2009.10.06 Touring the U.S. Capitol

 

After wrapping up our conference around midday, Stephanie, Don and I hopped on the Metro and were off to lunch.  We were in for a treat today!  We ate at Fogo de Chao, a Brazilian steakhouse, on a recommendation from a friend of mine.  (Thanks George!)  Not only that, but TripAdvisor rates Fogo as the #4 restaurant in Washington D.C.

Let’s start with the location.  Fogo sits right on Pennsylvania Ave, so when you’re standing on the sidewalk in front, you are looking at a gorgeous view of the Capitol building, about a mile away.  We walked in and told the hostess we had 3 for lunch.  She asked us if we had a reservation but we didn’t.  Turns out this was not a big deal, as Fogo has about 200 tables, and only 6 of them were occupied when we sat down.

After the waiters pulled out our chairs to help us sit down, they explained the process on how to order your food.  Waiters roam the dining room floor carrying a specific cut of meat.  There are about fifteen different cuts & types of meat that they serve.  You simply flip a card on the table next to your plate – green for “give me more meat”, and red for “please stop!”.

Stephanie liked Fogo right off the bat, because she is intimidated by menus with too many choices.  Well, Fogo doesn’t have a menu.  At least they didn’t offer us one.  You simply sit down, and start eating.

 

Stephanie is served some meat from the Gaucho Chef.

 

Before we left the B&B this morning, Don had struck up a conversation with one of the other guests.  When she found out we were going to Fogo, she got very excited and began telling Don about their signature cocktail – the Caipirinha.  Evidently, her voice got so loud and rattled, that the staff poked their head in to make sure everything was okay.  Obviously, this is a drink we had to try.  It was everything it was promised!  Ask us about it, and listen to our voice rise.

After a trip to the salad bar, which contained all kinds of exotic food, we were ready to settle in for the main course.  As soon as we flipped our cards to green, the waiters pounced on our table.  Garlic sirloin, filet mignon, bacon wrapped chicken, lamb chops, top sirloin, beef ribs, and the list goes on and on.  The waiter, or “gaucho chef” as they call themselves, slices off a few slivers of meat and you add it to your plate.

 

The incomparable Fogo salad bar.

 

We finished the meal with a cup of coffee, but passed on the dessert.  This was not willpower, it was self-preservation.  I would wholeheartedly recommend Fogo if you ever have a chance to go.  They have locations all around the country.  The lunch price ($35) is about ½ what the dinner price is, so check it out.

 

Two of the Gaucho Chefs. Some are wearing knee-high boots. I would like to be a Gaucho when I grow up.

 

After lunch, we had about 90 minutes before the highlight of our day – a tour of the U.S. Capitol.  As we were right across the street from the Old Post Office, we went next door so that Don and I could go to the top and check out the views.  It was everything Stephanie had told us.   It has some of the best views in Washington, and no lines.

We took off on foot for the Capitol with an hour to get there.  We walked right down Pennsylvania Ave, past the FBI building (which I was very familiar with due to my love of the X-Files), the Federal Trade Commission, and the National Gallery of Art.  The National Gallery of Art contains the only Leonardo da Vinci painting in the Western Hemisphere.  Alas… not enough time to see everything we want.

 

This statue "Man Controlling Trade" sits in front of the Federal Trade Commission.

 

We arrived at our check-in time and got our tickets.  I had called my Congressman the week prior and they hooked us up with tickets.  We were a little disappointed because we were lumped in with the public tour.  We had hoped we were getting a little something “extra”.  I suspect I did not know the right questions to ask.  Oh well, maybe next time.

The tour guide was not the greatest, and the tour only lasted about an hour, but you cannot help but be overwhelmed with the grandeur of the Capitol.  The rotunda is certainly the centerpiece, and we spent a good deal of time there.

 

A shot of the Capitol dome.

 

We saw one of the two Oklahoma statues in the Capitol – Sequoyah.  (The other is Will Rogers.)  California recently replaced one of their statues with Ronald Reagan.  His statue is unique in that it contains pieces of the Berlin Wall at the base.  One statue in the rotunda was covered by a red blanket and was to be unveiled the next day (our tour guide told us it was Helen Keller).

The tour guide also relayed to us that the U.S. Capitol does not have an address.  It is what it is.  It is the symbolic center of Washington, D.C., but not the geographic center.  The city of Washington takes up the entire geographic area of the District of Columbia, so it is somewhat redundant to say Washington, D.C.

After a trip through the gift shop, we were ready to hit the road.  (Considering the size and space of the Visitor’s Center, the Gift Shop is shameful.  It was quite small, and didn’t have a lot to offer.)  As we were looking for the way to get out, we came across a security guard who was very enthusiastic about pointing people toward the exit.  Not only that, but we also heard him bellow to some tourists headed for the restroom, “DO NOT TAKE CAMERAS INTO THE BATHROOM!”.  Luckily, we got out before an incident ensued.

 

The Oklahoma Delegation to the Capitol.

 

By this time, it was about 4:00 and we knew we had enough time to take in a few more sights before everything shuts down at 5:30.  We took off walking down the Mall, and ended up at the National Archives.  We might as well have reserved the Archives for a private showing, because we walked right up to all of the documents that we wanted to see.  The Magna Carta, Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and the Bill of Rights.  No waiting!

On our way out of the National Archives, several older Asian women stopped Don and asked him what they should see.  Don very pleasantly explained that they should follow the signs to the Rotunda to view the documents we saw.  Don Hammons – International Ambassador of Goodwill.

Next, we hoofed it over to the Smithsonian Castle.  Stephanie wanted to get a stamp for our National Parks Passport, and this was the only Smithsonian Museum where it can be done.  We wandered around this particular Smithsonian until closing time.  It appeared to us that this museum offered a small sampling of the many artifacts which can be seen at the various other Smithsonian museums.  The Castle also held the remains of its founder, James Smithson, in a side room as soon as you walked through the front doors.

By this time, we were tired and thirsty.  Stephanie wanted to hit the gift shop back at the Old Post Office, so we began the short walk over there.  Stephanie only purchased a couple of items in the gift shop, but it took so long that Don and I sat down in the food court.  Don purchased a refreshing Limco drink from the Indian Delight food joint.  I guess only imported soft drinks come in glass bottles any more.

Now that the sightseeing and the shopping was done, we walked across the street and enjoyed a few drinks at Elephant & Castle.  Our feet were so tired from the day’s walking and it felt so good to finally take a load off.  This pub had sidewalk seating, so we relaxed while sitting just a few feet from Pennsylvania Ave.  (Something I learned on this trip is that the street which the Capitol and White House sit on is named after Pennsylvania as a tribute to the fact that the first Capitol was in Philadelphia.)

 

View of the Old Post Office from our sidewalk location at Elephant & Castle.

 

We left Elephant & Castle and began our walk to Chinatown in a light sprinkle.  I did not even know that D.C. had a Chinatown before this trip.  We found our destination – Matchbox Pizza.  This was recommended to me by a friend (thank you, Tom!) and it was rated as the #15 restaurant in Washington D.C.  We were not disappointed.

 

The Friendship Arch welcomes you to Chinatown in D.C.

 

We got there about 7:30 and had to wait about 30 minutes to get a table.  Stephanie struck up a conversation with one of their bartenders and found out this girl had graduated from college in San Francisco four years ago and is here in D.C. serving up drinks at Matchbox Pizza.  Stephanie said she did not say anything else as it probably would have come out rude.  I agree – how do you respond to that?

Dinner was outstanding!  We started with an order of 3 burger sliders, which is one of the things they are known for.  The sliders were great, but honestly what hit this out of the park were the onion strings that were piled high on it.  Yum!

We ordered one large pizza and split it, which was plenty.  We finished it all up with everyone ordering desert.  All of the food was top-notch.  This place is definitely recommended.  Come for the food, and the architecture.  The restaurant is housed in a narrow, long space, which had 4 or 5 levels to it.  We were sitting in the rear, about as high up as you can be.

 

Matchbox Pizza. Any eatery with a fire-breathing urn in front is okay with me.

 

After a quick walk over to the Metro station, we waited for the Red Line with a crowd of people.  Finally, our train arrived and in the throng of people, we nearly could not get on!  Stephanie actually got wedged in the door, as she was trying to keep it open for me because I was following her.  Another passenger on the train pried it open for her, which also allowed me to step in.  He said they had been having problems with the doors.  Earlier today he rode with a lady whose purse got caught on the outside of the train and she rode like that for three stops!

After four days of being away from the kids, we were ready to get home.  We are leaving Washington D.C. very impressed with this city.  The city was immaculate – the streets, the Metro, the museums.  It was also very safe.  Even though you hear of D.C. as the murder capitol of the U.S., we never felt unsafe.

We can’t wait to get back with the family.

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