Amtrak Improves Menus; Michel Richard on Team

It is not surprise that food in airplanes and trains aren’t known for flavorful and succulent taste. Booking a flight or buying a train ticket used to hold an air of excitement for many. For businesspersons, who often find themselves traveling four times a week, a good meal could be the one highlight of a trip. Unfortunately, the feedback from passengers about the food in trains and planes are usually not positive and often end up in complaints and disappointments. Imagine comments which include: “The chicken was cold. The bread was five days old. There was no vegetarian option.” Most people opt for bringing their own sandwich or not eating at all and waiting to eat at that destinations. Still the idea of eating gourmet during a trip might change the minds of some travelers. Amtrak has already stepped up its game by hiring top chefs in the United States to be the brain of its culinary advisory team in exchange for frequent traveler miles. With a little bit of salt and a little bit of pepper, the team of 12 top chefs are in charge of coming up with healthier and tastier meals for passengers. Cooks like Tom Douglas from Seattle and Roberto Santibañez from Mexico are among the gang of 12. They are joined by Michel Richard, well-known in Georgetown for his restaurant Citronelle, which closed due to water damage, and Central Michel Richard still up and running on Pennsylvania Avenue. From France, Richard spent some time in California before moving to D.C., where his cuisine won the heart of the nation’s capital and is a must-go place on the restaurant scene. The team comes together each spring to brainstorm new dishes for Amtrak’s menu. Their challenge is to come up with meals that are healthier and satisfy all palates. With longer routes, they have more flexibility to come up with more elaborate food, while in shorter routes, they have to be ready to come up with pre-packed meals ready to be heated up or served as it is. This could be the beginning of a gourmet experience when you travel short and long distances.

Take a Trip to the Washington D.C. Travel & Adventure Show

The 11th Annual Washington D.C. Travel & Adventure Show, a perfect event for travel lovers to get inspiration, information and interaction with other travelers, comes to town this weekend. The show is part of the largest series of consumer travel shows in the U.S. and takes place at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center on March 7 from 10:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m. The event is also open from 10:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. on Sunday, March 8. At the Washington D.C. Travel & Adventure Show, you’ll discover thousands of authentic travel experiences and speak directly to the travel experts who can get you there, give you the inside scoop, and save you money on exclusive travel deals. The show will feature speeches from some of biggest names in the industry, including Rick Steves, Pauline Frommer and Travel Channel personality Samantha Brown, will be featured speakers at Back by popular demand, the Destination Theater will feature location-specific seminars where travelers can draw inspiration and get information about the world’s most sought-after travel destinations like New Zealand and Alaska. Attending Washington D.C. Travel & Adventure Show is like walking through a living guide book with thousands of world experts to talk to. You can spend countless days and hours searching the internet or thumbing through a book for this information or just make a trip to the Washington, D.C. Travel & Adventure Show/ For full event information about speakers, stage and seminar schedules, exhbitions, prizes, giveaways and more, visit travelshows.com/washingtondc. Bon Voyage!

In the Footsteps of WWI Soldiers in France

Bastille Day, July 14, is a time to reflect on the enduring friendship between France and our country and on the revolutions that gave...

Still Life in Philly

Portraitist of Washington, Franklin, Jefferson, Hamilton and other figures of the American Revolution, Charles Willson Peale raised a family of painters in Philadelphia, naming his sons Rembrandt, Raphaelle, Titian and Rubens and his daughters Angelica and Sophonisba (not a complete list). One of the major works in the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s new exhibition, “Audubon to Warhol: The Art of American Still Life” (on view through Jan. 10) is Peale’s group portrait of his family: nine peaches-and-cream-faced Peales, including himself; the children’s nanny; and his dog Argus. On the green tablecloth is a still life — a tray of fruit next to a paring knife and a curled apple peel (pun no doubt intended). On each side of this canvas, nearly seven and a half feet wide, are two small still-life paintings by Peale family members; nearby are classic still lifes by Raphaelle, one of the first American artists to specialize in the genre. His father, like many artists before and since, considered flowers, fruit, cheese, cutlery, serving ware, wine bottles, dead fish and the like more a subject for artistic training than for finished works, despite the still-life obsessions of Dutch Golden Age painters (excluding Rembrandt and Hals). Grouping outstanding examples, many unfamiliar, in roughly chronological order under the thematic headings of Describing, Indulging, Discerning and Animating, the exhibition — the first of its kind in three decades — aims to make the case that, in the words of curator Mark D. Mitchell, “the story of American still life is the story of American life.” At several points, context is provided in inventive ways. Plate 26 from John James Audubon’s “Birds of America,” depicting now-extinct Carolina parakeets, is accompanied not only by several of the huge folio volumes but by four specimens collected in 1843 and owned by Audubon, their colors — orange, yellow and turquoise — still bright. In the Indulging section, visitors can explore the language of flowers at “You In Flowers” interactive stations, which generate personalized (sort of) on-screen bouquets from self-submitted adjectives. Velvet curtains evoke the Gilded Age setting of William Harnett’s largest trompe-l’oeil (trick the eye) painting, “After the Hunt” of 1885, painted for the Paris Salon but purchased for Theodore Stewart’s extravagant New York saloon. Trained in Munich, Harnett was a genius at depicting feathers (dead game birds), fur (a dead rabbit), metal (two firearms and a hunting horn) and the life-size green door — with rusty ornamental hinges, a keyhole escutcheon and a dangling key — on which these and other precisely rendered objects appear to hang. The superb selection of trompe-l’oeil works in the Discerning section includes “Reminiscences of 1865,” the movingly subliminal tribute to Lincoln painted in 1904 by Harnett’s contemporary John Frederick Peto, which shows a black-and-white portrait of the president and various forgotten scraps of paper tacked to a wooden panel in which ABE and his birth and death dates are carved. The later works under the theme of Indulging (which overlaps with Discerning) show the influence of Japanese art, both directly — as in Robert Blum’s virtuosic “Flower Market, Tokyo,” of 1891–92 — and indirectly, by way of the French Impressionists. Finally, the galleries featuring 20th-century art give example after example of modernism’s embrace of the genre. By including works by modern masters with distinctive personal styles — Charles Sheeler, Georgia O’Keefe, Stuart Davis, Paul Cadmus, Andrew Wyeth, Jasper Johns — the curatorial team compels us to ask “How does this work fit into the American still-life tradition and what does it add to it?” Several of these works are sculptures, such as Andy Warhol’s seemingly trompe-l’oeil “Brillo Boxes” of 1964. Screen-printed on three wooden cubes, the piece actually proclaims its artifice through the imperfections of its handmade process. One of the most beautiful works in the show is by an artist, like Peale, with Philadelphia connections: Alexander Calder. “The Water Lily,” c. 1945, constructed from sheet metal and wire, is black with a gray base, as far as could be from the colorful flower canvases in the preceding galleries. The flat piece of metal representing the lily’s seed pod, punched with holes, would never trick the eye, yet it is instantly recognizable, a triumph of observation to rival Audubon’s. [gallery ids="102346,125538,125533" nav="thumbs"]

A Tony, Townie Getaway to Frederick

Stroll north from the Square Corner, the intersection of Market and Patrick Streets in downtown Frederick, Maryland, and a freestanding mansion will appear mid-block,...

D.C. Bicyclists Killed in Tajikistan

Bicyclists Jay Austin, Lauren Geoghegan, Rene Wokke from the Netherlands and Markus Hummel from Switzerland were hit by a car on July 29, according to Tajik authorities and news reports.

How to Travel Wisely

To travel wisely, one needs to think about why one is traveling to a specific country in the first place.

Liverpool: Beatles and Birdies at the British Open

Standing beneath the liver bird-topped buildings of Liverpool, surrounded by “Scoucies” wearing Doc Martens next to statues of the Beatles, I found it hard...

In Brazil for the World Cup

We arrived in Sao Paulo at 8 a.m. to start our World Cup celebration. It’s the Brazilian winter and it was only 59 degrees. We watched a couple of games with friends from Brazil, Chile and Boston, then left that night for our rumble in the jungle. Our flight to Manaus arrived at 11:30 p.m. We went immediately to our boat, taking us to our floating hotel in the Amazon. On a jungle hike the next morning, we saw enormous spiders, monkeys, gargantuan poison ants and all sorts of other nature. We left the floating hotel to transfer into town that afternoon to be closer to the stadium. The Portuguese team was staying at our new hotel. Their star player is Ronaldo, considered by some to be the best player in the world right now, and totally hot. Security and paparazzi at our hotel could have been for the president. Our taxi was able to follow their motorcade all the way to the stadium. The blocked-off streets were lined with photo takers. I felt like the Queen of England. The stadium was brand new and beautiful. There were tons of U.S. fans. Our seats were front row, center. My Queen of England feeling continued. The U.S. had a fantastic game until Portugal’s goal in the final seconds of extra time deflated our spirits. But a tie was still better than expected for our team. After the game, literally thousands of people from all over the world were dancing in the streets. The locals from Manaus loved Americans. We had a lot of pictures taken and our dance card was full. The next day, we went out on the Amazon River to where two rivers – Rio Solimoes (from Peru) and Rio Negro – merge and run next to each other for four miles without mixing. The colors and temperatures of the water are completely different. Pretty wild to see. We spent the evening at the FIFA Fan Fest, where you can watch the matches if you aren’t able to be in the stadium. We and about 30,000 Brazilians watched their team beat Cameroon. That night we had a 2 a.m. flight to Rio. We stayed on the beach at Copacabana, which was like a no-holds-barred South Beach, if you can imagine. After two days, we had to move on to Recife for the next U.S. game, which we hoped would not be the last. We played the Germans in a torrential downpour. Being the fair-weather fan that I am, this was not what I signed up for. It was sort of the opposite of my Queen of England feeling. The roads were like rivers, our very high-end hotel room was leaking, cabs were sparse and I didn’t think to pack a raincoat. We found an intrepid driver to take us to the express bus station. We could hear water lapping at the bottom of the cab. I thought we would float away. The stadium is about an hour outside the city, so we had to join thousands of other wet fans trying to cram onto buses. It somehow all worked out and we made it the stadium in time to get a beer and find our seats before kickoff. Unfortunately, we had excellent seats again, so no overhang. It was a soggy day. And even though the Germans won, the U.S. advanced to the next round, so the celebration was on. More dancing in the streets. And then a nice hot shower. Of course, the next day the weather was spectacular. We hung out in the sun but didn’t swim in the ocean. Recife is known for its shark attacks (Yikes!). That afternoon, we headed back to Sao Paolo to prepare for Brazil’s first game in the knockout round. I haven’t been to Carnival, but I cannot imagine it is any more festive then what we experienced. Whole areas of the city were cordoned off and mobbed with fans. The Brazilians won in the final seconds and the dancing in the streets continued. But by then we had to fly back to D.C. and catch the games on T.V.

Manhattan Magic at the Rainbow Room and the Algonquin

The Rainbow Room: the Ultimate Room with a View The dance floor rotates at a snail’s pace. A ringside crowd, dressed to the nines, longs for the Count Basie Orchestra to begin. The anticipation is palpable. Under a chandeliered 23-foot dome, vintage wine and Champagne flow as if it is New Year’s Eve, not an ordinary weekday night. We are seated in the Rainbow Room, 65 floors above Rockefeller Center, surrounded by one of the few vistas in the world with the power to intoxicate: the magical Manhattan skyline. The only embellishments to an uninterrupted 30-mile view are “curtains” of glittering crystals in prism shapes, suspended like icicles above each floor-to-ceiling window. The streets of Gotham below us may have potholes, trashcans and petty crime, but up here, close to the clouds, it’s heavenly. Pinch me. I must be dreaming. When this high-altitude hot spot closed its doors several years ago, I mourned the loss as if an old friend had passed. In this hallowed space, I sipped my first glass of Dom Perignon and celebrated many a birthday. When news of its reopening – and major facelift – promised an update to its original 1930s-era style, revisiting soared to the top of my bucket list. One push of the lone elevator button and we feel like astronauts rocketing into space. After ascending, nonstop, to the “Top of the Rock,” we begin with martinis at Sixty Five, the snazzy new cocktail lounge with unobstructed views. Eye candy is everywhere. Massive displays of orchids accent walls of Italian silver travertine. Textured bronze mosaic tiles shimmer. A marble-topped rosewood bar, smoky gray mirrors, leather chairs and mother-of-pearl tables scattered under a faceted metallic-leaf ceiling make it hard to focus on ordering a drink. Even the nibbles that accompany cocktails push the envelope. Warmed olives marinated in olive oil are infused with an exotic blend of harissa (North African chili paste), fresh thyme, lemon zest, toasted cumin and caraway and coriander seeds. I could devour the entire bowlful, but I fear spoiling my dinner. Led by executive chef Jonathan Wright, formerly of the two Michelin-starred Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons in Oxford and The Setai in South Beach, the culinary team has created a prix fixe menu featuring American and international fare ($175 per person plus tax and tip, alcohol not included). Judging from the selection and creativity, he is also inspired by the views. In between exquisite courses – beet salad with goat cheese and crumbled hazelnuts, wild black bass with calamari and chorizo and decadent molten chocolate cake for dessert – we head to the dance floor, centered on the original, meticulously restored “Compass Rose.” I think about the boldface guests who’ve waltzed through this very room: Barbra Streisand, Al Pacino, Elizabeth Taylor and Michael Jackson for starters. Happily, the crowd isn’t limited to older folks seeking to recreate the past. Young couples who weren’t even born during the Rainbow Room’s heyday seem equally excited to be here. Some things are exactly how you remember them. Others, like the Rainbow Room, are better. But attempting to describe this surreal experience is a futile task. Just go. The sky’s the limit. The Algonquin Hotel: Oh, if these walls could talk… One step inside the Algonquin’s lobby and I swear I can feel the vibes of those who have come before me. Nearly 100 years ago, Dorothy Parker and a group of 20-something writers for Vanity Fair, Vogue and The New Yorker gathered here for lunch at the famous Round Table. The daily exchange of ideas and wit set the standard for literary style. In fact, the ritual became so famous that people dropped by just to watch the members of the Round Table eat. The New Yorker magazine was essentially created here. Fittingly, all guests receive a complimentary copy. Perhaps trying to channel the same spirit I’m picking up, an artsy crowd mingles in the lobby. The high ceiling and dark-paneled walls create the ambiance of a private club rather than of a big city hotel. Off in one corner, a young Dorothy Parker-ish woman in a fitted red suit and vintage cloche holds the attention of her entourage. Two men in black turtlenecks huddle together on a red leather sofa, manuscript in hand. Velvet chairs and leather sofas grouped around an eclectic mix of tables encourage conversation. So does the hotel’s policy of round-the-clock complimentary coffee and tea. Peering into the dining room, I see that the hallowed Round Table is empty, perhaps awaiting a new set of aspiring writers. We check out the Blue Bar off the lobby, so named because years ago John Barrymore convinced the owner that actors look best in blue light. Though the Blue Bar has moved within the hotel, and been refurbished many times, blue lighting still permeates the space. One step inside and I expect someone to yell: “Lights, camera, action!” While the Algonquin may be the oldest operating hotel in New York City, rooms and suites have every 21st-century amenity, thanks to a top-to-bottom renovation in 2012 when it became part of Marriott’s Autograph Collection. Bright contemporary furnishings, plush terry robes, thick duvets and fancy 350-count sheets are de rigueur. The perk I like best? Complimentary WiFi. (I hate to get nickel-and-dimed for that, don’t you?) Friendliness and pride prevails. Bellmen and waiters are walking history books and love sharing an abundant collection of hotel trivia. We learn that Orson Welles honeymooned here, Lerner and Loewe wrote “My Fair Lady” in a suite, Sinclair Lewis and William Faulkner were regulars and iconic female stars such as Angela Lansbury made the Algonquin their New York home – it was the first hotel to accommodate women traveling solo. The place has plenty of performing arts history, too. Harry Connick, Jr., Diana Krall and Michael Feinstein were discovered here. In an era when hotels are homogenized, for the most part, thank heavens the Algonquin has maintained its unique personality. The morning we depart, we take note of a few hotel room doors. Each one has framed words of wisdom written by a Round Table member. The Dorothy Parker quote on our door sums up our stay perfectly: “I suppose that is the thing about New York. It is always a little more than you had hoped for.” AlgonquinHotel.com [gallery ids="101951,135854" nav="thumbs"]