanely good looking. I actually feel slightly self conscious when I look at him. There was a study published in the Journal of Family Psychology that suggests for women, dating a less attractive man may result in a happier, more emotionally satisfying relationship. If that is the case, I would have the emotionally unsatisfying, unhappy relationship with Larry because I think the man is the definition of FINE (pronounced “FIONE”). Anyway, I must have gotten distracted by all the giggling and the staring at him because all of a sudden I realized we were one of the last people in the bar and it was almost 2am. This was definitely way past my bedtime. Also, I had spent over seven hours with this man and the first kiss still had not happened. Maybe because of the conversations I had with my friends before the date, maybe because it was so incredibly late, maybe it is because I knew he would be out of town the following weekend, maybe it was because I find him just unbelievably attractive, but I just wanted the first kiss to be so good. But now the date was pretty much over and we had shared as much physical contact as two sleeping infants on a play date orchestrated by their parents.

After our drinks at 2 Birds, Larry mentioned hailing a cab because it had gotten a little colder outside. I did not want to say good bye yet, so I said that we could get the same cab and he could drop me off at my place on the way back to his (also thinking this would give us more time for a potential first kiss). We hopped into a cab, and after I told the driver my cross streets, my brain started going a little crazy. The back of a cab seemed like an awkward place to have a first kiss, and Larry also did not seem like the type of guy who engages in public make outs (nothing against this, and I would take a kiss from Larry wherever I could get one). Now I was wondering if this kiss was going to happen at all, since our night was coming to an end and I am pretty sure by this point I was blabbering nonsense at 345098 words per minute in an attempt to not be super awkward (definitely failed at this). As the cab pulled up to my building, I was not quite sure how to exit. Should I do the awkward good bye hug? Good bye hugs in cars are always so awkward. You both are contorting your body and then you have slid across the seat out the door while praying the fabric of your pants do not make a weird squeaking sound as they rub against the car leather seats. I started to turn my body when Larry pulled his credit card and quickly swiped it. He opened the door and got out of the cab with me, saying, “I’ll just walk you to your door and get call an uber.” Well first of all, that saves me from the awkward car hug good bye. Second of all, that is a smooth move, if he was indeed planning on initiating this kiss. Third of all, now I was back to thinking that the chance for this kiss was back on the table. Fourth of all, this now meant my brain was back to going nuts (should have probably inhaled a muscle relaxer at this point) and I don’t even remember what I was saying but I do remember that I was indeed talking so that’s probably a sign I was just word vomiting gibberish. I am just hoping it was at least English gibberish. Larry pulled out his phone to request an uber, and said to me, “Okay! Uber is coming in four minutes.” My brain then screamed at me, “THERE ARE TWO HUNDRED FORTY SECONDS FOR THIS KISS TO HAPPEN.” Suddenly, an image of a giant clock popped into my head and I started counting down. Note to self: definitely keep an emergency xanax around so things like this do not happen. Larry leaned forward to hug me good-bye, and as I looked to him, we both leaned in and kissed. My first thought was YES! But that is where my thinking should have just ended. I should have just focused on the first thing, which is simple excitement. Instead, I wanted the kiss to be so good, so badly, I tried to talk myself into making the kiss the best. This is never a good thing. You should not think about the mechanics of kissing while you are actually kissing because kissing is a weird, weird thing. You’re mashing and moving your lips against someone else’s and for some weird reason it feels glorious. Kissing just feels fantastic, but there is no logical reason why exchanging saliva with a near stranger is amazing. Well in this case, I started thinking to myself, “Better make sure your upper lip is in sync with his!” Then I tried to concentrate on my upper lip. Have you ever tried to “sync your lip” with someone else’s? I really hope the answer to that is no, and I also hope you never really try because what does it even mean “sync your lip up”?! Then I thought, “Oh crap, is your lower lip in sync? Maybe concentrate on that.” This was followed by, “Shit! You haven’t thought about your tongue at all! Don’t neglect the tongue!” Before I knew it, the uber had arrived (THANK GOD), and he was pulling away (SHOCKING). He kissed me on the cheek and said he would let me know when he was back in town.

As I walked back into my building, I wanted to bang my head against the elevator door. This kiss with the perfect man had finally happened, and it was definitely far from perfect. I had managed to care so much about it that I could not function like a normal human being when the moment arrived.

Cheesy butter bread: the perfect pregame

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On a freezing cold Friday night (Mother Nature has been PMSing hardcore these past few months in DC), I met up with my old coworker, Johanna, and her roommate, Cate, at Compass Rose for dinner and drinks. Located right off of 14th street on T, this tiny spot opened in April 2014 with an international street food- inspired menu. At first, I was hesitant about a place that was going to attempt numerous types of cuisine, and wanted to roll my eyes at yet another small plates restaurant, but the reviews have been consistently positive and people seemed to only have good things to say about it. I went for the first time about six months to get cocktails on a Friday night and ended up loving the chill, homey vibe of the tiny bar on the first floor. The space is cozy and informal, and I really appreciate a bar with good lighting. The lighting here is dim, but not too dark where I have no idea what I am about to put into my mouth (try to avoid doing that whenever possible).

Cate, Johanna and I planned to meet around 8pm on this Friday night. The restaurant does not take reservations so I assumed there would be a slight wait, however I was shocked when Johanna texted me to tell me they had arrived a few minutes earlier and put our names down for the 2.5 hour wait. Two and a half hours?? When I heard that, I immediately disliked all the people who head out to 14th street on a weekend night, even though I am fully aware I am one of those people. I guess I just dislike everyone who stands in my way of eating as soon as possible. Two and and a half hours seemed like an eternity on this cold night so before heading out, I made sure to make myself a snack.

Luckily by the time I got there, Johanna and Cate managed to grab some seats at the bar. We snagged a third seat and I quickly order a whiskey drink from the quirky bartenders. I love bourbon so I went with the “Tea Time in Trafalgar Square,” which had Old Overholt, bitters, lemon juice, simple syrup and egg white. The cocktail was light, refreshing and strong (I sipped on this drink for two hours and still felt sufficiently buzzed by the time we left). Johanna updated on me on her most recent tinder adventures, which included a guy who wanted to get a dog with her after three weeks and Cate talked about her hilarious misadventures such as the time she went home with a guy who had leopard print sheets. Nothing brings girls together quite like sharing ridiculous stories about the opposite sex.

We decided that we would just order food and eat at the bar since we had plenty of space and the bar stools are incredibly comfortable. We of course had to to get the khachapuri, a dish from Georgia, that people always seem to reference when Compass Rose comes up. When this arrived, we understood why. The khachapuri is a must order. It is basically hot flat bread with a pocket filled in the center with butter, a sunny egg and white cheese. This tasted so satisfying and decadent despite the simple ingredients. The next time I come here, I want one all to myself (even though one was plenty to share with two other girls).  It is a good thing to note that the kitchen serves this dish on its late night menu, and it would probably be an amazing drunk dish after a few drinks.

Because we don’t want scurvy, we decided to get one vegetable dish as well: the roasted brussels sprouts with prosciutto. This was buttery and overall a solid choice. We also got the “Mixed Grill” meat plate which came with grilled grass-fed beef and roasted quail along with grilled vegetables. This also came with a side, and based on the bartender’s recommendation, we went with the slaw. The meat plate was good, and I liked it but did not love it. The plate included a large amount of roasted garlic cloves, which I wanted to shove into my mouth but since we wanted to bar hop around afterward I thought maybe that would be wiser to skip the garlic just this once. The vegetables were good. The meat was also very decent, but I can’t say it was outstanding or particularly memorable. I think the next time I will go with a more intricate or involved dish.

We were the perfect amount of full after these three dishes: satisfied enough to keep drinking but not too full where your eyes start getting heavy and you’re fantasizing about under your duvet as someone is trying to make conversation with you. However, we realized that these barstools are so wonderfully comfortable and our buzz was subtle enough that if we did not keep it moving we would probably lose our motivation to make it a late night. After dinner, we went across the street to Policy and I was instantly reminded of why I haven’t been to Policy in four years. As I paid for our round, I turned to Cate and asked, “… I should close out right?” Both Johanna and Cate looked at me and responded, “Absolutely.” We finished these drinks off fairly quickly (easy to do when the place smells like a potent combination of soy sauce, ketchup and bad cologne) and headed around the corner to 2birds which is becoming my new favorite go-to spot on 14th. The drinks are great here, you don’t see as many drunk kids trying to start a dance party (go across the street to Masa if you need that in your life), and if it is crowded, it manages to clear out fairly quickly. I got a Manhattan which tasted perfect. The khachapuri had provided a great base for alcohol but after my one drink here, I started to really feel the buzz. It had been a great night with an old and a new friend and I was ready for bed.

I would like to return to Compass Rose on Saturday nights for their house party which just started in February. Obviously I will fill my stomach with some cheesy butter bread beforehand because who wants to dance on an empty stomach?