Celebrating at DC’s Dolci Gelati

Here in the U.S., National Ice Cream Day is celebrated on the third Sunday in July. This year, the “holiday” happened to coincide with a heat wave in Washington, DC. Despite the heat, K and I ventured out to a new-to-me ice cream shop so I could celebrate my favorite food. I’d been meaning to try Dolci Gelati for months, ever since I spotted its store across the street from a Giant grocery store.

According to my research, the company has actually been around for about 10 years. Before opening Dolci Gelati, Italian owner Gianluigi Dellaccio was a pastry chef at fancy spots like the Ritz-Carlton. Initially, Gialuigi and his wife Anastasia focused on wholesale orders from DC restaurants and specialty grocery stores before selling at the zoo, Nationals Park, and farmers market. It wasn’t until April 2014 that the Dellaccios opened a retail store in Takoma Park, Maryland. The Maryland store must have been a success, as the Dellaccios opened a second store last January, this time in the Shaw neighborhood of Washington, D.C. And, finally, Dolci Gelati was on my radar!

IMG_0244 The interior of Dolci Gelati is pretty adorable, complete with chandeliers and bright green walls. There are a couple small tables inside and outside, and comfortable white stools along the window. I was surprised to find the café mostly empty on a hot afternoon — maybe it’s too far off the beaten path? Shaw isn’t as bustling as nearby Logan Circle or Dupont Circle.

IMG_0245 IMG_0248 IMG_0249

Dolci Gelati’s pastry selection was minimal, but it makes up for that with a well-rounded assortment of gelatos and sorbets. Some flavors that stuck out were Salted Caramel, Toasted Almond, Honey Mascarpone Fig, and Strawberry Lavender. Uncharacteristically, I found myself gravitating towards the sorbets rather than the gelatos. I blame the heat!

I went with a small cone of Mango sorbet and Birthday Cake gelato, since I was in a celebratory mood. This place ain’t cheap, though — this cone cost me over $5.

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The verdict? This was just what I needed on a hot summer day! The gelato and sorbetto were beautiful, although a bit too soft. The Mango sorbetto was sweet and refreshing, just like the real fruit. The Birthday Cake was less sugary and more natural-tasting than most other versions I’ve tasted. The base tasted like regular vanilla ice cream studded with sprinkles, but every lick found grainy bits of yellow cake. While the combination of these two flavors was a bit odd, this was one satisfying cone. I’ll be back, Dolci Gelati!

The Stats:
Dolci Gelati
1420 8th Street NW
Washington, DC 20001
http://www.dolcigelati.net/
(other locations in Takoma Park, MD & Old Town Alexandria, VA)

Pitango Gelato… Best Gelato in DC?

Last Tuesday morning, I woke up feeling a bit under the weather. Kevan already had a nasty cold, and I was afraid I’d catch it if I didn’t nip it in the bud with plenty of rest and fluids. So I decided it was a work-from-bed day.

When lunchtime rolled around, nothing much in my fridge looked appealing. But I know that food is the best medicine. Growing up, the pinnacle of any good sick day was when my Dad would bring me a de-carbonized ginger ale and the blandest crackers he could find for my lunch. Since he worked from home, our Dad would play the “Doctor Dad” role, catering to us while we’d read on the couch (If we actually had a fever, he’d let us watch TV!). But, alas, Dad isn’t in DC, so I was forced to fend for myself. And rather than venturing to the grocery store to find some gluten-free crackers, I opted for a quicker fix: gelato.

There is healthy competition in the Washington, DC gelato market, and one of the crowd favorites – Pitango Gelato – has a storefront just 100 yards from my apartment. And in full disclosure, I’d already been a couple times before I stumbled over there last week. But my first visit occurred long before I started this blog, and the steep prices (over $5 for a small cup) have largely kept me away. But on this particular winter sick-day, I was more than willing to fork over big bucks for some homemade gelato.

Pitango Gelato was actually started in Baltimore back in 2007, but the small chain has really blossomed in DC. And while the original Fells Point storefront remains open in Baltimore, there is a lot of buzz about the four DC locations. The one in my neighborhood of Logan Circle is nearly always open and busy. In the morning, most patrons leave the store not with gelato but with cups of Italian-style espressos and lattes. Pitango is known to make a mean espresso. But, of course, the real focus here is on the gelato (and sorbet).
Pitango Gelato focuses on local, high-quality and often organic ingredients for their gelatos and sorbets. They get all the organic milk and eggs from a family farm in Pennsylvania. Using these fresh ingredients, Pitango makes their homemade gelatos and sorbets in small batches.

On any given day, Pitango offers around 20 flavors in each shop. While some traditional Italian flavors are constant fixtures on the menu (like Stracciatella and Chocolate-Hazelnut gelato or Strawberry and Lemon sorbet), the more-interesting ones rotate on and off. But you won’t find anything reminiscent of cotton candy or cake batter here 🙂 The flavors are all refined; the ones that caught my eye today included Walnut and Cinnamon gelato and Quince and Bosch Pear sorbet.

In the end, I decided to go with a “regular” (Pitango’s smallest) size cup of Cinnamon gelato and Bosch Pear sorbet. But I was particularly excited by my choices when the lady behind the counter commented “That sounds like a great combo!” while she scooped out my serving. These are the best type of compliments an ouce-cream lover can receive!

Now remember, the prices are STEEP at Pitango; this little cup cost me over $5. But of course, higher-quality and local ingredients do come with higher price tags. And I’m always happy to support a local gelato-maker and family-run dairy farms.

Top half of cup: Bosch Pear sorbet
Bottom half: Cinnamon gelato 

The verdict? The gelato looked so enticingly cool and creamy that I couldn’t help but start licking the top of my cup while crossing the street to my apartment building. Even in the freezing temperatures, the gelato was refreshing and soothing on my sore throat. I tried the Cinnamon gelato first; the spice wasn’t overwhelming but simply softly accented the sweet cream. And it was a perfect complement to the sweet and sophisticated Bosh Pear sorbet. Pitango’s version of this fruit sorbet was just as good as the versions I had in Italy a couple years ago. Both flavors were authentic and true-to-form, and neither was overly sweet. By the time I finished my last bite, I wanted more! And, sure, naysayers may say it was all in my head, but this cup of gelato DID make me feel better.

Now the question remains… Is Pitango Gelato the best gelato in DC? I plan to find out in 2014!

The Stats:
Pitango Gelato
Multiple locations in DC, Reston and Baltimore
(My spot is at 1451 P Street NW in DC)
www.pitangogelato.com

Quick & Easy Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream (Vegan, Dairy-Free)

2014 is shaping up to be a busy year. Between greater work responsibilities, more travel, and planning a wedding, I’ve found that cooking and baking have taken a back seat. Weeknight dinners these days tends to come from the freezer, a can, or (when I’ve planned ahead) the Whole Foods hot bar. It’s only when K comes home for the weekends that I’ll get my butt into the kitchen and whip up something special.

While I’m willing to sacrifice home-cooked meals to make room for more work and wedding-planning, I’m NOT about to let my ice cream cravings go unsatisfied! Last weekend, my sister (and co-Maid of Honor) Carolyn, accompanied K and I on a trip to Seattle to take care of some wedding-planning things. While the trip was productive and fun, I came back to DC exhausted and feeling unprepared to tackle a particularly-busy week at work.

Luckily for me, Carolyn had decided to spend a couple days in DC with me before heading back home to Boston. And with such a special guest staying with me, it was time to dust off the ol’ Cuisinart and whip up something yummy. I wanted to play around more with coconut-milk ice cream, but I also didn’t have much time to dedicate to ice-cream making on a weeknight. After perusing some different recipes online, I came up with my own creation using just a handful of common pantry items.

Making due with ingredients I had on hand, Carolyn and I managed to make this ice cream in about an hour. Not too bad, considering I heated the ice-cream mixture on the stove to dissolve the sugar.

Here’s what I did…

Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream (Vegan, Dairy-Free)
{Makes 2 cups, or 2 Grace-sized servings}
Loosely adapted from this recipe

Ingredients

  • 1.5 cups full-fat coconut milk (1 can)
  • 1/3 cup sugar (or more to taste)
  • 5 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 5-7 drops of pure peppermint oil
  • 1/2 cup dairy-free mini chocolate chips

Directions

  • In a medium saucepan, whisk the coconut milk, sugar and cornstarch over low heat until sugar melts (about 5 minutes). Remove from heat and pour mixture into small mixing bowl.
  • Add salt and peppermint oil and stir to mix evenly. Cover bowl and place in fridge for about 30 minutes or until slightly chilled (shouldn’t take long since mixture was heated on low heat).
  • Pour mixture into ice cream maker and freeze per the manufacturer’s directions. If you’re using a Cuisinart, this means 1) turn on your machine, 2) slowly pour mixture in, and 3) leave the thing churn for 15 to 20 minutes.
  • A few minutes before the ice cream is finished churning, slowly pour the mini chocolate chips into machine.
  • Serve immediately or, if a firmer consistency is desired, transfer to an airtight container and freeze until firm.


The Verdict? Cool, creamy and minty, this ice cream was the perfect refreshing evening treat. The pure mint extract masked the taste of coconut milk which, in my opinion, was a good thing (Carolyn agreed!). Compared to other vegan ice creams I’ve tried, this version is much more creamy and thick – which I attribute to using cornstarch instead of eggs here. I can’t wait to try cornstarch in other recipes! Overall, this recipe is a triple threat: it’s vegan/dairy-free, easy to make, and absolutely delicious to eat.

Campfire-Less S’Mores Ice Cream

August is nearing its end… and with it goes any hope of going camping this year.

I spent a lot of time outdoors this summer – tubing, biking, swimming, walking, and simply relaxing. But growing up, every summer included at least one family camping trip. So it seems strange to let a summer go by without setting up a tent, chatting around a big campfire, and waking up in a sleeping bag. But most importantly, I can’t bear the thought of a s’mores-less summer. The horror!

Since I can’t go to the s’mores, I figured I’d bring the s’mores to me. And thus a new ice-cream recipe was born…

Did you know that you can “roast” marshmallows using your oven’s broiler? I’d never tried this trick before, but it works surprisingly. The trick is to watch them like a hawk to avoid burning them and setting off your apartment’s fire alarm.

This recipe is perfect for city dwellers like me, who dream about eating campfire s’mores under the stars while we sit in our tiny urban apartments.

Campfire-Less S’Mores Ice Cream
{Makes 1.5 quarts}

Ingredients

  • 2 cups while milk
  • 1 cup light cream
  • 3/4 cup granulated white sugar
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract 
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1.5 cups mini marshmallows (or ~10 regular-sized marshmallows)
  • 1.5 regular-sized Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Bars, chopped into small pieces
  • 1 cup chopped graham cracker pieces (for gluten free, I followed this recipe)

Directions

  • Combine the milk, cream and sugar in a medium saucepan and cook over low heat, whisking until the sugar has completely dissolved.
  • Turn off heat, remove saucepan from heat and whisk in the vanilla extract and salt. Transfer mixture to a large metal or ceramic bowl. Cover and refrigerate until mixture is cold (about 1-2 hours).
  • Pour chilled mixture into ice cream maker and freeze per the manufacturer’s directions. If you’re using a Cuisinart, this means 1) turn on your machine, 2) slowly pour mixture in, and 3) leave the thing churn for 15 to 20 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, position oven rack in the upper third of the oven and preheat broiler (if you have the option, turn broiler on “low”). Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and mist with cooking spray. Arrange marshmallows on the prepared baking sheet in a single layer. Broil the marshmallows, watching carefully (I kept oven door ajar), until the marshmallows are golden brown (took about 1 minute). Remove marshmallows and set aside.
  • Five minutes before mixing is completed, gradually add bits of the toasted marshmallows through the top of the ice-cream maker (this part can be a bit messy – but that’s part of the fun!). Once mixed, add the chopped chocolate and graham crackers, one spoonful at a time. Let everything mix into the ice cream.
  • Serve immediately or if a firmer consistency is desired, transfer to an airtight container and freeze until firm.


The verdict? This ice cream totally satisfies my s’mores craving. The vanilla ice-cream base is nothing special, but it’s mild flavor allowed the flavors of toasted marshmallows, Hershey’s milk chocolate, and graham crackers to take center stage. This recipe is definitely on the sweeter side of the ice-cream sugar spectrum, but isn’t that the point of s’mores? Now, I must warn you that this recipe is heavy-handed with the mix-ins. This was a conscious choice on my part – but if super-chunky ice creams aren’t your thing, simply scale back the on the amount of mix-ins you add. But I adored how the slightly-chewy marshmallows, nutty graham cracker crunch, and classic Hershey’s milk chocolate taste made it into every spoonful. And while I might not be sleeping in a tent tonight, I’ll definitely go to bed with that familiar feeling of fullness and nostalgia.

A Labor of Love at Max’s Best Ice Cream

I’ve lived in Washington, DC for seven (non-consecutive) years, so I don’t know why it took me so long to visit Max’s Best Ice Cream. Located north of Georgetown in the Glover Park neighborhood, Max’s has been dishing out homemade ice cream for over twenty years. Their list of clientele is impressive; Vice-President Joe Bide, Andre Agassi, and First Lady Michelle Obama are all fans.

This past Saturday, my friend Anna drove K and me back to DC after a long afternoon of tubing on the Shenandoah River in Virginia. Anna had the brilliant idea of stopping for dessert when we hit the District, and I suggested we test out the ice cream at Max’s. After all, Anna and I have been enjoying ice cream together since high school, when Anna would often join my family on evening trips to Rota-Spring Farm. And now – a couple years and graduate degrees later – here we were in DC, seeking out a homemade ice-cream shop on a balmy night in the nation’s capitol.

We had no trouble finding Max’s Best Ice Cream; the bright neon signs and large storefront window make it hard to miss. And even though it was quite late (nearly 11pm), a number of patrons were lingering both inside and on the sidewalk. Before I even opened the glass door, I spotted a thick head of shocking-white hair behind the counter. After seeing a couple photos of Max online, I knew this was the famous owner himself!



The ice-cream shop itself is colorful and memorable, but not quite as colorful or memorable as the man behind the counter. Max is a white-haired spitfire who serves up his ice cream with a side of humor in a thick Persian accent. When I asked Max which of the twenty-plus flavors was the best, and he replied that every ice cream was his favorite. “It’s like choosing a favorite child. You never hear your parents saying ‘I like you best!'” Well said, Max. Well said.


Anna and I were both feeling indecisive; every flavor sounded delicious! Thankfully, Max waited patiently as we debated our choices. When Anna asked for samples, and Max happily handed us big ol’ bites on little sticks. I have a theory that the bigger the sample at an ice cream shop, the more the owner loves his or her ice cream. I just tried one sample, the Orange Chocolate Chocolate Chip (or “OC3”, as the sign noted). It was delicious; rich chocolate ice cream with an essence of orange and nice bites of chocolate bits. I nearly ordered a full size of it, but I went with my gut and picked the Mozambique – which supposedly had “cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves.” Anna decided to stick with one of her all-time favorite flavors, Coffee Oreo.

While Anna ordered a small cup with hot fudge, I went all out and asked for a sundae – but with Heath bar chunks instead of hot fudge. After dropping a generous scoop of ice cream into my bowl, Max he headed to the freezer and pulled out a large metal bowl full of freshly-whipped cream. No cans of fake cream at Max’s. Anna put it best when she whispered “Now THAT is true love.”

We paid around $6.50 for the small sundae and $5 for the single scoop with fudge sauce. That’s not cheap, but Max’s prices are pretty much par for the course here in DC. And I’m always happy to fork over some extra cash for locally-made ice cream.

The verdict? This is homemade ice cream at its best. Max’s ice cream is firm yet velvety-smooth, rich yet refreshing, and sweet yet complex. In his Mozambique ice cream, Max manages to create an extraordinary flavor using just three of the most-common baking spices. When I ordered the flavor, I figured it would taste like a fancy cinnamon ice cream… but it really didn’t. The best way I can describe the taste of Mozambique is like my mom’s pumpkin pie… minus the pumpkin. While most pumpkin pie recipes call for more cinnamon than other spices, my mom achieves a slightly-spicy flavor by using more nutmeg and cloves in her pies. Because I grew up in a kitchen where spice ratios were taken very seriously, I appreciated Max’s mastery of flavor combinations. Each bite of ice cream kept my taste buds interested. And the lightly-sweetened homemade whipped cream and chunks of Heath bar were – to use a dessert metaphor – just the icing on the cake. Oh – and Anna raved about the strong espresso flavor in her scoop of Coffee Oreo. We’ve already made a pact to return next month for the fall debut of Max’s Spicy Pumpkin, and I’d bet money that I leave the store with a pint or two to enjoy at home.*

The Stats:
Max’s Ice Cream
2416 Wisconsin Ave NW
Washington, DC 20007
(202) 333-3111
http://maxsbesticecream.com/

*NOTE: While searching online for Max’s phone number to include in this post, I was shocked to learn that Max is currently fighting to retain his 20-year-old lease in Glover Park. Apparently, Max might have to shut his doors on October 31st, as the BBQ joint next door is aiming to take over his lease in order to expand. The details are a bit unclear, but the Glover Park community has been rallying behind Max. I found this Change.org petition asking the leasing company to allow Max to keep his lease and stay in business. If you visit or live in DC, please consider signing this petition to ensure that you, too, can experience ice cream at Max’s!

The Apple House Ice Cream Stand

Summers in the District of Columbia are h-o-t and humid. When the temperature rises above 90 degrees, I’m itching for ways to stay in the AC or – better yet – leave the city. Lucky for me, K and our friends Becca and Bryan are always up for an adventure. So this Saturday, we all drove an hour into Virginia to go tubing on the Shenandoah River. We’d all gone tubing before, but we were seriously impressed with the service provided by the Downriver Canoe Company. For $22, you get to park your car, rent an inner tube, catch a ride down to the river, enjoy a lazy 3-hour tubing trip, and then hop into a waiting bus that returns you to your car. I would definitely recommend them to anyone looking to go tubing with minimal hassle.

We had just left the tubing place and were on our way back to DC when we spotted this…

… a sign for the Apple House‘s ice cream stand! The Apple House is a restaurant serving up fish, burgers, and BBQ, but they open a roadside ice cream stand during the summer months. This big sign makes the place hard-to-miss, and a cold, creamy snack sounded like heaven to us.

The Apple House’s Ice Cream Stand is nothing fancy, but the crowded parking lot and picnic tables were a good sign. The Apple House only offers soft-serve ice cream, with Vanilla and Chocolate flavors available everyday. This afternoon, the rotating “flavors of the week” were Peanut Butter and Coffee. You can get your soft-serve “straight-up” in a cup or cone or made into a sundae, “candy blast” (mix-ins blended in), or a shake. While the soft-serve flavors aren’t exactly interesting, the extensive menu of toppings and mix-ins means that you can get creative with your order. The “Rice Krispies Shake” caught my eye, but K and I were sharing – and he had his eye on the marshmallow topping listed on the menu. In the end, we opted for a “small” cup of classic Vanilla soft-serve with marshmallow topping and rainbow sprinkles. The small-cup of ice cream itself was $2.39, but our two add-ons brought the bill to over $4.
K and my cup, and Bryan modeling his cone

The verdict? Vanilla soft-serve with sprinkles screams “Summer!” to me. I’m always transported back to early-evening outings with my family, licking dripping cones standing next to our car or on an old, sticky picnic table. The Apple House’s Ice Cream Stand lived up to the standard of good-ol’ vanilla soft-serve, but it didn’t surpass it. The marshmallow topping was sugary-sweet like it should be, but was a bit to runny for K’s taste (he prefers the thick, goopy kind). Still, I was really disappointed with the measly spoonful of rainbow sprinkles – especially because I paid almost a dollar extra for them! In New England, most mom-and-pop ice cream stands will drown your cup or cone in sprinkles for free. That being said, the Apple House’s soft-serve was very enjoyable and made the oppressive heat a little easier to bear.

The Stats:
Apple House Ice Cream Stand
4675 John Marshall Highway
Linden, VA 22642
http://www.theapplehouse.net

Impromptu Visit to Serendipity 3

ser·en·dip·i·ty

noun
: the gift of finding valuable or agreeable things not looked for

I’m a planner. Ask anyone who knows me. I’m not quite the “fly by the seat of my pants” type, but I’m surrounded by people who are. And thank goodness for that! Planning and strategy are good things – but so is spontaneity.

My middle sister, Carolyn, visited us here in DC last weekend. Now, Carolyn is one of the most adventurous people I know. At the ripe old age of twenty-three, she’s already started her own business and works at a new tech startup in Boston. And ever since we were little, Carolyn has been trying new things – and pushing me to do the same. Some of her ideas were better than others. Trying on Mom’s ruby red lipstick? You go ahead, Carolyn. I’ll watch.

But popping into a new restaurant for an impromptu sundae? That’s something I’ll agree to!

By the time Carolyn’s plane touched down at Reagan National Airport, I had an entire weekend’s worth of fun activities planned. Dinner reservations? Done. A new (to us) tour to take? Found it. Heck, I even had a Homeland premiere party in the works. But, as always, the best parts of Carolyn’s visit were totally unplanned. Only Carolyn can morph my “quick trip” to Target for toiletries into a quest for Halloween decorations, which leads to an afternoon of decorating and eating candy corn. And it was her idea to hit up a comedy club late on Saturday night. Turns out, the DC Improv Comedy Club is right around the corner from my apartment – and I’d never even heard of it! But, my favorite impromptu activity involved ice cream… and lots of it!

On Friday night, Carolyn, the boyfriend, and I headed into Georgetown for dinner. We enjoyed fantastic burgers and fries at Thunder Burger & Bar and were tempted by the dessert menu. But Carolyn suggested trying a different dessert place – and that’s when I remembered that the famous NYC dessert institution, Serendipity 3, had just opened their first DC location right down the block! You may know Serendipity 3 as the place where the ‘Sex & the City’ gals gossiped over frozen hot chocolates. But I know it as the creator of The Grand Opulence – the world’s most expensive sundae! Needless to say, Carolyn and I practically skipped over to the restaurant.

From the outside, Serendipity 3 doesn’t look like much. It’s housed in a simple white-painted brick building with black awning over the windows. But step through the front door, and you are transported into a girly-girl’s fantasy. The decor is whimsical, with pink walls, slightly-gaudy chandeliers, heart-backed chairs, and Tiffany-style lamps. To pay homage to their host city, the Georgetown location features one of our Founding Fathers.

I knew Lincoln was my favorite for a reason!
I was worried that Serendipity 3 would be packed at 10pm on a Saturday night – but we easily secured seats at the bar, where the bartender welcomed us with glasses of ice water. After ordering a glass of wine, we began perusing Serendipity’s over-sized menu. Since we were still full from the burgers, the three of us decided to split one sundae. Sure enough, The Grand Opulence was there, priced at $1,000. But until my student loans are paid off, Serendipity’s Drug Store Sundaes will have to do. All of the sundae descriptions sounded delicious… from the carrot cake sundae to the deep-fried Oreo one. Carolyn suggested the Black N’ White Sundae. The description read: “chocolate and vanilla ice cream, marshmallow cream, white chocolate fudge, chocolate fudge, whipped cream & tuxedo strawberry.” How could we go wrong with that?
A mere five minutes after we placed our order, the bartender delivered this

The verdict? The Black N’ White Sundae is the very definition of extravagant – both in ingredients and size. The massive scoops of premium vanilla and chocolate ice cream were smooth and creamy. I usually prefer a vanilla base for my sundae, but Serendipity 3’s chocolate ice cream is flavorful, yet not so rich that it overpowers the toppings. The marshmallow cream was easily my favorite component of this dish; it was thick, sticky and reminiscent of my favorite childhood condiment: Fluff.  Serendipity’s hot chocolate fudge sauce is nothing to complain about, either. Now on the other hand, I was disappointed by the white chocolate fudge – which was thin and watery. All of these sauces were served warm – not hot – which I appreciated. As I’ve mentioned before, a major pet peeve of mine is when pipping-hot toppings melt my ice cream into a soupy mess (#firstworldproblem). Serendipity’s whipped cream is deliciously sweet and airy, nicely contrasting the thick ice cream and heavy toppings. Nestled on top of the sundae was the featured ‘tuxedo strawberry,’ which my companions graciously allowed me to claim. Serendipity drenched a big, fresh strawberry in a thick coating of milk and white chocolate. Swoon. Split three ways, this sundae was still too big to finish! A surprising end to an unexpected night out. Thanks, sis.

We made a gallant effort.

The Stats:
Serendipity 3
3150 M Street NW
Washington, DC 20007
(202) 333-5193
http://www.serendipity3dc.com/