Thursday, April 28, 2011

Finally Free in DC

Warm, humid, and wonderful. That's how I feel.

I'm fresh from an invigorating walk back from an earlier successful mission to fetch cupcakes from Georgetown Cupcakes.

The cupcakes are treats for Susan and Lauren.  Encouraged by my success, I drop the cupcakes off in my room and use the maps app on my Iphone to plan my further evening adventures.

I'm striking out from the hotel further down M street in search of Vidalia.  "Fine southern cuisine" is the promise on the restaurant cheat sheet handed to me by the concierge at the Fairmont.  I'm thinking that it's high time for some real southern fried chicken which I don't believe I've ever had.

Before satisfying my hunger for comfort food, I set off on another quest.  This is, after all, a blog about life on two wheels.  If you know the Washington Fairmont, you may think I'm headed for the complimentary BMW bicycles that the hotel offers to its guests.

Not quite my objective.

In the cab on the way in from Reagan National on Monday night, I had spotted a BIXI stand!  I knew I just needed to shoot proof that Montreal's public bike share program is alive and well in the heart of democracy.  It doesn't take me long to find my quarry.

On my way, I pass a Honda Metroplitan chained to a signpost looking like a forlorn pooch temporarily foresaken by its owner.
It reminds me of my first scootering experience in Victoria, so I snap a shot of it and move on.  No time for dawdling, I'm hungry.  But as I write this, I have the time to be indulgent.  So here's a shot of my very first scooter experience which, inexplicably, I haven't posted before.
Earlier in the evening, heading down M in the other direction, I had spotted a beautiful cream-colored Vespa ET that followed my cab, then filtered ahead, only to disappear down a side street before I could snap a picture.

A few brisk walking minutes later, I spot my prey at the corner of 25th and Pennsylvania Avenue.  A genuine real, feels like home, BIXI stand!!.  Except here it's capital bikeshare.

But a rose by any other name... is still a BIXI.
Such nice bikes. You just have to love how those sidewalls light up at night.
 Where am I? Right! Boy it's 8:45 and I'm starving.  But it has begun to drizzle.  I swing down Pennsylvania to 24th and back over to the Fairmont to fetch a brolly.

Armed with the loaner umbrella and feeling invincible, I set off down M in search of Vidalia and the promise of chicken.

Five good city blocks later and M has lost virtually all the charm it had in Georgetown from the cupcake store to the bridge just south of the hotel.  Now it's kind of office-y, and drugstore-ish, and drabb-ish, and I'm passing restaurants that are mostly closed-ish, with the only source of sustenance a brightly lit McDonalds.  If Vidalia is a bust, do I do McDonalds?  I shake off the wisp of thought, and forge ahead.

There! Across the street, Vidalia.

I scurry across the street feeling like the scofflaw jay walker that I am.  Hey! I'm a Montrealer.  We invented jay-walking. It's an art, it's efficient, not a crime, OK?

Hmmm.  The restaurant is downstairs.  There's a guy sitting on the stairs on his cell, looking a little dejected and, maybe desperate?  His back is to me.  If he was wearing scruffy clothes, I'd turn around and whistle my way over to Micky D's for chicken nuggets. But this guy's in a suit still.  He might be an investment banker, and this might be his first night on the mean streets.  I shrug, decide to chance it, and gingerly sidestep him as I head down below street level, into the unknown abyss.

Nice place once you're down here.  Now I'm worried that my casual attire or the late hour might earn me a box of McNuggets after all. I glance at my watch and look for anyone else in jeans.

No cause for concern   After a brief consult with the powers that be, the hostess offers me a very nice table where I have a view of the bar, and of a private room emitting clinking sounds and occasional polite applause that wafts out of the open frosted glass door and mingles appropriately with the jazz tracks piped in by unseen speakers.  Very nice indeed.

I've come to this slice of heaven in spite of the fact that the hoped-for fried chicken is only offered on the lower brow lunch menu.  The dinner menu is all braised bison short ribs and crispy duck breast, and foie gras au torchon, and such.  Hey, I can shift gears.

My waiter soon presents himself.  Very cool-looking dude, all in black jeans and shirt, cornrows, looks like the kind of guy you'd like to have as a cool friend, might own a bar in the islands, with a hint of Jamaica in the tone of his voice, and secretly you know he is way too cool to hang around with the likes of you.

I gingerly mention that I was hoping for real fried chicken, but I know it's not on the menu and would be pleased to indulge in some other southern fare.

My cool dude smiles a nice cool dude smile and encouragingly says he'll have a word with the chef.  The chef is way cool too, because they let the menu slide, and in the way I imagine southern comfort to be, indulge my desire.

While I wait, the amuse-bouches that now seem ubiquitous and de rigueur make their way to the starched table cloth before me.  Oh my dear Lord, I do believe I have found the ante-room to heaven and I am in it.

I now know this is going to kick ass!  A beautiful bent wood Scandinavian-looking breadbasket comes with a miniature trifecta of corn bread, traditional dinner roll, and a Vidalia onion brioche, accompanied by a ramekin duo of whipped Amish butter sprinkled with sea salt and a Vidalia onion marmalade.

Now you're thinking that in my overworked, sleep-deprived, meeting-numbed skull, I have lost all perspective and that nothing can be this good.  Dream on you silly reader.

There it now sits.
Three perfect, perfectly trimmed, perfectly seasoned, perfectly cooked, perfectly beautiful, impossibly crisp pieces of southern fried chicken, resting on what the cool-dude later described off-handedly, with I assume to be false modesty, as black pepper gravy.  He then apologized for having had to substitute Vidalia's signature Mac & Cheese for the promised mashed potatoes, saying that it was just as well, since the chef used heavy cream in equal parts with potatoes in his recipe, so the three cheese Mac & Cheese was the obvious healthy choice.

As you can see, my feast was rounded out by beautifully presented and confit-like collared greens as a vegetable antidote to the other portions of the meal.

Do you get my point that you have to now start planning a visit to DC just so you can eat at Vidalia?  Chatting with the owner, I find out that this slice of bliss has been in business for 18 years.  That's an elephant age for a restaurant.

It's already tomorrow, and I have to be up at the crack o'dawn.  So this post has to come to an end now.


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The copyright in all text and photographs, except as noted, belongs to David Masse.