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Washington, D.C., deservedly earns reputation for world-class cuisine

Patti Nickell, Tribune News Service on

Published in Travel News

WASHINGTON -- Much attention has been focused on Washington in recent weeks as the impeachment hearings have played out. The president may have been impeached, but there is one unimpeachable fact regarding our nation's capital. It has developed quite the reputation for world-class cuisine. From sizzling steaks to spicy Afghan kebobs, Washington has it covered.

I found out for myself on a recent visit dedicated to eating (with a few sightseeing jaunts to work off the calories.) Making my base the newly refurbished Dupont Circle Hotel (part of the Doyle Collection, which also has properties in London and Dublin), I found it ideally situated for exploring all the nation's capital has to offer.

The renovation has given the hotel a touch of class befitting its location in the Embassy Row area. In addition to a stunning lobby and well-designed guest rooms, it has a fine dining restaurant, The Pembroke, described as "cut from a different cloth" by Washington Post food critic Tom Sietsema.

I don't know what kind of cloth he was referring to, but my dinner of red snapper with forbidden rice, red curry and coconut veloute accompanied by whole Boston lettuce with Dijon vinaigrette and grilled asparagus with lemon chili exemplified chef Harper McClure's farm-to-table fare tinged with global influences.

The Pembroke's ambiance is equally alluring. Designed by world-renowned decorator Martin Brudnizki, it boasts plush salmon-colored leather sofas, marble tabletops and a glass wall overlooking a seasonal terrace.

While I liked the restaurant, I was enchanted by the bar, a throwback to the classic cocktail lounge of the 1940s and 50s with dim lighting, discreet seating and soft music that provides a backdrop for conversation rather than drowning it out with ear-shattering music as so many of today's bars do.


With atmosphere to spare plus classic cocktails (you can even sign up for a mixology class with the bartenders), it's no wonder the Pembroke has become a sort of clubhouse for the Dupont Circle set.

Washington is no stranger to a cocktail culture. After all, it was Kentuckian Henry Clay who introduced the mint julep to the barkeep at the venerable Willard Hotel two centuries ago (they still use his recipe today), but it was another hotel that provided me with a unique experience.

The Watergate in Foggy Bottom is infamous for being the site of the scandal that led to the resignation (before he could be impeached) of President Richard Nixon. If no one is occupying Room 214 -- aka the Scandal Room -- curious visitors can get a peek at where G. Gordon Liddy and E. Howard Hunt orchestrated the break-in at Democratic National headquarters, then located next door to the hotel.

There's nothing scandalous about the craft cocktails expertly presented by head mixologist Kal Lemma in the hotel's Kingbird bar. Kal, a native of Ethiopia, is nothing short of an alchemist when it comes to turning unusual ingredients into a perfectly mixed cocktail and then pairing it with dishes from the kitchen.


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