Put Downtown Holiday Market on Your List this Christmas

It might be tempting to do your Christmas shopping online while you’re sitting in bed watching Netflix and sipping a cup of hot cocoa, but it’s not as much fun as visiting the Downtown Holiday Market.

Each year, dozens of vendors set up booths at 8th and F streets NW to sell their wares, handicrafts and tasty treats throughout the holiday season.

Shoppers can buy jewelry, clothing, and art made from glass, wood, fiber and other materials. A couple of vendors were selling crafts from Peru, including knit sweaters for babies, llama figurines and brightly painted Nativity scenes.

Lots of handmade jewelry is for sale, including cufflinks. Shoppers can also find purses, hats, dog collars, soaps, paintings, maps and holiday cards.

One exhibitor, Manatho Shumba Masani, creates art out of recycled materials. His tables are filled with brightly colored wild animal sculptures, including an eye-catching green giraffe made out of an Arizona iced tea can. Masani says he makes his Canimals out of all types of cans, giving new life to what otherwise might just be thrown away. If you miss Canimals at the Downtown Holiday Market, look for Masani at Eastern Market.

Sometimes when you go to crafts fairs and festivals, you get a vague sense of déjà vu — that you’ve seen these vendors and crafts before. But you just don’t see that many chocolate gun vendors. In that way, Schokolat is unique. Not only do they sell chocolate guns, they sell chocolate watches, teapots, tools and more. The adorable creations are so realistic-looking that the vendor warns shoppers not to try to take a chocolate gun on an airplane due to the possibility it will be mistaken for an actual weapon.

As much fun as it is to shop at the Downtown Holiday Market, one of the best parts is eating there.

Migues Mini Donuts is at the end of the row of vendors, but you can smell the lovely aroma of frying dough from a block away. Fresh, reasonably priced and served with a smile, these donuts are a winner every time. If you don’t get a chance to sample these warm, tasty treats here in D.C., look for Migues Mini Donuts at farmers markets in Baltimore.

On the opposite end of the market is Alexa’s Empanadas, offering savory snacks as well as cinnamon and cream-filled churros.

The Downtown Holiday Market also has entertainment daily — check out the schedule online.

If you’re downtown shopping, ice skating, eating out or sightseeing, stop by the Downtown Holiday Market and see what the artists have to offer.

Downtown Holiday Market, 8th and F streets NW, noon-8 daily

See the Light at ZooLights

So many fun and festive events are going on all over the DMV this time of year, and you don’t want to miss any of them. A perennial favorite is ZooLights, held at the National Zoo through Jan. 1.

Pepco sponsors this evening, in which more than half a million lights are strung together to create dozens of animal shapes. Included are the expected lions, tigers and elephants, but also a kiwi, poison dart frog and cuttlefish.

The entrance to the zoo on Connecticut Avenue is brightly lit, with tree branches strung in red, blue, yellow and green lights. A special ZooLights sign is illuminated, topped by a red panda waving his striped tail.

New this year is the Gingerbread Village at the Elephant Outpost, a collection of adult-sized gingerbread men, women and houses; frosted cookies and lollipops; and a gingerbread throne — take your kids’ picture and make it into holiday cards!

Also new this year is the Reindeer Games Fun Zone (anyone can play!), including inflatable slides, an obstacle course, carnival rides, and the Symphony of Lights, an interactive light display that responds to holiday music.

A former favorite, the gingerbread house competition, is missing this year. Previously housed in the Visitor Center, the competition would showcase dozens of entries, all vying for prizes. Entrants would create delightful scenes, cleverly employing the use of foods such as Peeps, animal crackers, Teddy Grahams and more. Housed in the same room was a model train display animated with a haphazard cast of toy animals and characters including Winnie the Pooh, Harry Potter and Cinderella.

Another change to ZooLights this year is that no animal houses are open. Previously, the small mammal house, reptile house and Think Tank had been open. A zoo employee explained that allowing the buildings to be open to visitors at night disrupted the animals’ sleeping schedules.

These changes make for a bit of a quicker visit to ZooLights, but it’s still fun to walk through the zoo at night taking in all the lighted animal displays. And after all, admission is free. However, if you plan to drive to ZooLights, parking is $25 for nonmembers and $15 for FONZ members.

During member week, Dec. 2-9, members get free parking, a free gift, a punch card for eight rides and BOGO popcorn. Beware, however, that lines for rides get long during this week.

Nonmembers with children may be interested in a Groupon that can save money on rides. The $29.70 Groupon gets you a free light-up necklace and eight ride tickets — a $39.95 value. Parking is not included.

The carousel and train are still open for rides. The Mane Lion restaurant is also open, and a food truck serving hot cocoa and snacks is parked at the Elephant Outpost.

Put ZooLights on your list of fun holiday activities for this year!

ZooLights, National Zoo, 3001 Connecticut Ave NW, Washington, D.C.; 5-9 p.m. through Jan. 1 except for Dec. 24, 25 and 31, weather permitting; free.


Flavor from Down Under

I spent the last few hours of DC Cocktail Week 2018 Sunday evening at one of the few participating Arlington establishments, the authentic Australian-themed Oz Restaurant and Bar in Clarendon. Located on the corner of North Garfield and Clarendon Boulevard, a vibrant shopping and entertainment district popular with millennials, Oz is distinctive for its front window display of adorable koalas climbing Australian white birch trees.

The interior color and décor have an Outback theme, with burnt orange cushions, bamboo chairs and tawny paneling contrasted with a sky-blue ceiling.

Parliament Funkadelic was playing when I took a seat at the bar around suppertime, and I had the place almost to myself. The friendly bar manager, Eva Ramirez, said she was grateful for the lull after “the craziness of brunch.”

The restaurant’s pairing was the Oz toddy with spiced chimichurri shrimp. Ramirez was enthusiastic about Cocktail Week and said she really enjoyed making the toddy, a concoction of house-infused bourbon with maple syrup and tea, served with a rosemary sprig garnish in a rocks glass. The smooth drink has a hearty, rich flavor — perfect for autumn — with a mellowness that balanced the intense heat of the chimichurri shrimp, mouthwatering garlic-sauteed prawns covered in an Argentinian sauce. Ramirez was nice enough to share Chef Brad Feickert’s ingredients: parsley, oil, garlic, salt and red pepper flakes.

The menu features favorites from owner Michael Darby’s native Melbourne, with lots of meat pies, lamb and seafood and flavors that reflect that city’s diversity. I tried the corn appetizer, made with feta, sour cream and pumpkin seed and jalapeno, a generous portion for $7. Hands down, this was the most delicious dish I have had in years. The texture was soft and creamy with a salty smokiness that could only come from bacon — only it’s vegetarian and gluten-free. The zip of the jalapeno lingered but wasn’t overpowering. I cooled my palette with the Sydney, a refreshing blend of chilled vodka, grapefruit juice and basil leaves served in a tall glass.

Oz offers a dinner special of unlimited small plates for $36 and bottomless drinks for an extra $14. Happy hour is 4 to 7pm every day.

Oz Restaurant and Bar, 2950 Clarendon Blvd., Arlington, Va.; 703.664.0693. http://www.ozarlington.com




Fig & Olive is a Bit of the Mediterranean Right Here in D.C.

DC Cocktail Week wound up this past Sunday, culminating a week of bargain-basement-priced pairings of cocktails and small bites at more than 65 restaurants througout the DMV.

I stopped in to try the offering at Fig & Olive, an upscale Mediterranean place at the end of Palmer Alley NW, which stretches from 9th to 11th St. NW.

The alley is delightful this time of year, transformed into a shiny corridor of white-lit trees, sheltered from the noise and bustle of D.C. traffic. The pace here slows down with visitors browsing high-end shops and taking selfies under hanging ornaments.

The Fig & Olive was busy Saturday night, the bars and tables full on both spacious floors. Manager Ian Kitzmiller and bartender Yimi Rivera said they have been busier than usual since last weekend, and that typically Fig & Olive has a big afterwork crowd, but lunch is heaviest.

It may be due to the start of the holiday season, or perhaps it’s the success of its Cocktail Week offering: the Fig & Olive Fizz with two rosemary and lavender madeleines for $15.

Rivera expertly mixed the Fig & Olive fizz and set it on the bar for me with two madeleines on a small white plate. The cocktail, a vibrant tangerine color that matches the ceiling over the bar, was topped with a perfect layer of foam. The proportion of sweet to tang is similar to a margarita’s, but warmer, with hints of caramel and fig. The madeleines were lightly browned and sweet, with a lovely soft texture.

When you think of the Fig & Olive, don’t confuse “upscale” with “stuffy”; Kitzmiller and the staff are warm and friendly and the atmosphere is relaxed and casual.

In the intimate bar, lighting is dim but warm, and the absence of background music allows for easy conversation. A plate glass wall gives guests, seated on upholstered chairs around small, low tables, a full view of the Palmer Alley courtyard and walkway, with its sparkling fountain and screen projecting trippy images. The interior is simple and elegant, with a high ceiling and lots of blonde wood and cream stucco.

As expected for a Mediterranean-style eatery, the menu is dominated by creative combinations of herbs and vegetables, cheeses, seafood and lamb, in Italian and French styles. The priciest single-person entrée is the lobster primavera ravioli for $37, but a cash-strapped diner could get a taste of the chef’s style with the marinated olive assortment for $7. Sharing is encouraged: A group of friends can order the plateau de fruits de mer for $49. A Thanksgiving menu is now also available, offering items such as a burrata with squash, lemon chicken or caramelized pumpkin and chestnut risotto for $89.

Take a break this holiday season and stop into the Fig & Olive for friendly service and a creative cocktail.




Lobby Bar, Exactly What You Want

DC Cocktail Week is over, but the fun has not been forgotten.

I headed out to National Harbor over the weekend, where three area restaurants were participating in the event, which pairs a cocktail and a small bite for a special price.

Fish by José Andrés offered their salt air margarita with a shrimp and grapefruit cocktail for $30. Voltaggio Brothers Steakhouse offered a pulled pork option with a specialty cocktail for $30.

Since I am allergic to shellfish and I don’t eat pork, I decided to hit the Lobby Bar. Despite the fact that it’s called Lobby Bar, you’ll find it on the upper level above the MGM Casino. The views of the actual lobby below are fabulous, especially with all the lavish Christmas decorations. If you’re not into decorations, you can people-watch — or, watch a football game on one of the bar’s big TVs.

Although Lobby Bar’s Cocktail Week offerings were unorthodox — no food pairing, no single special cocktail, the amazing service made up for it. Yelpers rave about the attentive bartenders here, always willing to spend some time getting your drink exactly the way you want it.

My experience was no different. When I asked about the Cocktail Week special, my bartender Whitley told me she would make a cocktail for me based on my preferences. I told her I was a gin man, and she made me an Aviation, which is funny since I worked with the Federal Aviation Administration for years (and they never served me any cocktails).

She expertly mixed the gin with maraschino liqueur, crème de violette and a splash of lemon juice, poured the cool concoction into a martini glass and garnished it with a cherry.

I could see why they called it the Aviation. A bright purple, the cocktail was the same color as a cloud-striped sunset or the skies after a big storm.

If you’re at National Harbor over the holidays checking out the sights or visiting Gaylord Hotel’s Christmas on the Potomac, stop in to the Lobby Bar at the MGM  where the friendliest bartenders will let your Christmas Cocktail wishes come true!
Lobby Bar, MGM National Harbor Resort & Casino, 101 MGM National Ave, Oxon Hill, Maryland; (301) 971-5000

Try Some Asian Fusion at Doi Moi

It’s the end of DC Cocktail Week — your last chance to snap up the incredible pairings at participating restaurants throughout the DMV.

A friend and I tried Doi Moi, a cute little place in Logan Circle specializing in Southeast Asian cuisine. At 9 on a Friday night, it was still crowded, but we were able to get counter seats, which was fun because we could watch the food being prepared.

Doi Moi’s Cocktail Week pairing featured the Five O’Clock Somewhere, made with Spring 44 vodka, Thai tea, lemongrass ginger beer, lemon and Angostura bitters. Our server told us they were out of this cocktail that night and offered a similar substitute in its place. Served in a tall glass and garnished with a lemon wedge, the drink looked festive adorned with a green-and-white striped paper straw. It was refreshing and fizzy, with ginger and lemon combining to give it an Asian flavor.

The special pairing came with Doi Moi’s Laotian stuffed lemongrass served with a smoky Thai jaew dipping sauce. In this offering, a tasty morsel of marinated pork is secreted away inside a lemongrass cage and lightly fried.

Next, we tried out a couple of other cocktails recommended by our waiter — a Lion’s Tail and a Buton Tonic. The first, a deep orange drink made of bourbon and infused with allspice, was perfect for a chilly fall evening. The second, made with Spring 44 gin, house cassia tonic and lime juice, was straightforward and satisfying.

Doi Moi, in its fifth year, keeps attracting crowds with its dynamic Asian fusion menu. Washington Post food critic Tom Sietsema called it “authentic” and “vivid” in his review when it opened in 2013. Yelpers rave about it, calling the food “fantastic” and the waitstaff “impeccable.”

Doi Moi also serves breakfast and lunch in their Bird’s Eye Coffee Bar & Eatery, featuring Vietnamese coffee and tea (hot or cold) and tasty selections such as chia seed pudding and banana blossom salad.

When you’re in the neighborhood and in the mood for some inventive, tasty Asian food and a fabulous cocktail, give Doi Moi a try!

Doi Moi, 1800 14th St NW, (202) 733-5131.


Colada Shop Cocktails Magnífico

Tomorrow is the last day of DC Cocktail Week, and if you’re out clubbing around U Street, make sure to hit Colada Shop first for an amazing cocktail.

This Cuban-inspired gem is literally a bright spot on T Street Northwest, its turquoise and red façade standing out among all the browns and grays surrounding it. It looks like someone plucked this building out of the tropics and plopped it in the middle of buttoned-down Washington, D.C.

I hesitated when I saw the waitresses in aprons behind the counter and the menu affixed to the wall behind them. Wait, this is a bar? Yes. And a coffee shop. And a lunch spot. And a great place to get dessert. Or a smoothie. There’s really no reason to ever leave, except they eventually close at night.

My friend was late in joining me for their Cocktail Week special, so I asked the bartender to recommend a different cocktail to try while I waited. She made me a Hemingway daiquiri, mixing the ingredients to achieve the perfect combination of sweet and sour. Colada Shop’s version, made with grapefruit juice, rum and maraschino liqueur, is pretty and pink. It’s so refreshing I can imagine accidentally drinking a half-dozen out on the patio on a warm day.

But it isn’t warm in D.C. right now, so it’s great that they offer their Cocktail Week special — a carajillo — hot or cold. This traditional Spanish drink combines coffee with rum, a grownup version of an Irish Trash Can.

While this cocktail is sometimes made with brandy or whiskey, Colada’s carajillo is made with dark rum. The rum, Licor 43 and syrup combine to produce a sweetness that’s nicely tempered by Havana blend espresso. The result — heavy, dark and frothy — is excellent, hot or cold.

For Cocktail Week, the Colada Shop pairs this beverage with a sweet potato and queso fresco croqueta. Hot, sweet and cheesy, the croqueta is a superb accompaniment. At $8, the carajillo and croqueta is one of the least expensive of all the Cocktail Week pairings.

Our server, Brittany Lofton, assistant general manager at Colada Shop, told me their most popular drinks are the piña colada and babalu. She made our piña colada — sweet, icy and fruity — with shredded coconut on top. The babalu, made with rum, passion fruit, palo santo syrup and lime, wasn’t just delicious — it was beautiful too. It almost made us want to Move to Miami.

The sudden winter cold that has set in here in D.C. didn’t stop patrons from heading to the rooftop bar, which the shop kept snug with patio heaters. Other customers were happy downstairs at little tables, stools at the counter and even a small couch.

If you miss Colada Shop’s Cocktail Week pairing, don’t despair. All their cocktails are reasonably priced at $8 every day, $6 at happy hour, 4-7 p.m. Monday through Friday. You can get a half-dozen croquetas for $8.50, and empanadas are $2 at happy hour.

Stop in for breakfast, lunch or dinner, for a quick snack or a leisurely drink. Colada Shop has it all.

Colada Shop,  1405 T St NW; (202) 332-8800.