Ups and downs, ins and outs, rounds and rounds…with a laugh

Fine Dining: Not Just About the Food

November 17, 2014, marks one week after my four-year anniversary with my fiancé, and the day we finally got around to celebrating with a lovely dinner at Charlie Palmer Steak DC. Located near Capitol Hill the typical clientele consists of politicos and mucky-mucks who venture in for heavy mid-week business dinners or popular, yet pricey, after-work libations and small plates. For “normal folk” like Edward and me this is a special occasion establishment. In fact we celebrated our third anniversary here last year, at the same table. I was so dazzled at the fabulous and amazing food last year that I could not wait to come back someday.

My favorite touches throughout the meal are the amuse bouche and the selection of house-made truffles and petit fours that come with the check. We certainly did not need small snacks between courses but the inspired and delicious (and free) treats are most welcome. On this particular visit the amuse bouche was so damn amazing I wish they would add it to the regular menu by the bowl, or perhaps, bucket. We each received a tiny, hand-held vessel of warm, layered emulsions that consisted of a sweet potato and vanilla soup, topped with bourbon crème. Hidden inside the soup was a small bite of duck sausage. What a marvelous and savory-yet-sinful experience!

Our appetizers, entrées, and family-style side dish were simply delectable as well. It’s on these rare several outings per year that I find myself saying, without fail, “I love fine dining. We should have this kind of service every day. Why can’t we do this every day?” All our wonderful date nights have turned me into a fast-developing snob. It’s his fault.

Aside from celebrating our endless love and general awesomeness my goal for the evening was to review the restroom. I have not been to any new or exciting restaurants lately so my blog posts have been seldom. Shame on me. I wandered to the facility, camera phone in hand, to scope things out and snap some photos.

The restrooms at Charlie Palmer are mildly disconcerting, though very unique. Men and women must walk down a hallway off the main dining room, past a couple closed doors and offices. The men’s room sign is on the left and the women’s, straight ahead. As I approached the ladies’ room I was looking for the door to enter. However, there is no “real” entrance. Around a bend in the hallway and modestly concealed are the stall doors. They are right on the wall that was the hallway, just a few feet ago. There is no violation of gender privacy, though, as the first stall door is out of sight of the passing patrons. Full-length frosted glass doors block the loo from view.

Within each stall are the bare necessities. There is nothing flashy or fascinating, just tranquil-hued mosaic tiles along the lower third of the wall. Pale tans and greens compliment the frosted glass in the surroundings, while cream-colored paint covers the rest of the walls.

As I went to wash my hands I approached the sink, which is a free-standing island of sorts. It is a large, beige, stone sarcophagus-looking block with a long basin on top. Left of the bowl was a large slot to deposit refuse. To the right of the sink is another green, frosted glass wall that ends about a foot shy of the ceiling. Behind the sink is a mirrored wall, which stands about a foot beyond the edge of the basin. Several bright bulbs that look like stars glow and create reflections of themselves on the mirrors. There are two faucets at the sink, and the bowl slants down and to the right. Here, I noticed a gap in the frosted glass wall. It was then that I realized that the sink spanned across underneath the wall into the men’s room. We were all sharing a hand-washing trough that funneled water downhill to the drain, which was directly under the glass. In fact, I could hear the men over the wall conversing while washing. This threw me off a little, but technically still does not violate decency.

Opposite the sink there is a long counter and another mirrored wall, for primping and whatnot. This mirror also had several sporadically placed “star” lights. With the two mirrors facing each other the room was aglow with warm reflections from these sconces. As I was skulking around to photograph the surroundings I saw a man’s shirt through the glass wall. There was a part of the wall in the shape of a keyhole, about a foot tall, where the glass was not frosted. You could look right through it into the men’s room.

Now, though you can see through this glass, it is placed at about hip-height (for a tall person) so you would need to put definite effort into Peeping Tom behavior. I was tempted to get a glimpse of the other side but I did not want to be the one to come either face-to-face with another person like me or end up seeing someone using a urinal and completely be a disgusting creep. It took a lot of restraint. It was like when your teachers or parents tell you NOT to look directly at a solar eclipse. I just wanted to see what it looked like!

My reconnaissance mission completed, I returned to our table. As we prepared to leave the restaurant I asked Edward to accompany me on another fly-by. I had told him about this mysterious keyhole window and of how I was curious as to its vantage-point of the room. Fortunately for me that after four years in this relationship he has grown to find my inquisitive and curious nature adorable and amusing.

We went into our respective facilities to make a final pit-stop before traveling home. As I was washing my hands I saw his face peer through the keyhole. He confirmed for me that no one else was in there so I could take a peek. If I had stolen a look earlier the view would not have been in the line of sight of any toilets or urinals. I was relieved, as I could not count on the contractor or designer to avoid screwing that up. For evidence’s sake, I made Edward pose for a picture with his face in the window.

A fine-dining restaurant such as Charlie Palmer really must deliver in all departments, and they lived up to that standard. If I could make any suggestion (or fantasy) it would be to expand the glowing restroom into a lounge, with some chaises and banquettes like at Nordstrom. Or, perhaps, rent the space out to people like me so I can throw a 70’s dance party in there, amidst those starry lights.

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Special On the Road Edition!!

While the goal of my blog is to inform and educate my readers of the greatest (or maybe not so great) eatery bathroom experiences in the DC area, I think we should all be open-minded to wide world of restrooms beyond our reach. You never know when you could find yourself in a new city, desperately seeking guidance on where to shop, where to eat, and where to relieve yourself.

This special “On the Road” entry brings us to Scottsdale, AZ. I embarked on a long-awaited journey to visit an old friend (we’ll call her Sally), several months in the making. Despite current pitfalls and injury I was not about to throw away my plane ticket without a refund, so I sacrificed comfort and logic to fly 2500 miles away. When I arrived, the healing powers of palm trees and saguaros (and cocktails and swimming pools) recuperated my mind and awakened my inspiration. Physically I was still a hobbled mess, so I had little to do but eat and lounge.

It was Restaurant Week in Scottsdale and Sally was eager to try this trendy gastro-pub (still not quite sure what this culinary term means, but it seems to involve lots of hipsters), on her quest to sample every soft pretzel in America. Culinary Dropout seems to pride itself on hiring a staff of the pierced and tattooed who create tasty, slightly outside-the-box pub fare and crafty cocktails. As is typical, they were fully booked and we could not make a reservation but four of us took a major gamble and walked on in. We were told the wait would be about an hour, so I saddled up to the bar and unpacked for the long haul. Not even a half hour later we were paged and escorted to an outdoor table under very subtle cooling mist-sprayers.

Deciding on meals was no easy feat when presented with entrees, salads, appetizers, and small plates, all of which were worthy of being combined into a smorgasbord of bar food. The soft pretzel balls were, indeed, a very strong competitor in the epic pretzel battle. They arrived hot, soft, and with a little individual fondue pot of provolone dipping cheese. I opted for the steak frites, with gorgonzola cream and shoestring fries. I was definitely pleased with the flavors, though some bites were undercooked for my taste. Not a deal breaker for me.

Sally excused herself to the ladies’ room and upon returning informed me that I needed to go research this facility for my blog. Always looking for the next “big thing”, I hurried off with my iPhone in my hand. I first visited the stall, as it was needed at the time. The doors and walls were constructed of dark, raw wood, creating a rustic and earthy feel. The floor tile was small and hexagonal, and I realized that I felt like I was in a dank, janitorial wasteland. Only when I emerged did I realize that this was intentional.

The flooring was very institutional-looking, like you would find in a jail (I assume). As I continued to take in my surroundings the sense of style became clearer to me. This restroom mixed tattered and industrial but in a tidy way. My initial impression of “dank” was more attributed to the dim but warm lighting and absence of color. The outsides of the stall doors had the same raw wood as within, but it framed chalkboard black door panels. I don’t think this was actual chalkboard paint, but the shade was very similar.

My attention was quickly grabbed by the sink (as I went to wash my hands) which was a long farm sink on the wall. Mounted in the sink were three very commercial-looking faucets, reminiscent of school facilities. My eyes traveled upward, their focus having been grabbed by two pump mason jars full of blue soap. The jars rested on a rusted metal shelf, which I’m sure was intentionally styled to look “shabby” but I adored nonetheless. In fact, the rust shade against the teal soap was a great play on color. Flanking the soap were two circular mirrors, rimmed in similar rusted metal. They were hung on the wall by leather straps that reminded me of my father’s old belt. When standing back to take in the picture I was pleased with the symmetry because I am systematic, type-A, and do not like things out of order.

Several pendant lights hung from the ceiling like nearly-naked light bulbs, ensconced in thin wire cages which were also incredibly prison-like. While trying to get a good angle for a photo I noticed the wall coverings. What I at first thought was a neutral, warm color was in fact subtly patterned wallpaper. The tone-on-tone jacquard design changed the feeling of the space and sucker-punched the “chic” into “shabby-chic”. This element which was so easy to overlook made me all of a sudden feel like I was in an old speakeasy, which is no doubt where you would have found me if I were alive in the 1920s.

From the moment I saddled up to the bar to the time we left, my attachment to Culinary Dropout strengthened. If I lived in the Southwest I would definitely return here for all the dishes I did not try, in the name of research of course.

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All You Can Meat – Chima Brazilian Steakhouse

The other evening my fiancé and I had the spontaneous pleasure of visiting Chima Brazilian Steakhouse, in Tyson’s Corner, VA. We had dined here once in the past (my birthday, 2013) and had a delicious, if totally gluttonous, experience. Since we are on the mailing list we received a notice that Chima would be hosting a Caipirinha tasting this past Wednesday. If you have never tried this potent Brazilian cocktail I highly suggest you do. It consists of cachaça (liquor derived from sugar cane), fresh muddled limes, and sugar. There is a reason this is the national cocktail of Brazil.

This informal tasting event provided each of us with three caipirinhas (full-sized drinks, not sample sizes) and some light appetizers. I bypassed the traditional lime cocktail to first try the strawberry caipirinha. This was so delicious and refreshing, all the way down to the last drop of cachaça and final hunk of boozy berry. The caipirinha is a cocktail that is dangerously smooth to drink. For my second drink I opted for the kiwifruit version. I cannot recommend this to anyone. As good as it sounds the mild flavor of the kiwi did not do enough to mask the potent liquor taste. This was a drink best drunk quickly, as I was raised to never complain about a drink being too strong. My final selection (given the choices of lime, strawberry, passion fruit, and kiwifruit) was passion fruit. Ding, ding, ding! This marvelous, tropical concoction had the sweetness of breakfast juice, the freshness of a ripe peach on a summer day, and the deadly chug-ability that knocks you on your ass before you realize it.

Rounding out our zesty libation experience was a trip to Chima’s restroom. I opted to visit the little gaucha’s* room before venturing on to bigger and better appetizers to absorb all the cachaça. Though this WC did not offer any earth-shattering features or state-of-the-art toilet technology it was nearly a spa-like retreat from the meat-laden dining room, which was busting at the seams with businessmen busting at their own seams.

My initial observation was that of the “red light, green light” externally marked stall doors. I truly appreciate this feature because it helps us to avoid the ever-awkward stooping or crouching to peek for feet under the doors in our hopes to find an empty stall. Each of the stall doors was practically a full-sized door, so my genetically-superior height would not lead to inadvertent Peeping Thomasina moments that no one enjoys. Once a patron was inside and slid the latch, the lock window would rotate from the green “vacant” to the red “occupied” much like a Porta-Potty. No confusion, no questions asked. Bing, bang, boom.

Inside the stall was a streamlined, sterile little office for my personal enjoyment. There were no frills, no fuss, but ample space with a centrally-situated throne (you would not believe how many bathroom stalls have a toilet that is closer to one wall than the other and this drives me bonkers). The surroundings blended sleek gray tile with ivory walls in a clean, minimalist environment. And it was tidy.

Once I popped over to the hand-washing station I was able to take in more of my surroundings. A long vanity counter held two raised, square sink basins that continued with the modern lines of the space. High goose-necked faucets allowed for thorough hand washing and rinsing, without forcing immediate re-contamination due to skin contact with low, tiny spouts and nasty basins. Neat stacks of heavy-duty disposable hand towels were stamped with the Chima logo, which is a nice touch (for ladies like me who prefer to emblazon the world with my moniker). Dark wood paneling provided a contrasting backdrop to the mirrors and ivory walls, while two or three small green plants offered pops of color that gave an organic air to the room.

Had it been socially acceptable, and had the space contained a chaise or settee, I could have rested here for a spell and regained my faculties. Alas, I would have to exit to the lobby to recline in the massive carved wood lounger that looks as if it fell off a tree, got polished, and had legs attached.

Chima is a bit tricky to find, residing in an office park near Tyson’s Corner. If you seek it out and find it, and its restroom, worth the visit. They also offer complimentary valet parking with a gung-ho team of attendants.

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* I could not find a feminine form of the word “gaucho” in my research, so it seems South America has cowboys but no cowgirls.  Where have all the cowgirls gone?

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Epic Bathroom

The aforementioned moment of inspiration came while having drinks at Epic Smokehouse in Pentagon City.  Epic is not your back-country, gingham-tablecloth-and-rolls-of-paper-towels-on-the-tables sort of barbecue establishment.  Which scares me a little.  At those other places you are pretty much guaranteed to have some finger-lickin’, awesome ‘cue.  Having eaten at Epic twice I will say I enjoyed it and they are a fair competitor in the barbecue game, if upscale and à la carte barbecue is a thing you seek. I digress.

The bar at Epic is at one end of the elongated space, with a foyer and hostess stand serving as a divider between the bar side and the restaurant side. You definitely have the feel of being in a bar more so than being in a restaurant bar. It was a popular happy hour destination, as seats quickly filled up once local workers were set free.

Let me cut to the chase. After a couple of happy hour drinks it came time to find the bathroom, which was not obviously located. When the bar is full of patrons it is difficult to see the giant graphic of a hand on a clear glass wall, pointing toward a door (upon revisiting Epic when there were no other clients this is painfully obvious and I felt very, very dumb). The bartender pointed me in the direction and this door led to a vestibule, as if you were entering another building. There were two bathrooms (duh) and I was tickled by the door marked “EPIC Women,” with a hot pink outline of a hen underneath. The men’s room has no such artwork, but something tells me this does not provoke complaints. Upon trying to open the ladies’ room door it was locked. I was kindly informed that the person inside would be out…eventually. I was a little surprised to find single-entity bathrooms in a restaurant that can hold around 75-100 people.

Once I heard the flush, followed by the faucet and hand dryer I felt relief. I had to GO. Then I hear another flush, another faucet, another hand dryer. What the hell?? Is there a party in there? Were we not done, or unsure? In true Kathleen fashion (picture The Simpsons, Angry Dad) I start to huff. And puff. How can this place have only one toilet for women? We ALL know that women (except yours truly) take FOREVER in the bathroom and this is simply unacceptable and I should just go ahead and use the men’s room because, of course, NO ONE is waiting for that one. The door opens and out comes a woman and her child. Well, shit. Kathleen, you are just a jerk. Have some patience.

I finally get in there and when I had time to look around, I thought, “Heeyy. Not bad.” The space was ample, which says something when you are in a small room with black-painted walls. Adorning the walls are large fuchsia outlines of “meat animals” such as a large pig and cow, and a hen was clucking around somewhere. Large white block letters spell out the gastronomic quote, “To eat steak rare…represents both a nature and a morality,” by the late Roland Barthes, a French critic/philosopher/semiotician.

A sleek, black stone sink was in one corner, nestled between two mirrored walls.   The top borders of the mirrors were raw wooden planks which were uplit by warm, hidden lights.

The toilet…is a toilet. What the hell did you think I would say about it? But the pièce de résistance was just adjacent to the toilet in subtle, chrome glory. While attending to my business and growing a warm appreciation for this previously-scorned bathroom, I noticed it: a chrome peg, sticking out of the wall next to the toilet tissue dispenser. Was it a screw? Had something broken off here? Then the uplights seemed to shine a bit brighter, as if the rapture was upon me…IT WAS A PURSE HANGER. Sweet Georgia peach, it was a purse hanger!!

This did it for me. I asked forgiveness from the bathroom gods and apologized to Epic Bathroom and swore I would remain a regular patron. Ladies, you know how much of a nuisance it is to try and hang onto your purse in a public bathroom while using the toilet and hoping to avoid any mishaps with a low-hanging strap, all the while refusing to put the bag down, lest it touch something PUBLIC and bathroom-y. Problem = solved. Granted, any civilized bathroom has a hook behind the door. But in multi-stall situations we are all warned to not hang the purse on the hook that is within four inches of the top of the door because anyone walking by can reach over and grab it and you are caught, literally, with your pants down. Epic allowed for my purse to remain near without having to put it on the sink or floor.

Thus, my blog is reborn. From this moment, I accept as my civic duty to inform and educate you on the good, the bad, and the ugly of restaurant and bar bathrooms, so you may never again pick up your purse and wonder why it is damp and consider, even if for a second, just burning it on the spot. For the fellas, don’t feel left out. You are not forgotten. I will channel my inner dude and either research the men’s room myself (on the sly) or with the help of a trusty assistant, so your public bathroom needs are met as well.

Happy sitting.

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(Hand photo credit:


New Direction: Sticks and Stones, and D.C.’s Best Thrones

I have long struggled with coming up with a blog “theme”.  I feel like blogs are a form of media where people write about a specific topic and with whatever frequency add to it and update it with new entries, posts, thoughts, responses, and the like.  Those of you who know me tend to praise my writing and my sass, despite my ever-shifting topics.  I would call myself a “rant-writer”.  I am seldom  inspired, but when I am it is because I have something to bitch loudly about.  Ironically, I bitch loudly several times a day, yet I feel very few diatribes are worth putting into print. Until last month.

My brother was passing through town and while we were sharing drinks at a bar with his former colleague inspiration hit.  Beginning today my blog will be one of public service and information.  This is a place people can turn to and research, sort of like Yelp!, to find out….drum roll….the best and worst restaurant and bar bathrooms in Greater D.C.!  You’re welcome.

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Alive and Okay

Sometimes we need reminders.

We all have those days, weeks, or longer, when the needle on our stress-o-meter is pushing well into the red zone.  Last week this was me. 

It had been a long time since I felt such acute tension that my stomach was churning, my breath was quickening, and I had an overwhelming desire to back into a corner and crouch on the floor to begin rocking back and forth.  Some part of me wondered if anyone would notice this or if I could somehow make myself invisible, like a child covering their own eyes and thinking, “they’ll never find me here!”  Or maybe I could just run out of the room and vaporize into thin air and never been seen again.  And not be missed.

Weeks of frustration with a work matter had reached its pinnacle.  I was not mad at work, or hating my job, or any of the typical things we feel from time to time.  I had a specific mission…and I was not succeeding.  I was teaching to the best of my ability and my pupil was failing.  Who is the real failure?  The student who cannot learn, or the teacher who cannot get the student to learn?  I ultimately had to reach beyond my means and make the powers-that- be aware of this vortex of downward spiraling ability.  I did all I could.

By the time my day off rolled around it was time for some spiritual cleansing.  My tension that week had rendered me paralyzed when I got home from work, so there was little exercise or healthy eating occurring.  My sleep had been sporadic and unsatisfying.  I was crumbling.

I did what ended up being one of the best things I could have done: I grabbed my bike and hit the trail.  It’s officially autumn, and in D.C. that means it’s still warm, partly sunny, and the government has shutdown…again.  Despite their best efforts to keep me out of regional parks, estuaries, and parking lots, they couldn’t close nature. 

The C&O towpath is a packed dirt trail that starts in Georgetown, and parallels the canal well up into Maryland.  I have ridden on the early couple miles of it before, but after biking 6+ miles to Georgetown.  I quickly turn around knowing how many miles it is to bike back home.  This day I opted to drive the car and park in Georgetown, and pick up the trail feeling fresh as a daisy.

I biked for over an hour and a half.  It was Thursday, and for my trek of 17 miles I passed maybe ten other bikers/joggers/dog walkers.  Most of them I passed heading one way, and passed again while heading back. 

It was quiet and serene, and I felt like I was in the countryside instead of Greater D.C.  Bouncing along the rocky dirt trails made me feel like I am actually “mountain biking”, or something equally badass.  It was then that my hypochondriac nature kicked in and I started seeking landmarks, so I could better dictate to the 911 dispatcher how to find me when I inevitably injure myself.  Conversely, 12-year-old daredevil Kathleen was also along for the ride and would barrel down little side trails into the woods to see where they went. 

The canal is not pretty.  It is murky water, changing color as it flowed from lock to lock.  One section of it was solid green, from a fluffy layer of algae.  Bugs fly about, splattering on my legs and chest as I fly through their swarms.  I advise keeping one’s mouth tightly sealed, as to avoid unwanted protein snacks flying in. 

Aside from my single earbud pumping a Boston dance-music radio station into my right ear, the only sounds were those of dry leaves under my tires and the stony path being churned under my pedaling.  Leaves were literally raining down on me, like rose petals in American Beauty. 

I embraced the simple pleasures of the wind in my face and passing the shirtless old man walking his dog.  I passed several little houses, that appeared to once belong to the keepers of the locks, as they would oversee the traffic on the canal. 

All these little charms, sounds, and smells eased my stress.  I was able to get that reminder that, despite my inner quarrels, I am alive and I am okay.

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No rest for the wicked?

No rest for the wicked?

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Hello world!

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