Sunday, November 30, 2008

Ulah Bistro

Ulah Bistro is a handsome-looking American restaurant in the U street corridor. It's owned by Med Lahlou, the co-owner of Tunnicliffs on Capitol Hill and Stoney's in Logan Circle. The ambiance and decor at Ulah are nice for a neighborhood bistro. The food is respectable though not outstanding. The brunch service, though, could use the most work.

Ulah has a welcoming casual atmosphere with high ceilings, good wood work, open space, and an exposed brick wall. The brunch menu is fairly extensive with over a dozen breakfast items as well as sandwiches, salads, and pizzas.

The food is generally decent though some dishes are better than others. The massive breakfast pizza is a large pizza topped with proscuito and three sunny side up eggs. This dish could easily feed two people and I compliment them for their creative combination of traditional breakfast and traditional lunch dishes. The pizza was fairly good though the proscuito was a little dry. The eggs were nicely prepared and runny, which made an interesting combination with the cheese of the pizza.

The other highlight was the Eggs Chesapeake -- two poached eggs on top of lightly breaded crab meat with hollandaise sauce and home fries. This is a common dish in D.C. and it was done well here. Many other places serve crab cakes that are either soggy or overly breaded but these were nice and crisp with an acceptable consistency. The eggs were also well poached. The home fries promised on the menu were actually roasted potatoes that had a nice smokey flavor.

I was disappointed with the Mediterranean Omelet (spinach, feta, and tomoto) and the Green Eggs and Ham (Eggs with fresh herbs, sauteed spinach, and ham). As others have noted, the Mediterranean Omelet suffers from poor feta distribution -- it has large haphazardly placed cubes of feta that make the feta-included bites far too salty and the other bites lacking. The Green Eggs and Ham is an interesting idea but it is ultimately an unsuccessful dish. The herbs are bland and do little more than change the color of the eggs. Further the spinach and ham was an unusual and unsatisfactory combination.

The service was also a disappointment. The waitress attempted to memorize our orders and unfortunately forgot what one of the members of our party ordered. When that was cleared up, they did not bring all the food at the same time. The coffee was weak and it came with individual half and half containers, a low-brow offering that is incongruous with the handsome decor. More incongruity was evident in our water glasses, which were miscellaneous beer glasses complete with logo. Ulah needs to fix these problems to bring their service and food more in line with their pleasant decor.

Contact information after the jump. Continue reading.

Brunch menu [Ulah Bistro]

Ulah Bistro
1214 U St. NW
Washington D.C. 20009
(202) 234-0123

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Saturday, November 15, 2008

Florida Avenue Grill

The Florida Avenue Grill is a classic soul-food diner, serving greasy Southern diner food since the 1940s. The small diner space is lined with autographed pictures of prominent African-Americans and Washingtonians. Janet Reno was a frequent patron when she was here. Since Florida Ave. is a small place, expect a wait for brunch. The best part about Florida Ave. is the ambiance -- the photos lining the walls, the laid back Southern charm of the waitresses, and the feeling that you're sitting at a type of restaurant that in other places including New York's Harlem neighborhood has become a sort of dying breed.

As for the food, some things are better than others, and all dishes make heavy use of butter. They are now offering an "Obama Special" which consists of two eggs, bacon or sausage, hot cakes, homefries, and grits. This enormous multi-plate offering is still only $8. The grits and hotcakes are the best parts of the special. The hotcakes are enormous frisbee-sized pancakes that are surprisingly light and airy. The grits are substantive and flavorful, especially when topped with hot sauce. One of our orders was literally swimming in butter, which made the dish all the more rich. The eggs are fried nicely in butter and are not overcooked. The bacon and homefries were, unfortunately, disappointing. The bacon was dry and the homefries were fairly mushy; both had probably been sitting around for too long.

We also tried the corn beef hash and the country ham. The hash was crispy and delicious, while the ham was stringy and disappointing. The Virginia ham, which is a large thick slice, is probably a better choice.

Obviously you should leave any sort of diet or cholesterol watching at the door when you go to Florida Ave. Nonetheless, it produces fairly good Southern diner food in an authentic atmosphere that reminds you of D.C.'s Southern roots.

Contact information after the jump. Continue reading.

Florida Avenue Grill [Washington Post]
Stick a Fork in Harlem Soul Food? It Seems Done [New York Times]

Florida Avenue Grill
1100 Florida Ave. NW
Washington D.C. 20009
(202) 265-1586

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Sunday, November 9, 2008

2 Amys

2 Amys is rightly known for having the best pizza in the city. Acting on a tip from the Washingtonian, I set out to see whether 2 Amys also has the best bagels in the city. Available only on Sundays, 2 Amys prepares homemade bagels and bialys that they bake in their wood-fire pizza oven. According to Washingtonian, the tangyness of the sourdough used to make them comes from using leftover whey (from their homemade cream cheese) instead of water. The result is indeed the best bagels (and bialys) in the city.

These are not traditional New York-style bagels. Instead they are larger, crispier, sourdough rolls with a slightly tangy taste. The bialys in particular look nothing like the traditional bialys you'd find in New York -- they're much bigger and crispier. Further, without the onion filling the partial hole of the bialy, it is hard to tell the difference between the bagel and the bialy (see photos). Not that this is a problem. In fact, I appreciate great variety in bagel and bialy preparation and these rolls are excellent. Nonetheless, those looking for a true New York-style bagel would not find one here.

The bagel experience is augmented by homemade cream cheese and house-smoked salmon. The cream cheese is very soft, almost whipped, which makes it very spreadable. The salmon is nicely smoked and mild, though it did have a few dark spots and imperfections.

And since we were at 2 Amys, we had to share a pizza, this time opting for the shrimp, tomato, and garlic pizza, which was outstanding.

Contact information after the jump. Continue reading.

Tip Sheet: Best Bagels, Craft Cocktails, and Where to Wii [Washingtonian]
2 Amys [2 Amys Pizza]

2 Amys Neapolitan Pizzeria
3715 Macomb St. NW
Washington D.C. 20016
(202) 885-5700

N.B. 2 Amys is not metro accessible. The closest metro is the Tenlytown stop, which is around a 15 minute walk. There are several buses that go to the area but the best way of getting there is by car or bike.

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Friday, November 7, 2008

Tabard Inn

The Tabard Inn is one of D.C.'s oldest and most historic hotels and it serves one of the best brunches in the city. The restaurant is set in a small dining area to one side of the inn with simple yet elegant decor. (There is also an outdoor patio area that is open when the weather is warm). The Tabard Inn is unsurprisingly crowded during brunch and the small inn feel is unfortunately damaged by the noise of the crowds. That is a small detraction from an otherwise memorable brunch experience.

There are a lot of great dishes at the Tabard Inn but they are best known for their homemade donuts, which are warm, cakey, and delicious, if a little too sugary, and come with a side of homemade vanilla whipped cream. At $1.50 a piece, no Tabard Inn brunch is complete without a few donuts for the table.

Tabard Inn has an extensive seasonal menu. (Though the menu on the website may vary slightly from the actual menu). They have a large selection of appetizers and entrees ranging from salads and soups to omelets, frittatas, tarts, and sandwiches. All of the dishes we ordered were excellent. Tabard truly lives up to its reputation as among the best brunches in the city.

Being from New York, I had to try the smoked fish plate, which comes with house-smoked salmon and bluefish, with frisée, caper berries, crostini, and homemade crème fraîche. This dish had an unexpectedly larger portion than I had anticipated. Further the salmon and bluefish were both mild and without imperfections. The salmon in partcular was truly excellent and certainly outperforms the smoked salmon you'd find a virtually any other place in the city. The homemade crème fraîche and crostinis complete the dish well.

The savory tart the day I went considered of lump crab meat, spinach, and gruyere and came with a side of fresh mixed greens. The tart was a thick slice with large visible pieces of crab. The crusts were nicely crisp and the middle soft.

Keeping with the seafood theme, we tried the lobster and brie omelet, which came with a side of potatoes and a buttery biscuit. Like the crab tart, the omelet came with large number of big visible pieces of lobster. The omelet itself was prepared in a trifold design, reminiscent of classic French preparation. It also exuded soft melted brie cheese, which provided a nice complement to the lobster. The biscuit was puffy and buttery.

Finally, we tried the frittata with tomatoes and goat cheese. The frittata looked more like a thick omelet than a traditional frittata, which often looks more like a tart or quiche. Nonetheless, this dish was also excellent and it had a generous amount of fillings with a side of fresh greens.

The coffee was strong and rich, and they brought individual cream servers with each coffee, which was a nice touch. The service was helpful and attentive, but they do stick to their no substitutions policy.

Overall a great choice for brunch. You must get a reservation several days in advance if you want to go on Sunday. Saturday brunch is less crowded.

Contact information after the jump. Continue reading.

Brunch Menu [Tabard Inn] (N.B. May differ from what they offer on a given day)

Hotel Tabard Inn
1739 N St. NW
Washington D.C. 20036
(202) 833-2668

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