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visiting Washington DC for a weekend in March---how's my plan?

I'll arrive on a Friday and would like to have three lunches (Fri, Sat, and Sunday). I am not a large person, and I find that if I have a big lunch, I can't eat much if any dinner. So, I usually just have wine, good cheese, good bread, fruit and some chocolate in my room for dinner.

Here are some of my criteria:
*really good food (of course)
*accessible via metro and walking (I will not be renting a car)---I am a great walker and I can walk miles and miles with no problem. I am staying in Foggy Bottom but I can and will walk/take the metro almost anywhere :0)
*cheap (We are still paying hefty college costs for kids)
*holes-in-the wall are fine

These are the three places I'm tentatively considering for my three lunches:
***Saints Paradise Cafeteria (I love good Southern, and this place sound like it has good food and some character.)
***the buffet at the Garden Cafe in the National Gallery (thanks to mjhals for this tip)
*** Lauriol Plaza for a Peruvian dish with scallops and shrimp (I know that LP is not a favorite on this board, but I LOVE this dish and I love walking to this restaurant)

I may need a very small dinner on Sunday and Monday evenings---I'll be at a conference those days---so I'd love ideas for where to go without a reservation for something small---I will NOT want huge dinners. Some ideas I have are:
**Coco Sala for something like a bowl of mac and cheese plus a dessert (of course)
**Rasika for palak chaat

But I need more ideas for these "small" dinners. Are there any Happy Hours where I could get a drink and some small portions of really good food?

Oh, and a couple more questions:
1. Is the Cowgirl Creamery worth a visit? I usually look for good local cheeses at Whole Foods, but I will gladly go to Cowgirl if you guys recommend it. I LOVE the Cowgirl Creamery shop at the Ferry Building in San Francisco.
2. Are the salty oatmeal cookies at Teaism really good?
3. Any neat little cooking stores/food stores I should visit? Last year I visited HIll's Kithchen (love those cookie cutters for each state of the union :0) and Eastern Market.

I like almost all food except:
**sushi (yeah, i know i need to learn to like this)

Also, I don't want to eat Ethiopian on this trip. We have excellent Ethiopian in my city and I've eaten a lot of it in the last few months.

Thanks in advance for any help you can give me. I really appreciate it.

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  1. I just got back from a brief DC trip and will be posting a report shortly, but I can give positive feedback on both the Garden Cafe buffet and the palak chaat at Rasika.

    I got to the buffet on the late side - around 2 PM - but the buffet didn't look tired at all. I really appreciated the attractive presentation (lots of Le Creuset, no visible warming pans) - it looked and felt more like a potluck by good home cooks than a buffet in a museum. Pretty much everything was good, although I especially enjoyed the coq au vin, the ratatouille, and the endive salad.

    The palak chaat at Rasika *is* really good. I ordered the 6-course vegetarian tasting menu, which was waaaaay too much food, but the standout dishes (all available a la carte) were the palak chaat, the tawa baingan (a stack of buttery soft eggplant layered with spiced, mashed potato, served with a tart-sweet tamarind/chili/peanut sauce), the chestnut and fava bean tiki, and what I think were the tawa dates (the menu lists cottage cheese, mango powder, garlic and cream - what I had were dates stuffed with paneer, served in a creamy mango-colored sauce that tasted for all the world like a shrimp/lobster based cream sauce.) The bar in front of the open kitchen was a great place to sit as a solo diner without reservations - the seats are really a little too low to be able to see anything that's going on, but it felt less awkward than taking up a lounge seat by myself.

    1. Soul food: I haven't been to Saints Paradise Cafeteria so I can't speak about it definitively, but I suspect it isn't as good as Oohs and Aahs on U St., which has wonderful soul food and huge portions (a search on this board will turn up a lot of info). I'm not sure if they are open for lunch though - I would call and ask (202) 667-7142. This place defines "hole in the wall"! I like their greens and broiled whiting, but they have gotten a lot of love on this board for several other things on the menu. Check out Steve's comments on this place.

      Small dinners with really good food: I love the Happy Hour at PS7 and their tuna sliders are fabulous (not sure if that would fall under "sushi" to you or not). You can get 3 sliders for $12 at the bar. They do half price flatbreads at happy hour which are decent but not thrilling (I don't recommend the pork one, though).

      The mussels and the vegetarian hand roll at Happy Hour at Masa 14 on 14th St. were wonderful - this would be a great small portion dinner.

      I love the char sui pork buns for $3.00 before 5:00 at Ping Pong Dim Sum - they do half price cocktails as well. However... the last time I went there, they didn't have the char sui pork buns on special - or available at all. I was less than thrilled with the other stuff I had (see my comments and those of others at http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/674132) but this place definitely counts as a small portion and their $3:00 specials before 5:00 are a great deal.

      A search for Happy Hours on this board will turn up some other suggestions.

      Rasika for palak chaat is a great idea - I think this is one of the best dishes our city has to offer.

      I would love to talk you out of Lauriol Plaza but it sounds like your mind is made up!

      Yes, the Cowgirl Creamery is fabulous - wonderful, expensive cheeses and great sandwiches as well (good small dinner idea). They often run out of the most popular of their two daily offerings earlier in the day. They close at 7:00 and are closed on Sun.

      Yes, the salty oat cookies are REALLY good - I adore them, both the regular and the chocolate versions. Teaism is also a possibility for a light dinner.

      I think Home Rule on 14th St. qualifies as a neat store to visit - as the name implies, cooking stuff is only a part of what they sell. I also love the gift shop next door, Pulp. There is also a great chocolate shop near there, ACKC Cocoa Gallery.

      Enjoy your trip!

      2 Replies
      1. re: woodleyparkhound

        Oohhs and Aahhs is open for lunch!
        Small dinners: so many places to choose from that specialize in small plates. Coco Sala for salads and sliders Zaytinya (pan-Hellenic) and Jaleo (Spanish tapas, especially vegetarian selections).

        1. re: Steve

          Oyamel too for small plates.

      2. The original comment has been removed
        1. Great choices! Yes to your questions:
          Teaism's salty oak cookies are giant and amazing.
          Saints Paradise Cafeteria is a great find if you like Southern/soul food.
          Cowgirl Creamery is pricey and lovely.

          For another great small meal try Zaytinya on 9th St, NW.

          Enjoy your visit!

          1. I posted yesterday to thank you for these terrific ideas, but my post was deleted by a Chowhound Moderator because I included a recipe for Salty Oatmeal Cookies. . I do think this recipe (or, rather, info re where to find the recipe) is pertinent on this regional board because this is the region where one can purchase these cookies. I can't get them where I live.

            So here's what I posted yesterday, minus the recipe.

            Thank you so much for these terrific ideas! I've made notes and my next step will be to list addresses, phone numbers and suggested dishes to order.

            I have crossed off Saints Paradise Cafeteria; sounds like Oohhs and Aahhs is a better choice.

            Anyone willing to make suggestions for what to order at:Coco Sala and Jaleo (for Happy Hour/very light dinner)?

            Also, thanks for the suggestion to visit Home Rule, Pulp, and ACKC; they all sound terrific.

            I wish I had more time to eat my way through your wonderful city.

            Also, thanks for the thumbs up on Salty Oatmeal Cookies. Have any of you read Melissa Gray's account of trying to replicate these cookies in her book All Cakes Considered? (Sorry, I can't figure out how to underline All Cakes Considered.) I loved this book. Melissa Gray works for National Public Radio (as a producer, I think) and brings a cake to work to share with her coworkers every week. Her book consists mostly of cake recipes, but there are a few cookie recipes too. You can find her recipe for Salty Oatmeal Cookies, at: youlleatitandlikeit.blogspot.com
            Just enter "Salty Oatmeal Cookies" (minus the quote marks) in the search window.

            Again, everyone, thank you.

            5 Replies
            1. re: soccermom13

              Recs:

              Oohhs and Aahhs, grilled shrimp, lemon pepper wings or broiled crabcake. Greens and rice with gravy as sides.

              Coco Sala: Beef or swordfish sliders. Any of the salads.

              Jaleo: Patatas bravas, tortilla espanol, olive mix, spinach with raisins, grilled asparagus with romesco sauce.

              1. re: Steve

                Is this the tortilla espanol?
                "Tortilla de patatas al momento*
                Spanish omelet with potatoes and onions
                6.50"

                Thank you.

                1. re: soccermom13

                  Go to Jaleo rather than Coco Sala. In the same neighborhood, Jose Andres has another really good place, the Mediterranean Zaytinya. Home Rule and Pulp are okay, but nothing special. You can find all of their wares in practically any largish city in America. They are also out of the way for you. However, if you are in that area, try Cafe Saint Ex.

                  1. re: ChewFun

                    It's not out of the way if she goes to Oohs and Aahs. But I agree those two stores aren't all that, and definitely not worth going out of your way.
                    ACKC does have a very good hot chocolate though - but get the super concentrated "Audrey Hepburn" I think it's called.

                  2. re: soccermom13

                    Yes.

                    Jose Andres reinvents some of his staple dishes from time to time, so I'm never 100% sure the prep is always the same.