Monday, July 20, 2009

Rock It Grill - Old Town's Frontier

At the corner of King Street and West Street in Old Town Alexandria sits Rock It Grill, a karaoke haven for an alternative crowd. On weekend nights the din of classic hits from ages past escapes through a fog of cigarette smoke, out the front door and onto King Street. There, cult followers congregate, waiting to gain entrance.

Rock It Grill is a unique venue in an otherwise “chic” town. And like any frontier, the atmosphere can be a bit rugged. Bikers, locals and undergrads--usually adorned with tattoos--sling pitchers, play pool, and smoke butts. It is crowded on the weekend and there is always a chocked-full list of wannabe performers. In fact, a frequent complaint is that nepotism determines performance order. It is a tough and boisterous crowd, but patrons are there to have fun, and the karaoke IS entertaining. If you can stick to beer and jagerbombs, and can stomach the smoke, Rock It Grill makes for an entertaining evening and provides for a good change of pace from predictable King Street culture.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

View Point Inn -- Panoramic Paradise

It is curious that I would blog about an Inn three thousand miles away from DC. But while this forum is dedicated to reviewing social venues in the DC area, I see no harm in writing some choice words about the View Point Inn, a small bed & breakfast just east of Portland, Oregon. Who knows, maybe some of my readers are planning a trip out west.

July 4th weekend was my first time visiting the Pacific Northwest, much less Portland, and fortunately for me my girlfriend booked us for an evening at the View Point Inn. As a west coast “newbie” my preconceived notions of Portland were very much limited to what you might read in tourist pamphlets—a big city with small town charm, an amalgam of coffee shops and hipster lifestyle. But what I was most impressed with is Portland’s surrounding countryside. It is its natural resources that provide Portland with its greatest appeal, and the View Point Inn captures this with comfort and class.

Located approximately 20 miles east of Dowtown Portland, on Interstate 84, the View Point Inn is a quick jaunt from the city, and easily accessible. We spent the day about half an hour east enjoying the handful of wineries overlooking Mt. Hood, and concluded our outing at the View Point Inn.

There are four rooms, three of which share a bathroom, and although I was reticent about sharing a bathroom, it is not as inconvenient as you might think. It is very private, and the facilities are everything that you would expect from an upscale Inn. I am less than knowledgeable regarding personal care, but my girlfriend assures me that their L’Occitane products are top notch. We stayed in “Le Petite Alcove” room that although small, is incredibly charming, and runs around $125 per night. The Roosevelt Suite, which overlooks the Columbia River Gorge is about $350 per night, and has its own private bathroom. The view alone is worth it.

The service at View Point is impeccable. If you need anything, all you have to do is ask, and you will be accommodated. They are thorough, but not intrusive, and incredibly cordial. Upon arrival we were given complementary beverages from their unique cocktail list. I chose the “New Fashioned” a concoction slightly altered from its “Old Fashioned” counterpart. Bourbon and Ginger with muddled lemons and cherries, it was strong and refreshing. If bourbon is not your poison, there are a plethora of other cocktails, all of which are good (we pretty much tried all of them).

In the evening, you can relax at the bar, which is a converted garage (and very tastefully done) or you can mingle on the patio or deck, all of which have vibrant panoramic views of the Columbia River. You can pick your spot for dinner. If the weather is rainy, you can eat inside. The weather was gorgeous during our stay so we chose to dine on the manicured lawn—a front row seat for a dynamic and brilliant Portland sunset.

Our meal was excellent. It is curious that they serve Wild ATLANTIC Salmon as I was looking for some left coast flavor, but it was exceptional. Pan Seared to perfection and a hearty helping, I was completely satisfied. The roasted fingerling potatoes were a wonderful complement, along with the grilled asparagus that comes with the entrée.

Small, quaint, comfortable, gorgeous, relaxing—these words do View Point minimal justice. You have to experience it to truly get it. And even if you don’t want to spring for a room, a dinner reservation is all that you need to enjoy the ambiance, service, and relaxing vistas that the View Point has to offer. Many of the patrons were there just to enjoy an evening of tranquility. It is conveniently close to the city, and based on the July 4th attendance, is one of the best-kept secrets in Portland.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

"Ritzy" West End Bistro

West End Bistro draws its personality from the Ritz Carlton, which sits adjacent to it on 22nd Street. Most of their patrons are corporate clientele or vacationers--exactly what you would expect from a psuedo-hotel bar. Singles, dressed to impress, congregate at their upscale bar. Meanwhile, couples generally occupy the dining floor, enjoying the delectable yet limited dinner menu. Large windows encircle the restaurant providing sufficient light, as well as the opportunity to observe passer-bys. There is not the pervasive feeling of confinement that accompanies so many hotel lounges.

The menu is mostly seafood, although they offer lamb, short ribs, and a sirloin burger for those craving red meat. The Grilled Flat Iron Steak was excellent, but the portion was small. For an appetizer, I recommend their oysters, which vary by season, but have been stellar on each of my visits. On one occasion we were given complementary caramelized popcorn as an appetizer. And while popcorn does not seem like an upscale starter, I assure you it is tastefully done and worth trying. Overall, culinary expert Eric Ripert, does an excellent job. I have never been dissatisfied.

There is usually a wait, so I suggest making a reservation. Even with a reservation I have found myself killing time at the bar while waiting to be seated. The staff is exceptionally cordial, and generally prompt. Additionally, the crowd is always lively, especially on the weekend, making West End Bistro a great place for a date, or a meeting spot with co-workers.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Smith Point – Where everyone is cooler than the next guy

My first two experiences at Smith Point didn’t happen. Why? I am not cool enough to be on the “list.” So you can imagine my sudden feeling of self worth when I was able to gain admittance. More intense was my curiosity surrounding what differentiates the Georgetown “in-crowd” from the marginal rabble that is my cohort. The answer is simple. My middle name is not Abernathy, and I do not have a Roman numeral following my last name.

Smith Point, as a venue, has so much potential. The exposed brick and candlelight creates a feeling of underground exclusivity. The music, a blend of classic 80’s and modern pop is an ideal dance mix. Even more convenient is the bar service, which is prompt. Smith Point has all of the necessary elements for a good time. My complaint is the general pervasiveness of narcissism and entitlement. The girls come in groups for the dancing. The guys compete for their attention with exposed bravado and an attitude of superiority. I am not accustomed to other guys commenting on my clothing, especially since I was dressed appropriately. Save it for the runway, slick.

It is the patrons that spoil the experience. You can be sure that your girlfriend will be looked up and down, like a piece of meat. And you can be sure, as a newcomer, to be judged. But don’t challenge them, because the response may likely be, “Do you know who my father is?” Toward the end of the night, the shadowy corners become impromptu hotel rooms, perhaps because no matter how nice “cool guy’s” residence may be, it is still his parent’s place.

Come to Smith Point, where you can consort with DC’s elite, or at least their children. But don’t let them sense weakness. Look them in the eye, and let them know that your trust fund is just as big, and that Daddy is right around the corner.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Los Cuates -- Great Mexican at a Reasonable Price

Georgetown has added Mexican to its repertoire of dinner destinations with the opening of Los Cuates on Wisconsin Avenue. Finally, there is a more reasonably priced alternative to Rosa Mexicano (Penn Quarter) and Lauriol Plaza (Dupont Circle). And while the ambiance falls short of these more upscale venues, the food is just as good, and not as expensive.

The venue fits the description of casual dining. Small tables designed for couples seating can be pushed together for larger groups and there is a miniature but functional bar in the rear. And while you will not find the social buzz or singles crowd that predominate at Lauriol or Rosa Mexicano, you will also not have to wait for a table. As for the food, it is every bit as good, maybe better. The chicken fajitas are excellent--with fresh peppers and onions, and served piping hot. Their service is prompt, and your margarita glass will be filled as quickly as you can drink it (which is fast because they may be the best in the city—not too sweet, not too sour, just right). If tequila does not appeal to your palette, their sangria is also excellent.

The décor is typical for a small Mexican restaurant. Bright yellow and orange tapestries create that southwestern feel, and are augmented with a collection of sombreros and a ranchero tiled mural. It is an ideal venue to congregate with friends. The food and service mirror that of the more upscale Mexican restaurants at a fraction of the price. Moreover, it is convenient. Situated just south of Reservoir, afterwards, you can hit up the bars in Georgetown or Glover Park.