I never thought Washington, D.C., could be cool. But it's got so much energy, foodwise anyway, with young chefs setting up shop (while one of the city's most famous restaurants, Galileo, declared bankruptcy) and new, unstuffy hotels.
One is the Ritz-Carlton Georgetown (doubles from $499; 3100 South St. NW; 800-241-3333), an 86-room hotel in an old factoryyou can still see the smoke stack. Its bar, Degrees, is just great; at 2 a.m. I saw a dance troupe decked out in feather skirts, guys in tuxes and basketball players all lined up for drinks. Across the city is the Mandarin Oriental Washington DC (doubles from $375; 1330 Maryland Ave. SW; 202-554-8588), with a tranquil spa where you can design your own treatment. My friend got a seaweed wrap while I opted for a salt scrub with deep tissue massage and hot rocks and a mini Shiatsu massage. At the Mandarin's excellent restaurant CityZen, French Laundry alum Eric Ziebold served fingerling potato chips with little bowls of caviar and sour cream, and savory beef two ways: boiled and grilled.
I also went to Zola (800 F St. NW; 202-654-0999), the unexpectedly good restaurant in the International Spy Museum. I ate delicious asparagus and lump crab in lemongrass hollandaise and listened to the chef, Frank Morales, tell funny stories about the insane kitchen at New York's just-closed Le Cirque, where he used to cook. On my last day, I checked out the National Museum of American History at the Smithsonian (14th St. and Constitution Ave. NW; 202-633-1000), where Julia Child's kitchen is on display, including a medieval-looking blowtorch she used for crème brûlées. The museum also has an old Philadelphia Automat, the first waiterless restaurant in America, with fake slices of pumpkin pie and grilled-cheese sandwiches. When I was growing up in Manhattan, I went to the Automat on 57th Street after ice-skating in Central Park, so it took me back.