October 10, 2010

Hijinks in My City

Between being on the road and moving Don't Kill the Birthday Girl through the first round of edits, I've been a little frantic disheveled busy. But when I learned an old friend's job was about to be sent him to the West Coast for four months, we decided a night out was in order. Off to the H Street neighborhood, an emerging section of Northeast DC.

The first time I ventured over there was a few years back, to hear Alexi Murdoch at the Rock & Roll Hotel. The strip was rough--my friend, working sound at the club that night, insisted on walking me just the three blocks back to my car. H Street has come a long way since then but there is still a lot of raw construction and empty store fronts. But there's also Sticky Rice, which serves sashimi and tater tots with equal flair--and hosts speed bingo Thursdays. Sidamo pours organic, fair-trade, shade-grown coffee. The chef at Granville Moore was featured in a Throwdown with Bobby Flay over his moules-frites...and our guy won. 

This fall, two of the early H Street mainstays--The Red & the Black, a New Orleans-style bar, and the burlesque-friendly and oddity-filled Palace of Wonders--are combining forces to reopen as "The Red Palace." There will be music and vaudeville; I hope they bring the novelty acts back. Nothing like a martini to be swallowed with a side of...swords. Or fire. 

Anyway, last night we went to Ethiopic. DC is renowned for its Ethiopian food, mostly available in a 9th & U Street NW DC neighborhood at the edge of Shaw sometimes referred to as "Little Ethiopia." Ethiopic isn't putting on any great pretensions--they left a bullet hole in the front door handle, evidence of the neighborhood's not-too-distant past--but they've distinguished themselves at the outset by furnishing their space with spare, modern wood furniture (though traditional messob woven-basket tables are available) and offering a menu that offers spicier variations on the traditional dishes.

I appreciated that their vegetarian dishes are all prepared vegan--butter is fairly prevalent in the cuisine, which usually keeps me away from the meat dishes. I got the sampler that included herbed collard greens, red lentils in red pepper sauce, tomatoes diced with garlic and jalapeno, potatoes simmered in curry, and (my favorite) yellow split peas. It's a slightly simplified variation on the dish shown here--image credit to James M. Thresher for The Washington Post, in conjunction with Tom Sietsema's June 2010 review

My friends had never eaten Ethiopian before, so I showed them the basics: ladling out an array of meat and veggies on the big round of bread that doubles as your plate; tearing off bits of the moist, chewy, slightly sour injera and combining pinches of different dishes; by the end nibbling on the "plate" itself, which will have sopped up any juices. So sloppy. So good. And African beer is never a bad idea, either. 

Afterwards we headed down nine blocks to H Street Country Club, whose astro-turfed portico hints at its prize jewel: an upstairs nine-hole mini golf course. Thought the putting greens are short, there's enough variety in the design to keep you interested, and the course's artsy sculptures all have a DC theme (K Street robot-lawyers; the undead Presidents; King Kong scaling the Washington monument). Fritz Hahn did a great play-by-play for The Washington Post and took this shot of a hole that combines two great icons--the majestic sculpture of "The Awakening" that used to live in Hains Point and now resides out by the National Harbor, and, um, politician Marion Barry. 

I was worried that on a Saturday night the crowd would be drunken and fratty, with long lines for each round of play, but not at all. We never had to wait for our turn, people were super-polite, and the house specializes in rather tasty high-end tequila cocktails. Afterwards, we played a few rounds of Skeeball downstairs--which at 50 cents a pop has to be the cheapest fun to be had in this city. 

Moral of the story*: get yourself to H Street! Those independent business owners need your patronage a lot more than Adams Morgan. There's even free shuttles that run from the Chinatown/Gallery Place metro station, so you can get there from the Yellow, Red, or Green lines. 

*Moral of the story (part two): I am a skeeball queen. 

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