Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Destination Birthday

My new favorite way to celebrate a birthday - the destination birthday.

This year the plan was to get Michael out of NYC, I totally surprised him and we spent the weekend in Washington DC. (I got lucky with the timing of the July 4th holiday this year - the past two years we have been stuck in the city because of my work schedule.)

With all of my planning skills focused on the reunion I actually didn't have a clue of what to do for Michael for his birthday. I got inspired and lucky at the same time. I decided to check out the Atlanta Braves schedule to see if we could go see them play. (In case you didn't know, the Braves are his favorite baseball team.) Turns out they were playing the Washington Nationals in DC - great! Not only is it an easy trip from NYC but I was really excited to celebrate the 4th of July in Washington DC.

I found a great deal on the hotel (thanks Travel Zoo) and airfare and both were along the Metro line, making it easy to get around town to see the sights. Michael's family was in on it too - I know we were all excited to give him such a fun surprise as a birthday gift.

I played it pretty cool with him - just letting him know I made plans for Saturday night that "might spill in to Sunday" and then I told him I found somewhere great for lunch too. I kind of wanted him to think we were headed to the beach for the day.

I secretly packed a bag for both of us. It was kind of hard to pack for someone else. I had to mind out the different outfits we would both want and then figure out how to minimize everything so I just had a carry-on tote. I didn't want to check a bag for one night and I knew if I just brought a tote when we left the apartment Saturday morning he wouldn't suspect anything other than a day trip.

The bummer was we had to leave the apartment by 8:30 Saturday morning - this got us in to DC by 11:15am and plenty of time to get to the hotel to leave our bag and then head to the baseball field for a 1pm start. Neither one of us really like to get up early, especially on a weekend. He was a good sport and sucked it up, we were actually out of the apartment 15 minutes ahead of schedule. We stopped at the corner bagel shop to pick up breakfast. While we were waiting for our bagels I almost asked him if he wanted something to drink - but I had to stop myself, as we had to wait until after we were through airport security for drinks. He caught me and guessed that I had drinks packed in my bag (not this trip, but a good guess).

The very best part was getting in the cab and telling the driver to go to La Guardia. At that point Michael was really surprised, he thought we were headed to Penn Station to take the Long Island Rail Road to the beach - hearing we were going to the airport was not what he expected at all. He didn't want to know where we were going, but he asked a few key questions and was able to figure out we were going to DC to see the Braves play.

From there is was an easy trip. The plane was relatively empty and we had an entire row to ourselves. We landed at Washington National and caught the Metro to our hotel. We stayed at the Omni Shoreham, off the National Zoo Metro stop (the station with the longest escalator ever - just look at this shot on the escalator).
The Omni is a beautiful hotel, I would definitely stay there again (the pool wasn't quite as nice as pictured on the web site - but it was acceptable).

And there was a great diner/coffeehouse/bar right across the street from the hotel (Open City in the Woodley Park area of DC) - we ate there twice. It had a cool vibe, tons of seating, and an eclectic menu that had some healthy options along with the standard burger and fries.

Our seats for the game were great - for whatever reason I thought they were going to be in an upper deck, but they were field level.
Here is a picture of Michael calling his parents from the game. I know they couldn't wait to hear from him once he found out about the trip and game. (Yes, I made sure to pack Michael's Braves shirt and baseball cap - I didn't bring the foam Tomahawk.)
About the 6th inning an usher started talking to Michael, he decided to upgrade our seats after hearing the story about the surprise birthday trip. (He's in the red cap and yellow shirt in the photo below.)
We ended up in amazing seats - 5 rows back from the visiting team dugout. For the rest of the game the players were life size!
I liked being so close to the catcher you could hear the ball hit his glove after a pitch. Unfortunately the Braves didn't cooperate and they lost the game. Bummer! Didn't they know, that wasn't part of the plan.
We were also supposed to eat at the ballpark, but we were so caught up in the game we didn't leave our seats (especially once we were moved down to the 5th row). We did see Adam Dunn (player for the Nationals) hit is 300th career home run, that was pretty exciting. Unfortunately it was this home run that pretty much lost the game for the Braves.

We headed back to the hotel after the game for some pool time. On the way we stopped and had a very late lunch at Open City. I had a sandwich with turkey breast, cucumber, and cranberry mayo served on ciabiatta bread with house made thick cut potato chips served as the side. A nice combo for the sandwich, it was really good. (Michael had a burger and fries - I didn't try the burger but he liked it and the fries were tasty - definitely home made and fresh.) From there we hit the pool - it looks lush and big and beautiful on the web site. Well the web site used some creative liberty in the photo, it was a nice pool but on the 4th of July it was filled with kids. We had some cocktails by the pool (OK, Michael had a beer and I sampled the 'Orange Dream', 'Absolut Mango', and 'Cola Float'. The cola float was my favorite of the 3 - vodka, Kahlua, and cream served in a big glass over ice and topped off with cola.)
We were able to watch 5 different fire work shows from our hotel room - it was great, no fighting the crowds!

In doing some research to find a place 'off the beaten path' to watch the fireworks I came across a seafood restaurant in Georgetown. It was recommended on the Chow Hound blog - and those people don't mess around. If it is recommended on Chow Hound chances are it is pretty darn good. The best part was I was able to get a reservation after the fireworks.

We ended up having a show during dinner as well - not fireworks but the crowds of people in Georgetown. The restaurant had a big open window and we were seated just a table away from the window - the parade of people walking by provided great entertainment.

The restaurant is called 'Hook' and features local, very fresh seafood.

We started the meal by sharing 1/2 dozen Virginia oysters. They were so fresh and delicious. I'm used to oysters being a little briny - these oysters were very light and just had a good clean taste to them. They were an excellent start to the meal.

Second course - I had the shrimp and corn salad (two of my very favorite ingredients in one salad!). The presentation on my salad was very cool, the shrimp were shelled but then placed back in the shells for plating. So it had the fancy look of the whole shrimp but I didn't have to do the work to get the shrimp out of the shell. The seasoning on the shrimp was something I haven't tasted before, definitely something mixed with fennel. It was savory and sweet at the same time. I didn't love it, but I didn't hate it - it was a new taste combination for me and I found it very interesting. Michael had the grilled calamari. It was very cooked to perfection, the calamari was so tender and that is hard to do, calamari can turn to rubber in an instant.

Third course - I had the crab cakes which were served with some marinated cucumbers on the side. The presentation was fabulous. It was a square plate and the crab cakes were stacked in the middle with some sauce along the sides and the cucumbers were sliced in half moons and few were in each corner of the plate. The crab cake was 3 layers, two that were pretty much just crab and some kind of starch layer in the middle. The starch didn't do much for me so I just focused on the eating the delicious crab (nice big chunks, very little breading or fillers, and definitely not crab with a 'k'). Michael had the salmon - the color was amazing. He'll have to remind me of how it was served, apparently I was too focused on my own plate to remember.

I didn't plan any activities for Sunday (Michael's actual birthday) so he could decide between seeing another baseball game, lounging by the pool, or sight seeing. He wanted to tour the city. We started the day by walking around the White House. We didn't see anything more interesting than some protesters yelling a chant that was very difficult to understand.
From the White House we walked by the Washington Monument to the World War II Memorial. I had not seen the WWII Memorial before (I haven't been to DC since 1994 - but Michael was there in 2004 and not surprisingly he knew the subway system and which way to head for any place we needed to go.) The WWII Memorial is really well done and quite beautiful. It makes me sad that most of the people it is honoring will never get to see it - but it is a good reminder of their sacrifice for the rest of us.
Next we walked along the Potomac to the Jefferson Memorial. (It was kind of funny, the trail along the Potomac had trees with very low hanging branches - even I had to duck a few times. Any way, Michael was being funny and pretended like he got hit in the head with a branch - he grabbed the branch with his hand and ended up getting sap all over his hand, we were still walking as he was looking at his hand and trying to get the sap off, he wasn't looking where he was going and he almost ran in to a tree branch for real - the trees were going to teach him a lesson for messing with them!)

After the Jefferson Memorial we walked up 14th Ave (we stayed clear of those trees along the Potomac) and spent a couple of quick hours at the American History Museum. I was a little disappointed by the First Ladies exhibit. They have enriched the experience to show more than just the ballgowns - it now shows the contributions made by the First Ladies. That is all well and good, but I just want to see the dresses and shoes and bags. There was a fabulous dress worn by Mrs. Taft on display - it was a lovely cut and the fabric was heavily embroidered and tastefully accented with rhinestones.
The American History Museum is now home to Julia Childs' kitchen! Her entire kitchen (except for one wall of pots and pans that were donated to a culinary institution). She was so tall the cabinetry was built 2" higher than standard cabinets (my custom kitchen would have to be just the opposite, 2" shorter than standard). She was a fan of cats, her fridge had cat magnets, she had a painting with 3 cats kind of poking out in front of asparagus stalks (it doesn't look as strange as my description), and a classic Kliban cat drawing. Her kitchen was well designed, with metal counter tops next to the stove so you could set a hot pan down and not burn the counter, stainless steel counter tops next to the sink, and butcher block every where else. She did have many more pots, pans, and gadgets than I expected - but they were all on display and within easy reach. The cookware was hung on peg boards on the walls and if you looked closely there were Polaroid photos along the walls so you knew how to put away each piece in the correct spot.

From there we headed back to the hotel to pick up our bag and then to the airport. We had a bite to eat at Open City. I enjoyed the vege hero - a roll loaded with hummus, eggplant, onions, and zucchini. Michael had the fresh mozzarella, tomato, and basil sandwich. The cheese looked so fresh and delicious and the tomatoes nice and red. I didn't try a bite but since he ate it all I'm pretty sure it was tasty.
Our flight home was easy and uneventful. It was a quick trip, but really fun and we can't wait to go back to DC.