I’ve been on a break…. A break from blogging, anyway. It wasn’t intentional. It’s just summer. Summer in my world means crazy, chaotic, non-stop busy at work. Throw in even a half-hearted effort at getting out and enjoying the (at least occasionally) nice weather and there’s little time for anything else except a bit of sleep and a quick meal. When we do eat out this time of year, we’re more likely to favor an old favorite, something reliable. This is my summer reality… or early summer, at least.
One major difference between this summer and most is that we traveled for 4th of July weekend. It wasn’t the best time for work, but the three day weekend helped and it had been forever since we last saw B’s family. B’s nephew is now 21 months old. When he was born, we promised ourselves we wouldn’t go more than 6 months without seeing him while he was still little. It had been 15 months since our last visit. B’s mom and my good friend, J, were also able to join us in D.C. On top of family, B also has a close group of friends who live in the area who we hadn’t seen since last October. Lots of people to see. Never enough time.
While B arrived the Sunday before the holiday weekend, I wasn’t able to get away from work until the following Friday morning. B had already made Friday night dinner plans for us on in the form of a table for eight (reservations made by B’s friend, S) at Floriana in Dupont Circle. B and I braved the Metro and headed from Alexandria where his family lives to D.C. proper.
We’re both super jealous of the D.C. transit system. I’m sure it’s not perfect and has it’s share of issues, but living in a city with little public transportation to speak of, we’d gratefully take the Metro with any number of problems. We managed to find our way without much trouble and even ran into two of our party, D and R on the way.
Now, I’m not a huge fan of Italian food. That’s not to say that I don’t like it. It’s just not usually my first choice. Being in an unfamiliar city, though, and having not done any research before arriving, I was happy to leave the restaurant selection to someone else and go with it. This turned out to be an excellent strategy.
I pay attention to a couple things when eating with a large group. From our side, it’s important to me to eat with a group that can enjoy their meal without being unpleasant to the staff or other diners. How terrible is it to be in a restaurant, trying to enjoy a pleasant meal for two or four only to be put on edge by obnoxious howling from another table? Gross generalization, perhaps, but it’s happened to me more than a few times. I’m also interested in the group dynamic. Can everyone participate in the conversation or are some left out? From the restaurant side, I’m interested in who they choose as the server and where they put the group. Are they overwhelmed or freaked out by the size of the group? Large parties can certainly be overwhelming. Do they seem annoyed? Are they welcoming? Do they keep things moving along or is everything painful?
Floriana was pretty spot on from the start. They sat us upstairs where we had a room to ourselves. There were other tables, but they weren’t occupied. Not all restaurants have the luxury of seating a big group so far out of the way, but we were glad Floriana did. Our server was another big bonus. Not only did he not seem overwhelmed by the large group, he seemed to have a lot of experience with them. He gave us great guidance on which starters were good to share, had lots of details on which entrees made good group starters and gave solid advice on the wine. He was also super nice and pleasant. We took his advice on starters and ordered a couple different types of mussels for the table- one classic and one with pork belly and porcinis.
I also ordered the gazpacho on the good word of our sever that it was a small portion. I think it was pretty big!
The mussels were amazing. I could have eaten the whole order on my own without a problem. The gazpacho was probably my least favorite part of the meal. It was good. It just wasn’t the best gazpacho I’ve ever had. It was nice and spicy, though, with two different types of melon.
For entrees, B had the Lobster and Wild Mushroom Risotto while I had the Zuppa di Pesce (shrimp, calamari, clams, mussels, spicy tomato, linguini). B loved his (based on the bite I had, I agree) and mine was delicious. There was so much seafood, I had to dig and dig to get to the pasta. I’m glad I was persistent. The house made linguine was definitely worth it! It was one of those meals I kept eating long after I was full just because it was that good.
Of course, as good as the food was, the best part of the meal was the company. Great, easy conversation with a group of people B’s known for a long time. I suppose I’ve known them for awhile now too. It just won’t ever feel that way by comparison. No matter. We always have a great time with them and this dinner was no exception.
From Floriana, we headed a few blocks away to Russia House Lounge. Though their website tells of Lithuanian and American owners, I’m pretty sure everyone we encountered was either Russian or had the accent nailed. Like Floriana, Russia House was located in a large, very old house. With the help of a very nice server, we found a large table on the third floor for our ever-expanding group. I wish I could tell you a little more about Russia House because we had a nice time there, but we spent the whole night wrapped up in conversation with lots of people we hadn’t seen in a very long time. The time flew by and before long, it was time to make the journey back to Alexandria. M and S kindly shared a cab with us to help guide us back to the right metro stop. Though the trip back was long, it really didn’t seem that bad because we weren’t driving.
We had the chance to see most of the same group the next night as M and S had a barbeque at their house in Arlington. Both nights were so much fun that I was surprised at how sad I felt on the Metro headed back to J and R’s house Saturday night. We’re used to Seattle and we have some good friends here. What we don’t have is a true group of friends. Lots of ones and twos. I’m grateful for the wonderful people we do have here, but it’s a very different feeling. I know B’s mourned the loss of his group since he left San Antonio five years ago. I guess I never really had a group in the same sense, but I had family and people I’d known practically my whole life… people who know my history and who don’t often require explanation.
We’re very fortunate to have each other and to have the people in our lives that we do. I guess it had just been awhile since I noticed the contrast between the way it used to be before Seattle and the way it is now. I know you can’t create a close group dynamic. Either it’s there or it’s not. It has to develop on it’s own.
My sadness was eased when we got home Wednesday night and had dinner at H and K’s house. Sitting on their patio, I was struck by how easy and comfortable it is to be around them and how lucky we are to know them. It’s definitely not the first time I’ve noticed it. It was just a nice and very well timed reminder.
Anyway, I’m getting ahead of myself by jumping to Wednesday. After Floriana, Russia House and M and S’s barbeque, we still had two days left. Sunday night brought a whole new group dinner in Maryland. I’ll save that one for tomorrow, though.