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July 4th weekend, food and fireworks

We'll be in DC the weekend of July 4 to visit 24 yr old son (Ballston-Arlington) and see the fireworks. He plans for us to go to either Ray's the Steaks or Ray's Hellburger, or both. Last time we were there (fall 2007) we went to CF Folks twice, Palena back room, Dino, Thai Square, Jaleo and Black's happy hour (Bethesda) before going to catch our plane home. We'll be there Friday AM to Tuesday AM. I was considering either Passage to India or Rasiki, maybe Majestic or Restaurant Eve in Alexandria for lunch, maybe Hank's Seafood, and the Sunday brunch at Cafe Atlantico? And there's some place in Reston he wants to try. Please let me know your thoughts on these. If we actually go to the mall for the fireworks on the 4th is there somewhere near the mall where should we eat on Saturday, or just have a good lunch and not try dinner? Or should we avoid the mall and watch from elsewhere? I imagine he might have a BBQ with friends as an option since it will be July 4th. He has a small car but metro accessible would probably be preferable since there will probably be 6 total. Thanks for your help!!

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  1. First of all, let me say that security concerns are always changing, so what might be true for one year is not necessaily true the next. Try to keep updated by visiting the National Park Service sites dedicated to this event.

    If you go down to the fireworks, there is only one place that makes this extremely time -consuming experience worth it, that is lying on a blanket, face-up just to the west of the Washington Momument. Looking straight up at the fireworks over your head, they will fill the entire horizon. At the least, you will have to get there very early in the day and 'reserve' your spot in advance by leaving your blanket in place. If you do this you can then take advantage of seeing the parade and visiting the incredible Smithsonian Folklife Festival. The food at the Festival is usually disappointing, but sometimes they strike gold, as the food changes depending upon the themes of the Festival. Last year, a couple of the Bhutanese selections were extremely good. Check back on Chowhound this year to see if anyone approves of the food once the Festival has started this year. But I would make sure to get back to your spot after the Folklife Festival closes (around 5pm). After the fireworks are over, expect it will take you two hours to get back to where you want to go.

    Other places to view the fireworks are from one of the bridges or across the Potomac River in George Washington Memorial Parkway. Many folks make a whole day of this getting to prime spots very early and having a cookout there. Escape from these places is usually fairly easy, but could still take an hour if you don't move quickly.

    In terms of your selections, I have been to both Passage to India and Rasika. If you like Indian food, then no contest Passage to India is better. However, the pickles and spices listed on the final page are a MUST ORDER to truly appreciate the food. They could make footwear taste good. Rasika is a European restaurant serving their own version of Indian food. It's a good place, I like it, but I don't mistake it for straight-up Indian. If you go, the crispy spinach dish is a MUST ORDER.

    The Sunday brunch at Cafe Atlantico is a very special experience. Essentially the same food as going to Minibar, but instead of paying $120, it's only $35. If you want the pre-set 14 course meal, it is served ONLY 11:30am to 1:30pm, or you can do a fine job on your own ordering a la carte until 2:30pm. Highlights are the chips, the pork belly, tuna ceviche wrapped in coconut, seared cigala, mushroom and egg 63 degrees (celcius, thankfully), the crabcake, and don't forget to ask about the soup of the day - served in a shot glass. I am not as fond of eating off the regular menu at Cafe Atlantico.

    Restaurant Eve is exceptional. I've only eaten in the bistro, not the prix-fixe Tasting Room. One of the few places around where it's hard to go wrong. They have a mid-week lunch special which is steal, but it is limited to the bar. The food here is quite a few steps up from Majestic or Hank's.

    A weekend visiting Passage, Dim Sum Brunch at Cafe Atlantico, and Eve would be spectacular under the most exacting definition of the word.

    4 Replies
    1. re: Steve

      Steve, Thanks for the tips. My younger son and I (the pyromaniacs of the family) saw the fireworks in 2004 (I think) from the monument just as you described it (awesome!) but husband and older son were not with us. However, that year the 4th was on Sunday and there were no food vendors at the mall other than ice cream, which was a surprise, and it was really too hot to eat ice cream, at least for me. Maybe by the time we got through security the Folklife food was closed? I think I remember some canopies or tents, but no food. We were very hungry by the time we finally got out. We were lucky to find a McDonalds open about midnight on the mile or two long hike to our car. If you can call it lucky to eat at McDonalds :)

      1. re: glecroy

        how old was your younger son at the time?

        1. re: Steve

          Then 18, now 22. He had just graduated from high school. That was the first time we had been to McD's since the kids got too old for the toys and said "the food's not really that good".

          1. re: glecroy

            Sadly it's really hard to find any kind of decent food around the mall. What you might want to do is pack a picnic.

    2. If the place he wants to try in Reston in Passionfish it is really good. Very fresh seafood and the soups are great.

      I love Rasika, but haven't been to Passage of India. I like the nuovo kind of take on Indian at Rasika, but I am not as versed in my ethnic foods at Steve.

      I would check out Eve's weekday Lickety Split lunch special if you can, if you end up in Old Town during the weekend, I think Hank's has good brunch. I kind of like it's laid back style, I don't like Majestic quite as much since it changed ownership a while back, still good, but not what it once was in my opinion, but I like my comfort and southern food.

      I think brunch at Cafe Atlantico is definitely worth a go.

      You might check out Cafe Du Parc for July 4th not sure about the view though. We used to watch them from the Hotel Washington's roof deck which alas is closed, If Charlie Palmer opens the top deck that would be a good view, I think?

      2 Replies
      1. re: ktmoomau

        Son said Passionfish might be the one he wanted to try. He is the one of his buddies who has to look for the food whenever they go on a trip. He looks on Chowhound and GreatBeer.com (because places that have great beer usually have good food too so he says). Like last time we were in DC, too many choices, not enough meals. Actually that happens in New Orleans whenever we go and also happened in Charleston last year. I appreciate your help. You both helped out last time as well (in 2007). I spent more time looking then, but wanted to know if anything had changed drastically, any new great places or old ones fallen out of favor, as C.F.Folks seems to have. Glad Rays takes reservations now.

        1. re: glecroy

          Just FYI, the Lickety Split lunch at Eve fills up quickly and no reservations, first-come style, so you may want to try for an early spot (or bring a book or other diversion until spots open up).

      2. Apparently we will not be able to get reservations at Cafe Atlantico for the Dim Sum Brunch, so I was thinking of Hook for brunch instead. Also, the Eqinox anniversary special sounds good, other than for the shellfish allergic girl friend. Also, will probably go to relative's retirement home for lunch on Saturday, and with the fireworks Saturday night that limits our Saturday meals. So my current tentative plan (son lives at Ballston metro stop) is Ravi Kabob Friday lunch, Rays the Steaks Friday night, relatives Saturday lunch, maybe picnic to mall Saturday night for fireworks, Sunday brunch Hook, Sunday night Ray's Hellburger, Monday lunch Eve Lickety Split lunch, Monday night Equinox anniversary, leave Tuesday AM. Should we go to Passage to India for lunch on Monday rather than Eve? We can't eat 2 giant meals a day, at least hubby and I can't, maybe the kids can (24 and 22 year old sons with girl friends). Thanks for your help!!
        Gail

        1 Reply
        1. re: glecroy

          Cafe Atlantico is not usually completely booked for Brunch. Even if you can't get in for the 11:30am -1:30pm fixed menu, you might still be able to eat a la carte I would think.

          The Eve lunch is not a big meal: two courses. But it is in the bar area with bar seating or fairly awkward sofa/coffee table seating. If you go to Passage to India, make sure you order both the pickles and spices on the last page to accompany your meal. Kinda funny hearing about a choice between Eve and Passage to India, such diverse options both culinary and geographic.

          At Ravi Kabob, make sure you get at least one order of both the chickpeas and the lentils. Go for the chicken on the bone and the lamb.

        2. I wish I could contribute to the answers, but I'm pretty new to the DC area myself. Can anyone comment on where one can go to see the fireworks and have a picnic--and be able to bring beer or wine along? I know that alcohol is prohibited on the Mall. Thank you!

          1. So is there a great place to eat at Eastern Market? We haven't been there before. We have to go to Woodbridge to the 90 year old aunt's retirement home for lunch on Saturday and plan to go to the fireworks on the Mall Saturday night. Would it be possible to get a picnic there to take to the Mall? Or has anyone tried any food at the Folklife Festival yet? I guess it starts only this weekend. Thanks! Gail