Wednesday, September 28, 2005

The Biggest in Chinatown?

New Big Wong in Chinatown
New Big Wong presumably has something big on the menu, but if you're looking for the biggest cocktail in Chinatown, head right across H Street to Lei Garden for a Flaming Volcano.

Flaming Volcano at Lei Garden in Chinatown
This enormous, inebriating, and flaming cocktail will only set you back fourteen bucks. Drink it all by yourself and you might not make it home right side up -- which makes it a fun drink to share with a friend.

The Flaming Volcano is among several drinks at Lei Garden served in its own faux-Polynesian glass. The Mai Thai is served in something that resembles giant head from Easter Island. This may be intended as some kind of warning, because these cocktails are deceptively delicious and can ruin your morning after.

And while you're sobering up (or partying down), don't forget to try the entrees and dim sum, which are usually fantastic.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Anti-war Vigil on the National Mall

Crosses in the National Mall near Cindy Sheehan's Camp Casey

A small memorial to Alexander Arredondo, who died in the Iraq War

The boots of an American soldier who died in Iraq
By night, this past weekend's candlelight vigil for Iraq War casualties on the National Mall was particularly haunting.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Bangkok 54 on Columbia Pike in Arlington

Go to Chinatown for Chinese food. But go to Arlington for Thai food? Unfortunately Thaitown is distributed throughout the DC Metropolitan Area. A little traveling is required to get a sense of the Thailand's cultural and culinary beauty. Of the many Thai restaurants around -- some very good, some very bad -- most are mediocre. One of my favorites is Bangkok 54 in Arlington, off of Columbia Pike.

The decor is exotic and ornate, paying close attention to light and shadow. The bar, though elegant and inviting, is entirely too small for its potential vitality. My party had to move to a table when we reached six people, and we had the bar to ourselves!

The drinks are among the best I've had, especially since they recently introduced a line of exotic, Thai-food inspired cocktails. One tastes like Tom Yum soup, with the emphasis on lemongrass and lime leaves; while another tastes like coconut curry, with fresh coconut juice and Thai basil. Of course we can't forget the signature Mai Thai 54, complete with flaming Bacardi 151!

The cuisine is delectable; truly, I've never regretted an order. The Crispy Catfish Curry, Fiery Kaprao, and Spicy Stir-Fried Thai Watercress are incredible. Bangkok 54 is also vegetarian (and pescetarian) friendly with a healthy array of conscientious cuisine.

Moreover, the service is friendly and conversational, especially if you go back once in awhile -- they are sure to remember you!

Pedro & Vinny's: the Burrito Guy at K Street and 15th NW

Check out the line. Could it be so long if these burritos weren't totally awesome? I call this one-man shop the Burrito Guy, and he's my hookup for a delicious vegetarian burrito between 11AM and 2PM in downtown DC.

He's got hundreds of bottles of hot sauce -- perfect for those of us who want to experiment and challenge ourselves -- plus two kinds of expertly spiced beans, three to five flavors of tortillas, two kinds of cheese, brown rice, sour cream, and guacamole, too. Mix and match to have whatever you want, starting at $3.75.

Besides all that, this burrito guy, whose name is neither Pedro nor Vinny, has charisma, friendly service, and even his own website. He also has competition, including Carlos at K & 17th, who sells more snacks as well as coffee, but is outclassed by Pedro & Vinny's killer burritos.

(Props to Wayan at Metroblogging DC for bringing on the burrito guy shootout.)

Pedro & Vinny's
K Street NW at 15th, Downtown (map)

Monday, September 12, 2005

Interrogation Delivers at DC9

Want some entertainment with your music? DC's own Interrogation can deliver. Opening for New York City's Hypofixx at DC9 on Sunday, September 11, the band delivered a dark, emotional, and energetic set of original industrial music.

MCI Centertown ... I mean Chinatown

Going to Chinatown for Chinese food? That's so old fashioned.

Ever since the MCI Center opened in 1997 the area has experienced rapid growth. The beautification of Chinatown, underwritten ironically by American commercial interests, has in some way helped to revitalize the small Chinese business community. But the area's Asian spirit is conspicuously diluted by the prevalence of businesses such as Fuddruckers, Banana Republic, and Hooters.

But if one looks for it, Chinatown is home to some incredible pan-Asian culture and food. Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Vietnamese, and Indian fare are all represented on H and 6th Streets north of the MCI Center.

I recently ate at Wok & Roll, a Chinese/Japanese restaurant with a small but decorative sushi counter and a big-screen TV usually showing sports games (almost certainly to attract the MCI Center audience). The spicy tuna and smoked eel rolls were tasty, as was the General Tso's Tofu.

In spite of Chinatown's new Western image, I recommend going there for Chinese (and Pan-Asian) food ... and then maybe head to Fadó Irish Pub or D.A.'s R.F.D. afterwards for a pint.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Koshland Science Museum of the National Academy of Sciences

You may have seen their ads on Metro asking questions like Do Cows Really Cause Global Warming? If you're a wannabe science nerd like me, maybe they'll suck you into this modern and attractive museum on 5th Street in Chinatown.

Although Washingtonians, spoiled by free access to world-class Smithsonian museums, tend to frown upon museum entrance fees, the $5 admission to the Koshland Science Museum is a steal. (If you're still turning up your nose at the admission fee, print a $1 off coupon from the museum's website, or bring your student ID for $2 off.) The museum is packed with hi-tech, interactive exhibits that manage to be fun and interesting without stooping to the low intellectual standards of FOX 5 News.

The museum's topical exhibits are also highly relevant to the issues that face our world. The audio guide (which is free with admission) introduces the museum and the National Academy of Sciences, telling visitors (to paraphrase) that the Academy has no ax to grind, except possibly that policy decisions should be based on science.

We spent most of our time at the museum in the Global Warming Facts & Our Future exhibit, which was a highly scientific but accessible overview of the science and issues around global warming and the global climate. Covering both how humans impact the global climate and how global climate change impacts us, this exhibit is an excellent overview of a real problem that will shape the 21st century and human history.

You won't find long lines at the Koshland Science Museum, which only opened in April last year. The museum received remarkably few visitors -- only two groups besides us -- in the ninety minutes we spent there on a Saturday afternoon. Plus, Chinatown certainly offers better post-museum dining than the National Mall. So check it out before the tourists take over, and you're bound to learn something new.

Friday, September 09, 2005

My Missed Connection on Metro

I was not laughing at hurricane victims!

You know who you are. You saw me chucking at the Express this morning, so you glanced over my shoulder and were horrified at what I appeared to be laughing at -- a story about body bags in New Orleans. Yes, I know, there is absolutely nothing funny on this entire page. I wasn't even reading it at that moment. I was laughing at something completely different. It was a late night for me last night. Seriously.

(Posted to missed connections on Craig's List.)

Scant Signs of Post-911 Unity after Katrina

There are some signs yet that people are uniting after the recent hurricane disaster. On I-66 eastbound, approaching Washington, DC, someone has hung fresh American flags on the highway overpasses like they did after 9-11.

Whether the kind of unity we experienced in the aftermath of 9-11 was really good for this country and the world is still anyone's guess.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Protest to Help Hurricane Victims at the White House

"What a DC moment," said a co-worker when approaching the White House to see two protests converging on this sunny Thursday afternoon. Hundreds of people were at the MoveOn protest to help hurricane victims, and many were carrying signs that said "Shame" and "Help Hurricane Victims".

The other protest marched to the White House and back to urge Bush to fight genocide in Darfur, Sudan.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Dinner and Laughs for Four Under $40

It's a three-day weekend and your entertainment budget is shot by Sunday morning. Don't fret -- hope is not lost. Here's just one way to have a blast on a low budget on Wilson Boulevard in Arlington. No car is required, but we drove one, and yes, I'm including gas in the final bill.

Sunday Night Stand-up at the Comedy Spot

For those uninitiated into DC's stand-up comedy scene, Sunday night Open Mic Comedy at the Comedy Spot in Arlington is probably more fun than you think. I've heard dozens of cynical Washingtonians claim that DC has no sense of humor, but they're confusing the suits with the soul of the city. DC is hometown to tons of stand-up talent, including Dave Chapelle and Martin Lawrence (and Rip Taylor!).

Yesterday's Sunday event at the Comedy Spot was a special event, the Geek Comedy Tour 3000 Debut, a grassroots show that appears to have been marketed with flyers and word-of-internet only. Our crowd consisted of two techies, a scientist, and a gamer, so we counted ourselves in the numbers and dropped in for free at eight o'clock.

Of the nine comedians who performed for about ten minutes each, most were LOL funny and some were OMG hilarious. Some were very accessible to a non-geek audience, but others made references we didn't get. Still, most of the audience had a great time, and by the end of the lineup the Comedy Spot's auditorium was nearly packed. Although this week's show catered to a niche audience, it was among the best live stand-up comedy I've seen for free.

As a venue, the Comedy Spot has some potential downsides. There's no alcohol, which is usually essential for enjoying a night of stand-up, plus only dry snacks and soda are available from the concession stand. However, Comedy Spot has an open door policy for outside food and non-alcoholic drinks, making this an excellent place to hang out on a tiny budget.

Total cost at the Comedy Spot: $5 for chips and soda.

Great Food Anytime at Mario's Pizza House

Leaving the Comedy Spot shortly after 10PM, we considered going out for food and drinks -- but then we thought cheaper. We picked up two small veggie pizzas at Mario's Pizza House on Wilson Boulevard, which is open all night and actually delivers locally until 3AM. Mario's isn't exclusively takeout, but it only has outside dining available.

Not only is Mario's remarkably convenient, it has crispy, fresh, and delicious pizza, which puts greasy New York style jumbo slices to shame. The sub sandwiches also look big and tasty (but I love the pizza so much I haven't tried anything else). This place gets really hopping after midnight, but at this hour we were in and out with two pizzas in ten minutes flat.

Total cost at Mario's Pizza House: $20 for two small veggie pizzas, which was enough to feed four hungry souls and have leftovers, too.

Four out of Four Drinkers Agree - Cheap Alcohol Can Be Cheaper

Needing to get some pizza in our bellies, we pulled off at a convenience store to buy some alcohol fast. Since we were out on the mega-cheap, we eyed the Miller High Life, which is way cheap in 40's (40oz bottles). We each got a 40 of High Life for under $2 a bottle. Just in case, we also grabbed two big cans from the cooler -- one Fosters, one Heineken.

For the record -- a few of us drank our 40s from glasses, but to really experience a cheap night with 40s, drinking straight from the bottle is the way to go. Leaving the bottle in a paper bag while you drink from it is optional but encouraged.

Total cost for alcohol: $13 or so for 209.4 intoxicating ounces.

How DC Stays Home - Board Games, DVDs, and Streaming Audio

Until recently I wondered, why do people keep inviting me over to play board games? Although I have more than one "game night" penciled into my calendar, whipping out my box of Clue, the Simpsons Edition, isn't part of my usual entertaining repertoire.

But why not? After we'd all finished our 40s of High Life we didn't give a damn about Marge in the nuclear power plant with the poisoned donut. But we were playing Clue and having a blast, watching cartoons on DVD silently and listening to free streaming dance music from Shoutcast. (Wow, we even multitask when we party.)

Total cost for staying home: Just a little "social capital" with the neighbors for partying late into the night.

And finally ...

Total cost of well-rounded, cheap fun: $40 for four people drinking 40s until 4AM.

No Gas in Arlington?

Two off-brand gas stations near the intersection of Washington Boulevard and Pershing Drive are simply out of gas today. The development had me pretty concerned, but I knew gasoline must be available somewhere, because people weren't rioting and looting in the streets or anything. I was able to fill my tank for $3.62/gallon at an ExxonMobil in Ballston. The gas stations off Columbia Pike are charging $3.51/gallon today.

The Grill from Ipanema on Columbia Road

Right outside the social pandemonium of Adams Morgan you can find The Grill from Ipanema, a creatively named Brazilian restaurant and bar. There I tried my first bottle of Nova Schin beer, which is brewed in Brazil, and a Caipirissima, a cocktail that tastes a lot like a mojito without the mint. The beer was tasty and the Caipirissma was tastier, especially in the restaurant's friendly, attractive, and comfortable atmosphere.

In culinary-speak, Brazilian is a code word for lots of meat, and with my semi-vegetarian diet I never thought a Brazilian restaurant offered much for me. I still haven't eaten at The Grill from Ipanema, but the menu promises a delicious seafood dinner and I'll be back to enjoy it.

Sunday, September 04, 2005


For those of you who don't like big dogs, here's a giant dog with charisma at PETCO in Baily's Crossroads.

For the Fan Who Has Everything

Who lives in a pineapple under the sea? Spongebob Squarepants! And your fish can, too, with this aquarium decoration spotted at PETCO in Baily's Crossroads.

Hello Kitty or Bust

Make that two cool car sightings. This pink Civic with a giant shopping cart handle -- er, spoiler -- was spotted with Hello Kitty in the windshield at Baily's Crossroads.

On the trail of Matthew Lesko

Who owns this car? Unless it's some total wannabe or the Riddler (Batman's nemesis), it's a safe bet that it belongs to local celebrity Matthew Lesko, who wears a crazy question-mark suit and advertises that he never pays for anything thanks to government grants. This spotting was outside the Washington Hilton at T Street and Columbia Road, where Reagan was shot back in 1981.

Being locals, this was not our first Lesko sighting. We saw him at a Mamma Lucia in Rockville two years ago. (Mamma Lucia is a great pizza restaurant, by the way.) And yes, Lesko was clad in question marks, as always.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Actually not a stairway to heaven

The Mt Vernon Sq 7th St-Convention Center Metro station has the coolest light-up escalator ever.
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