Washington D.C + Rockville

I'm back from a four day trip to Rockville, Maryland, a little mini vacation we hollowed out in the space of the standard two week trip to my hometown of Rhode Island (think of it as vacation-inception, or vacation Russian dolls!) I'm a fan of the trip-within-the-trip model; during my last stay in Rhode Island, we spent a few days in New York City, and during the trip before that, in New Orleans. I figure if I'm flying all the way from Italy to the U.S -- a nearly 14 hour journey when you add it all up! -- I might as well see as much as I can.

So! You've probably not heard of Rockville -- I hadn't, either, but it's where my brother Matt and sister-in-law Lakshmi are currently living (you may remember them from this post here). It's a few metro stops from Washington, D.C, where they both work, which meant we got to see not one but two places on this trip. It's a city where you can easily get around on foot/with public transport, with a very diverse community and lots of wonderful different places to eat (Chinese, Peruvian, French, Thai, and Vietnamese restaurants, to name just a very few). With no further ado, here are the (mostly foodie) highlights of our trip -- consider everything listed below as highly recommended if you find yourself in the D.C area.


Our first stop on our unofficial Rockville food tour was Lavande Patisserie, a bakery down the street from my brother and sister-in-law's apartment, run by a baker/pastry chef from France. Lavande is a weekly stop for Matt and Lakshmi -- they have a leisurely breakfast there most Saturday mornings -- and with good reason. We sampled a passion fruit and a rose scented macaron, plus two croissants (raspberry pistachio and peach almond) and a French pastry called a cannele. The macarons were on point, the croissants were soft and buttery and a nice change of pace from my more standard Italian cornetto integrale, and the cannele', the pastry I was most curious to try (I've read many a recipe for them) had a sugary, caramelized outside and a soft, custardy interior, akin to French toast. Not at all a bad start to your vacation-within-a-vacation!

M + L had told us quite a bit about the shiny brand new Asian Food Hall that had just opened up in Rockville's main square -- it sort of reminded me of a mall food court, but smaller, and with excellent, high quality food. During our trip we sampled the pork and chive dumplings, a poke bowl (apparently all the rage in D.C at the moment) or a bowl consisting of rice, fish, and a variety of mix-ins of your choosing. The real star however was the Japanese-style waffle cone, or rather a golden brown, eggy waffle -- far more flavorful than the standard waffle -- folded around vanilla ice cream, with chocolate sauce, bits of mochi, and strawberries. It was somewhere between breakfast and an ice cream sundae, and while it was certainly over-the-top -- you'd never find a dessert like this in Italy -- the four of us managed to polish it off, no problem. Bonus: this noodle master expertly pulling fresh noodles for soup at his stand, video here 

Continuing on our Asian food kick, we headed to Pho Nom Nom, a Vietnamese restaurant. Pho Nom Nom -- like many excellent restaurants in the area -- is hidden away, a kind of blink-and-you'll-miss-it sort of place, in an unassuming strip mall. Per my brother's orders, we ordered the Spring rolls -- more substantial than your standard veggie rolls, with the addition of pork -- and the dumpling soup, or rather twirls of delicate noodles, thick slabs of pork, and delightful shrimp dumpling bundles floating in an ever-so-perfect, mightily flavorful broth. It was possibly the best thing I ate the whole trip (!!!) and a good match for the cloudy, slightly rainy weather that day. To anyone in D.C -- take a trip out to Rockville just for this restaurant. You won't be disappointed.

In addition to a great Indian market and an extensive Chinese supermarket, Matt and Lakshmi also have access to an impressive farmers market on the weekends, with local vendors selling all sorts of fruit and vegetables, plus pastries, freshly baked bread, cheeses, meats, honeys, jams, and flowers. My favorite: the strawberry lemonade, which was tangy, sweet, and refreshing, one of those very-American, super summer-y beverages you'd never find in Italy and that you don't know you've been missing until you've had a nice tall glass of it.

The next day we headed in to Washington D.C -- our first stop was the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, where you'll find exhibits on everything from the making of the very first American flag, to WWII, to an exhibit on the First Ladies, among many others. On the top of my list however was the exhibit on Food in America, more importantly the one on Julia Child. I've talked a little about Julia Child on this blog -- here and here -- but for those of you who don't know, Julia Child was an American expat who, after living many years in France and mastering its cuisine, brought French cooking to America by way of her cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, and later on, her many television shows (consider her the first celebrity TV chef). She is an icon in American culture and in the culinary world, and lucky for me, the Smithsonian houses her Cambridge, MA kitchen, which she donated to the museum in 2001. As you can see from the photo below, I was incredibly excited to see the place where Julia -- one of my idols, up there with J.K Rowling and Deb Perelman, for the record -- did so much of her cooking. 

As if a visit to Julia Child's kitchen wasn't exciting enough, one of my closest and oldest friends, Shannon -- we met when we were just 5 years old, meaning our friendship has spanned 24 years -- met up with us at the Smithsonian (as you can see below, she entered the building at the level above us and made quite an entrance). Shannon lived in Rome from two years before moving back to the U.S, then to Scotland, back to the U.S, and now more specifically, D.C. Below the most recent photo of us, plus one of our older ones!

After our reunion with Shannon, we were also lucky enough to meet up with our friend Emily, who you may remember from this post here on Bolzano and also this one here. Emily, one of my closest friends, lived in Rome for three years before recently moving back to the States. I have missed her dearly, especially seeing as how she's one of my very favorite people to cook and eat with (Emily is a talented home cook/baker, the hostess behind our Royal Wedding High Tea, two Thanksgivings, and many a brunch). We met up at the new restaurant Elle (recommended to me by the Washington Post's very own food writer, Kara Elder) where we enjoyed the Monday special, or rather: perfectly crisp bacon, a runny egg, jam, and cheese on a potato bun. We also added an empanada and a savory feta and jalapeno scone that disappeared so fast I didn't take any photos. Swoooon.

We closed out our trip with dinner at Bindaas, an Indian restaurant that serves up shareable small plates, maximizing how many dishes you can try (hurray!) Now: my sister-in-law is from India and takes her Indian food quite seriously, so I knew that if this had the Lakshmi stamp-of-approval, it had to be good. Per Lakshmi's advice, we ordered crab idiyappam, a dish made with coconut milk, crab, and steamed noodles; wada pao, or vegetable patties with a garlic chutney; a rice pancake called uttapam, made with tomato, onion, and green chili; and a chicken kathi roll, or chicken tikka masala all wrapped up. Not pictured below: the requisite, super addictive naan and a chicken and lamb kebab over saffron rice (it was too dark to take a photo by the time they arrived, but I can assure you they were delicious). It was an excellent way to round out our stay in D.C.

And just like that our long weekend away came to a close! I'm back in Rhode Island now and will be here a few more days before heading back to Rome later this week. I hope to have an end-of-summer recipe or two for you to round out the month (my vacation has meant a pretty quiet August for the blog) so stay tuned. Have a good rest of the week, everyone!

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