ONE SUNNY SATURDAY morning in March we awoke to birds chirping. The snows were melting, the taxes were filed, elder care was arranged and the college kid was fine. On our agenda was a day date. My husband and I refolded the newspaper and set off on a D.C. adventure.
Stop one: sustenance. We parked on Connecticut Avenue and sauntered into the new Little Red Fox shop (5035 Connecticut Avenue NW, Washington, D.C. ; 202-248-6346) Located on Connecticut Avenue near the corner of Nebraska, it serves an assortment of delightful pastries and made-to-order breakfast sandwiches. After garnering a high stool seat and a corner of the communal table, we sipped our coffee and munched on treats.
From here we plotted our course. We wanted to see some art, but we also wanted to spend some time outside because we were sorely missing the sun. We wanted to see a neighborhood of the city we haven’t explored much before. And, most importantly, we wanted to have dinner at a place where we could hear each other across the table, a tall order for a Saturday night without reservations.
We headed toward American University along Nebraska Avenue to American University’s Katzen Arts Center. The most recent exhibition and the inspiration for our visit was a survey of Washington, D.C., artists from the 1940s to the 1980s. From the densely hung show, one senses the number of talented people creating in Washington over the past 40 years. There is a wide array of styles and materials, but the exhibit hangs together as an explosion of intensity and creativity. The Katzen Center building itself is reason enough to visit, with its soaring ceilings, curved walls, elevated bridges and lovely filtered light. Three floors each house separate exhibits.
We decided our next stop should be outside to take advantage of the sun and surprising warmth.
The terminal point of the peninsula known as East Potomac Park is Hains Point. It lies bounded by the Potomac River to the west and the Washington Channel to the east. At Hains Point you can see the confluence of the Anacostia River, the Potomac River and the Channel. The 300-acre park is the home of a public golf course, a miniature golf course, tennis courts and swimming pool. We took a walk along the Potomac River, little disturbed by cyclists and runners. The walkways along the river are uneven and downright broken in some areas. Because Hains Point lies at water level, the walkways regularly flood. Part of the challenge of our walk was avoiding the flooded bits and the broken sidewalks. But along the three-mile path, the views are lovely and the river current ever interesting. We walked, talked and enjoyed the sunshine. We communed with the plentiful geese and ducks. There are many places to stop along the way for a little quiet reflection; we chose a picnic table close to the point. There were joggers and inline skaters behind us on the road, but between our perch at the picnic table and the river there was only the walkway and the breeze and the constant lapping of the gentle waves against the seawall.
We continued our walk around the point and began the return trip. The views on the eastern side are of the National War College, the charming Fort McNair housing, the soaring roof of Arena Stage and the Marina. We returned to our car skirting the miniature golf course, which is on the National Register for Historic Places and listed as the oldest continuing operating miniature golf course in the country. Although it was closed that day, we promised ourselves we’d return after Memorial Day.
By now we were beginning to feel a little hungry but it is was our goal to save our appetites for an early dinner. We decided to visit Union Market in the NoMa/Galludet neighborhood to stock up on supplies for dinner tomorrow. Union Terminal Market was built in the 1960s as an enclosed farmer’s market, a response to city laws that prevented the open-air selling of foods. Between 1967 and 2010 the building and area had fallen on hard times. The area had been a wholesale warehousing region until the Eden Group envisioned the market as the centerpiece of a residential revitalization plan. We explored the neighborhood marveling at how quickly new apartment buildings were being erected and older structures torn down. On our Saturday visit, the parking lot was filled to capacity. Outside seating was filled with people basking in the sunshine. Children were playing in the green spaces and there was a general sense of fun.
Union Market has emerged as a glorious remake of the earlier stall concept of markets. Today, it’s a combination social center, artisanal foodie heaven and dining destination. When we visit, we have a ritual plan of attack — we go down one aisle, up the middle aisle and finish off down the last aisle. We never miss a single stall. Each time we go there are new purveyors and many new patrons. On weekends there is often live music.
We surveyed the cheeses at Righteous Cheese, the herbs and grains at Bazaar Spices, the wines at Cordial, the meats at Red Apron and Harvey’s, olive oil at All Things Olive, and bread at Lyon Bakery. The new fish purveyor, The District Fish Wife delighted us with the freshness of the delicacies displayed. We shopped at Salt and Sundry for interesting bar mixes and salts. We were tempted by every food stall; cupcakes, artisanal ice cream, soups, Takorea (Korean tacos), Toki Underground ramen, breads, empanadas, pastries, coffees and teas. With our shopping bag groaning we agreed that after we had stowed our goodies in the car we would treat ourselves to a tasty appetizer. It was difficult to decide between a chocolate egg cream at Buffalo & Bergen and oysters at Rappahanock Oyster Co. We chose the oysters for today and took a seat in front of a young man rapidly shucking oysters. We chose from the menu of locally sourced oysters and order a beer. The oysters came cleanly shucked, salty, pungent, and icy.
By now it was 5:30 and our oyster appetizer had prepared us for our dining adventure. We had read about Red Hen and had been curious about trying the food. It is challenging to get reservations there but we knew if we arrived early we would most likely get a table. So at 5:45 we sheepishly arrived at the restaurant to find that although there were tables available we were by no means the first to be seated. The open kitchen is the entertainment for a good third of the diners. The ceilings are high with rustic beams and little to no sound-proofing. Part of our early arrival scheme was to avoid a noisy dining venue. In general, the large rooms designed to promote the excitement of a gathering place prove challenging to conversation for those of us who happen not to hear very well anymore. Our server was charming, well-informed and patient. We ordered and then sat back. The food was delicious, Tuscan inspired, beautifully presented and ample. We loved how it reminded us of our visits to Italy. We had a meaningful conversation and all was well in our world. Quite some time later we looked up from our haven and noticed the restaurant was completely packed. Hungry customers eyed our little corner table enviously, and we were snapped back to the here and now. The noise level had risen and it was time for us to return to our Northwest corner of the city.
Day Date was over, but we know there will be others, and soon.
— J. A. Rose