Dining, Drinking &Wandering Our Way Through Washingtonian‘s Annual Best of Washington Party at the National Building Museum

The AT&T 2014 Best of Washington Party, hosted annually by Washingtonian magazine, was held on Wednesday, July 16th, at the National Building Museum, and the blowout event was a memorable feast for the belly, and truly, all of the senses.

Taking cues from the already-installed “The BIG Maze” exhibit within the National Building Museum, the 2014 Best of Washington party had an Alice of Wonderland theme, with massive cards hanging from the ceiling, a trippy, acid-fueled strobe light entrance, grassy knolls and giant chairs, personal cocktail potions and a variety of costumed performers.

As opposed to year’s past, when the second-level balcony was exclusively reserved for the VIP list, this year the balcony was necessary to fit all of the restaurant stalls since the maze took up a chunk of space on the ground-floor. This opened up great views of the National Building Museum in all of its glory from up high, sun streaming in from the windows, the building’s massive columns shining bright in colorful spotlights, and the massive crowd zig-zagging from station to station in delight and reverie below.

Restaurants and chefs at the Best of Washington party must secretly conspire on certain themes each year, because from year to year, one or two concepts or ingredients tend to be found over and over again. This year, it was salmon and tuna, in a range of raw forms, tartare to crudo to sashimi, as well as pâtés and terrines, all of which could be sampled from about dozen different establishments combined.

Still, there were more than enough unique dishes to go around. A few personal favorites included Boqueria‘s Conjonudo, fried quail eggs with chorizo on toast which was impressively executed for the masses; Doi Moi’s Salmorejo, a chilled tomato soup topped with jamon, chopped egg and herbs; Liberty Tavern’s sweet pea and mozzarella Arancini draped with lamb bolognese sauce; Hill Country’s juicy and tender smoked brisket; Medium Rare’s steak, french fry and gravy sandwiches; Toki Underground’s barbecue pork buns; 1789’s Maryland blue crab and corn fondue; Ted Bulletin’s double of peanut butter and bacon burgers with double chocolate and coconut cronuts, Ping Pong Dim Sum’s scallop dumpling; and the never-fail lobster roll from Red Hook Lobster Pound. Did I say a few? I suppose I meant 10.

Other unique fare ranged from DGS Delicatessen’s pastrami lo mein to Daikaya’s grilled pimento cheese and kimchee sliders. The longest line of the evening was consistently found at Rasika’s table, where they served Ragda patties, spiced and fried potato cakes with mint-cilantro and date-tamarind chutneys. Not every restaurant was memorable for more the right reasons though, choosing to serve seemingly random standalone cocktails, or in the case of El Centro, serving only guacamole and chips, unanimously taking home the 2014 Least Effort award.

When you couldn’t eat another bite even if you tried — and at the Best of Washington party, that tends to happen to just about everyone — there were plenty of other diversions…

  • Watching the insanely flexible performers. Women gawked with jealousy and men, well, the men just gawked, as the performers contorted their bodies in a number of eye-catching poses.
  • Posing at one of three separate photobooths which were setup at the event.
  • Having a caricature of yourself drawn up as you sat in a new BMW and imagined yourself driving away in it.
  • Receiving a massage in the fully-reclining business class seat display from Qatar Airways. About a world away from your typical, miserable coach-seat experience.
  • Walking through, and getting lost in, the giant maze exhibit.
  • Creating an engraved iPhone case from Patron in several different colors and styles. A fantastic giveaway, but where were the Android cases, Patron?
  • People watching. From the all-too self important D.C. crowd to the oddly under-dressed, and everyone in between, there was always something, and someone, to look at. As always, the gorgeous National Building Museum, with its massive marble columns and ornate balconies, provided the perfect backdrop to another successful evening and, yes, a true feast for the senses.

The Best of Washington party supports the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. A silent auction was held, with all proceeds going to LLS, with big-ticket items such as a week for four in Antigua, a caricature painting by the Palm’s artist to be placed along the restaurant’s walls, and a variety of food and dining experiences and gift certificates.