Wednesday, February 15, 2012
At the beginning of January, I was one of the two to three million people who’ll take one of the hour-long guided tours of the Capitol this year that begin in the new Visitors Center with a screening of the film "Out of Many, One," an intro to the building, the history of Congress and its role in American government.
The $621 million, 16,500 square foot Capitol Visitors Center opened in 2008 and lies underground beneath the Capitol’s east plaza. The spacious center is floodlit by two 30 by 70-foot skylights, perfect for photographing the beautiful neo-classical building above, and holds exhibits of that tell the story of the US Congress and Capitol.
Tom Fontana, communications director for the Center, advises visitors not to overlook the Center’s Exhibition Hall with alcoves that hold wonderful national treasures such as the gavel used by Washington to lay the cornerstone and a small cast iron table created out of parts of the dome and used by Abraham Lincoln during his 1865 inauguration. Those unable to visit the Capitol in the immediate future can view many of its treasures online at visitthecapitol.gov.
Early at the start of the tour, we entered part of the original 1793 structure where our guide pointed out char marks on the wall, leftovers from when the British burned the building on August 24, 1814 as part of the War of 1812.
On the first floor, the crypt lies directly beneath the Rotunda and serves as a display of sculpture as well as a replica of the Magna Carta. The compass stone in the center of the crypt floor marks the point from which the city’s streets are laid out and numbered.
Beneath the crypt is a tomb once reserved for George Washington’s remains, but, because our first president stipulated in his will his desire to be buried at Mt. Vernon, the tomb was left vacant until it became the storage room for the Lincoln Catafalque, a pine box hastily constructed in April of 1865 to serve as a platform for Lincoln’s casket.
The tours include a look inside the old Supreme Court Chamber highlighting the fact that the court shared its quarters with the legislative branch until 1935.
Congress first met on Capitol Hill on November 17, 1800, and the building grew continually over two centuries at an estimated cost of $133 million as of fiscal year 2003. The current building covers about four acres and measures 751-feet north to south and 350-feet at its greatest width. Height-wise, the Capitol measures 288 feet from its base to the top of Statue of Freedom that caps the dome. Inside, the Capitol holds about 540 rooms, 658 windows and 850 doorways.
In addition to being the home of the nation’s legislative branch, the Capitol also serves as a museum of the nation’s art and history. In 1864, for instance, the original House chamber was converted into a National Statuary Hall, where statues of distinguished citizens from some of the states are now exhibited.
The most awe-inspiring part of the tour is the Rotunda, directly beneath the Capitol dome. Eight niches in the circular chamber hold a series of large paintings themed to the nation’s history. On the canopy of the dome, a massive fresco titled "The Apotheosis of Washington" honors the nation’s first president with 15-foot tall figures meant to be intelligible both close up as well as from the Rotunda floor, 180-feet beneath the dome.
Guided tours of the Capitol are free of charge but must be booked well in advance through the offices of your representative or senators or online at www.visitthecapitol.gov.visit.
In the spring and summer months, guided tours of the 60-acre Capitol grounds, designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, are offered. No reservations are needed to participate. Check the Visitor Center’s Website for the latest information on these tours. On the tour, visitors get to see many of the over 100 historic trees planted in the late 1800s and early 1900s to commemorate historic events and distinguished individuals.
For a place to dine, the Bombay Club, 815 Connecticut Avenue NW, is a few short blocks from the White House and has hosted everyone from former Presidents Clinton and George H.W. Bush, Nelson Mandela and Condolezza Rice to Madeleine Albright, Dick Cheney and Alan Greenspan.
While upscale, elegant and comfortable, the restaurant is unpretentious and maitre d’ Irfan Ozarslan sees to it that everyone is warmly welcomed. Cuisine-wise, the Bombay Club serves what many consider the best Indian food in the DC region. The restaurant’s award winning wine cellar is presided over by sommelier John Floyd, who likes to pair the kitchen’s flavor-intense cuisine with innovative grape varieties such as Zweigelt, the most popular red grape in Austria, and Taurisi, made from the Aglianico grape from Campania.
For cocktail lovers, the bar’s seasonal specialty, Cochin Dream, is made with ginger and chile-infused syrup, Hendrick’s gin, fresh squeezed lime juice and a topped off pour of an artisanal ginger beer. Phone 202-639-3727 or bombayclub.com.
Monday, February 13, 2012
Hall wines, especially the winery’s highly-rated Cabernet Sauvignons, share some pretty good company. For three consecutive years, the winery that features organic small-vine viniculture, unfiltered bottling and wild yeast fermentation has been featured on Wine Spectator’s Top 100 Wines list. Hall’s 2008 Napa Valley Cab came in at #18 on the list, and the 2006 Napa Valley Cab came in #20.
Currently, the Pennsylvania state liquor stores can special order the 2008 vintage of the dark garnet-hued Cabernet that packs a hefty 14.8% alcohol and sells for $52.19. The 2009 vintage, a blend of 84% Cabernet, 9% Merlot, 5% Petit Verdot, and 1% each of Malbec and Cab France, short be available shortly with a suggested retain price of around $48.
The opaque, complex and elegant 2009 Hall Napa Valley Cab has supple tannins, aromas of dark berries and plum with plenty of black cherry, licorice, chocolate and black currant flavors and a long aftertaste and silky finish. This outstanding Cab should mate well with grilled steaks (and burgers), lamb chops and sharper cheeses.
The Hall 2009 Cab was aged in 55% new French oak barrels for 16 months and should improve gracefully with age, provided you can resist the urge to uncork a bottle prematurely and indulge your hedonistic impulses.
Proprietor Katherine Walt Hall grew up surrounded by vineyards in her childhood home in Mendocino County, then went on to become assistant attorney in Berkeley, California, and later, while working for the Safeway market chain, developed and administered of one the nation’s first and largest affirmative action programs.
While living and working as an attorney in Dallas, she made an unsuccessful run at the mayorship in 1992, then went on to become the U.S. ambassador to Austria from 1997 to 2001. Looking at the high ratings her wines have been getting that climb into the mid to high 90s for some wines and vintages, she’s definitely still on a roll.