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Washington, D.C.

Nation's Capital Honors the Greatest Generation

Nearly sixty years after the hostilities ended, 16 million uniformed men and women who fought World War II, and 400,000 who died will at last be honored for their bravery and service. The World War II Memorial on the National Mall was unwrapped a month before the official dedication on Memorial Day Weekend. Located on 7.4 acres, the size of a football field, the bronze and granite monument is flanked by two arches symbolizing the Atlantic and Pacific theaters, 56 columns representing the states and territories that existed in 1945 and a Freedom Wall with 4,000 stars, one for every100 Americans shot down in combat.

The four-day opening tribute kicks off a summer-long salute to The Greatest Generation. During the 100 days between Memorial and Labor Days the art, music, history and culture of the era is celebrated. The promotion includes more than 140 patriotically themed exhibitions, performances, tours and packages. Norman Rockwell's paintings of the Four Freedoms hang at the Corcoran Gallery. More than 100 Associated Press photographic images, including the one of the marines raising the flag on Iwo Jimo, are displayed in Union Station. A film festival features movies whose plots concern the era and the action. Music from the 40s is on the program of a USO weekend. Eleanor Roosevelt's Washington, a walking tour, retells the story of the First Lady's life in the capital. Restaurant menus feature foods that might have been served when meat and sugar were rationed and when housewives cooked with ingredients that they grew in their Victory Gardens.

For a complete lineup of activities log on to www.americasgreatestgeneration.com. Many of the listings are either ongoing beyond Labor Day or permanent.

Mandarin Oriental between the Capitol
and the Jefferson Memorial

Make the most of an opportunity to be near the National Mall, the main site for many of the summer goings-on, and stay close by at the Mandarin Oriental, the stylish hotel that opened in March, 2004 and instantly replaced its five-star brethren as the "it" place to lay one's head. Not more than a few minutes walk from the Memorial, the monuments and the Smithsonian Museums, the hotel is part of the new Portals development at the crossroad of the Washington Channel and Potomac Tidal Basin.

On Monday before our Friday arrival, a young man identifying himself as a representative from the reservations department phoned to inquire whether we had any special requests. I asked if all guests were contacted in advance and was told that only those who had booked club floor rooms received a call. Nevertheless, I was impressed as it was a first in many years of sleeping in fine lodgings.

This A-list lodging is an over-the-top ode to the successful blending of Federalist neo-classical architecture and Eastern high-luxe décor. The curved limestone façade topped by a green mansard roof featuring columns, cornices and portal and bay windows conforms to the plans laid out in the late 1700s by Charles L'Enfant, a Frenchman and the city's original municipal designer. The lobby, a marble rotunda with American walnut and white oak columns, brings to mind the Jefferson Memorial, a landmark that is visible from the fan-shaped property. The fan is the logo of the hotel group. Completely open to the lobby and a few steps down, the Empress Lounge offers coffee in the morning and later in the day snacks, drinks and live piano music. Gardens filled with Asian plants and trees and flowers from American growers take up much of the space on the lobby level.

The guest rooms and suites incorporate feng shui principles; decorations and furnishings in circular forms invite good luck. Most of the rooms feature burnt orange and pale green in their color schemes, but our eighth floor club accommodation was a mix of red, burgundy and beige. The room was more than comfortable with lots of seating, good lighting, high ceilings, windows the width of an entire wall and bedding so easy to sleep on that guests are sure to try to purchase it. Artifacts borrow from the Orient, but the design concept remains western. Marble bathrooms are oversized and have tubs and showers big enough for two. A drawer full of amenities includes items that other hotels do not supply like deodorant and collar stays.

The ninth floor club lounge sets a new standard for spaciousness in private concierge facilities. It is a showcase of good design with an imposing chandelier, a massive fireplace, floral arrangements and plants. From the vantage point of this high floor one can use the powerful telescope to view Washington's impressive skyline and familiar historic structures. The space between tables and lounging areas is sufficient so that noise from partying groups does not interfere with those who are buried in conversation, using the library, working at the computers or watching home theater.

On weekdays there are three food and beverage buffets, on weekends there are six. All are beautifully presented, tasty and very ample. Expect to find changing items during your stay. And there is always a collection of large jars holding a great variety of what used to be known as "penny" candy.

The spa was not yet open during our visit, but when it does it promises to keep up with the latest trends: themed wet areas that incorporate amethyst steam, experience shower, vitality pool, ice fountain and cold plunge pool. Guests can book a block of time (the Time Ritual concept) and use it for a customized "journey of the senses" instead of scheduling individual treatments.

Service may not yet match that of Mandarin Oriental's longer running hotels, the club lounge excepted, but it is friendly and well-meaning. With a bit more staff training and experience this should not be a problem for very long.

Cafe Mozu, the only one of the hotel's serious restaurants that was operating when we visited, is an extension of the planning that went into the entire project. Five traditional elements of Chinese astrology--wood, water, fire, earth, and metal--were incorporated into the design. The waiting area, a long corridor leading into the dining room, is lined with rocking chairs fashioned with clean lines and balanced by overhead ceiling slats. Think east, not west. To achieve a bright and airy look the seating is divided into several sections, the boundaries of which are drawn with Mondrian-like open aluminum separators. Diffused lighting emanates from metal sculptures. Chinese red lacquer banquettes interrupt the otherwise entirely neutral palette of blond wood tables and subtlety patterned carpeting. The wait staff looks positively spiffy in a stylish Oriental wardrobe created in several styles. Tables in the back of the restaurant are arranged so that diners can look out at the basin and the many boats moored there.

Tokyo-bred and trained, Hidemasa Yamanoto, the chef at the kitchen's helm, finished his culinary education in Europe. He joins a group of new wave chefs who started their American careers on the left coast, moved to the right one, and whose cooking, a synthesis of cuisines, was inspired by both Japanese and French methodology. Reading the menu, it sounds as though Mr. Yamanoto had loaded some of the dishes with his entire culinary arsenal. It turns out not to be so. Many of the ingredients are marinades, essences and garnishes. Presentation is artistic, stimulating your senses before you ever lift the first forkful to your mouth. Hamachi with fennel salad, celery sprouts and caviar was dressed with a bracing yuzu vinaigrette. Mizuna salad brings together exotic and familiar ingredients with breezy zest. Our guest said that the grilled tuna was the best she had every tasted. Roast breast of duck veered toward toughness and had no particular flavor, the pleasant ginger-mango sauce notwithstanding. But a Kobe steak oozed flavor despite its leanness. Who says marbled meat is the best? I'd eat beef from a cow that's been massaged to tenderness any time. Desserts are a mélange of standard sweets kicked up a notch with a few Asian touches.

Service was disoriented even at breakfast when the room was empty and servers plentiful. On the second day our waiter did, however, remember what kind of muffins and coffee we liked and brought them promptly. The kitchen took what seemed like forever to produce freshly squeezed passion fruit-mango juice. If you don't mind a very leisurely breakfast, order the juice. It's heaven in a glass. Mandarin Oriental Washington D.C., 1330 Maryland Ave. S.W., Washington, D.C. 20024. Tel. 202-554-8588 http:www.mandarinoriental.com


Ten Penh

My feng shui guide says that rounded objects create harmony. And that is what I first noticed upon entering Ten Penh, a restaurant where curves in the layout and artifacts are prominent. I know nothing about the designer, but he had to have been influenced by ancient Chinese principles in planning the orange, red and gold-colored space and décor. The colors are meant to produce warm feelings and an energetic approach to life. Clearly there is energy in these surroundings. Wall paper is bamboo, tables are rosewood, Chinese-style chairs are high-backed, wrought iron lamps have silk shades and the front window has delicate etching. Located at Tenth and Pennsylvania Avenues, the name is an Asian sounding play on the address. Since opening four years ago Ten Penh remains one of the most crowded and popular dining places in town. The restaurant is noisy, but when we asked the manager for a quiet table, he sat us at one where we were able to converse.

Executive Chef Jeff Tunks has designed a Southeast Asian menu drawn from the cuisines of China, Japan, Thailand and Indonesia where he traveled to gather ideas about what to serve in Washington. He offers dishes that can easily be shared. Portions are hefty and as often happens with Oriental cuisine we ordered more than we should have, but ate it all. Curried crab cakes were paired with crunchy green papaya salad and remoulade sauce livened up by the addition of sweet Thai chili. Spicy tuna tempura was a delightful surprise as it was neither coated in flour nor was it fried. Served like sashimi without rice, it was chopped, wrapped in nori and ponzu for dipping. Peking-style duck roll was a refined version of a Chinese classic. All the fat and skin been removed and discarded from the shredded duck.

Chef Turks teases sophisticated flavors from simple sources and elevates the food experience. A whole founder described as Hong Kong crispy fish, each morsel collapsing on your tongue, tasted as though it had been caught that morning. Dipped in rice flour and fried in corn oil, it was a delicate rendition of this well-known dish. A rare rack of roast lamb, sliced into chops, smeared with Asian pesto crust (made from herbs, garlic, peanuts and Parmesan) and broiled briefly to melt the cheese, was a clever use of a sauce normally associated with pasta. After such a delicious dinner a shared café au lait crème brulee was enough dessert for three of us.

Ten Penh, 1001 Pennsylvania Ave., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20004, Tel. 202-393-4500 http://www.TenPenh.com


Arena Stage

When visitors contemplate attending the theater in Washington, they usually focus on what's playing at The Kennedy Center. The lesser-known 53-year-old Arena Stage with two theaters in its complex delivers a meaningful impact on the city's cultural scene, too. The four-sided original stage, the Fichlander named for one of the founders, Zelda Fichandler, is configured for maximum visibility for the entire audience. The venue worked particularly well for a recent premiere of Frank Loesser's Senor Discretion Himself. With many of the scenes taking place in the town square of a Mexican Village, the imaginative staging transported theatergoers to a colorful south of the border hamlet. Indeed, the production begged to be shown "in-the-round" rather than in a conventional theater.

That the composer's widow, Jo Sullivan Loesser, chose to turn over to Arena Stage her husband's last precious work, written shortly before his death, is a testament to Arena's importance in America's theatrical world. The "core mission" is "to produce huge plays of all that is passionate, exuberant, profound, deep and dangerous in the American spirit." Productions also play in the Kreeger, whose seating is proscenium-shaped. The compact Old Vat Room is used for cabaret.

Arena Stage offers a range of Audience Enrichment Events. Molly Smith, Artistic Director, chairs Molly's Salon on Monday evenings before every opening. Symposia are held at the Museum of American History to talk about topics vital to the city--politics, race or even human nature. Epilogue discussions occur post-show and are conversations between the audience and cast. Think Tank is the newest effort to encourage communication between audiences and artists.

The eight-play 2004-05 season at the Fichandler has already been announced and includes those "big plays," seven of which are American, that Molly Smith says best expresses her core vision.

The establishment of The International Spy Museum, a first of its kind, in the nation's capital is a natural for Washington, D.C. The capital has more spies than any other city in the world. They have been hiding out in foreign embassies and sneaking around intelligence agencies since the founding of the republic. Due to the popularity of the exhibits, entrance is by timed admission and most visitors spend about three hours exploring the history of espionage using interactive devices, watching videos, examining the tools of the trade and reading about the lives of famous spies. Spy guides, which are distributed at the entrance, direct would be sleuths to the orientation, Your Mission Begins Here. You can try your chances of succeeding under an alias by taking a test that shows your score on the suspicion meter.

Spies Among Us. Credit: Courtesy of the International Spy Museum

An art- and artifact-filled gallery, The Secret History of History, spying from biblical times through the 20th century is defined in very broad terms. Heads of insurgencies and governments who relied on espionage to strengthen their leadership are described as Spymasters.

An exhibit that relates to the Greatest Generation and is cited in the on-going schedule of things to do surrounding the celebration of the opening of the War World II memorial is Spies Among Us, which focuses on that era. You can test your codebreaking skills and learn about how, with the use of native language, Navaho Codetalkers proved impenetrable. Propaganda, sabotage and subversion employed by the French Resistance and the secrecy surrounding both D-Day and the development of the atomic bomb inform this section. Included are bios of celebrities and a description of their efforts to assist the Allied cause.

The mission continues into the next series of rooms: War of the Spies, which offers an overview of the Cold War, including a section called Checkpoint Charlie, a reproduction of part of the Berlin tunnel and facts about the use of new technology in the form of satellites. In the chamber devoted to the 21st century a final film, Ground Truth, plays. The area will house temporary exhibits on espionage issues.

The International Spy Museum attracts all ages. On the Sunday we visited it was populated by families. Children, particularly young boys, were glued to the interactive exhibits. No wonder. When incidences of espionage are uncovered we ask, "How were they pulled off?" Many of the answers are at the museum. International Spy Museum, 800 F St., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20004. Tel.202-393-7797. http://www.spymuseum.org

If you are traveling to Washington from any of the major cities in the Northeast corridor, such as Boston, New York or Philadelphia and several smaller ones along the route, like Wilmington, Baltimore and Princeton, consider riding Amtrak's Acela Express. It's as convenient as the shuttle and flying often doesn't save much time. For example, the trip between Washington and New York is 30 minutes longer point to point than by air. In that figure we're including travel time to the airport. Business and first-class coaches offer free access for your laptop. Meals and drinks are served all day in first-class. The food is somewhat tastier that what you'd find in coach class on a flight, but it's not on a par with business class. At lunch poached salmon was acceptable, but iceberg lettuce in the salad was not. A dinner entrée of beef filet was passable, but the rice pilaf accompanying it was dry. Desserts, banana bread pudding and chocolate and hazelnut sponge/mousse, were the best items on the menu. The red wine was pleasant and the white was dry, but lacking in distinction.

Service is very attentive. Attendants remove and return luggage to and from the platform. They walk the aisles to see whether passengers have any requests. 800-USA-RAIL. http.www.amtrak.com

Spring, 2004

A Not So Capital Hotel and Restaurant


D.C. Omni Shoreham

It's like a grand old dowager, elegant, a little faded, but still full of style. Yes, the wrinkles show, but proudly, and we looked past them knowing that there's an exciting history here. Since the opening of the Shoreham in 1930 the hotel has been a center of Washington social life. Many important people —presidents, diplomats, entertainers and socialites—have passed through the sweeping and impressive lobby on their way to inaugural balls, private functions, guest rooms and restaurants.

We recently stayed in a suite overlooking the park, tennis courts and swimming pool. The decor was 50s beige and nondescript in a comfortable way. By the time we got home we couldn't recall a single detail about the furniture, but remembered having spent a most pleasant night in very spacious quarters.

We were, however, put off by an experience with housekeeping. At 5:30 on Saturday evening we asked to have a pair of pants pressed and were told they wouldn't be returned until Monday after 6 p.m. We also heard some minor complaints from friends—no night-light, empty mini-bar and a problem with a shower. The lobby is a great place for a drink and Monique is a bright and lively spot for breakfast or brunch. It's like a European cafe where patrons can sit for as long as they wish without being rushed.

Omni Shoreham Hotel, 2500 Calvert Street, NW, Washington, DC 20008. Tel. 202-234-0700, 800-THE-OMNI. Special weekend rates are sometimes below $100. Suites range from $250 to $425. www.omnihotels.com/hotels/default.asp?h_id=6



We ate at Gabriel a few months after it opened. Reviews of new restaurants sometimes come quickly. By the time we tried it, it had been written up four times; three reviews were favorable and one was mixed. A friend came with us and commented, "Presentation is the whole thing here" and "they're trying to cover the waterfront," perfectly echoing our own reaction. Gabriel's food was billed as Pan-Hispanic (Spanish and Southwestern), but a daredevil chef, Greggory Hill, seemed to have reached all over the globe, using shredded filo, melted mozarella, Virginia shitake mushrooms and goat cheese and Indian spices. There were too many ingredients in each dish creating a hodgepodge of flavors that fought each other. Some dishes, like the seviche, were too highly spiced. Others, like the black bean soup, were bland and desperately in need of salt.

Of all the tapas, entrees and desserts we tasted only two of the selections were perfect. Grilled beef tenderloin was delicious, cooked precisely as ordered, and accompanied by thin crispy and flavorful sweet potato chips, mole and grilled peppers and tomatillos. An orange-coconut flan was ethereal, a finale that works with any kind of cuisine. The dining room is lovely, done in soft tones with pottery, glass and wrought iron tableware. It looks like a great setting for a leisurely dinner. But the noise level was so frantic that we had to speak very loudly to be heard by our tablemates, eliminating the possibility of having a private conversation.

Other reviewers might give Gabriel stars, toques or forks. Not us, underscoring that old and overused adage, "There's no accounting for taste." Sorry, Chef Hill!

Gabriel, 2121 P Street NW, Barcelo Hotel, Washington, D.C. 20037. Tel. 202-956-6690. Open for breakfast and dinner all week; for lunch, Monday to Friday. Inexpensive.

Fall 1994

Washington, D.C. Update


From the moment you alight from your car in the middle of the semi-circular driveway and walk through the front portal of the Four Seasons you know that a notable stay awaits you. After you have been shown to your room, the dilemma is whether to unwind in the comfort of subtle surroundings or to settle in one of the lobby's sitting areas just for the fun of watching some of the comings and goings in this power town. Newsworthy faces like politicos, the media and heads of state--we saw an African leader and his entourage in native costumes--pass through the public spaces with regularity. And even if you don't see many headline grabbers, the common areas and restaurants are great places to people watch.

The hotel is a popular venue for weddings and other celebrations. On the weekend we were there an entire family had traveled from Asia for the marriage of their daughter. Friends of ours who live in suburban Maryland say that they consider the Garden Terrace to be their hangout and stop by regularly when they are in Washington or occasionally come into town just to have a drink at the bar.

A week after you've left you won't recall what your room looked like, but because of the quiet decor the experience will linger. The pillows are the softest to be found anywhere. While we were inspectng the 12,400-square foot tri-level health club a member volunteered that he considered the gym to be the best in the city.

Not the least of the hotel's appeal is its location at the tranquil end of historic Georgetown. Walk in one direction to see rows of 18th and 19th-century Victorian and Federal townhouses. Turn another way and you come upon the bustling scene of shops, restaurants and the three-story Georgetown Park mall. Set on the C & O Canal, the Victorian style mall blends with the neighborhood's architecture.

When it is time to leave the Four Seasons the doorman waves his arm and blows his whistle softly but with authority to summon a taxi. He has the presence of a conductor giving a special performance. Even if you are not someone recognizable, he knows that if you stayed at his hotel you are an important guest.

Four Seasons Hotel, 2800 Pennsylvania Avenue N.W., Washington, D.C. 20007. Tel. 800-332-3442, 202-342-0444. Rates begin at $360. www.fourseasons.com



Has Disneyland come to Washington? Not exactly, but the Newseum's slogan, "Where fun is a matter of fact," sums it up nicely. Washington's latest museum is about news and uses some of the techniques that were pioneered in Anaheim. Interactive computer stations allow visitors to try their hands at reporting, editing and taking photographs for a newspaper or broadcasting for a television station. Tapes of one's performance as a newscaster or anchor are for sale. A film in the high definition video theater shows the great events of our era. A time line of the history of news begins with the days when information was transmitted by smoke signals and drum beats. To enjoy it all allow at least three hours for a visit.

Newseum, 1101 Wilson Boulevard, Arlington, VA 22209. Tel. 703-284-3544, 888-NEWSEUM. Open Wednesday to Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Summer 1998