Wild Kitchen Summer Dinner Series

On a recent, gorgeous summer evening, I was fortunate enough to experience an incredible dinner party as part of the Wild Kitchen Summer Dinner Series sponsored by REI and Brightest Young Things. The dinner series consists of a number of pop-up dinner parties held throughout the summer in collaboration with local DC chefs to benefit an environmental charity serving our area. Many have already heard that REI is about to open a flagship store here in DC at the historic Uline Arena. It sounds like it’s going to be an amazing place with a cafe, courtyard for musical performances and giant fire pit. They plan to continue to host events like this one. REI recognized the link between people who love great food and who care about the environment and decided to bring them all together as part of their national United Outside campaign. Every single cent of the proceeds goes to the charity of the night. The charity for our dinner was The Chesapeake Conservancy which was exciting since the Chesapeake Bay is near and dear to my heart. As a child, my grandfather had a boat and we spent many weekends exploring the Chesapeake. And I also went to college on Maryland’s Eastern Shore and spent my summers working in Ocean City, MD. So, I was super interested to learn about the work of the Conservancy and all they are doing to protect the Bay and to give people access to this amazing natural resource that is so fundamental to our entire region.

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My gorgeous friend Haleh and I taking advantage of the spectacular evening light to snap a pic.

One of the reasons I chose this particular dinner is because the chef for the evening was from Whaley’s, the newest member of SE DC’s Yards Park restaurant scene. Whaley’s  has been getting a lot of buzz for its spectacular seafood so I knew there was potential for an amazing food experience here. When we arrived at Wunder Garten, a fun and quirky German style beer garden in NoMa within sight of the Uline Arena and where REI has their community space, we were greeted with a delicious IPA donated by Atlas Works and two long, adorably decorated picnic tables. Since the number of tickets sold for each dinner was limited, we were a small group of about 30 people just sharing a family style meal. First, we heard from REI and learned more about the United Outside Campaign and their plans for the new DC store. Then we met folks from the Chesapeake Conservancy and learned about the great work that they are doing and the improving health of the Bay. And then it was time to dig in.

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Fresh and briny Oysters Rockefeller

Of course there were oysters. Delicious oysters. Briny and garlicky and amazing Oysters Rockefeller on a bed of rock salt. Everything was served family style and the presentation was just spectacular. The second course was such an unexpected and delicious treat – soft shell crabs with a salad of roasted red pepper and charred corn. The orange of the pepper puree, the red of the actual roasted peppers, bright purple onions and yellow corn topped with the soft shell crabs made for a stunningly beautiful plate. As we learned from our Chesapeake Conservancy friends, the window of time when soft shell crabs can be harvested is very narrow, so we lucked out. I admit that I have only ever tried soft shell crabs fried in a sandwich, but these were grilled which enhanced rather than masked the delicate flavor of the rich meat.


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Succulent soft shell crab. Can you believe those colors?

And then for another showstopper – Whole Roasted Sea Bass. Delicate and delicious fish with a light rustic herb sauce and fresh tomatoes. It was a work of art but that didn’t stop us from digging in. As we enjoyed the fish and chatted with our dinner mates, the sun began to set and candles were lit casting a magical glow over the garden. By candlelight, we enjoyed the final course of the evening, grilled peaches with marscapone cheese and honey. A perfectly light and seasonal dessert after such an extraordinary meal.

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Stunning Sea Bass

Every single dinner in the Wild Kitchen series has sold out. And it’s no wonder. This was that rare evening of really special food and drink, great conversation with like-minded folks and philanthropy. It was an evening that I will not soon forget and one that has set the bar high for the perfect summertime dinner party.


Afternoon Art Break

Indeed, I am lucky to live in a cultural mecca with a plethora of museums and galleries. There are great permanent collections, new exhibits and art events galore to explore. And instead of waiting until friends come into town to play tourist, I’ve committed myself to taking a few hours here and there when I can to experience art. I can get easily overwhelmed and overstimulated if I try to see an entire museum. Taking an hour or two and seeing just one or two collections makes it easy to contemplate and appreciate the artwork and also helps to stimulate my creativity and productivity. It gives my day a great boost. And I don’t feel pressured that I must see every piece or that I’m missing out on something because I live here. I can take my time.

My last afternoon art break was at the National Museum of Women in the Arts. It had easily been ten years since I visited the NMWA even though I’ve always loved it. Somehow it just got overlooked, but every time I drove by I made a mental note to get over there. Like many area museums, the building itself is as much of a showpiece as the collections. It’s a popular venue for weddings and social events as the Great Hall and Mezzanine are rather breathtaking.

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The elaborate and intricate beauty of the chandeliers is reflected throughout the Great Hall.

The first work to really catch my eye was a painting called Superwoman by Kiki Kogelnik. I was drawn to the clean, hard lines and the strength that emanated from the canvas. The scissors are certainly imposing and the combat boots and dark glasses complete the “don’t mess with me” look. It’s refreshing to see a woman who is not represented as sexualized or existing simply to be pleasing to a viewer. There is so much pressure for women’s visual appearances and attitudes to line up with cultural expectations and be non-confrontational and pleasant. Any time an artist rejects that notion, I’m fascinated.

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A Superwoman indeed.

Next was this sculpture made of rubber tires entitled Acid Rain by Chakaia Booker. I instantly recognized her as the same artist who did another rubber tire sculpture in the Wonder Exhibit at the Renwick Gallery. This piece was equally fascinating. The texture and lines were amazing. It had a hard and industrial feel because of the materials yet was almost soft and flowing at the same time with the round shapes of the rubber. And the shadows and dimension made it really fun to photograph.

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The texture and controlled chaos of Acid Rain.

Juxtaposed on the opposite corner of the room was this tutu hanging from the ceiling and appearing to be dripping with wax. I had seen pictures of this piece before, Untitled #781 by Petah Coyne. The tutu appears to be floating in the air. It’s rather eerie. And again the textures were just incredible. This piece also references the traditionally feminine with the tutu, but then again it appears that the tutu is being melted and perhaps destroyed. And there is no female form here at all.

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Untitled #781

Of course it would be remiss for me not to include a work with bright, abstract colors since that is so much my own aesthetic. Symphony by Joan Snyder is contemporary and clean. It’s a massive painting taking up much of one wall so its effect in person is more striking than even in pictures.

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Bold colors and patterns caught my eye in Symphony.

This will not be my last afternoon art break and I will continue to share some of my favorite finds and the works of art in DC that really speak to me. In the meantime, if you also haven’t been lately or you’ve never heard of the National Museum of Women in the Arts, check it out! It’s not free like the Smithsonian Museums but tickets are only $10 and the museum is well worth it.