Saturday, January 31, 2009
The amount of money in my bank account is always small. But I understand that there are other people out there experiencing this feeling for the first time, so please allow me to help you.
I've been poor most of my adult life (hi, don't be a writer) but that doesn't mean that I haven't been happy. It also doesn't mean that I haven't had fun and enjoyed my fair share of wonderful food and wonderful wine. There are lots of inexpensive ways to eat and drink well--you just have to pay attention.
Enter Santa Isabel Malbec, my new favorite wine. It is available at Whole Foods for about six bucks. SIX BUCKS. Yet I swear to you it tastes more like a ten-to-fifteen dollar wine. I love it when this happens.
Malbecs are big, dark, robust reds from Argentina. They tend to be traditionally paired with beef, but I think they go great with anything that has rich flavor and lots of fat. I urge you to pick up a bottle of Santa Isabel this weekend and try it out. Of course it would taste awesome with some gorgeous roasted meat, but who has money for that these days? I say forget the beef for now and just bust out some cheese or chocolate. Your mouth will thank you immediately, and your bank account will thank you later.
Thursday, January 29, 2009
There are some things you shouldn't eat in excess, and bacon is one of them. Damon Darlin's recent article in the New York Times reminds me of this simple truth.
I love bacon as much as the next girl, but come on. This thing, this Bacon Explosion is just wrong. Even the name grosses me out. Why so much bacon all in one place? Why? It's not like it's in short supply and you must gorge before it disappears forever. Seriously, you'll get more bacon at breakfast tomorrow. Or even at lunch--just order a BLT and relax. You might also consider that it often shows up as an option for dinner, say, with scallops. I think I said this already but, why so much bacon all in one place?
Oh, and certainly you noticed that the bacon--two pounds of it, by the way--is woven, basket-like, around two pounds of sausage. That is one heavy hunk of greasy meat. Also, it's got barbecue sauce all over it. Messy. And, ew.
But I'm sure it had to happen eventually: Wrap pork with pork, slather with sticky sauce, add fire, and beat chest in manner of Tarzan or caveman. Ok, that last part probably isn't fair, but you can't tell me that this creation doesn't scream "Dude Food."
No matter what your gender, though, eating so much fat, salt, and sugar (have you ever looked at the ingredients in barbecue sauce?) simultaneously just seems like a really dumb idea.
Because bacon overdose would be a bad way to go, man.
The New York Times story features several photos, including this one. I chose it for this post since it seemed the least likely to offend my gentle vegetarian friends and readers.
Wednesday, January 28, 2009
Salt is a funny thing. Some people say it will kill you; others say they'd rather be dead than eat food not seasoned with it. I guess I fall somewhere between these two camps--I use it every day, yet I've always been able to appreciate the occasional vegetable or what-have-you without it.
Until now, that is. Now I know about truffle salt, and from this day forward, nothing I eat will ever taste right until liberally seasoned with it. This salt is extravagant, and it's only meant for special times, I know. But ever since the other night, my food seems naked without it.
Allow me to explain.
I started a book club for foodies several years ago. At our height, we were probably about eight or ten--now we are four. However, it's a great four, and all of us love to eat. Of course we also love to read, and our books are always food or drink-related. But it's mainly the promise of dining well and talking about cooking and food news that brings us together over and over.
This week, we met for dinner. We didn't have a book to discuss, but it had been months since our last gathering and we just wanted to catch up, have some wine, and eat some good food together. My friend Ellen offered to host us at her house in Arlington. She made a main-course lamb stew, and lemon panna cotta with blackberry sauce for dessert (yep, these are my friends). Elizabeth, who lives near Ellen, offered to fill in the gaps--pasta for the first course and green salad with a soft, Swiss cheese for the third. Chris and I, the two city-dwellers with small kitchens, brought wine like city people always do.
The whole meal was luxurious and I'll post every part of it eventually, but for now I must focus on the truffle salt component. Has anybody ever had this stuff? Elizabeth found it at The Curious Grape, but I've seen it online, too. Anyway, this salt is really special. It smells like hot, damp earth (in a good way). If that doesn't make sense, then think of the pungent scent of dried porcinis. It feels and looks like fine white table salt, and the little flecks of black mixed in might bear a striking resemblance to pepper, but that is not pepper. You know exactly what those tiny black bits are.
Truffle salt is fancy, dressed-up salt. It would make eggs taste amazing. I also want to try it sprinkled over fries or roasted potatoes. YUM. But the other night it starred in our pasta course, and I really can't put into words how outrageously delicious it was. Instead, I'll just give you the recipe and tell you to make it at home and be warned: This pasta is not low-cal so don't send me hate mail if your pants are too tight tomorrow. Also, this salt is relatively very expensive and not for the frugal-minded. However, it is awfully alluring, and it really does go with just about anything savory. Also, sometimes you simply need a salt splurge. So fork over the twenty-five bucks, have fun, and enjoy. Consider it the Manolo Blahnik of the seasoning world, OK?
Elizabeth's Truffle-Salted Pasta (as seen in photo above)
Serves Three or Four
9 ounces fresh fettuccine
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
Half of one lemon
1 cup heavy cream
Over medium heat, place butter in a saute pan. Allow to melt while squeezing in lemon juice to taste (up to half of one lemon) and add a splash of dry vermouth. Turn up heat and let boil until alcohol smell goes away, stirring with wooden spoon all along.
Add heavy cream. Boil until it starts to get thick, and then stir in truffle salt bit by bit to taste (ie: truffle-y enough, but not too salty). Grind in some fresh black pepper.
In a separate pot, boil the pasta until al dente and then drain well. Using tongs, add hot pasta to cream sauce and toss until all strands are coated.
Serve hot and pass around a chunk of fresh (real, Italian) Parmesan to grate over top.
Saturday, January 24, 2009
A reader asked me a very simple question: "What's up with margarine?" And now all I want to write about is butter.
But let's address the query. First, I hope to heaven that all of you already know that margarine and butter are not interchangeable. Yes, they both come in stick or spreadable form, but that's where the similarities end. Seriously.
Margarine was invented, way back in the 1800s, in France of all places. Did you get that? FRANCE. I bet they're embarrassed about that. Being a Francophile through and through, I'm kind of embarrassed about that. But what's more embarrassing is the fact that it's still so popular in America. Basically, margarine is made by taking vegetable oils and hydrogenating them. Please don't write in and ask me to explain this in detail because it involves chemistry and chemistry is hard. Suffice to say that hydrogenation renders those oils solid, giving margarine its vaguely butter-like consistency. But hydrogenation also creates a fiendish thing called trans fat, which is terrible for you and is blamed for raising bad cholesterol. Finally, artificial yellow color is often added to margarine to help its masquerading game. To me, though, it does not taste nor feel nor look like butter. In short, margarine is fake food and fake food, in my opinion, is one of life's true horrors.
Butter is better. To make butter, you beat heavy cream until it's thick enough to spread. You don't add anything to it, except a little salt (or honey and orange zest if you want something special). It doesn't get more pure and lovely than that! If you're not into making your own, though, pick up some Kate's and try it on your toast this weekend. It's available at Whole Foods, and I think it's the best.
It mystifies me that people still put margarine on the table, and that some people actually believe it's healthier for you than butter. Of course butter is fattening, but so is olive oil and so is peanut butter, and most people have no problem consuming those on a regular basis.
So eat butter, just don't eat it with reckless abandon. Unless you're having a really bad day, in which case I suggest obtaining some good, fresh country bread, warming it in the oven, tearing off big hunks and spreading them liberally with butter. Eat this while watching something you love on TV and don't feel bad about it. Nobody will know if you never tell them...
And on days when you're feeling more fabulous--this is particularly fun to serve with drinks for friends--put out a plate of cleaned radishes (cut them in half if they're big) with a pot of butter and a little spreading knife. Offer kosher salt on the side. Slather some butter on a radish, sprinkle it with salt and pop it in your month. The combination of sharp, sweet, crunchy, smooth, rich, and bright is wonderful. Try it--I promise, it's delicious. Oh, and also? It's very French.
Friday, January 23, 2009
I think I'm the only person in DC who actually felt depressed on Tuesday.
Don't get me wrong--I'm happy Obama's in the White House. I'm excited about the possibility for good change, and about the fact that he has captured the hearts and minds of millions, and that he seems willing to fight and work hard for what's right and decent in the world.
However, I still felt depressed on Tuesday night.
Sure, inauguration weekend had some highlights. Take Sunday brunch at Saint-Ex with my friend Liz. We had a great time, and I lucked out with my order--a hunk of terrifically rich strata made with eggs, ham, and swiss cheese (and probably tons of butter and cream). Big, toasted chunks of brioche jutted out from the creamy mass providing perfect texture contrast, and a well-dressed side salad balanced out the meal. The scene in the restaurant was jovial but not overwhelming, and we managed to get the last available table for two.
So that was really cool.
But, we drank bloody marys, and they were strong. They made us lazy and the next thing we know it's almost 2:00 and we're missing the free concert at the Lincoln Memorial. Of course, we did hear that it was impossible to get anywhere near the venue, so we decided we'd just shoot over next door to Bar Pilar and watch the show on TV. But when we got there, we found out they weren't broadcasting it live, and so instead we had to watch football with the bored staff, because the rest of the world was down on the mall rocking out to Bruce Springsteen. Shoot.
However, there was a thrilling moment on Monday night at Black Squirrel. The owner, a lovely woman named Amy Bowman, recognized me when I walked in and thanked me for writing about them! I felt like a bona fide blogger, and I enjoyed that feeling immensely. Of course chef Gene Sohn's food was awesome as always, my friend AD and I had the perfect table, and the wait staff was charming as ever.
All of that was definitely great.
Unfortunately, I also spent a lot of money that night and kept ordering beers instead of water. So not only did I wake up significantly more broke the next morning, I was also monumentally hungover. Um...I'm supposed to know better by now.
Tuesday afternoon, though, was just magnificent. To be a part of the energy on the mall, to see history being made, to stand in a crowd of almost two million people and watch our new president take the oath of office, was an experience I'll never forget. It was humbling, exciting, and inspiring. When Aretha Franklin sang "My Country, 'Tis Of Thee" I had tears in my eyes.
Or, were they just watering because I was FREEZING? I wasn't properly dressed and, per usual, I didn't have a boyfriend to keep me warm. And while Liz managed to take some great pictures, like the one posted here, we thought for sure we'd have gotten one of Rahm or maybe one that captured the fabulousness of Aretha's truly amazing "church" hat, as the gay boys we met were calling it. Also, the sound was messed up so we couldn't hear everything, and then of course there was the whole FREEZING thing.
But, I suppose I should focus on the overall good--the hope, that hat, and the fact that Liz led us out of the massive crowd before we were trampled to death. And perhaps above all I should reflect on the comfort I take in knowing that even in a sea of new men, many of them potentially straight, I still attracted only the gay ones. You may laugh, but for this I am forever grateful, because at the end of the day--Inauguration Day or any other day--those boys always know how to make me feel better.
Sunday, January 18, 2009
DC is presently the coolest place on earth, and since I live here I'm finding it a little hard to focus on anything except what's going on outside my apartment. I mean, helicopters are hovering, black limos seem to be idling on every corner, and there's a free concert today within walking distance from my home that I would be an idiot to miss. Hello, Stevie Wonder? Beyonce? BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN? Everything's feeling awfully festive and if I'm not out and about in the excitement, I might as well be sitting around eating this and wearing sweatpants that say, "I give up."
Obviously, that's not happening.
So I'm heading downtown with my friends and taking advantage of the opportunity to be part of the history being made in my city, a place I love and would marry if girls and metropolises could mate.
OK, I need to get ready to go now, but in the spirit of bragging just a little, I leave you with these two awesome tidbits:
My friend Katherine's unlikely boyfriend hits DC Monday night at 10:00 on Bravo...
And, as if I really needed another reason to like the Obamas...
Now off to try my best to meet Bruce. Wish me luck!
Friday, January 16, 2009
Before I get started, take a look here if you're not familiar with British Fridays. I admit it's a tad silly, but I don't care. It's Friday, after all. Plus, this one's about bar food.
The topic of today's discussion is something I ate for the first time last week at CommonWealth, a local gastropub I love for its humble mission, jolly vibe, and bathroom mirrors that make you think to yourself, "I so could have been a model if I'd really wanted to..."
Most of all, though, I love CommonWealth for its splendid bill of fare, which runs the UK gamut from garlicky sausage to meat-filled pies. I like the toasty Welsh Rarebit for its ultra-comforting soft bread and rich, cheesy topping. The potted pork is fun to say but also fun to eat, and not just because it comes with mustard. But my favorite dish of all is a naughty little number with a simple, lovely name. The nice waitress recommended it, and I never knew something so plain-sounding could taste so glorious. It's crunchy, creamy, salty, and delicious. I refer to the Scotch Egg.
Ubiquitous in pubs across the pond, this savory treat is currently hard to come by here, but I'm hoping that will change. I'd much rather order a couple of Scotch Eggs--essentially whole, hard-boiled eggs coated with sausage and breadcrumbs and fried to a golden crisp--than a heap of blah nachos or a mound of bad fries. This is why I think Jamie Leeds, the chef owner of CommonWealth, is kind of a genius and worthy of our attention. Also, she presents hers with a trio of dipping sauces; the herby one is most delish.
As for the origin of the Scotch Egg, I'm confused. Internet information is spotty, so I haven't figured out for sure if the recipe hails from Scotland or England--I plan to hit the library to try to learn more. In the meantime, I'm hoping it's the former, since, as many of you know, I tend to develop crushes on things that are Scottish.
I emailed CommonWealth and asked if Chef Leeds would share her recipe with us, but as of today, nobody's written me back. Keep in mind, though, that life is kind of busy right now in DC, so we should give it some more time. I'll let you know if I hear from anyone, and don't worry, you know I'll ask for a non-meat version, too, because I never forget my vegetarian friends.
For now, though, have a happy weekend, and if you happen to see Scotch Eggs on a menu while you're out and about, let me know! I feel a food trend coming on.
Wednesday, January 14, 2009
I've been saying it for years. DC RESTAURANTS ROCK, and the New York Times is finally acknowledging it in the form of a big, awesome shout-out.
The story, written by Kim Severson, says it all way better than I ever could (and I tried, remember?).
In a nutshell, Severson brings to light the fact that my city--the capital of this country and now also the most exciting place in the world as far as I'm concerned--is hip, smart, diverse, and delicious.
Read it, and then get thee to DC (if you're not already here, of course)!
Monday, January 12, 2009
Oh. It's Monday. Super. Well, I guess the only proper thing to do is write about mustard. (Hey, you explain yours, I'll explain mine.)
So, I cleaned out my refrigerator this weekend, and I'd summarize the experience as your basic nightmare. First off, there were only nine things in there--water, jam, a couple apples, butter, one grapefruit, and three kinds of mustard. (And the answer is yes, it actually is as pathetic as it sounds. But my excuse is I was away for two weeks...um, two weeks ago.)
Anyway, the butter, grapefruit, and water made the cut, but everything else had to go. This means I had to bid farewell to my mustards, and that's where the really bad part comes in. I love mustard. I mean strong, sharp, French mustard. I have a little crock made just for mustard that I bought in Paris. It has a lid. And a tiny wooden spoon so you can put the perfect tiny dollop of it on your pate, ham sandwich, or toast with cheese. I once had to break up with someone because he insulted mustard. I mean it.
Now you can see why throwing mine away was upsetting. What made it horrifying, though, was the fact that all of my mustards were purchased on my last trip to France, and THAT WAS MORE THAN A YEAR AGO. I didn't realize how long it had been since I'd used one! Have I really not made salad dressing in six months? Wow. What has happened to me? Seriously, sacre bleu. Yet there I was, throwing them out, one by one. Bye-bye moutarde au basilic. Au revoir moutarde avec champagne. Adieu moutarde a l'estragon.
Obviously, I need to restock right away (and get back to making sandwiches and salads, geez), but it's not that simple. Yes, I suppose you can find decent mustards in the US, but those aren't what I'm talking about. Also, I don't want to buy online; it's not the same. No, what I want is to wake up in Montmartre, put on my scarf, take the Metro to my favorite "grocery store", drop the little jars into my basket, and say bonjour! to the lady behind the caisse. But tragically, for the first time in a long time, I don't have a trip lined up because I can't afford it and now I'm really starting to panic. So, I need your help.
Can somebody please buy me a ticket to Paris? Please? I'll bring you back some mustard!
Oh. I see. Well fine, then all I can think to do is take a crack at making my own. I've actually always wanted to try doing this, and it would be a pretty fun New Year's project. Ooh! And I'll post my results! To be clear, though, I'd still rather go to France than be housebound. But I guess you've got to find a way to make lemonade. Or, in this case, mustard.
Sunday, January 11, 2009
Ugh. Sunday. Everybody already knows one approach I sometimes (sometimes!) take to deal with them. Here's another: eating polenta.
A reader recently asked me if I have any recipes involving this comforting starch made from corn and beloved by Italians. As it happens, I do, and since I think it's the perfect antidote to the Sunday blues, I'm offering it today in hopes that you'll try it for dinner tonight. This recipe is way easy, partly because the polenta is premade and all you do is add water, milk, or stock to soften it up. You'll need to go to Whole Foods, though, to find my favorite brand (has anybody seen it anywhere else?), so get thee to the market! Oh, but read the recipe first because you'll probably have to pick up some other stuff, too.
Catherine's "I Hate Sundays Sausage Ragout with Polenta"
(serves 2; double it for 4)
1 tube traditional San Gennaro polenta
1-2 cups stock (chicken or vegetable), water, or milk
2 links mild or spicy turkey sausage, removed from casing
1 small white onion, diced
1 average-size carrot, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 8 oz can tomato sauce (I like Muir Glen)
1 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes (Muir Glen again)
fresh flat-leaf Italian parsley, chopped
Cut open the polenta tube and dump about half of it (don't be afraid of its odd texture) into a small saucepan. Turn the heat to medium-low, and start kind of breaking it up with a wire whisk. As it starts to crumble into dry-looking pieces, start whisking in your liquid, and add as much as you need to get the polenta to a cream-of-wheat consistency. Turn the heat off and leave it alone while you tend to the turkey.
Pour a couple tablespoons of olive oil into a dutch oven (I use my le Creuset because I use it for EVERYTHING) or large saucepan and turn the heat to medium high. When the oil starts to shimmer, add the sausage, working it apart with a wooden spoon until you have several bite-size chunks. This should only take a few minutes and it's ok if some of the meat is still pink--you're not finished cooking. Now add the onion and carrot and saute with your wooden spoon. After a few minutes, when the onion starts to soften and smell delicious, add the garlic and stir for another minute. Then turn the heat down to medium low. Add the tomatoes and tomato sauce, mixing everything together and noting to yourself how easy that was. Once everything's combined, take a little taste and add salt and pepper to your liking. Let it sit over low heat while you get ready to plate...or bowl, in this case.
Check the polenta for seasoning, and add salt and pepper if you think it needs it. (If you used stock as your liquid, it's probably plenty salty, but add more if you want--I like salt, too.) If it seems too thick, whisk in a bit more liquid over low heat.
Now, get two bowls (get big ones). Ladle in some polenta, and make a little crater in the center of the lovely soft pile. Over that, spoon as much of the ragout as you want, and then sprinkle the whole with a little fresh parsley. Grab your spoon and eat up. It's yummy.
Note, if you don't eat meat, you can make a mushroom ragout and still have just as pleasurable an experience. Follow the polenta recipe, but in your dutch oven or saucepan do this (over medium high): Add olive oil till shimmering. Add two chopped shallots and saute with wooden spoon until they start to soften, about two minutes. Then add two tablespoons of butter and a pound of cleaned and sliced mushrooms. Saute for several minutes, until the mushrooms start to soften and get just a touch golden-brown on the edges. Add two minced garlic cloves and saute another minute or two. Taste and add salt and pepper to your liking, then turn off the heat and stir in a tablespoon or two of fresh parsley. Serve as directed above. This is yummy, too.
Saturday, January 10, 2009
I've been sick for a few days, and yesterday my ever-thoughtful and all-knowing boss said to me, "Catherine, I have something for you." Now she's said this before, and it usually means I'm getting a treat, so I was excited. "What is it?" I said in my stuffy (and not sexy, after all) voice. "Here," she said, handing me a rectangular stick resembling a small candy bar. "Honees Honey-Filled Drops." I took them, thanked her, and moped back to my office for more Kleenex.
Back at my desk, I looked more closely at the packaging and thought it looked familiar. She has given me these before! Probably the last time I was sick! How could I have forgotten? They're made by an Italian candy company called Ambrofoli, and one of the listed ingredients is butter. How awesome is that? (Oh, and I should note that these actually are candies and not technically cough drops, but they really do work wonders for a cold. So, they are not only delicious but also magical.)
I popped one in my mouth and instantly remembered: I WANT TO MARRY THESE DROPS. It all came rushing back as I knocked the small, hard golden cube around with my tongue and felt the first layer of honey coat my throat and I swear my nose stopped running on the spot. (OK, so it started back up again later, but still.) As the drop disintegrates in your mouth, it sort of shatters slowly and reveals a wonderfully gooey little dollop of honey within. This is the point when you just start crunching away, licking your lips, and eyeing the package because you want another one as soon as this one's over.
Honees Honey-Filled Drops are marvelous and you should look for them wherever you go and buy them, in sickness and in health. They are to the cough drop/candy world what Gevrey Chambertin is to the wine world. And what my boss is to the boss world. In other words, they rule.
Monday, January 5, 2009
My fun friend Winona recently received an inquiry which she feels I'm better suited to answer since it's about DC and that's where I live. Ooh! A chance to run with the cool girls in the blog world! The question goes:
So in January my family is going to DC for the burial services of my grandpa at Arlington. While it is a sad occasion, my brother, sister and I never get to be together in the same place and we want to make the best of the one free day we have while there. I have visited DC before and saw some of the sites but was wondering if you had any advice...if you had one Saturday in the city, what would you do? Let me know when you get a chance!
Cal of Sidenote
When I first started writing this I was at least 500 words in before I even got to lunch, so I'm scrapping the idea of giving you fourteen different ways to spend your day, and just giving you one itinerary--the one I tend to follow on free Saturdays with visiting friends. To minimize stress and maximize entertainment, I've left monuments off the list. Feel free to email me if you have questions, or if you hate museums or are offended by my high-calorie and potentially spendy dining suggestions. Now then...
Start with breakfast at Teaism. There are several locations in DC, and I'm pretty sure that all of them have the same basic menu. Order cilantro scrambled eggs, smoked chicken and apple sausage, ginger scones, and buy some salty oat cookies for later. Drink whatever tea floats your boat, and go to Starbucks afterward if you're like me and can't begin a day without some smack...I mean, coffee.
After breakfast, take the metro (or walk, if you're close enough) to Gallery Place/Chinatown and go to the National Portrait Gallery. Admission is free, as is the case with most of our city's awesome museums, and I think it's pretty much the coolest place ever. Go. Wander. You'll see what I mean.
Other cool options in this part of town (which is called Penn Quarter, by the way): The National Museum of Crime and Punishment, the International Spy Museum, the US Navy Memorial, Ford's Theatre, and the Shakespeare Theatre. And FYI, there's a certain humongous sports bar-type place nearby, so make sure your brother doesn't see it.
When you're done getting your culture on, you'll need food and and you must not go someplace stupid like Subway or eat something gross from a street vendor. There are tons* of restaurants I want to suggest, but since I don't know what time it will be, how tired you'll feel, or how many salty oat cookies you'll have consumed, there's really only one course of action I can recommend without hesitation: the glorious small plate. Happily, there are two spots nearby that do a good-to-terrific job of making them.
1) Jaleo There are a few Jaleos in the DC area, but the one in this 'hood is the flagship, and it's my favorite. If you like fried seafood, you're in luck because the calamari and cod fritters are always on the menu, and always done well. Also delicious are the fried potatoes and pretty much everything that comes with cheese. ORDER ANYTHING INVOLVING PORK, and do not miss the tomato bread or the Catalan spinach. Oh, and get a carafe of sangria if you're of age and enjoy adult beverages.
2) Zaytinya Yes, I suppose I'm touting Jose Andres (the chef behind both of these restaurants) but come on! He makes good food and understands the importance of atmosphere. Zaytinya (which is Turkish for olive oil) is another small-plates kind of restaurant and it is wildly popular, so you might get a buzzer slapped in your hand. Don't worry, though, because you can hang out at the bar and order some hummus to tide you over, and the rest of your meal will be worth waiting for. The food is Mediterranean, so think grape leaves, spiced kebabs, crunchy falafel, vegetable and cheese salads, and pita bread so warm and pillowy you'll kind of wish you could take some home and snuggle with it.
After your repast, you should hightail it to National Geographic. I know it's museum-y, but you can't come to DC and not go there! It's free, it's famous, and your friends will be jelly (jellie?) when you show them the picture you had taken in the seriously one-of-a-kind photo booth. Also, the store is a great place to buy stuff, and I mean more than just maps and bug books.
Now you'll be tired (and possibly chilled--this is January, after all). But take heart, because a warm respite is just two blocks away. The Tabard Inn is arguably the coziest game in town, complete with French-accented ladies at the desk and a sitting room with a real fireplace to warm your toes by while you sip a hot drink. There's a restaurant if you're in the mood for a full dinner, and a bar menu if you only want a snack. Or, you can just order a scrumptious dessert, and have that be the denouement to your day of freedom in Washington, DC. If you decide to go that way, please get the creme brulee. It's ever so lovely and luscious.
At this point, you guys will probably be full and happy, and getting on the metro could be a major buzz kill. So I say hail a cab. And on the way back to your hotel, should you suddenly feel like something's missing, just take a look out the window. You'll see a monument eventually.
*More DC restaurants I love:
Cashion's Eat Place
Good Stuff Eatery
Hank's Oyster Bar