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TRAVEL: Star-Spangled Getaway



The $24 million renovation and redesign of the hotel was overseen by celebrated designer Tony Chi, a modernist based in New York with a passion for style and design innovation. The tone of his design was apparent the minute we walked past two massive glass sculptures etched with images of Washington's blossoming cherry trees. The nation's-capital theme carries through to the persimmon-colored burlap wall behind the reception area that hints at the red stripes of the American flag.

Chi has married modernism with classic American style. The beauty in the design is natural. Limestone floors, for example, give way to white oak floor panels. Textures and fabrics along with Windsor-style seating and rocking chairs throughout the lobby elicit an Americana feel.

A marble-and-glass bar is located next to the hotel's Tea Cellar, which features rare and limited-production single-estate teas from remote regions of China, Japan, Sri Lanka and the Himalayas. The cellar has more than 50 vintages of teas — some as prized as fine wine. In order to preserve and age the teas, the hotel stores them in large bricks. The glass humidor in the cellar holds Pu-erh, a rare Chinese tea. The cellar also features a lighted display of tea blossoms that flower when steeped in water.

Before enjoying dinner in the Blue Duck Tavern, we retreated to our room. We didn't expect the minimalist design to feel like home, but surprisingly it did. Natural colors of sand, eggshell and chocolate provided a serene atmosphere. Lighting in the room was contemporary, as were the Scandinavian wood tables and desk with bamboo-basket drawer inserts. The normal sheer curtains typical of hotel rooms were replaced by cream-colored wooden blinds. The bedside tables included a selection of books, from "The Architecture of the Shakers" by Julie Nicoletta to famed photographer Annie Leibovitz's "American Music."

The spa-inspired marble bathroom was adorned with fresh flowers, bamboo baskets and custom-fragranced amenities designed by Parisian perfumer Blaise Mautin.

Chi also designed the Blue Duck Tavern, located on the hotel's ground floor. For lunch we'd chosen to sit next to the wall of windows that faces Georgetown. So for dinner we opted for a table near the open kitchen. The open staff pantry, which on this day was filled with fresh, individual-size apple pies and jars of bourbon peaches — the best peaches I've ever tasted — and the open kitchen, complete with wood-burning oven, gave the restaurant a homelike feel.

The menu showcases seasonal and regional foods. While many restaurants try to please a gourmet palate, Chef Brian McBride has chosen to bring out the true flavors of simple, wholesome foods. We could choose our own vegetables to accompany our entrees. We picked three for the table — asparagus, carrots and creamy garlic mashed potatoes. All went nicely with our entrees of angry Shenandoah trout and Alaskan halibut with stewed peppers and Round Pond olive oil. We rounded out the meal with a selection of hand-cranked strawberry ice cream, chocolate cake flamed in bourbon and one of the individual apple pies.

It was noted that the chef orders much of his food from local purveyors. Eggs are brought in from a cooperative of Amish farms in Pennsylvania. Dairy products come from a Mennonite source, Trickling Springs Creamery. And those tasty peaches along with other fruits and vegetables come from Toigo Orchards in Pennsylvania.

The black walnut tables with modern, twisted log chairs and the Windsor benches with hand-tooled spindles were crafted by Vermont cabinetmaker Timothy Clark. The maple Windsor benches in the private "Capitol Hill" glassed-in spaces where you can be seen but not heard are also his creations.

As we prepared to go home the next day, we decided there was only one drawback to our visit — it wasn't long enough. HS


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