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Day 200: Bethesda-Chevy Chase Restaurant Week…again!

BUP logo 2011

It’s that time again, time for Bethesda Restaurant Week.  It’s a great excuse to get out and enjoy a good meal at an affordable price.  Try a new dish at one of your favorite restaurants or give a restaurant a try that you have never experienced before.  The 28 participating Bethesda and Chevy Chase restaurants are listed on the Bethesda Urban Partnership website.  Lunches are $12 – $15 and dinners are $30…well except for Le Vieux Logis who is offering $29 dinners just to really shake things up!

Some of our favorite participating restaurants include:

Assagi Mozzarella Bar

Food, Wine & Co

The Irish Inn at Glen Echo

Jaleo

Le Vieux Logis

Mon Ami Gabi

Raku

and Redwood Restaurant

But we have yet to try some of the places on the BUP list.  Perhaps this will be our chance to find a new favorite!  Any suggestions?

~Amy

Day 199: Take the plunge!

Bethesda Community Pool

It’s been awhile since I visited the Bethesda Community Pool located at Little Falls Parkway and Hillandale Road near the Capital Crescent Trail.  I used to live in the Kenwood Forest townhome community nearby and take my older girls here all the time.

Late one afternoon last week I visited the pool with my youngest son.  We had a blast.  Since the last time I visited they’ve built an entirely new six-lane 25 meter lap pool on the property.  The main pool is in the shape of a “Z” and features a 50 meter long course and a shorter 25 meter course that goes into the well of the diving area.  The diving area includes a large slide.  My son is not quite able to handle the deep-end yet so, to much disappointment, he has to wait probably until next year before he can give the slide a try.

New Lap Pool

The pool is open weekdays 1:00 – 8:00 p.m. and weekends 12 noon to 8:00 p.m.  Did you have a paper route as a child?  If so they have an “early bird lap swim” from 8:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m.  Not that early really.  The pool features a pool house with his and hers entrances.  First you have to check in with the staff and there are numerous options for paying to use the pool.  The easiest way to enter the pool is with a pool pass.  Click here to apply.  You have to be a Montgomery County resident to apply (and yes they will verify residency) and a Family Pass for up to four people is $275 ($20 each person thereafter) for the season.  A couple can get a “Pair” pass for $240.  There is no gender requirement for a couple you just need to reside at the same address.  An individual pass will set you back $195 and seniors get $20 off that.  A senior couple gets in for the summer for $230.  Speaking of the senior rate, that begins at only 55!  The older I get the younger 55 seems.

Now maybe you’re like me and you just want to pay as you go.  Each trip to the pool will cost $6 for an adult and $4 for a child; seniors at $4.50.  If you come in after 5:30 for the “twilight” swim the cost is reduced by 50¢ to $1.00.  As if that was not enough, you can also get a “P12 Card” good for 12 visits for the price of 10.  If all this is confusing just call the pool at (301) 652-1598.  I’m surprised the County has not yet developed an iPhone app for all this!

Speaking of technology.  When we were paying for our “twilight” pass the other day I noticed people zipping through the line next to me courtesy of a finger ID technology the County has up and running at the entrance.  What you do is put your forefinger in a device that scans your fingerprint and then records your visit.  Not sure what happens if your fingerprint does not match or you are on the “no-dive” terrorist list.  Perhaps you’re forced into the baby pool for a dunking of noticeably warmer water.  Why is the water so much warmer and slightly discolored there anyway? The next time the temperature starts to soar, head on over and instead of just putting a timid toe in the water, put your finger in the scanner! ~ Brian

Day 189: Would Norman Rockwell have painted this park?

Woodacres Park

After I was born I came home from the hospital to a small brick colonial located on Newburn Drive in the bedroom community of Wood Acres.  The Wood Acres neighborhood is bounded by Massachusetts Avenue to the west, River Road to the east and Goldsboro Road to the north and along its southern edge residents here enjoy a very unique and special park.  There are not many neighborhoods in Bethesda that have a park in the middle of the neighborhood and there are fewer still that have a park that is adjacent to the elementary school (recently renovated Wood Acres Elementary).  The proximity of the park next to the large ball fields of the elementary school results in park that meets a wide variety of outdoor needs including soccer, softball, baseball, and a number of special activities held here.  To enter the park take Massachusetts Avenue to Wynwood Road and drive to end where it dead ends into Woodacres Park.

Zip Line

In 1999, the residents of Wood Acres formed a citizens group called Friends of Wood Acres Park to raise funds to renovate the 10.4 acre park that includes two tennis courts and a basketball court. The park renovation and fundraising was a huge success with funding topping over $100,000.  Contributions from the Wood Acres Citizens Association, neighbors, friends, and businesses made up nearly 70% of the funds raised to renovate the park.  The result is a wonderfully updated park featuring an array of new playground equipment, benches, swings, slides, and a bike friendly “highway” that circles the park.  The newly renovated park was re-dedicated on July 4, 2001 during one of the highly acclaimed annual Independence Day celebrations that Wood Acres has become famous for.  The annual 4th of July parade, complete with competing floats from various streets and local political leaders, culminates at the Woodacres Park where citizen volunteers await to serve soft drinks, hot dogs, ice-cream and other treats.  Seriously, as my brother Matthew says of Wood Acres, “It’s Norman Rockwell come to life.”

Woodacres Park

My kids love to come here and climb all over the equipment (especially the play equipment that resembles a train), chase each other around the rubberized highway, jump on the “zip line”, and have me push them high on the swings.  Situated under the canopy of large mature trees, this park gets just the right mixture of sun and shade all year-long,  The park, as well as the community’s spirit, are truly one of Bethesda’s treasures and would have made great canvass for our beloved Norman Rockwell. ~Brian

Day 188: The Original Pancake House

The Original Pancake House

Today we stopped by one of our favorite breakfast stops –  The Original Pancake House located at 7700 Wisconsin Avenue (located in the office triangle between Woodmont Avenue, Old Georgetown Road and Wisconsin Avenues).  The Original Pancake House was founded in Portland, Oregon in 1953 and has since expanded to over 100 restaurants from New Jersey to California.  We start off our order with real fresh-squeezed orange juice that is so refreshing.  Today my young boys got their chocolate milk in a small styrofoam cup with a lid reminiscent of a coffee top from Starbucks.  They were really cute.  The portions here are huge so consider ordering just one order and splitting it with another adult.  One of my personal favorites here is a side of bacon.  They prepare very thick cut bacon that is quite lean.  I ordered one of my favorites here the blueberry pancakes.  Pancakes have been around a long time but The Original Pancake House really knows how to make perfectly fluffy pancakes that are both light but nicely textured.  The secret they say is their recipe for “old-fashioned sourdough yeast” that they use in their pancake batter.   It is grown in their own kitchens from a culture of potatoes, flour and sugar.  When the blueberry pancakes arrive they have a small cup of blueberry syrup with real whole blueberries in the syrup.  Wow it’s mouth-watering again just thinking about them.  Amy often orders the Georgia Pecan Pancakes that are filled and topped with hot toasted pecans and lightly dusted with powdered sugar.  They really have a great breakfast menu with everything including waffles, crepes, eggs (any style), cereals, and omelets.  They also serve a great lunch as well.

Lots of fun before or after the meal outside

If you come on the weekends be prepared to wait to be seated as the line can get pretty crowded some days.  The good news is there is practically a park for the kids to play at in the courtyard just outside the restaurant.  I blogged about this a few days ago.  After breakfast the kids went outside to play at the fountain but instead decided to terrorize the other patrons in the restaurant by gawking at themselves in the mirrored windows of the restaurant.  They could see their own reflections in the windows but did not realize the people trying to enjoy their meals inside were on the other side and really wouldn’t enjoy seeing two boys smile and make syrup covered faces at them.  Quickly we got the boys focused on the fountains and other ways to traumatize me instead.  The Original Pancake House and the courtyard is a great place for kids and a great meal.  The restaurant also gives back to the community by hosting an annual Christmas breakfast for the homeless and the needy.   Their website describes the event “[They] coordinate with local social services agencies to serve a free breakfast to almost 500 invitation-only guests. Close to 100 volunteers have made this an annual holiday ritual, each bringing a new hat, scarf, or pair of gloves as gifts for the guests in addition to pitching in to cook, serve and clean up afterwards. Monetary donations are used to provide blankets, toiletries, and clothing. There are even volunteer musicians who serenade the guests with carols.”  Stop by and enjoy a visit to The Original Pancake House.  ~Brian

Day 187: Enjoy the Arts this Weekend in Bethesda

Summers in Bethesda are a wonderful time to enjoy eating at our many fine restaurants, walking around the town, visiting with friends and catching some local entertainment.  One of the great things Bethesda offers is plenty of opportunity to enjoy the arts and this weekend is no exception.

ArtWalk 2011 logo from Bethesda Urban Partnership

July 8 – Bethesda Art Walk

As we posted on Day 42 of Bethesda365, the galleries and studios of Bethesda offer Art Walk every second Friday of the month from 6 – 9 PM.  You can ride the circulator for free to visit the galleries which stay open late for this event.  Check out the route for the Circulator here.  Call 301-215-6660 with questions.

 July 9 – Bethesda Artist Market

Enjoy fine art & crafts from 25 local and regional artists including jewelry, blown glass, painting, photography, pottery and more.  Plus enjoy some live entertainment while you stroll around.   This FREE event is located at Norfolk Ave between Fairmont & St. Elmo from 10 AM -5 PM.

July 10 – Open Door Reading

From 2 PM – 4 PM, author Joan Gussow and poet W. Perry Epes will offer readings at The Writer’s Center which is located at 4508 Walsh St.  This FREE event is geared toward attendees aged 18 and older. Call 301-654-8664 with any questions.

Enjoy the opportunity to appreciate the arts this weekend in Bethesda.     ~Amy

Day 186: Vapiano Pasta | Pizza | Bar

Vapiano Outdoor Seating

My daughter suggested we try Vapiano tonight located at 4900 Hampden Lane.  I had lunch here once before and I must admit that the European concept threw me off at first but tonight I think I grasped the idea much better.  Here’s the setup.  You arrive at the restaurant and you are given a plastic card from a friendly and helpful greeter at the front desk, much like a credit card, and then you take this card with you to one or more of several food stations located along the far wall of the restaurant.  The cleverly and well-appointed “fresh casual” restaurant features Italian decor.  Above the “chefs” are clever drawings and expressions, many in Italian and quite a few in English.  I liked the quote featured in the picture below so much I had to share it with you (click on the photo to read).  The restaurant is very warm and inviting with nice high ceiling and wide-plank wood floors.

Clever Sayings

Once you’ve figured out what you want to eat (which is a bit trial and error) your meal is then prepared fresh before your eyes by skilled chefs at one of several stations.  These include hand-tossed pizza and antipasti, fresh made pasta, and salads.  There is also a full service bar.  Vapiano is a world-wide success with 70 restaurants around the globe and another 100, that’s right 100, planned to open soon.

Tonight I ordered a specialty pizza just the way I like it and the crust was thin, crunchy and really quite good.  I paired the pizza with the Sauvignon Blanc I’ve talked about before called Fire Road from New Zealand (pleasantly surprised they had it at the well stocked bar).  My daughter ordered the Chicken Alfredo and shared just ONE bite because she was feeling quite territorial about it.  I understood why after I savored the delicious creamy sauce!

Our delicious meal

We really enjoyed ourselves tonight and Vapiano was just voted “BEST ITALIAN 2011” by Washington City Paper readers and it’s easy to understand why.  With an innovative serving format, including cool technologically savvy “chip cards”, reasonably priced menu, and great tasting food it’s no wonder they’ve become an international success story practically overnight.  Tonight, after seriously chowing down, my daughter complained about her proverbial “food baby.”  As for me, it’s a good thing this restaurant is located below my favorite gym Equinox because I could become a regular! ~Brian

Day 185: Puppet Co Playhouse – Summer Fun for the Little One

The Puppet Co at Glen Echo Park

Once upon a time I was a stay-at-home parent of little ones.  I can remember in those days (especially in the summer) desperately seeking something new and interesting to do to entertain the kids – and me too!  There are only so many times you can visit the same parks or the play pit at the mall.  And when it’s hot and sticky outside, you just have to find some indoor fun to keep everyone occupied that doesn’t involve watching TV or movies.

Here’s a great option for you that’s very affordable too!  If you haven’t visited before, and you live in or around Bethesda or NW DC, try a visit to The Puppet Co Playhouse at Glen Echo Park located at 7300 MacArthur Blvd.

This award-winning theater opened in 1983 and has offered performances to over 1.7 million people and counting, according to their website!  The 250-seat theater was designed specifically for puppet shows which are offered year-round.  Just about every six weeks you can look forward to a new, professionally designed show using puppets of all kinds!  The kids love it and you will too.  In fact, it will probably make you feel like a kid again.

There are generally two styles of shows offered at different times – one for toddlers and another for pre-K to elementary school kids. Tiny Tots  is offered at 10:00 AM on various days of the week and is designed specifically for the youngest audiences.  The shows last only 30 minutes, the lights are kept on and the doors are open so that no one gets scared.  The shows are only $5 and sure to please.

Here is a list of their upcoming shows for the month of July 2011:

July 9 – “Penguins’ Playground” – Sat., 10 a.m.
July 10 – “Old MacDonald’s Farm”– Sun., 10 a.m.
July 13 – “Penguins’ Playground” – Wed., 10 a.m.
July 16 – “Dragon Bandwagon” – Sat., 10 a.m.
July 17 – “Teddy Bear’s Picnic” – Sun., 10 a.m.
July 24 – “Baby Bear’s Birthday” – Sun., 10 a.m.
July 27 – “Baby Bear’s Birthday” – Wed., 10 a.m.

and July 31 – “Kooky Kreatures” – Sun., 10 a.m.

For the older audience, pre-K to about 4th grade, stop by and enjoy a 50-minute show for $10.  Through July 17th, they are showing “The Great Dinosaur Mystery!”  Then from July 22nd – September 4th, enjoy the delights of “The Wizard of Oz” like you’ve never heard the story told before.  You might book early for this popular show!

Showtimes are:

Thursdays & Fridays – 10 a.m. & 11:30 a.m.

Saturdays & Sundays – 11:30 a.m. & 1 p.m.

Plus there will be an ASL performance of The Wizard of Oz on August 14 at 1 pm.  This summer I hope you enjoy  a change of pace from the same old things and venture out to Glen Echo Park for a Puppet Co performance.  Your kiddo will be glad you did.     ~Amy

Day 184: Happy 4th of July Bethesda!

The Fireworks Display over the National Mall 2011...from our living room

This 235th celebration of the signing of the Declaration of Independence was experienced in our town like every other across the nation today.  There were neighborhood parades, countless numbers of backyard barbeques and gatherings of family and friends dressed in red, white and blue.  Of course, there were fireworks displays too but in Bethesda where the pyrotechnics are not legal, many people journey a few miles down the road to the Capital and enjoy the annual fireworks display on the National Mall.  This year a record number of attendees showed up for the annual celebration of our nation’s independence.

A beautiful view with the Capital in the foreground

As for Brian and me, well, we opted to enjoy the National Independence Day celebration on the Mall from the comforts of our living room – as did many Bethesda residents, I’m sure.  Here are some of our favorite shots, regrettably blurry as they were taken of our TV from our cell phone!  LOL!  Oh well, you get the idea.  Happy 4th of July Friends!  We hope it was wonderful for you and your families.

Day 183: Unleash Your Inner Artist at the Yellow Barn Studio

Yellow Barn Studio

Inside of many of us you’ll find the soul of an artist – a dancer, a painter, a writer, a photographer.  Few lucky people have found a way to make their art become their livelihood but if you, like me, have an artist inside with no outlet to express it, you’re in luck.  If you live in or around Bethesda, there is a place for you to unleash your inner artist (talented or not!) at the Yellow Barn Studio & gallery at Glen Echo Park.

Founded in 1994 by Walter Bartman who continues to serve as its Director today, the Yellow Barn was created to bring together a community of artists and provide a means to show their work, grow and improve their skills, and ultimately sell their work.  Additionally, Mr. Bartman has been teaching art in the Bethesda area for over 30 years including some time spent as an instructor at Walt Whitman High School.  He continues to serve our community as a teacher through the many classes offered at the Yellow Barn Studio.  The classes cater to the absolute beginner (like me!) to the skilled technician, thus far serving over 9,000 students since 1994.

The Glen Echo Park’s website offers a comprehensive list of classes available to try your hand at drawing or painting including watercolor, oil and acrylics.  Prices appear to range anywhere from $145 – $295 and are offered all throughout the summer.

Gallery Hours

If your interest in art is simply limited to the appreciation of it, you will still want to stop by the Yellow Barn Gallery on Saturdays and Sundays between 12 PM – 5 PM  to enjoy the exhibitions.  You can also support the arts in our community by joining the Friends of the Yellow Barn to promote the ongoing programs there and scholarships for students, among other perks.  Lastly, every month or so, the Stone Tower Artist-In-Residence program showcases the works of a featured local artist providing an opportunity for the public to stop by and see the artist in action or hear lectures in the studio.  This month you can enjoy the talents of Barbara French Pace who specializes in landscape paintings using oil and some acrylics and pastels.  She is offering art talks on Sundays from 1 – 2 PM.

Enjoy the opportunity to learn more about the world of art, explore your inner creative skills or just appreciate the fine works of the artists in residence at the Yellow Barn Studio & Gallery. While you’re there, perhaps you could take in a ride on the old Carousel as well!     ~Amy

Day 182: Crawford Tire

Crawford Tire

Someone once said, “The only thing you can count on is death and taxes.”  I’d like to add to that “car maintenance and repairs.”  I had a good friend who used to work for a luxury automobile dealer in Bethesda and he let me in on a number of disturbing “secrets” of the business.  Ever since he opened my eyes to what was really going on behind the scenes I’ve been suspicious and leery of dealerships and auto repair facilities and the games they play.  I’m going out on a limb here and recommending Crawford Tire located at 7015 Arlington Road next to the Post Office.  They’ve been servicing cars in our area for the past 20 years and are open from 7:00 a.m to 7:00 p.m. M-F and 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. on Saturday (they get to sleep in until 7:30 a.m. on Saturday).

Full Service Shop

Here’s why I like this family owned and operated company.  #1. Great Tires. They really know their tires.  They are a Goodyear Tire and Service center affiliated with Goodyear, the world’s largest tire company.  Did you know that the first Goodyear balloon airship was built in 1912?  #2. Knowledgeable. Our service advisor Rick is just one of the many very knowledgeable people on staff.  He not only knows tires, but all the major systems of a car, so Crawford can assist you in maintaining your car at far less expense than paying the typical dealer to do the exact same service.  There ASE certified technicians handle tires, alignment and rotation, brakes and shocks, heating, air-conditioning, batteries, belts and hoses, exhaust systems and even transmissions and major engine repairs.  Basically Crawford’s got you covered from bumper to bumper.  They are also a Maryland State Authorized Inspection Station.  #3. Great Value.  Amy and I both needed tires recently and they did an excellent job.  Not only was Crawford Tire significantly less expensive than our respective local car dealers, they also beat many “larger” competitors that advertise on the internet and not nearly as convenient to our area to get the service.  #4. Honest.  I really feel we can trust Rick to look out for our cars and not sell us service our cars don’t really need.   As real estate professionals we depend on our cars for our livelihood and need them available nearly everyday to service our clients.  Here’s a tip.  Their website has some great coupons so before you head over for service checkout this Coupon link for the latest deals. In summary, Crawford Tire keeps us on the road, our passengers safe, and a little more cash in our wallets. ~Brian

Day 180: Party Mania

Party Mania

Did you say let’s party?  If you did, and you’re the host, you need to head down to Party Mania located at 4910 Cordell Avenue.  This store looks small from the street but don’t let that diminutive store front fool you.  The store is surprisingly deep and amazingly well stocked.  Here you’ll find all the items you’ll need to do that party right.  This is THE place if you need balloons.  There must be over 100 helium balloons to choose from all displayed high along the outside wall of the store.  They’ve also got a ton of cards for every occasion (rivaling the selection you might find in a Hallmark store), Pinatas, costumes, paper goods (plates, cups etc.), and party supplies you don’t even know you need but do.  Beer pong supplies?  They got it.  Wrapping paper, ribbons and bows?  Check.  Small toys and goodie bags.  Yup.

My Own Pet Balloon dog

They’ve also got the hottest balloons going right now the popular My Own Pet Balloons.  These balloons are really cool because they are shaped like animals like dogs, cats, even dinosaurs.  There are 27 breeds and animals to choose from.  The balloons were recently featured on the Today Show.  The animal legs are flexible and weighted, keeping the balloon hovering the appropriate distance off the ground.  As you move the balloon forward the legs release from the ground and allow the balloon to “walk” with the owner.  Really, they are so much fun and the best part is there’s no mess to pick up after walking them!

Ghostbuster Outfit

Amy and I discovered this store shortly after they opened this past Halloween.  Before they loaded the store up with every party related item known to mankind they had the store crammed full with all kinds of costumes.  We settled on Fred and Wilma Flintstone last year and the outfits were hilarious (at least we thought so).  This year they plan to clear out some of the party items and again have a huge selection of Halloween gear ready and available.  I’m thinking Amy might look really good in this Ghostbusters outfit (black boots with 6″ heels not included!).  Click on the photo to see more details, such as the fine stitching on the outfit.

There’s a party store… in our Bethesda neighborhood….Who ya gonna call?  Party Mania! ~Brian

Day 179: Events in Bethesda this Weekend

BUP logo

Bethesda Urban Partnership (BUP) is a great resource for planning your weekend activities in Bethesda.  They offer a comprehensive calendar of events and keep things happening in our quaint little town, including festivals, concerts, farmers markets and even outdoor movies.  If you’re looking for fun things to do this weekend, there’s quite a lot to choose from before the 4th of July holiday rolls around.  Here are some highlights of events starting tomorrow, June 30th:

Thursday, 6/30: Dance the night away at the Summer Concert Series at Veteran’s Park featuring the jazz and soulful sounds of LaRue Boogaloo from 6 PM – 8 PM.  Veteran’s Park is located at the corners of Woodmont Ave. and Norfolk and thanks to BUP, the concert is FREE!

Veteran's Park

Friday, 7/1: Enjoy live music and an outdoor Dance Concert at Bethesda Metro Center at the corner of Wisconsin Ave. & Old Georgetown Rd. from 6 PM – 9 PM.  This event is also FREE.

Saturday, 7/2: Laugh til you cry at Laugh Riot at the Hyatt.  This live standup comedy show will feature engineers, government employees and IRS agents who moonlight as local comics.  Actually, I’m just kidding about that but the comics are actually locals so it wouldn’t surprise me if you did have the garden variety Housewife of Bethesda up there!  (Check out our blog from Day 53 for details.)  The Hyatt Regency Hotel is located  at 7400 Wisconsin Ave.  The show costs $10 and begins at 8 PM.

 

Farm Market Veggies

Sunday, 7/3: Pop in to visit the local farm markets and enjoy the chance to meet the farmers themselves and take home some of the freshest fruits and veggies of the season.  The Bethesda FRESHFARM Market is located at Norfolk Ave. between Fairmont & St. Elmo Aves. The market is open from 9am-1pm and FREE to attend.  The Bethesda Central Farm Market is on Elm St. between Woodmont & Wisconsin also from 9am-1pm and also FREE…well, that is, until you buy something.  And I promise you will buy something.  🙂

We plan to feature details in a future blog about 4th of July events in our area, but in the meantime, enjoy the beautiful weekend ahead!     ~Amy

Day 178: Mia's Pizzas

Mia's Pizzas

Mia’s Pizzas is located at 4926 Cordell Avenue in the Woodmont Triangle area.  My first experience here was on a cool, but pleasant fall evening, when we enjoyed some of their wood-fired pizzas on their patio under a colorful umbrella.  The pizza is really good as any pizza should be when the word pizza is in your company name.  Mia, the founder, it turns out is a real person and she actually comes to the restaurant every night to prepare food.  Her pizza menu includes the classic “margherita” – tomato sauce, mozzarella di bufala, fresh basil  for $14 as well as the more exotic “the littleneck” – clams in the shell, garlic, capers, spicy sprinkles, parmesan also for $14 and many other favorites in between. There’s a nice mix of salads on the menu as well including insalata mista, chopped romaine, arugula & pear and the classics Ceasar and spinach salads.  We started our order with bruchette with portobello mushrooms, butternut squash and goat cheese that was delicious.  Mia’s also has a decent kids menu with mini pizza, grilled cheese, mac-n-cheese and buttered noodles.  Lastly, don’t forget the dessert.  They’ve caught the cupcake craze and have a “cupcake of the day” or you could choose from chocolate mousee, crème brûlée, chocolate chip pudding or a caramel apple crisp.

Mia's Wine Selections

They have a nice selection of wines including sparkling, rose, white and red wines.  They also have draft and bottled beer as well.  Our choice was the Sauvignon Blanc Fire Road by Marlborough from New Zealand.  I asked a wine connoisseur once why the Sauvignon Blancs from New Zealand were so good and I was told that the flavor comes from the “struggle” the grapes have to endure in the climate in New Zealand.  The climate forces the grape vines to work hard to obtain the necessary nutrients and that adds to the intensity of the flavor.   One famous quote I heard about drinking one’s first New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc was that it was like having sex for the first time!  Hmmmm.  Not sure about that but If that’s is true I think it should be served in a shot glass instead of a wine glass!  Short and sweet! (I’m gonna hear about this from Amy).

Finally, this is a nice restaurant to visit when the weather is nice.  In fact Bethesda Magazine just featured Mia’s in their latest issue as one of their favorite outdoor eating spots.  Stop by Mia’s and if you see someone having their first Sauvignon Blanc, tell the waiter “I’ll have what she’s having!” ~ Brian

Day 177: Transport Yourself to Italy and La Dolce Vita!

Bella Italia at 4934 Hampden Ln

Recently Brian and I discovered that there is a little slice of Italy right here in Bethesda.  Now I’m not just talking about an Italian restaurant, but rather a place where you can go and feel like you are there, walking into a little Italian shop where you can take Italian cooking classes, experience food and wine tastings, attend an Italian book club, make Italian travel plans and share travel discussions with others who also love all things Italy.  Of course, you can also select fine Italian foods, ceramics, housewares, jewelry and books – imported straight from the “Boot” – to enjoy in your home.  Where is this little slice of Italy in Bethesda?  It’s Bella Italia located at 4934 Hampden Lane.  The unassuming boutique is much more than meets the eye.

Owners Bill and Suzy Menard are passionate about Italy.  Apparently it all began when Bill was a student at Georgetown University Law Center and the family spent his summer program in Florence.  They were hooked on Italy!  Then there was a cooking class in 1995 on the Italian Riviera that sparked in them an idea to develop an Internet-based Italian import business that they called e-italianfoods.com.  Now their dream has grown even further and bloomed into their boutique, Bella Italia, on Hampden Lane where they offer all things Italy to Bethesda residents, visitors and, of course, to anyone visiting their on-line store.

Hand-painted ceramics from Italy

Bella Italia means beautiful Italy.  Their shop, like Italy, is bursting with color and the delicacies of the Italian culture.  On our recent visit to Bella Italia, I couldn’t help but leave the shop with a bundle of tasty delights including the most amazing olive oil I have ever had and the plumpest, meatiest and most incredible black and green olives ever!

I served the olives at an Italian dinner party for 18 family members – including my father.  I saw him grab one and I watched him take a bite into it – knowing that there would be some kind of reaction from him.  Sure enough, the look on his face was one of sheer amazement and delight.  All I had to say was, “I know!  Right?!”  Yes, he knew – it was the best he had ever had.  Frankly, I can’t believe that I am devoting this much blog space to talking about the olives, but seriously, they rocked.  I also purchased some pasta that day and I am sure it will knock my socks off too but I haven’t had a chance to cook it yet.  But Bella Italia is more than just food.

Beautiful Italian pieces - great gifts!

Bill and Suzy Menard are truly devoted to their Italian addiction and they are kind enough to want to share it with everyone!  As such, if you are at all interested in visiting Italy, perhaps consider a stay at their private residence La Fattoria del Gelso, an 8-bedroom farmhouse in the tiny village of Cannara near Assisi and only about 2-hours from Florence.  It’s available for rent by the week or you can make the trip with Bill and Suzy on a private tour.  They travel there several times per year and you can read more or even book a reservation on their website, Experience Umbria.

Oil, vinegar and other treats

If travel to Italy itself is too far-fetched, consider some cooking classes or tastings at Bella Italia.  Their next scheduled event is planned for July 9th at 7 PM where you can enjoy a guided tasting of delicious Italian delicacies with food importer, Andrea Tosalini, owner of Fruit of the Boot (I love that name!).  To book your spot, you can register on their website ($20 fee to register). It sounds like some good Italian eating to me!

A great option for unique, classy, quality gifts and housewares, their shop is chock full of beautiful pieces, hand crafted ceramics and tableware, delicious foods, spices, cookies, crackers, antipasti, oil & vinegar, pasta, sauces and more – all of which can be assembled into a beautiful gift basket for someone special.  If you love all things Italian, you will love Bella Italia.  I bet you can’t leave empty-handed!

Buon Appetito!

~Amy

Day 176: Bethesda Tranquility

A peaceful getaway

Every now and then I stumble upon a small, off the beaten path, sanctuary in Bethesda and this is just one of those places.  A place where you can forget you’re in a bustling place like Bethesda and just relax.  And, as a yoga instructor would say, “just breathe.”  This respite is located in a courtyard between Old Georgetown Road, Woodmont and Wisconsin Avenues.

Many years ago I took my daughters to the Original Pancake House (a topic of a future blog for sure) for the first time.  There was a long line so we had to wait outside and it was then that we first discovered this great little “park” nestled between the tall office buildings.   The “park,” or courtyard really, is located just outside the entrance to the Original Pancake house and is tucked away from the street a bit.  You have to climb a staircase to find it (if you are coming from Woodmont Avenue) or use the pedestrian bridge that traverses the South side of Old Georgetown Road with the North end at the Metropolitan apartment building (see map).

Where is this place?

Those many years ago while the girls and I waited our turn to be called for breakfast they laughed and enjoyed walking along the edge of the fountain –tempting fate with the water below (an impressive 6″ deep).  They even jumped across the water on a few of the large stepping-stones once they built up their courage.

Stop light sculpture

I’ve come back to this spot many times since then just to sit and enjoy the Stonehenge-like monument and the amazing stoplight sculpture.  I’ve stopped by during lunch hour and seen quite a few office workers camped out here enjoying their lunch and a brief “escape” from their cubicles.  So the next time you’re getting some Java at Caribou Coffee, slip around to the back, and sit down and enjoy the peaceful sounds of the fountain, the sculptures, and remember to just breathe. ~Brian