Thursday, October 30, 2008


[Ed. Note: This review is part of my series of reviews of brunch places that do not serve traditional brunch cuisine. The last review was of Hinode's Japanese buffet].

Washington, D.C. has the good fortune of having a large Salvadoran population. Many restaurants, particularly in the Mt. Pleasant neighborhood, serve excellent Mexican-Salvadoran cuisine at rock bottom prices. One of the staples of Salvadoran cuisine is the "pupusa" -- a thick circular corn tortilla filled with a variety of ingredients. The most popular one I've been told is frijoles y queso (beans and cheese), and other popular varieties are revuelta (mixed -- often with pork and cheese), loroco y queso (loroco is a vine flower bud common in Latin America), or just queso. The cheese is a soft mild white cheese. Pupusas cost about $1.50 to $2.00 each at most places and are big enough that you should have a decent meal with 2 or 3 of them.

While there are a number of excellent "pupusarias" in Mt. Pleasant, my favorite is Ercilia's. At Ercilia's you have to order at the counter from an overhead menu that is almost entirely in Spanish, though, unlike some other places in the area, the people who work there do speak English. While I've had a number of their more classic dishes such as pupusas con frijoles y queso describe above, on my most recent visit I sampled some of their more exotic dishes (at least for Americans)

The taco de lengua is a taco made of cow's tongue, avocado, queso, cilantro, tomatoes, and spices. It comes open-faced on a warm corn tortilla. Outside of perhaps a Jewish deli you don't see a lot of tongue dishes these days. It's softer that other cuts of beef and mixed with the other ingredients in the taco it was quite good.

The pupusa con loroco y queso is another unique salvadorian dish. Loroco is a soft green vine flower that tastes a little but like a cactus. It doesn't have that strong of a flavor but it accentuates the cheese nicely. It's not going to replace the frijoles y queso as the staple, but it's a good alternative.

The sopa de mariscos is, unsurprisingly, a soup with fish. It had a mildly tangy broth and had a large assortment of fish and shellfish including mussels, clams, squid, scallops, some kind of white fish, and a half of a blue crab. This was an impressive dish and I was pleasantly surprised by the number and variety of ingredients.

If you've lived in D.C. for a while and haven't been to a pupusaria I'd recommend walking up Mt. Pleasant street and trying Ercilia's.

Contact information and a picture of the menu after the jump. Continue reading.

Ercilia's Restaurant
3070 Mount Pleasant St NW
Washington, D.C. 20009
(202) 387-0909

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Saturday, October 18, 2008


Vinoteca is a wine bar and bistro on U Street. It is mostly known for having over 60 wines by the glass (many of which are only $5 at happy hour). They just recently started serving brunch and as an added promotion are featuring $1 sparkling wine drinks -- mimosas, kir royals, or bellinis. Two words can concisely describe my recommendation for Vinoteca: Go Now.

The $1 drinks are excellent, particularly the mimosas. They use Jacob's Creek brut, which is obviously on the low end but still respectable and is generally above the quality of sparkling wines that you'd find in most brunch beverages. And the orange juice tastes freshly squeezed. For $1 each, this is a steal. The kir royal was also competent.

The brunch menu is not extensive, but it consists of a variety of omelets, Benedicts, and other egg-based dishes; crêpes; and sandwiches. The best dishes are the omelet diton (tomatoes, spinach, and feta cheese), the chocolate crêpes, and the monstrous Monte Cristo. The omelets are light and fluffy and the diton is wrapped around delicate tomatoes, whole spinach leaves, and creamy feta cheese. The fillings, particularly the tomatoes, are not overcooked and soggy, but rather retain their crispness. It is also well-presented on a square plate. One note is that it does not come with any sides, all of which must be purchased separately.

Vinoteca has three crêpe varieties for brunch: chocolate, fruit, and duck confit. At our waitress's suggestion, we opted for the chocolate. The crêpes come in triplets arranged on a long rectangular plate. The crêpe itself is thin, almost transparent, and is wrapped in a triangular fashion around the fillings. It tastes more like it was derived from pancake batter than for example the crêpes at L'Enfant, which are more savory. The filling is a chocolate-hazelnut mix, similar to nutella. The gooeyness of the filling is a great complement to the lightness of the crêpe.

The Monte Cristo is undoubtedly Vinoteca's most ambitious offering. It is a tower of prosciutto di parma and gruyere cheese sandwiched between two thick slices of French toast and topped with a sunny side up egg and bacon (though you may order the eggs any style). It comes with a side of maple syrup. This is unsurprisingly very rich though quite excellent. The mixture of sweet flavors from the syrup and saltiness from the prosciutto is successful. You definitely won't be hungry after eating this dish.

Contact information and pictures of other dishes after the jump. Continue reading.

Here are pictures of the Eggs Florentine (poached eggs, spinach, Hollandaise sauce over English muffins), the Omelet Alsacienne (with bacon, onions, and cheese), and the Monte Cristo with scrambled eggs.

Brunch menu [Vinoteca]

1940 11th St. NW
Washington, DC 20001
(202) 332-9463

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Friday, October 17, 2008


As most veteran brunchers know, brunch is more than just eggs, French toast, sandwiches, and salads. It's also all-you-can-eat Japanese buffets. I recently made the trip out to Bethesda to visit Hinode Japanese Restaurant at the suggestion of Washington City Paper's consistently excellent young and hungry feature. Hinode offers an expansive buffet of both sushi and hot food for an astonishingly cheap $12 (lunch/brunch only). While I think you can rightly be skeptical of eating that kind of volume of raw fish for that cheap, Hinode's buffet was actually fairly fresh.

The hot food area consisted of tempura, various vegetable dishes, a few chicken dishes, rice, and dessert. The tempura was the highlight, especially if you get to it right as they're putting it out. The steamed dumplings were also good and came with a nice salty dipping sauce. But the real reason you'd go here is for the sushi. Overall, the maki was more impressive than the nigiri. The nigiri is mostly rice with a small amount of fish. That was not unexpected since all-you-can eat joints generally try to overload on the rice to fill you up. However, many of the rolls were good. The highlights were the spicy tuna roll, which was surrounded by salty tobiko; the crab stick, which is not usually my favorite but it was topped with tangy spicy sauce; and the tempura rolls, which were crunchy and good. The tuna and salmon rolls were competent but not outstanding. They also have some more obscure items like mussel nigiri. Overall a solid bang for the buck and is worth the trip out to Bethesda.

N.B. They have locations in Rockville and Frederick in addition to Bethesda.

Contact information after the jump. Continue reading.

Hinode Japanese Restaurant
4914 Hampden Lane
Bethesda, MD 20814
(301) 654-0908

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Monday, October 6, 2008


L'Enfant, situated on 18th and U Streets NW, in the nexus between Adams Morgan, Dupont, and the U Street corridor is a Parisian café that also has a solid selection of Belgian beers. Not surprisingly, their brunch menu (not online) consists mostly of what you'd find at a casual French café probably on the left bank of Paris. There's a wide selection of crepes -- both savory and sweet -- croissant sandwiches, tartines (open-faced sandwiches), and egg-based dishes. A lot of dishes include gruyere and French ham. They also have exceptional bloody marys. While I have in the past lamented at other establishments' thin bloody marys, those served at L'Enfant are nice and thick. Clearly it is not made from a store-bought mix and they rightly take pride in this brunch libation.

As for the food, we tried the ham and gruyere sandwich on a crossaint and a crepe with ham, cheese and eggs. They were served with potatoes dusted with rosemary and your choice of fruit; we opted for the cantelope. Both dishes were similar and very good. The croissant was buttery and flakey and the crepe was light but not insubstantial. The potatoes, unfortunately, were on the prosaic side and required a substantial amount of condiments, though fortunately they had very good dijon mustard. I have also had the cheese board on a prior occassion and it had a number of very good cheeses such as a soft blue cheese and a harder parmesan, but also had a merely average brie. The fruit and baguette accompanyments were excellent. As for the sweet crepes, I have sampled the Nutella and banana one, which met expectations.

L'Enfant is a particularly good place when the weather is nice. They have a substantial outdoor area right on 18th and U which is always good for people watching. I like the concept and the cuisine that L'Enfant offers. It is recommended.

Contact information after the jump. Continue reading.

Cafe L'Enfant
2000 18th St NW
Washington D.C. 20009
(202) 319-1800

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