Outside the Gallery Place-Chinatown Metro last Saturday afternoon, a woman in a leotard dangled upside down, twirling and twisting above a gasping crowd. What was the occasion? The 16th annual Arts on Foot festival, which celebrates the Penn Quarter neighborhood. Despite the sweltering humidity, droves of people came out to peruse the tents along Eighth and F streets.
Everywhere you looked, there was something to entertain: acrobats, a climbing wall, jazz bands, tap-dancing troupes, even a stage-combat demonstration. Local artists and craftspeople were set up throughout the streets, peddling all sorts of wares that included paintings, jewelry, ceramics, and purses made of book covers.
But let’s not forget about the food. In the chefs’ tasting pavilion, notable toques spent a half hour each demonstrating dishes and divulging cooking secrets. Rasika’s Vikram Sunderam simmered a fish moilee with coconut milk and tamarind while giving the audience tips on making the recipe simpler, such as using canned coconut milk instead of squeezing it yourself. Charlie Palmer Steak’s Matt Hill, Central’s Cedric Maupillier, and Co Co. Sala’s Nisha Sidhu also gave demonstrations. There was a winetasting pavilion where you could sample a variety of wines for $7 and listen to free lectures by local sommeliers.
About 30 area restaurants, from the casual Nando’s Peri-Peri to more upscale spots like the Source, offered small but inexpensive ($1 to $5) tasting portions. Most places served what you’d expect—clam chowder from Legal Sea Foods, guacamole from Rosa Mexicano, and spring rolls from Asia Nine. Some places seemed to take the easy way out—Jaleo offered gazpacho shots, and Zaytinya sold baklava—while others went above and beyond with sizable portions and made-to-order dishes. The Capital Grille sold nearly meal-size portions of steak and mashed potatoes, and Rasika had the longest line for its $2 plate of warm chickpeas over crispy bread.
With so many different dishes to try, not even the acrobats could distract me from the festival’s main event—the food.