And finally regarding our DC trip, here are the places we ate worthy of note.
Gadsby’s Tavern – next door to the Gadsby’s Tavern Museum in Old Town Alexandria. We ate right where the cheesy picture was taken on the restaurant page, in front of the fireplace. No strolling lutists, though. The entertainment was provided by the maitre d’, who regaled us with tales of buying his tie from a haberdasher in New Yawk, clearly his hometown.
Phillips – this chain has a DC store; my dad told me it was a Baltimore-based biz. I dunno. The draw here is all-you-can-eat seafood, including both small whole crabs and large sea-crab legs, and even, I was delighted to see, crayfish. The food was passable, nothing amazing except in quantity; the most striking aspect of the restaurant scene was that is was clearly the only place that ‘real people’ ate at regularly that we ate while we were in DC. The crowd was large, boisterous, and diverse, contrasted to the nearly pure white crowds we’d been seeing at the museums all week. I noted African-Americans, Asian Muslims, Filipinos, Middle-Easterners, Hispanics, and a man who looked just like Wayne Newton. Interestingly, the employees all appeared to be having a great time and were warm and attentive. The decor was mid-seventies theme restaurant. I loved this place but not because of the food.
Le Gaulois – In many ways this was the most memorable of the meals we ate. The restaurant serves country-style French food, and does a beautiful job. I had the cassoulet mentioned in the review I link to and I guess they must have worked things out, because I ate the whole thing. It was delicious. Viv had pike quenelles, fish dumplings of a sort, and I think her dish was better than mine. My family entertained ourselves by swapping huge samples of the various dishes onto each others’ plates and finished, a bottle of wine and an apertif to the good. Dinner for four was less than $150, including the wine, and man, for French food in DC, that is astounding. Oddly, they stop seating at 8:30 pm, of a piece with DC’s early-to-bed-in-defense-of-power ways.
Casting about for a final meal, I had a hankering for German food, which is the hardest cuisine to find diversity in around the Puget Sound region. We discussed options at length as my family is wont to do. We found an option which none other than Donald Rumsfeld had pre-selected for us, back in the heady days of the early war by indicating his disdain and hatred for it.
Old Europe is a relic, a survivor of the postwar wave of restaurants that opened in cities all over the United States, reflecting the reality of the experiences of American soldiers in occupied Europe. These restaurants created an Americanized fantasy of the European experience with the vim and vigor that would later lead to Las Vegas and Disneyland; being individually-run enterprises, however, the florid imagination of the proprietor is played out on on a smaller scale.
The walls of the restaurant are placarded with genuine oil paintings depicting idealized European scenes of castles, villages, landscapes, and people. Deeply yellowed with decades of cigarette smoke, the paintings are quite kitschy but to me appear to have taken on an artifactual status. Atop the scenic works is a row of heraldic paintings by many different hands, all dated and signed in the mid fifties; the heraldry is captioned with the names of countries, cantons or old European nobility and is not in any apparent order. Approximately ten wooden models of sailing ships hang from the ceiling, smoke-gilded and furred with dust and restaurant fuzz.
The place was about half-full when we arrived and remained that way. The people who worked there obviously knew many of the people eating. the restaurant clearly sustains a loyal and consistent base of regulars. I was charmed. Then, a short woman made her way, cane tapping, to a stand-up piano in the corner and began to sing a mix of German and American holiday songs in a clear soprano. Quite blind, she was also eager to converse with any nearby table. Doubtful at first, I quickly realized that she completed the ambience. With all this atmosphere I began to wonder if the food would be any good.
I had nothing to worry about. A decent selection of German beer and the food that I had, a trout filet, was quite delicious. As an extra added treat, the beer came in glass steins labeled ‘Old Europe’, conveniently available for order on the website.
This concludes my explanation of the additional four pounds I brought home with me from DC.