Posts Tagged ‘travel’

PARIS PIC OF THE DAY 5

Posted: December 25, 2018 in Uncategorized
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Merry Christmas!

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PARIS PIC OF THE DAY 4

Posted: December 24, 2018 in Uncategorized
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What makes Paris so special is the quality of the ingredients they use,  from a Michelin star restaurant to a sandwich stand.

Nobody here settles for the cheap way out.

A simple sandwich: fresh baguette, Iberico ham, and a generous slathering of raclette cheese. Three ingredients, one incredible sandwich.

Almost didn’t get one. My daughter turned to me and said: “Dad, if you keep looking at it, you’re just going to torture yourself more. “ After all, what was the point of going to Paris if I wasn’t going to eat everything?

Not a bit of guilt. Not before and not after!

 

 

PARIS PIC OF THE DAY 3

Posted: December 23, 2018 in Uncategorized
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My daughter’s continuing quest to go to every Hard Rock Cafe possible. So far: Orlando, New York, Cayman Islands, Washington DC…and today: Paris! 615D46BC-88EB-4749-9F76-2B3BE87BD2CE

PARIS PIC OF THE DAY 2

Posted: December 22, 2018 in Uncategorized
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Sixteen years ago, on the one-year anniversary of our first date, I flew her to Paris and proposed in front of the Cathedral of Notre Dame. Now, we’re back, with our daughter taking the photo.

PARIS PIC OF THE DAY

Posted: December 21, 2018 in Uncategorized
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Visiting Paris again, we had to stop at our favorite wine bar, Juvéniles. Sadly, our friend, Tim Johnston, went home to England at the same time we arrived. Nonetheless, his daughter, Margeaux and her husband, and accomplished chef, treated us well.

Dinner included  foie gras, sautéed mushrooms, fresh scallops from Brittany, guinea hen, and more!

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Newport, Rhode Island is a great old town to explore…and we’re lucky that we live just a half-hour away. But Newport gets ridiculously crowded in the summertime, so we visit before the season starts or wait until the season is over before we even dare to set foot anywhere near its historic waterfront. But when we heard that one of our favorite restaurants, Fluke, hired a new chef, we broke our own rules and made a special trip to check things out.

The first change is the name: formerly Fluke Wine Bar & Kitchen…now Fluke Newport. Straight to the point, emphasizing its location: one of the oldest cities in the country, founded in 1639. Their philosophy is simple: the freshest locally caught fish and seafood when possible.

Jeff and Geremie Callaghan, owners of Fluke, have been in the biz for a long time, and we’ve been fortunate to know them for over a decade. We met one cold winter night, when my radio station Christmas party, being held at one of the mansions on Bellevue Avenue in Newport, went horribly wrong when they insisted on playing that lame “murder mystery theater” thing in the middle of dinner. My wife and I, being new parents at the time, and cherishing our very rare date night alone, ditched the Christmas party the moment we saw what was going on and made our way quite randomly to the bar on the third floor of Fluke, where Jeff introduced us to many wonderful sipping rums. I consider Jeff my mentor in this area, showing me there was far more to rum than a Captain and Coke.

 

The bar at Fluke Newport.

The bar has changed a little bit at Fluke Newport…where rums used to dominate, now there are bourbons…a sign of the times. But the creative bartenders use top quality spirits and hand-pressed juices in their cocktails.

 

Chef Eddie Montalvo, hands-on in the kitchen.

 

The new chef at Fluke is Eddie Montalvo, a graduate of Johnson & Wales University in Providence. He worked at the highly respected Al Forno in Providence before moving to New York City, where he worked for many years for restaurant legends like David Bouley, Daniel Boulud, Danny Meyer and others. Once Eddie became a family man, and he realized he didn’t want to raise a child in the city, it was obvious that a change of venue was needed, and he left New York for Newport. It’s clear that the move was not only great for him, but for Fluke as well (it was due for an injection of fresh ideas) and even the Fluke owners and staff, who seem re-energized by a talented new chef at the helm.

Eddie came to our table and we talked at length about food and life, and how the two play a crucial role in our existence. We instantly realized this was not only a talented chef, but a nice guy, not something you always find in one person!

 

Foie gras Paris-brest.

 

He started us off with an appetizer of foie gras Paris-brest. Paris-rest is a popular sweet pastry. They add local strawberry jam and foie gras to make little sandwiches that are sweet and so rich and satisfying. So good as an appetizer, I was already planning to have it again as dessert!

 

Striped bass crudo.

 

Next came an experimental plate. Chef Montalvo had some fresh-caught striped bass, and made a beautiful plate that was not yet on the menu. I’m not usually a fan of striped bass, but cutting it super-thin, and serving it crudo-style was brilliant. We told him he shouldn’t change a thing. Perhaps it’s on the menu by now.

 

Lobster with spinach angel hair pasta.

We don’t usually order chicken at a restaurant, but my wife’s local Baffoni farm chicken, cooked in a cast iron pan and served with morels and an artichoke puree, was perfect. Chef Eddie told me he prides himself in his pasta making, so I went with the poached lobster on pillowy-soft spinach angel hair pasta with mushrooms. Both of our selections were delicious, and the plates were beautiful. And I was too stuffed to have another order of the foie gras Paris-brest! Maybe next time…

 

An after dinner sip of Blanton’s made the meal complete.

 

Every bit of seafood at Fluke Newport is right off the boat. Produce and meats are from farms just up the road. And now, a chef that excels in putting them together for a fabulous meal.

My home town of New York is the greatest city in the world. Over the years, I’ve brought my daughter to the Big Apple to experience the amazing sights it has to offer. We’ve done the museums: from the Guggenheim to the Museum of Modern Art to the Whitney…from MOMA to the Museum of Natural History and the Rose Science Center. Last year, we visited the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, and One World Trade Center. We decided that the Empire State Building was long overdue.

 

The Empire State Building is an art deco skyscraper that, at 102 stories, was the world’s tallest building for over 40 years. Over 4 million people visit it every year, so I’m going to give you a few important tips that are good to know if you’re planning a trip sometime soon…and you really should go.

 

The most important tip I can give you is: buy the VIP Express pass. You can only get them online here: http://www.esbnyc.com/buy-tickets. They cost more, but the time you don’t waste and stress you avoid is worth every penny.

 

Facing south: One World Trade Center in the distance, with a very tiny Statue of Liberty to the right of it.

 

It doesn’t matter how crowded it gets (and sometimes, the line for tickets to the Empire State Building goes out the door at 5th Avenue and 33rd, and around the corner all the way to Macy’s!)…if you buy the VIP tickets, you won’t be standing in that line! Of the thousands of people who were visiting on a recent Saturday evening, we were 2 of only 3 people with VIP passes!

 

 

We walked up to the door and told the security guard that we had VIP passes, and he let us right in, past everyone, to another guard who led us to an escalator to the elevators. When we reached the top of the escalator, we again mentioned we had VIP passes, and they led us to another guard who gave us wrist bands after scanning the tickets we purchased online, and told us: “Show your wristbands to everyone as often as you can.” He meant it!

 

The magical wristband.

 

 

One wave of the wristband, and we were the first to go on the elevator to the 80th floor, where you walk through the “Dare to Dream” exhibit, on your way to the next set of elevators that take you to the outdoor observatory on the 86th floor. Again, there was a line of hundreds of people ahead of us, and again, we waved our wristbands and were escorted to the front of the line and right onto the elevator.

 

 

The MetLife Building–which was the old Pan Am Building (left), the Chrysler Building (center) and the United Nations (right.)

 

From the street to the 86th floor, it took us a total of 10 minutes! Worth every penny of the $65 we paid per ticket.

The 86th floor has an enclosed area, but everyone wants to be outside, where the only thing between you and a long drop down to the street is a fence. We were there at sunset, and the city looked spectacular.

 

Facing west.

 

We chose not to go to the observatory on the 102nd floor (that would’ve required a different ticket purchase), but I had been there before, in my youth. Enclosed by glass and very small, it’s a little eerie up there as the building creaks and sways slightly from side to side in the wind. An old-style elevator takes you up from the 86th floor, and it’s something you should experience once in your life. My daughter didn’t seem too keen on going, so we passed on it this time.

 

Looking up from the 86th floor to the top: dizzying!

 

Of course, what goes up must come down, and that includes the hundreds of people at the top of the building! Once again, wristbands to the rescue: one wave, and we were put on the first elevator down to the 80th floor, where the gift shop was located. One more wave of the wristband, and we were the first on an elevator taking us back down to street level.

 

 

 

The VIP Express pass rocks! I will never go to the Empire State Building any other way…and neither should you!

 

 

 

I’ve got a pizza bucket list. I’ve been to Lombardi’s. Al Forno in Providence claims the rights to the first (and some argue the best) grilled pizza. Dying to go to DiFara’s in Brooklyn…Pizzeria Bianco in Phoenix. And I’ve tried going to Frank Pepe’s original location in New Haven, CT for years. Right off Rt 95, it’s easy to get to, in New Haven’s Little Italy neighborhood on Wooster St. The problem was, every time I stopped by, the line was down the street and parking was impossible. Take-out was not an option. My first visit had to be inside, at a table.

I never gave up!

My chance finally arrived recently, when my daughter and I were returning home to Rhode Island from a weekend in New York City. It was a cloudy Sunday afternoon. I found a parking space…we were third in line at the door…could we really be going inside Frank Pepe’s? Yes!!

 

Our booth was literally one step in and a step to the right. Boom. We sat. We looked around. We breathed it all in. It was loud. People were happy. They were eating pizza!

Soon it was our turn to order. I had no choice but to order a white clam pizza, the stuff of legend at Frank Pepe. That had to be my first bite there. My daughter ordered a large margherita pizza…and we were off!

 

 

We started by sharing a Caesar salad. Good…but not why we came here!

 

 

Soon, the pies arrived…the margherita came first, served on a large rectangular sheet pan, not the standard round pizza pan. And it was HUGE. We didn’t have a problem with that! It looked and smelled amazing. Moments later, our server brought out a metal frame that allowed for a second level of pizza…and my white clam pie arrived!

 

 

The white clam pizza is so simple: a thin crust, fresh clams, olive oil, some cheese, oregano. But the oven…that magical oven…is as much of an important ingredient as anything on the pizza itself. A coal-fired oven that burns hot and dry, not wet like a wood fire…an oven that dates back to 1936, when Frank Pepe moved from his original bakery location to a spot right next door, where it still stands today, at 157 Wooster St. That means my pizza “touched” every other pizza made at Frank Pepe’s…perhaps even a molecule of Frank’s first pie touched mine. Whatever…my first bite was pure magic. My daughter’s reaction to the margherita was the same.

 

 

 

The pies were huge, so we boxed up whatever we couldn’t finish and brought it home. When I asked my daughter what she wanted for dinner that night, she simply smiled and said: “More of that pizza!” I couldn’t agree more!

Frank Pepe’s now has 10 locations in Connecticut, New York, Massachusetts, and their newest location: in my little state of Rhode Island. But for me, the only place to go is New Haven: the oven, the atmosphere…you can’t replicate that anywhere else.

 

That hook hanging from the ceiling holds the handle of the long pizza peel in the air so they don’t smack into it. (See the peels on the left.) The pizza oven is so deep, they can go about 4 pizzas deep at one time. It takes a real pro to keep them all cooking perfectly.

 

 

 

A side note: Frank Pepe originally opened a bakery in 1925 at 163 Wooster St., now doing business as Frank Pepe’s the Spot. When he got tired of baking and delivering bread, he decided he would start making pizza, so that his customers would come to him instead.

He sold that bakery to move in next door at 157 Wooster St., in 1936, and that’s been the location of Frank Pepe Pizza Napoletana ever since.

Frank’s daughters bought back the bakery years later, and so now you can visit either location for a taste of history.

And Frank’s nephew, Salvatore, opened his own pizzeria: Sally’s Apizza, a must-stop for me the next time I’m passing through New Haven.

 

Like any major city, our nation’s capital has no shortage of restaurants. It’s always a challenge to go through a variety of lists, from Trip Advisor to Open Table to Yelp, trying to find the handful of restaurants that will take our vacation to the next level.

In my experience, I’ve found that many websites with reviews can really be tricky. A person that gets one bad dish may give a restaurant 1 star. Someone who loves Burger King can give it 5 stars. So how do you know which reviews are real and which ones have an agenda? You don’t. You have to read…and sometimes read a lot of them…before you can make a decision.

Of course, when I’m talking about restaurants, I’m not talking about where to get a breakfast sandwich–although I will have that for you in this blog as well. I’m talking about a true dining experience, something that might cost you a lot of bucks but will give you happy, lasting memories.

We had 8 dinners in Washington DC, and because we arrived late on a Friday night, we decided to go to the restaurant located at our own hotel, the Westin in Georgetown. The house restaurant is called the Caucus Room, and being a hotel restaurant, we weren’t expecting amazing food, but we were expecting some food. A week earlier, we made a reservation for dinner at 8:15PM, and when we arrived, the place was empty except for one server who was cleaning up, the strong smell of ammonia in the air. We never got a call that our reservation was cancelled. Just an empty “sorry” from the server before he went back to wiping tables.

The fact that the Caucus Room, and its sister restaurant on the premises, Boveda, were dead–and I mean dead–the entire weekend we arrived, we pretty much decided our hotel was not a food destination. (And when we tried room service, not only was the food overcooked and dry, but it came in a large paper take-out bag. No real plates or utensils. This was the Westin’s new idea of “room service.” They called it  “Fork, Knife, Spoon,” or something dumb like that.)

 

Room service at the Westin Georgetown.

 

So with the Caucus Room closed, we started to walk the neighborhood and soon found the West End Bistro a couple of blocks away. If you “check in” on Facebook, you’ll see they call themselves West End Bistro by Eric Ripert…and although it is connected to the Ritz-Carlton hotel, clearly chef Ripert (of NYC’s Le Bernardin fame) scooted outa there a long time ago. However, we were hungry and we left somewhat satisfied. (I gave it a 3 out of 5.)

Saving ourselves for a Saturday morning brunch our first morning, we were off to explore the city, with a stop at the Navy Yard, where the huge amount of new construction reminded us of Boston’s waterfront: massive apartment complexes, beautiful walkways by the water, and many restaurants to feed those moving into a very dog-friendly neighborhood.

Recommended by our friend, Sal Liotta, the owner of the Back Eddy restaurant in Westport, Massachusetts, we made reservations for brunch at Waley’s in the Yard, as they call it, and we were not disappointed. My daughter went for the straightforward order of pancakes (though she said they were the best she ever had), but my wife and I shared a beautiful seafood tower (with cocktails, of course.) Excellent food, excellent service, friendly staff, excellent first meal of the day: a solid 5 out of 5.

The fabulous seafood tower for 2 at Waley’s.

 

Fiola Mare: Chef Fabio Trabocchi is a big player in the DC restaurant scene, owner of a half a dozen restaurants. We chose Fiola Mare because of its location on the water in Georgetown, and its seafood menu. The food didn’t disappoint, but the service was something out of a bad comedy. To our waiter, Miguel (who looked more like a Mikey), every dish we asked about was “fabulous” or “dazzling.” My wife was handed the wine list and three separate sommeliers swooped down on her within five minutes, asking if she needed help. She barely had time to turn the first page. I saw my favorite vodka, Stoli elit, on the menu, but at $26 for a martini (in a very small glass, I might add) I settled for Belvedere at $16. I also ordered 2 Manhattans. The first one arrived perfectly poured. The second one looked and tasted like they left out the vermouth. The lack of consistency with bar drinks would become my number one pet peeve on this trip.

A rich and delicious half-portion of the lobster ravioli at Fiola Mare.

So the food was excellent, but the service a laugh. And they did everything they could to rush us through our meal. We spotted that nonsense a mile away and let them know we’d be sticking around for a while. A very noisy atmosphere, but the food made us happy. Expensive. I give this Trabocchi cash cow 3 out of 5.

 

We had our disastrous room service food the next morning (as mentioned above), so after that we searched the neighborhood for local breakfast joints. There were three: the Uptowner Cafe, located directly across the street from the Westin hotel (meh)…the Fabulous Market and Cafe walking toward the Foggy Bottom Metro station (also meh)…and Aroma Cafe, a small sandwich shop on 24th between the other two, run by a lovely Asian couple that became our buddies for a few days. Fresh sandwiches, good coffee. Nothing crazy, but just what you want: a fresh bite of food before you get on the train and start your day. Thumbs up to Aroma Cafe.

 

Sunday night’s dinner was a fun challenge. I had read good things about Tail Up Goat and simply made the reservation. (The name comes from islands where the goat and sheep populations are huge. As the saying goes: “Tail down, sheep. Tail up, goat.”)

Crudo and lamb ribs at Tail Up Goat.

 

A small, neighborhood eatery with loyal local customers, Tail Up Goat was fun, bright, and eclectic. Cocktails were again served in tiny glasses, but the food was interesting and challenging in a good way: bold flavors and spices on our lamb ribs with yogurt-za’atar onions on the side. The biggest negative was an extremely small menu. Two of the three main courses offered were for two people, so if you were dining alone, that gave you only one choice. 3 out of 5.

They put the “tini” in martini at Tail Up Goat.

 

We decided to go old school for dinner the next night, and by the recommendations of several friends, we dined at the very crowded, loud, and tourist-trappy Old Ebbitt Grill. Although the website talks a lot about the restaurant’s history dating back to 1856, and although the interior looks like a very cool old historic saloon, the fact of the matter is the Old Ebbitt Grill has only been in its current location since the 1980’s. So much for history!

But…the food was solid…straightforward roasted chicken, beef, pasta and sides. (Sadly, though, not one really good steak is offered on the menu.) However, I did finally get my first REAL martini of our trip!

A real martini filled to the brim at the Old Ebbitt Grill.

 

The Old Ebbitt Grill

I give the Old Ebbitt Grill a 3.5 out of 5.

We had our most disastrous dining experience the following night. Originally reserving a table at Le Diplomate, we made a last-minute change to dine at the highly rated Marcel’s by Robert Weidmaier. Expensive, snooty, and dripping with attitude.

There are very few restaurants where we’ve actually felt compelled to return a dish because it was so badly prepared. But my boneless quail didn’t look or taste like quail. In fact, the sausage-like roll they plated could have been any meat. And it was extremely salty. So…we had to say something and return the dish. Once we did that, our server took the plate away and didn’t come back–not to see if perhaps we’d like to try another dish, or if there was anything else he could do to make our experience better. No…he didn’t come back at all. Once we complained about the food, we were put on the proverbial sh*# list, and no one returned to our table until dessert was served. (We had ordered that in the beginning, so no contact needed to be made.) Only when my wife asked is she could have some tea did our server turn to me and ask if I’d like something to drink as well.

From the sommelier that kept telling my wife all of her wine choices were “dead,” to an expensive and very tough veal chop, to a fishy scallop plate and a disappointing foie gras appetizer, we stared at each other in total disbelief. How could this restaurant get such great reviews? If they were having a bad night, they were having a really bad night. And sadly, that meant so were we. A very expensive bad night. I really want to give zero out of 5.

 

On the menu at the Blue Duck Tavern.

 

Thank goodness we had what was probably our best dining experience the next night, at Michelin-star rated Blue Duck Tavern. Located in the Hyatt hotel that is literally across the street from our Westin hotel, the Blue Duck Tavern is huge, gorgeous, full of space and light, with a professional staff and knock-your-socks-off food.

 

 

The place was packed on a Wednesday night, and we were given a table right in the center of the party. Unfortunately, we struggled to hear each other and asked to be moved to a quieter table. They did so without hesitation and without attitude. Our server, Frank, was the pro you hope for when you come to a restaurant like this: knowledgeable about the entire menu, eager to recommend when asked, and offering tons of useful information to food fanatics like ourselves. He even gave us a tour of the restaurant and kitchen after we placed our order. This dude knew what we wanted!

 

Bone marrow with a pretzel crumble. OMG.

 

The foie gras creme brulee was an absolute knockout. The bone marrow with pretzel crumble was without a doubt the best I’ve ever had, and I’m a bone marrow freak. I have been spoiled for life. Of course, if you come to a place called the Blue Duck Tavern, you must have the Moulard duck breast…fabulous. And my wood oven roasted whole branzino in a sunchoke romesco sauce, all 1 1/2 pounds of it, was devoured by yours truly with only bones to show for it. My usually picky daughter had a feast with the charcuterie and cheese plate followed by a plate of rich ricotta gnudi.

 

Wood fire roasted whole branzino.

A great wine selection, wonderful house cocktails, assistance without attitude…it’s everything you want in a fine dining experience. I can’t give them another Michelin star, but I give the Blue Duck Tavern a solid 5 out of 5.

 

 

Washington DC is chef Jose Andres’ playground. Sure, he’s got restaurants all over the country, but he’s got a dozen of them in DC, all very different from one another. There’s his Michelin-star rated Mini-Bar, Peruvian with Asian and Spanish accents at China Chilcano, heavy-duty Eastern Mediterranean at Zaytinya, and more. I opted for his straightforward Spanish tapas restaurant called Jaleo. We were in Madrid just a few years ago and we loved everything we ate. We were hoping to rekindle some of that “foodie love” and Chef Andres did not disappoint!

 

 

Jaleo is a lot of fun. It’s loud in many ways: the crowd, the crazy, bright colors and architecture, and the bold flavors on the menu. This is a place you bring your friends. Small plates mean you can share or not…but you can try many, many dishes and flavors all night long. We devoured plates of jamon Iberico with Manchego cheese, as well as a salami made with the same jamon. Two types of calamari: fried in olive oil and garlic, and sauteed with white beans. Crazy “liquid olives” inspired by legendary chef Ferran Adria. Grilled asparagus. Chicken fritters. Shrimp fried in olive oil and garlic. Grilled quail with a rosemary sauce (done perfectly–are you listening, Marcel’s?) And an Iberico tenderloin with blue cheese sauce. Yes…we ate it ALL.

 

The Iberico ham, salami, and manchego cheese.

 

The mind-boggling “liquid olives.”

 

We love Spanish wines from Rioja, which made it an easy choice at Jaleo. And I went over the top with the best gin and tonics I’ve ever had. I will never drink it any other way than Jose’s Choice: Hendrick’s Gin, Fever Tree tonic, lime and lemon, juniper berries, and a verbena leaf.

Jaleo gets a 5 out of 5 for sheer fun, great food and atmosphere, super-casual.

 

Out last dinner was right before we hopped on our plane homeward. We had a late flight, so we stopped by Nobu, which happened to be just a block from our hotel, for their Friday happy hour.  This location was the newest in the vast Nobu empire, and the space was huge, clean, modern, classy. It was a good time to go: though the menu was small, there were plenty of tasty bites to choose from, including a Wagyu beef dumpling with foie gras. We were even able to choose a dish or two from the main menu. Tasty food beautifully prepared, and a perfect non-bloating dinner before getting on a plane.

The bar at Nobu.

 

Of course, we had more than just dinners in Washington, DC. Twice we dined in museum cafeterias. Both times, the food was mediocre at best…but we weren’t expecting much more than that at a museum anyway. Once we dined from a food truck. OK food, too.

We were craving Chinese food, so I did a little research and found a place called Chinatown Express. Although the name wasn’t inspiring (think Panda Express–gack!) the food was excellent. When we saw the lovely ladies making dumplings by hand in the front window (“on the spot,” as the sign says), we knew it was the perfect authentic Chinese restaurant we were looking for.

We feasted on roasted duck, fried and steamed dumplings, chicken fried rice, wonton soup, and lots more. 4 out of 5 for authenticity.

 

Just a few doors down, on a day when my daughter and I had lunch at the Hard Rock Cafe, my wife returned to 6th Street to slurp down ramen noodles at Daikaya. She said it was so good, she’s been spoiled for life. Walk in for the ramen, or go to their restaurant for everything but the ramen. And yes, they fly in their noodles from Japan every day! 5 out of 5 for the ramen.

Daikaya.

 

And speaking of the Hard Rock Cafe, I’ve created a monster. I took my daughter to her first Hard Rock last year, when we went to Universal Studios in Orlando. Since then, the big question wherever we went was: “Is there a Hard Rock here, Dad?” So this one was her fourth.

She’s also been to the Hard Rock in the Cayman Islands and the one in New York City, which is located in Times Square (but the original was on West 57th.) The food at every Hard Rock is the same, so no review for that. It’s what you’d expect. But we always tour the entire restaurant after our meal, talking about music, bands and videos. It’s one of the few times that Dad, being the rock jock full of information for almost 4 decades, is actually cool.

 

One last note on inconsistent drinks: I mentioned earlier that it’s a pet peeve of mine that was tested several times during our vacation. Our Westin hotel didn’t even have a lobby big enough for a bar, so a couple of nights we went across the street to the Fairmont hotel, which had a large, spacious lobby and plenty of seating around the bar to sit, relax, grab a bite or have a cocktail. I kept it simple both nights, requesting a Blanton’s on the rocks. The first night, my drink was properly served in a rocks glass with a nice, large cube…a good pour for the money.

The second night, I literally received 1/3 of the drink I got the night before. When I posted my complaint on Twitter, Fairmont Hotels quickly replied, offering me a free drink if I returned. Sadly, I was home by then.

 

 

All in all, a great trip to Washington DC, with some wonderful experiences and some disappointment. But like with any trip, you’ll always increase your chances for success with a little research!

 

 

 

Washington DC is an incredible city, and if you’re willing to walk–a lot–there’s a lot to see. In our 7 days, we visited 17 museums and 14 monuments. You could say we were on a mission: my wife, the artist, needing to visit every art museum in town, and my 11-year-old daughter, learning about history in school, needing to feed the brain with endless historical information.

 

The National Air and Space Museum

 

All of the museums associated with the Smithsonian are open every day of the year except Christmas, and admission to all of them is free. Once you realize how amazing that is, you don’t complain about the $15 fried chicken plate at the cafeteria. They have to make their money somehow!

 

The National Portrait Gallery holds the official portraits of all the Presidents of the United States, as well as some portraits of First Ladies. Most notably, they recently installed the official portraits of Barack and Michelle Obama. Incredible to see them in person!

 

Loved this piece…

 

The toughest ticket to get, by far, is getting into the National Museum of African American History and Culture. The reason is that, unlike all the other Smithsonian museums, there really is an actual ticket you must have to get in. They limit the number of people who can visit every day, and you have to work a bit to be one of the lucky ones. It’s worth the effort. An architectural marvel with three stories underground and three above, the museum starts with the first days of slavery and brings you to current times. Along the way, it’s an incredible emotional ride.

Lucky tickets!

So if you want to get into the National Museum of African American History and Culture, here’s how to do it: First, they offer tickets online months ahead of time. Go to their website:(https://nmaahc.si.edu/visit/passes) to find out more. Or…the day you want to go, get on your computer at 6:30AM! Tickets are distributed in half-hour time slots for the day. And they sell out FAST. Or…your third chance to get a ticket is to walk up to the museum entrance on Madison Drive and get on a special line every weekday at 1PM, where they hand out a limited amount of tickets for that day and time. (They don’t offer these tickets on weekends.) We missed out on the first two possibilities, so we walked up and stood on line at 12:15PM and were handed tickets almost immediately for that day. We got lucky.

 

The Capitol, at one end of the National Mall.

 

As for monuments, there are plenty of them to see as you walk the National Mall, and my daughter wanted to see them all! The weather wasn’t cooperating much on our spring trip, raining sideways at times, but we powered through and saw just about all of them!

One of the Presidential helicopters flying past the Washington Monument.

 

The Lincoln Memorial.

 

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

 

The Korean War Memorial…one for my Dad.

 

The Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial. Awe-inspiring.

 

The words of FDR at his memorial.

 

If you’re interested in touring the White House, you can only get in with passes through your local Congressman’s office requesting passes way ahead of time. We were happy to simply see it from the outside. We just headed for Pennsylvania Avenue.

 

The National Zoo, a part of the Smithsonian, has free admission as well. Being a New York boy who grew up on the Bronx Zoo, I wasn’t hugely impressed by the National Zoo. But, I did see the pandas, and that made the trip worthwhile!

Tian Tian, the male, enjoying his bamboo snack.

 

 

Finally, when visiting Washington DC, skip the rental car and be sure to use the Metro.  It’s a great, cheap way to get around town. It sops close to most of the museums, though you’ll need to walk a bit for the monuments and memorials.

The Metro: super easy to use, super cheap.