Sunday, March 27, 2011

Dupont Circle

One of my favorite blocks in Washington, DC is the cross section of 21st Street to R. Street in Dupont Circle. I spent a semester in college at American University for the Museum Studies in the Arts program the fall of 1992. Some called it the Washington siesta. Maybe for the Political Science or Journalists students...but the art program was intense. Dr. Kendall Taylor was fantastic and I've never worked harder or learned more in six months. She wanted to prove to the rest of the school that art was serious. We spent Monday through Wednesday visiting with curators, conservators, preservationists and exhibit designers at nearly every museum and historic home in DC. We had to interview for an internship that occupied the rest of the week. It was competitive and I won the coveted Membership and Development internship at The Phillips Collection, located in this pocket of elegance in the heart of Embassy Row. 

It was the first Modern Art Museum in the United States. The original home was opened to the public in 1921 to showcase the Phillips' family's incredible collection and most impressive Luncheon of the Boating Party by Renoir. The Phillips family opened a few rooms to the public and even allowed the family cats to roam the galleries. They are celebrating their 90th year this year.

I would spend my lunch breaks listening to the docents talk about this painting, visit the Van Gogh's and meditate in the Rothko room. As part of the internship I had to interview the entire staff as my final project. I'll never forget interviewing Charlie Moffett, the director. I was a clueless twenty year old. He suggested I ask one question at a time! Ha! I was so nervous and he was so kind and taught me so much in that moment. Just slow down, listen and one answer will lead to more questions. It was incredible and I'll never forget my experiences at The Phillips. So many of the staff are still there from when I was an intern in 1992. I ran into chief conservator Elizabeth Steele last week on R. Street when I was in town.

I loved my Washington semester so much that I moved there two weeks after college graduation in 1994. A few years later I landed back in the Dupont Circle neighborhood as the Director of Special Events at Restaurant Nora. This past week was the first time I've been back to the restaurant since 2001. I enjoyed walking down memory lane literally from 21st to R. Street.

Nora's is on the corner of Florida and R. Streets on the edge of Dupont Circle. The building used to house a grocery store for Embassy Row. It is the first cerified organic restaurant in the United States. Nora is Austrian and has a simple aproach to cooking that she learned as a child. She helped establish and build up the Dupont Circle farmers market. I met her first in 1995 when I was planning events for a company called WashingtonInc and through my involvement in the Women Chef's and Restauranteurs organization.

The cherry blossoms were popping out beautifully in DC.

Nora's herb garden is such a treat outside the restaurant. They have done some recent landscaping and the pansies were a nice burst of color.

This spire was acquired from a church in Brooklyn, NY.

This cherry blossom will be incredible in another week.

Walking through the restaurant and seeing the signage brought back so many memories.

Nora's has a museum quality collection of quilts. This one is a children's crib quilt on the way up to the Gallery Room.

I stopped in downstairs and saw that Carlos was still behind the bar. I was sad to miss Jack. He was on vacation.

I lucked out and got to visit with Nora herself in the restaurant. I also got to see a few other pals, Camilla, Thomas and Steven who I worked with ten years ago. The pastry team was still the same and I even got to see my excutive chef Yuriko during my time. It was really wonderful. The space looked so fresh and new to me.

Cooking with Nora: Seasonal Menus from Restaurant Nora - Healthy, Light, Balanced, and Simple Food with Organic Ingredients
Click to purchase Nora's cookbook.

I had my favorite Caesar Salad. The hard boiled eggs are always cooked to perfection, the dressing is fishy and garlicky like a good Caesar should be.

I also had the most incredible Halibut nestled on a bed of Kale with a black bean ragut.

I've had to put refined sugar on a serious break lately. This fruit plate was so delicious. There were grapefruit, apples, pears and bananas. 

The executive chef Todd Woods let me visit the kitchen in the middle of service. The day I was in town Nora was on NPR. Click here to read and listen to Nora and Todd talk about winter greens.

I got a quick peak at the National Cherry Blossoms on my way home. This is one of the biggest parts I miss about living in Baltimore now. I was thrilled to cut through the city to catch a glimpse of these magestic trees. They were given as a gift from Japan. Oh poor Japan. You just can't catch a break. Please donate here if you haven't already.

I shot this one out of the sunroof!

Thankfully a red light let me capture a closer look. 

I bought my condo in Dupont Circle when I was working at Restaurant Nora. I bought it so I could walk to work. It was like coming full circle from my college days back to Dupont. I loved working there and walking the beautiful streets. The city, it's art and it's blossoms still pull at my heartstrings. 

Thank you Ripon College for offering the Washington Sememster at American University. Thank you Phillips Collection for those amazing five months of learning. Thank you Nora, Steven, Thomas, Camilla and all the staff at Nora's and Asia Nora. I learned so much from you all and your passion for organic and sustainable living. And thank you DC for being just a few 33 miles down the road. 


LPC said...

What a beautiful post. I can tell how much you love the city. I will have to try and remember to try Nora's when I get back there again.

JMW said...

You've made me want to visit Washington D.C. even MORE now. I've always had a list of certain places I wanted to see when I went there, but I'm now expanding my list based on this post. :)

Ella said...

Cherry blossoms, magnolia...... mmmm you make me really jealous and then also going back to a place with so many memories for you.

Anonymous said...

My daughter works at the Natl. Bldg.Museum...and went to American! She just loves D.C. We're going up to visit later this spring and I'll try to remember to make a reservation at Nora's! Thanks for the great post and information...

Nelle Somerville said...

Libby, I love the National Building Museum and have done many events there. It is a treasure! The exhibits and gift shop are always a treat.

Anonymous said...

My daughter just told me she has met Nora, through the D.C. Environmental Film Festival! Elizabeth (my daughter) is in Public Programs at the Museum!, and has been to Nora's twice with the film festival.....and loves it, of course.
Small world, no?

Anonymous said...

Thank you for a beautiful post.

I love Nora.