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life in DC 1: georgetown

October 9, 2010

I have to admit, I’m finding all my preconceptions about life have been shaped by Europe. I grew up thinking that calling someone a “silly ass” was acceptable, and “goose” was understandable. To this day I talk to myself in alternately Scottish and English accents (to differentiate between my conversing personalities), and find it very hard to wear perfectly matching clothes. I still cannot understand American humor, and have decided that since Jack Lewis’s time did not overlap a bit more with mine, David Tennant’s Doctor will just have to do. Still, I think there’s something of a resemblance, don’t you?

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           

Anyway, to get back to the task at hand, I found that my idea of a college town was greatly influenced by Oxford, England. The gray, hushed dampness; the eclectic masses of students walking in tight-knit groups, engaged in clever, and only mildly contrived conversation; the dimly lit, warm bookstores where Tennyson shared peeling shelves with zombie survivalist guides; fashionable but subdued cafes; and weathered stone architecture rising above it all, giving everything a palpably unique, cerebral flavor: it all permenantly shaped my mental image of the college town.

I found Georgetown to be quiet the opposite. Female Hoyans competed in an ever escalating one-upmanship of who could wear the highest heels; bubblegum-pink signs beckoned you down the crooked stairs of historic buildings into vintage-smock-meets-bejeweled-combat-boots boutiques. Music was everywhere, from thumping dance tunes coming from restaurants to street corner musicians leaning against wrought-iron fences older than they. The crowds, a mix of couples, students, and the occasional congressman, were at the same time overwhelming and exhilarating. As more of a quiet person, I found the respite of quiet side streets, with century-old brick and bright doors, refreshing. It also offered the chance to see the less social side of Georgetown: shaggy dog solemnly watching every passerby from a third story window; a newlywed couple biking away to their honeymoon; the overflowing garden an artist had coaxed out of this cobblestone city.

Of course, the people watching and photography could only last us so long, and we were soon turned to the other great measure of a town: its food. Where we had ducked into Pret a Manger for marzipan croissants and very hot coffee in Oxford, we needed something a bit more lively here. To match our surroundings, I suppose. Thanks to my dear friend’s going-away present, The Little Black Book of Washington DC, we found ourselves heading towards Bangkok Bistro. Our meal began with calamari. As a passionate lover of fish, I was mildly disappointed by the thickness of the batter that somewhat masked the flavor of the squid, but the dipping sauce was exquisite, and the entrees certainly did not disappoint. The kapow was perfectly cooked, complex and just spicy enough (provided that you remove the desperately hot red peppers used for seasoning purposes only). My brother’s chicken pad Thai pak  was, without a doubt, the best I had ever tasted. My own spicy steak salad was excellent, even with my high expectations. Two years ago, while visiting my godparents in Arizona, I was taken to a tiny, ten-table Thai restaurant, squeezed in between a Goodwill and a tattoo parlor. I must say, not the kind of restaurant my very classy godparents usually frequent. But they were here, I was told, for the beef salad. They said it like it was some sort of sacred object they had come to worship, despite its unsavory location. And after my first bite, I was a convert. It was, without a doubt, one of the best things I had ever eaten, and I looked forward the entire year to my next visit when I could go to the Temple of the Sacred Salad. When we pulled up, the handwritten sign taped to the door informed us they were “closed for family emergency” and that they were “sorry”. Sorry? I had salivated for a year waiting for that salad. I had daydreamed about that salad like most girls daydream about their boyfriends. I downright needed that salad. And I had to go home without it. Needless to say, I have scoured every Thai menu for this food of the immortals, and I was thrilled I had finally found it. I was also highly critical. To be honest, it was nothing like what I had so deified in my mind. The beef was sliced instead of ground, and this dressing was more citrus-y than peppery. The lettuce was in large chunks, instead of the crisp shreds I remembered. The beef was chilled rather than piping hot, and it was served at a sleek wooden table, instead of a wobbly plastic one. But it was still flavorful, authentic, and even to my backwards-looking mind, incredible.

High praise, indeed.

We found that even the mouth-party we were just leaving couldn’t dampen our interest in the actual goal of our entire venture: Georgetown Cupcake. Are we the kind of family that sallies forth into gridlocked traffic and homecoming-crazed collegiate masses just to eat a cupcake? Oh yes. Oh, oh yes.

We weren’t the only ones drawn to the famous shop: there was a roughly thirty-minute line running all the way down the street of friendly, sweet-seeking Georgians and tourists passing along pink menus with the day’s specials.

  

By the time we got inside the bustling, delectable-smelling confectionary, I was sure I could not wait another minute for our order:  one coconut, one peanut butter fudge, one vanilla birthday and one salted caramel.

Do you blame me? I can’t, because I have had the extreme good fortune to sink my teeth into a salted caramel Georgetown cupcake. It was absolutely divine: if the entrance to heaven can be wrapped up in a flavor, it is that. Its cake was dark and moist, and its buttercream frosting was a beautiful golden, with a drizzle of caramel on top that simply made my day.  Mama’s choice of coconut was equally epic, with substantial shreds of coconut studding the batter and the frosting (which much have stood an inch and half high). The peanut butter fudge took me in instantly with its molten chocolate-ganache center and decadent fudge swirl. The vanilla birthday cake was the perfect mellow, thick, cakey confection that immediately takes you back to those birthdays, way back when, before you started wanting kahlua and heath bars added to your celebratory dessert. It was, quite frankly, a perfect ending to the outing.

 Was Georgetown my vision of the perfect college town? I’m afraid that honor still goes to Oxford. But as I finished licking out the cupcake box, my first thought was how I simply could not wait to go back to that luscious kapow, salted caramel dream of a cupcake, and streets full of wrought iron and canine sentries.

These thoughts seem somewhat familiar. Here I am, once again, reduced to a hopeless, salivating, daydreaming convert.

Silly ass.

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