67 Seconds to Cross the Street (and other Washington, DC Luxuries)

Channeling Kramer and his adopted highway, I used all of my allotted 67 seconds to cross the street in Washington, DC last week. Just because I could.

Such generosity!

Indeed, the DC rules of the road diffèr considerably from those of New York. Here’s a few observations:

1. No one jaywalks.

2. Police officers are highly involved with the flow of both car and pedestrian traffic. On a few occasions, I was instructed to walk (or stop!) by an officer and not a sign.

I was so excited about spotting the IRS that I absentmindedly began to jaywalk. The police officer stopped me, asked if I’d like to cross early, and then kindly waved me on, accepting my apology.

3. Peculiar little motor scooters pepper the streets in haphazard fashion, and everyone rides them on the sidewalk.

So, I tried. But I couldn’t get it to go.

4. The sidewalks are impossibly large — like you could “rent [them] out.”

Watch the Portlandia RENT IT OUT clip here.

5. Streets swerve and curve, turning into other streets without warning.

6. The subways have escalators.

Really impressed by this.

7. Random folks wish you good morning. 🙋‍♂️

8. The city has outlawed plastic straws and the paper ones can contain gluten; steer clear.

9. Mocktails crafted by mixologists are a thing.

A ginger-based lime drink from Soi 38 (before I knew about gluten straws). #mixologist

10. Unique, ma and pa establishments hide behind nondescript, corporate exteriors.

11. Cream over milk.

Loved this coffee chain where half & half is the default.

12. Gluten free options are plentiful and I made some good choices.

Even the street fair had a gluten free option!

In town for a conference (NAFSA 2019), I found myself crossing the road slowly, and indulging in Washington DC’s other surprisingly unexpected luxuries — half & half, escalator rides and most importantly, its Michelin-recommended restaurants chock full of gluten free options.

While my days were filled with concurrent sessions, plenary speeches and professional networking, I managed to squeeze in some serious GF meals and an evening of meditation with the esteemed teacher famous on Insight Timer, Tara Brach.

It was my first time in an organized meditation class. I observed a disproportionate number of turquoise scarves and accessories (although not pictured here).

If you go as a tourist, you’ll likely want to cover the usual.

Doesn’t it look like it’s longing for better days ahead?

But you’ll need to eat, so here’s a list of gluten free highlights and other DC luxuries that I wholeheartedly recommend you try when visiting the nation’s capital.

Please note that none of these establishments are exclusively gluten free; as such, cross-contamination is a possibility.

Starting with the restaurant that impressed me most.

Karma Modern Indian, 611 I Street NW

A short walk from the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, Karma Modern Indian offers a lunch prix-fixe menu for about $24 that includes an appetizer, main and desert, as well as a sprinkling of palette cleansers (that I never knew I needed). Deserts often make or break the decision to do the prix-fixe, and in this case, the desert, a cardamom ice cream, made it the obvious choice.

While there were no gluten free items denoted on the menu, the server was knowledgable and he was happy to check with the chef when there was an open question.

Intrigued by the list of ingredients (Fresh Blood Orange + Fresh Lime + Turmeric + Ginger + Chili Water), I elected to start with the Tiger’s Tail mocktail. After the first sip, I exclaimed out loud–to myself–that this was the single best drink I had ever tasted. Pondering audibly, I queried whether it was possible that the best-drink-I’ve-ever-had didn’t contain alcohol. After the conversation ended, I decided to call over the server to share the news with him, too.

In all its glory.

It’s as if each ingredient in the Tiger’s Tail contributes an equal proportion of its unique taste to form a new whole that manages to preserve the integrity of each item’s flavor. Bravo.

For the appetizer, I selected the tandoori shrimp with a finely chopped mango salsa. The delicate nature of the fruit combined with the spice and crunch of the shrimp coalesced to produce a medley of flavor and texture. I ate slowly.

After cleansing my palette with a frozen drop of mango and orange, I thoroughly enjoyed the butter chicken (if not slightly tomato-y) with extra-long basmati rice for my main.

I know what you’re thinking. I asked, and was told that the onion atop the rice is fried separately.

For desert, I selected the cardamom ice cream, which was an unexpected delight.

Stunning.

In addition to the exquisite food, the restaurant staff exhibited an agreeable humility and fostered an hospitable atmosphere. An enthusiastic five stars.

Soi 38, 2101 L Street NW

This gem popped up on my Find Me Gluten Free app one afternoon, presenting an opportunity for upscale Thai inspired by street-food favorites.

Soi 38 is yet another beautiful establishment hidden behind a corporate facade, and its menu is marked with GF options.

I started with the Lime Ginger Fizz, inquiring first about the Coconut Fizz, which turned out not to be gluten free. This knowledge inspired confidence.

Watch the paper straw. Skip it altogether. This is before I knew that gluten was a possibility.

I asked the server for a recommendation, and she suggested the shrimp penang curry, marked GF on the menu. I ordered sticky rice in place of jasmine.

At first bite, I was mesmerized by the complexity of the sauce. Coconut at pitch-perfect level, combined with what seemed to be lemongrass and chili. The texture was smooth and creamy, but not thick, and not thin. The shrimp were good, but the sauce, divine. I suggest the sticky rice alternative, because you can dip the rice longer in the sauce without the cluster losing its form.

One other unexpected pleasure at Soi 38: the washroom sink faucet. So sprinkly.

Can you tell? Is this weird?

Oyamel Cocina Mexicana, 401 7th Street NW

I found Oyamel about 40 minutes before I had to depart for Bethesda to go to the meditation class, so I was unfortunately in a rush. I would have preferred to savor the experience, as this restaurant was yet another joy.

I chose a place at the Ceviche bar at the far end of the restaurant because happy hour was in full effect.

The bright colors delight.

The restaurant boasts an allergy friendly menu; gluten free items are marked.

Because I was seated at the Ceviche Bar, I felt compelled to order ceviche to start. I chose the ceviche rojo, a hammachi and cucumber dish in chile sauce with avocado and radish.

The server waited patiently until I snapped this photo, and then promptly took the dish away from me! Turns out he had accidentally topped it with a garnish containing gluten. He remade the dish for me, and gave the original one to my neighbor at the bar, complimentary.

The hammachi was good, but the vinegary sauce it was soaking in was my favorite. That, and the beautiful pink radish.

For the main, I chose the pulpo colorado, a grilled octopus in a chile sauce.

Tender and flavorful.

I wish I had had more time here to savor, as the bright colored scenery contributed to the delicious flavor of the food. Lovely place. Highly recommend.

Unconventional Diner, 1207 9th Street NW

For 10,000 attendees and a whole lot of fee, I was surprised to learn that the NAFSA conference had no food except stadium-like booths with lengthy lines and no GF options whatsoever (so why include a dietary restriction question on the application?).

This was the scene at the opening plenary (Madeleine Albright and Colin Powell).

With the help of the Find Me Gluten Free app, I found Unconventional Diner on the first day, located steps from the Convention Center. I was delighted to see GF markings, but the menu read a bit quirky after a four-hour Amtrak ride and two conference sessions. I was thinking bacon-egg-and-cheese more than dishes with long names and extravagant ingredients, but I decided on the chick pea stew with chicken and it .. was .. heavenly.

I’m still a bit squeamish about photographing my food (one of those people who does that), so a lot of pressure on this photo since I was sitting at the bar.

And finally, an Honorable Mention:

Red Velvet Cupcakery, 505 7th Street NW

I left DC thinking that NYC really needs to get up to speed with gluten free restaurants. Truthfully, I ate at Friedmans a few weeks back, and my bill came to $30 for a sandwich, it was terribly average, they had run out of certain menu items, and … they charge extra for GF bread? I thought their whole spiel was that they were a GF restaurant. And the mindful eating slogan?

Bleh.

But one area where I believe NYC has DC beat is the bakery. Nothing compares to By the Way, and furthermore, I recently tasted the red velvet cupcake at Sprinkles and I was impressed. And now with Posh Pop in the Village, we GF folks are sufficiently covered for sugary sweets.

Nonetheless, I enjoyed my GF black velvet cupcake at Red Velvet Cupcakery very much. We have two choices here only: black velvet and white velvet.

Red Velvet is a tiny, no-frills store; their website is more extravagant than their shop. Yet, their walls are decorated with this accolade:

Check out the fine print. It reminds me of when the mayor of Portlandia presented himself with an award of “best website of Pacific Northwest cities with populations under 700,000” (Seattle’s had too many links.)

What a surprising, unexpected delight it was to spend four days in the nation’s capital strolling leisurely across its meandering streets, feasting on delectable GF dishes, and appreciating the nation’s history that surrounded me at each turn.

On the last day, I noticed this:

Don’t know much about the politics of this, but it sounds good. Perhaps they might add 67 SECONDS TO CROSS THE STREET as yet another compelling argument? It sure impressed me.

Thanks, Washington DC, for the nice days.

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