From Introvert To Extrovert

“A stranger’s just a friend you haven’t met!” — the all-singing, all-dancing cast of Oh Streetcar! in The Simpsons episode “A Streetcar Named Marge”

That lyric is something the Elizabeth Moore must have taken to heart, because the 24-year-old takes every opportunity to introduce herself to strangers, packing her calendar with three or four events a night (mostly musical) and gaining a wealth of life experiences by saying “yes” to most things.

An interesting approach to life from someone who describes themselves as a former introvert. During a recent dinner in Washington, D.C., Elizabeth told me about why she decided to undertake a 180 degree character change, and the good things that have happened to her as a result.

Special Agent Galactica

Huh, it’s been about a month since I last updated this site. Whoops.

Thank you in advance for your kind forgiveness. I’ll make it up to you later this week when I upload interview #55. Not much more to say on that one till it’s written, so let me tout the work of my second-most recent interviewee, Jeffrey Johnson.

His alter-ego is Special Agent Galactica, a pink-haired female assassin traveling through space and time. To relax, she performs cabaret at bars. A few weeks after interviewing Jeffrey, he told me Galactica would be performing in Washington, DC, at Shaw’s Tavern on April 13. The venue is a decent neighborhood bar, and even better: Sunday night they were offering half-price bottles of wine. So off I went to witness Galactica.

It was a great time. The crowd was on the smaller side (perhaps they hadn’t heard about the discount pinot grigio?) but Galactica kept their attention with a energetic hour or so of songs, comical stories, tales of intergalactic travel, and more.

Check out Galactica’s website to see where she and Jeffrey will be performing next. If they’re going to be at a venue near you, check the act out.

Space Oddity

The man in the picture below is Jeffrey Johnson.

Now picture Jeffrey — a Washington, DC, resident — in a bright pink wig, dress and makeup, standing behind a piano and performing a cabaret show. You’ve just imagined his creation Special Agent Galactica, a hired assassin who travels through space and time. When she’s not working, she likes to sing a song or two.

Click here, or on the picture above, to learn how Jeffrey came up with the show and his future plans for the special agent.

In addition to Jeffrey’s story of Galactica, he also had plenty to say about his extensive career in the theater, including a lengthy stint at artistic director of the now-defunct Actors’ Theatre of Washington.

Extra! Extra! Read All About It!

A few weeks ago reporter Perry Stein of the Washington City Paper called to interview me about Dining With Strangers. She took my blather and turned it into a pretty nice piece which was published online last week.

Pros of the article: Perry was able to take 15 minutes of my ramblings and make me sound coherent. I’ve received more than a dozen requests for dinner, most of them in the District. And the rarely updated Dining With Strangers Facebook page and more frequently updated Twitter feed got new followers.

Cons of the article: with all those upcoming dinners, I’m going to be very broke and very prone to an ever-expanding waistline. I wonder if anyone sells business suits made with elastic waistbands?

Matt For DC

Well this is novel: I wrote up an interview the same month it occurred!

Matt Abbruzzese is a New York state native who moved to the District of Columbia several years ago. He fell in love with the city, and started doing volunteer work for various community and local government organizations. Now he wants to do more.

He’s running later this year for a seat on an Advisory Neighborhood Commission, a lower-tier panel than the city council but one that still has some power of note. For example, the commissions have significant sway on liquor license applications. That’s an important, and contentious, issue for the ANCs that represent parts of the city where fights frequently break out over gentrification and whether DC has too many bars and restaurants.

In my interview with Matt, he told me his take on the city, what’s driving him to run for an ANC seat, and what he wants to bring to the commission.

I’m Walking To New Orleans

All right, I’m not really walking to New Orleans, that would be ludicrous.

However, I am flying down there for Memorial Day weekend and will be in the city from Friday May 23 through Tuesday May 27. I’m eager to interview anyone who lives in the city and is interested in dining with a stranger. Click here to book a free dinner!

Previous trips to the Crescent City have led to (1) great meals, (ii) varied and educating interviews and (c) pain for both my waistline and wallet. Here’s a quick rundown of the Big Easy residents that have already gone Dining With Strangers:

Dinner With The Jazz Man

The first interview of 2014 is here. Hooray!

In late January I sat down to dinner with DC-based jazz musician Aaron Myers. We met at the Mediterranean Spot, a small, friendly place in the U Street neighborhood.

Over plates of shawarma, Aaron told me about his early introduction to jazz and blues, his stint as a stand-up comedian in Los Angeles, his brief flirtation with politics, and his current life promoting and managing his own jazz career while working as resident musician at DC’s Black Fox Lounge.

Click on the picture above or right here to learn about his busy life.

K-Paul’s Six Years Later: Still Great

My last New Orleans restaurant review from my January trip down to that wonderful city. Uh oh. I’m going to need to write actual interviews again.

Some people look down on “celebrity” chefs and their restaurants. I’ve heard these critics grumble that they’re all style over substance, or that the skills that made the chefs famous have fallen by the wayside as the big name cooks step back from the day-to-day operations of their venues. Fair point.

Thankfully that’s not the case with K-Paul’s Louisiana Kitchen. Prior to my most recent trip to New Orleans, I’d only eaten there once before in 2008. And I only had one dish. But I’ve obsessed about it since.

I was a little early for my reservation so I killed 15 minutes by rolling up to the bar at the nearby Napoleon House. Yes it’s a tourist landmark, but hey, it’s in the French Quarter. It’s hard to find something there that doesn’t cater to the visiting crowd. But the slightly run-down-looking interior and laid-back crowd made for good surroundings as I sipped on a pre-dinner sazerac, the signature drink of the Crescent City.

Once my dinner table was ready I made my way back to K-Paul’s, a relatively small place that has been around for decades.

I didn’t know anything of owner Paul Prudhomme on my first visit. I was wandering the Quarter and just happened to notice the restaurant and its menu. One item in particular caught my eye, and it’s what made me obsessed: twin beef tenders seasoned and blackened in a cast iron skillet and served with debris sauce, potatoes and vegetables.

As I  learned on my first visit, debris sauce is shredded beef mixed with brown sauce and Cajun seasonings. And it’s outstanding.

I chose a surf and turf dish that would satisfy my craving for beef and debris, but also let me try something new. Out came one beef tender smothered in debris, alongside another house specialty: blackened Louisiana drum fish, served with green beans and mashed potatoes. So much food that a starter isn’t necessary to walk away sated.

As expected, the dish was amazing — the Cajun spices giving my bland palette just the right kick, and everything cooked to perfection.

The fish was delicious and it was nice to sample something different off the K-Paul’s menu. But I realized that one tender and one ladle of debris sauce is not enough. Next time, I’m sticking with the turf.

DC Lo-Fi

One of the first people I interviewed for this site has a photography show coming up this weekend, and everyone is invited. Although it’s probably most appropriate if you live in Washington, D.C. But feel free to fly in from overseas!

Michael Wilkinson is one of the brains behind Pete’s New Haven Style Apizza, a local pizzeria that is steadily expanding across the District and its suburbs. Back in 2009 I met him at the company’s Columbia Heights venue for a chat over a slice or two.

When he’s not at work, Michael is an avid photographer. This Saturday February 15th he’ll be displaying an exhibition of some of his shots called “DC Lo-Fi,” which — and forgive me as I defer to quoting from an email from him here describing the show — “seeks to capitalize on two points of familiarity to many city residents: urban vignettes focused on the disappearing signs of an ever-aging yet ever-changing city, and the ubiquitous square format of Instagram with its instantly recognizable filter.”

The show runs from 4pm to 7pm at the Anacostia Arts Center, 1231 Good Hope Road SE. And it’s free! The best kind of price!

Jazz Brunch At Commander’s Palace

Back from my cruise and have nothing memorable to report on the food served on-board, so back to the New Orleans restaurant reviews.

Oh, what a night.

At least that’s what one of my friends must thought as we took our seats at Commander’s Palace for Sunday jazz brunch. He looked a little paler and was a little quieter than usual due to being over-served Saturday night. So he was not enjoying the three-piece jazz band wandering the historic, sprawling restaurant in New Orleans’ Garden District.

However I loved the music by the cheery trio and, somewhat more nefariously, my friend’s face fluctuating between rage and wincing as a trumpeter excitedly blared notes from The Champs’ “Tequila” in his ears. I think they knew he was hungover.

Diners aren’t stuck with the band throughout brunch, and indeed we only saw them once more during our roughly two hours there.

Seems like a long time for brunch but that’s because this is a very indulgent yet relaxed meal. The menu has a decent range of options from typical brunch fare such as pancakes to some dishes found on the dinnertime menu, including an excellent turtle soup with sherry (accept the offer of adding more sherry table-side).

I’ve had dinner at Commander’s before and the nighttime service is flawless, the kind where every plate is set down at the exact same time and you only need to whisper the word “waiter” before someone has rushed to ask what the table needs. Brunch was a little more relaxed, with water refills splashing on to the tablecloths and soups being set down with such force that a splash fell on to the floor. But the waiters were impeccably upbeat and attentive, and those minor faults can be overlooked.

All three courses — yes, I’m greedy — were outstanding. I had the aforementioned turtle soup to start with, and the richness of the sherry complimented the thick, hearty starter.

Second course was Commander’s version of eggs Benedict and this thing was a meal in its own right. Perfectly cooked eggs were placed atop a biscuit and moist chunks of shredded pork, finished with what may be the best hollandaise sauce I’ve ever had.

After a few too many libations, we decided it was time to slow things down between the entree and dessert. We sipped on tar-thick, flavorful coffee — better without cream — for a while before our final courses came out.

For the last course, I had the “Southern style” pecan pie, a thick, gooey custard pie infused with molasses and served with vanilla bean ice cream. An excellent version of the dish, and a great finish to the meal.

I’ll never forget the jazz brunch at Commander’s and will be making it a routine stop for every future trip to New Orleans.

My friend, however, might pass it up.

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