Sunday, August 16, 2009

A Fond Farewell

Unfortunately this will be my last post on Brunch DC. I am starting law school at Columbia next week so my ability to venture back South to D.C. will be limited. This site will remain up for as long as people continue to read it. All of my reviews can be found here. I've enjoyed exploring the D.C. brunch scene this past year. Hopefully it will continue to improve.

I started this project with the premise that "Yes, you can occasionally get good brunch in D.C." and my initial premise has held true. Over my close to 40 reviews, the average rating was 2.2 stars out of 4. Only one restaurant got four stars -- Tabard Inn -- while six got only one star. However, ten restaurants got at least three stars. Thus, while D.C. still has a long way to go in perfecting my favorite meal, there are certainly bright spots, like the pides at Rosemary's Thyme, the bagel brunch at 2 Amys, the doughnuts at the Tabard Inn, and the fried chicken and waffles at Marvin.

Here are some of my suggestions for ways in which D.C.'s brunch scene could improve:

(1) Provide mandatory training on how to poach an egg. There were sundry occasions where my poached eggs were downright terrible. That ruins the dish, particularly the brunch staple Eggs Benedict. Note the difference between a horrible poached egg (at Stars Cafe -- unreviewed, just so bad), and an excellent one made by yours truly. The whites should be firm and the yolks runny. It's really not that hard.

(2) Add some prix fixe brunch menus. One of my favorite places in New York, Essex, offers a brunch entree and 3 alcoholic beverages for a flat $18. It's an excellent deal. While prix fixe brunches have long been a staple in New York (even my local NY brunch spot, Fred's, offers an entree, coffee, and an alcoholic beverage for $15), you don't see them at all in D.C. And the $15+ bottomless mimosa deals that have recently sprung up don't count, it has to be all inclusive and under $20.

(3) Get some decent Dim Sum or other ethnic food. It is a shame you cannot find decent ethnic food for brunch in D.C. Aside from the occassional Indian or Japanese buffet, there really aren't any ethnic brunch options in the city. An excellent and inexpensive dim sum establishment within the city limits would add a lot.

(4) Improve the service. At even the best restaurants in D.C., the service was often slow, disorganized, and inefficient. I understand that the waiters may be just as hungover as the patrons on a Sunday morning but improvement shouldn't be too hard. We shouldn't have to be moved three times for our party of five at Ben's Next Door, or wait at least 20 minutes for someone to take our order at Utopia. Bad service really hampers the brunch experience at a lot of restaurants that have respectable food.

Well, there you have it. For those who aren't sick of me, I may begin doing some food writing up in New York; if so I'll be sure to let my Brunch DC readers know. Farewell D.C.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Cafe Atlantico

Based upon the recommendation of the venerable Mark Bittman, I headed to Cafe Atlantico for their Sunday Latin-influenced "Dim Sum" brunch. While certainly on the spendy side, Atlantico serves up inventive small dishes and excellent cocktails.

The drinks, while coming in at a lofty $11, are not your average brunch cocktail. The best one is their homemade bloody mary with celery and salt foam, which adds a great texture and is salty and delicious. (Incidentally, they call it "air" on the menu instead of foam, which is what it is. Does José Andrés think that D.C. people will think about fraternity foam parties if he uses that word? Calling it celery and salt "air" makes no sense. What an insult.)

Their small plates, or "dim sum", as they (for some reason) prefer to call them are great for sharing. To be sure, there's nothing dim sum about the brunch. No one's coming around with a dim sum cart. It's just a small plate brunch. But don't tell them that. In any event, the cantaloupe and tomato skewers with cilantro micro greens and vinaigrette was refreshingly summery, as were the fantastically thin pineapple shavings with plantain powder and tamarind oil.

For more substantial dishes, the best ones were the jicama "ravioli" filled with guacamole, and the chili-tomato soup. Using thin jicama (a turnip-like Mexican root vegetable) as the ravioli skin creates a crunchy coating for the soft guacamole inside. The soup, served in a glass, was spicy and complex. It was served with a dallop of crème fraîche, which nicely cut the spiciness.

Other interesting dishes were the mushrooms with a "63 degree" egg -- essentially a lightly poached egg -- and the quesadilla filled with wild mushrooms and huitlacoche (a corn fungus -- mmmm fungus!).

The fried egg with verecruz sauce and the cauliflower-quinoa “cous-cous” were merely ordinary. The egg dish was simply a fried egg with tomatoes, mushrooms, spices, and tortilla chips. While all the ingredients were fine, the dish wasn't particularly creative or interesting. Similarly, the quinoa and cauliflower dish was well-cooked but was also fairly simple and uninspiring.

For dessert, they make a "pan dulce" -- fluffy bread with mild melted cheese fried in butter and topped with maple syrup; needless to say it was sweet and delicious.

Go for the tasting menu to sample more of these creations. This is a special occassion brunch since it's fairly expensive. Further, despite the price the service (like most D.C. restaurants during brunch) is inconsisdent. They should have changed our plates between dim sum "courses" especially after the particularly messy ones, but never did. They also should have explained what each dish was when it came out, especially the more creative ones, but instead the waiters simply dropped them off and sped away. Nonetheless, Atlantico is worth the splurge.

Contact information after the jump. Continue reading.

Cafe Atlantico
405 8th St. NW
Washington, DC 20004
(202) 393-0812

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Monday, August 3, 2009

Cashion's Eat Place

Cashion's Eat Place, while no longer affiliated with James Beard winning chef/owner Ann Cashion, makes a good case for being the best restaurant in Adams Morgan. The brunch features inventive New American dishes that are a few steps above the other restaurants in the area without being more expensive. The food along with its casually elegant setting make it a must-visit Adams Morgan brunch location.

The best dish is their bison burger, which is topped with a perfect poached egg and is accompanied by a side of breakfast potatoes and béarnaise sauce. This dish is rightly considered one of the best burgers in the city, and perhaps the only one featured on a brunch menu. The buffalo meat is combined with fragrant herbs and comes out nice and juicy -- no small feat considering buffalo's penchant for being dry due to its leanness. The béarnaise is placed in a small saucer on the plate, which is ideal for dipping, but certainly takes away from the overall presentation of the dish.

Another highlight is the pork hash with onions, scallions, cilantro, green chilies, and a poached egg. This was an inventive dish, as you don't normally see pork hash combined with cilantro and green chilies, but the dish worked well and had a nice kick. A light sauce could have made it even better since it's a little dry, and they overdo it with the gigantic dollop of sour cream.

Their one omelet is filled with, spinach, grueyere, and mushrooms, and is topped with a tomato coulis. It's served unfolded, reminiscent of a thin frittata. The eggs are fluffy and the ingredients are fresh. It's a nice preparation but doesn't stand out above the other dishes.

Cashion's also offers a rare commodity: a complementary bread basket, which is an excellent addition to the brunch experience. It was also important here because the service was unfortunately fairly slow, as we've come to expect here in D.C. Nonetheless, Cashion's inventive and delicious dishes rank it among the top Adams Morgan establishments.

Contact information after the jump. Continue reading.

Cashion's Eat Place
1819 Columbia Road NW
Washington D.C. 20009
(202) 797-1819

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Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Ben's Next Door

Everyone in D.C. is familiar with Ben's Chili Bowl, the U. St. landmark known primarily for its decent half-smokes, mediocre chili, long lines, and politician sightings. This past year Ben's opened up Next Door next door, an upscale bar and restaurant that serves generally delicious southern food in an attractive setting, but with bad service.

The brunch menu features a small assortment of inventive interpretations on Southern brunch cuisine. The best dishes are the half-smoke benedict and (of course) the fried chicken and waffles. The benedict features two excellent poached eggs atop english muffins with an herb hollandaise. Next to the eggs are sliced half-smokes grilled to just barely charred (for those not familiar, they are half beef, half pork sausages).

Fried chicken and waffles has become a staple in the D.C. brunch scene and Next Door's creation lives up to the standard set at Marvin and Creme. The chicken is perfectly crisp and spiced; though the waffles were fairly ordinary Belgian varieties. The maple syrup accompaniment was hot, which was a good touch.

They also serve an decent but not spectacular omelet with half-smokes, chili, and cheese. The omelet provides another medium for their best seller at the original Ben's.

While the food is generally well-prepared, all the dishes lack accompaniments -- no potatoes, salad, or fruit come with any of the dishes, which make the food look lonely on the plate.

The main detriment to Next Door is that their service is both slow and disorganized. On my last visit, they had inordinate trouble seating my party of five despite a relatively empty restaurant (they ended up moving us twice), and the food took a really long time to come out. Hopefully they will work out those problems.

Contact information after the jump. Continue reading.

Next Door
1211 U St. NW
Washington, DC 20009
(202) 667-8880.

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Friday, June 26, 2009


It behooves the loyal Washingtonian to check out Eastern Market, which is finally reopened recently after the Fire of 2007 destroyed the landmark. Naturally there are sundry brunch locations in the area, including my favorite spot Montmartre.

Montmartre is a charming French cafe named after the Montmartre neighborhood in Paris, a place formerly home to artists, philosophers, and musicians, and now mostly inhabited by overweight tourists attempting to scale the hill to visit the Sacré-Cœur basilica.

The Parisian fare is generally excellent. In particular they make a luxurious buckwheat crepe which is served best filled with their salmon, cheese, dill, and fresh vegetables (there's also a prosciutto variety). The salmon is grilled not overcooked while the vegetables are fresh and crisp. Another highlight is their Croque Monsieur -- a grilled ham and gruyere sandwich with more cheese melted on top and served over a good dijon mustard.

Montmartre could improve their drinks. I observed their bartender mixing their bloody mary with a store-bought (Tabasco brand) mix (Quelle horreur!), their coffee was middling, and their orange juice was from concentrate and had too much ice. Nonetheless the quality of their food outweighs their beverage shortcomings.

One point of confusion though: There are no photos of Montmartre in the place. How can you name your French restaurant "Montmartre" and not have any photos of it? A mystery.

Contact Information after the jump. Continue reading.

327 7th St. SE
Washington, DC 20003
(202) 544-1244.

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Monday, June 15, 2009

Napoleon Bistro

I have displayed a fondness for French restaurants here at Brunch DC, and Napoleon Bistro is no exception. Complete with waitresses with (possibly fake) French accents, a large menu of generally delicious French brunch dishes, and a charming French bistro atmosphere and decor (including an outdoor seating area), Napoleon is an excellent choice.

The menu comes with a variety of omelets, crepes, salads, and other brunch entrees. They also have a large assortment of coffee-based beverages and the brunch-associated alcoholic choices like the bloody mary and the mimosa. While the food is good, whoever wrote the menu perhaps thought a little too much about their creations. The "Da Vinci" omelet of ham and cheese is labeled "A dream come true" while the Michelangelo omelet of salmon, scallions, and cream cheese, is modestly described as "A Masterpiece."

For starters, they offer an interesting bread basket for $5. While this should be free, it does contain a pretty interesting and extensive assortment of breads with jam and butter. The walnut raisin and the Pain au levain (a sourdough French bread) were the highlights. The jam was not homemade, but was a decent variety. Ideally, this would be free, but I suppose $5 is not too much for very good bread.

On the omelet side, the "Rembrandt" of brie, fresh parsley and sun dried tomatoes is a highlight. Even though it apparently does not warrant an over-the-top epthitet on the menu like some of the other omelets, it stands out nonetheless. The omelet itself is perfectly done without any imperfections or burn marks. The cheese is nice and creamy, and the vegetables are fresh. It also comes with a side of potatoes and a skewer of fresh fruit (an interesting presentation).

The crepes are also good choices. Incidently, one of the better ones is far more an Italian dish than a French one -- the Florentine, consisting of roma tomatoes, ricotta cheese, pine nuts, and basil in a roasted garlic pesto sauce. The soft cheese complements the toasted pine nuts well. And they don't stiff you on the portion size either, as this dish comes with two side-by-side crepes. The other crepe highlight is the "Lisbon" which had smoked salmon, red onions, dill and cream cheese. This crepe was cut into four triangular pieces and was a very pleasant and refreshing dish -- much better than other crepe with salmon, the "Bolivar" (salmon, scrambled eggs, with a citrus-caper sour cream sause), which was too heavy.

The wait staff was unfortunately fairly pushy, particularly with the bloody marys and mimosas. They also have (possibly fake?) French accents -- maybe I'm completely off-base here and if so I apologize -- but they sounded fake. The coffee, whose awesomeness was heavily touted on the menu, was merely mediocre and not hot enough. Other than these small imperfections, Napoleon Bistro is a solid choice.

Contact information after the jump. Continue reading.

Napoleon Bistro
1847 Columbia Road NW
Washington, D.C. 20009
(202) 299-9630 (N.B. An annoyingly animated website)

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Friday, June 5, 2009

Beyond the Beltway: White Dog and Marathon Grill in Philadelphia

(Ed. Note: Last weekend I visited some friends up in the City of Brotherly Love; naturally we had to sample the local brunch cuisine.)

Two mainstays near the campus of the University of Pennsylvania are the White Dog Cafe and the Marathon Grill. Both are situated within walking distance from the UPenn campus and serve respectable American food.

White Dog is located in Victorian brownstones and also features a pleasant outdoor seating area. The brunch menu features a bounty of both smaller appetizers and brunch "entrees." For starters they serve a delightful artisan cheese plate consisting of locally produced blue, cheddar, and chevre cheeses along with walnuts, organic jam, honey, and crusty bread. The cheeses themselves weren't particularly gourmet varieties, but they were savory -- the blue cheese with jam was especially sumptuous.

As for the larger dishes, the omelettes were nicely prepared and came with both potatoes and a salad -- which is a nice touch. The Mediterranean Omelette with kalamata olives, roasted peppers, feta cheese, and tomatoes was a delectable combination; though the side greek salad, which consisted of essentially the same olives, peppers, and cheese (and cucumbers instead of tomatoes) that were in the omelette, was a strangely repetitive choice, but I was not unhappy with the decision.

The pancakes were also a good dish. They were topped with caramelized bananas, toasted macadamia nuts, cinnamon mascarpone, and maple syrup. This was a decadant combination on top of fluffy pancakes.

The coffee was, unfortunately, horrible. Other than that, White Dog lived up to expectations. Reasonably priced as well. (P.S. It also has an excellent bar, with a collection of local brews).

Marathon Grill is nearby and it also offers a cornucopia of brunch options. The large menu features ten different omelettes, five benedicts, and sundry other brunch entrees.

While the variety was appreciated, the food was not quite as good as our experience at White Dog. The omelette was a little overdone -- not the perfectly prepared version we were served at White Dog. (Note the brown burn marks on the omelette here, compared to the absence of them at White Dog, above). Perfectly adequate fillings, though, I had the chorizo, manchego, and pica de gallo variety. The salmon eggs benedict was good, but not fantastic. The parfait was a disappointment. It was supposed to be served with "fresh fruit" but instead came with an ordinary fruit salad consisting largely of honeydew melon. The yogurt and granola were pedestrian.

As for the sides, the potatoes were on the dry side, and the toast was served with an all-too-casual butter and jam packet that they probably bought at the Fresh Grocer across the street. Similarly, the coffee was served with half-and-half containers and bizarre wooden stirrers instead of a spoon.

The food at Marathon was not bad, but White Dog wins my Beyond the Beltway: Philadelphia award.

Contact information after the jump. Continue reading.

White Dog Cafe
3420 Sansom Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104
(215) 386-9224

Marathon Grill
16th & Samsom Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104
(215) 569-3278

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Mark Bittman Disparages Brunch; Brunch DC Responds

Many big names in the food community have expressed disdain for the meal we like to call Brunch. Bobby Flay, Anthony Bourdain ("Brunch is punishment block for the B-Team cooks"), Washington City Paper writer "Jule," and even some Hawaiians don't care for the meal.

We now have a new member to add to the brunch-hating crowd: beloved New York Times food writer, cookbook author, blogger, and Minimalist Mark Bittman. I write this with tremendous sadness since I am a big Mark Bittman fan, but it is true, he doesn't like brunch.

Yesterday I attended a panel discussion and lunch at the Center for American Progress featuring Bittman and D.C. Restauranteur José Andrés (of Jaleo, Zaytinya, and Oyamel fame), which discussed Bittman's new book "Food Matters." (The book is Bittman's first formal foray into food activism and he primarily argues that people should cook more and eat less animal products and processed foods, in order to be healthier, save money, and help stop global warming.)

In a brief interview I had with Bittman after the panel, I asked him what he thought of brunch. Bittman replied that he doesn't like brunch and doesn't usually eat it because "brunch is usually a huge fat-bomb." While I credit Bittman for his use of the phrase "fat-bomb" I am shocked and appalled that he would propagate such disparaging and false anti-brunch characterizations.

Unless you exclusively order eggs benedicts (Bittman's How to Cook Everything, page 734) that are heavy on the Hollandaise (p.790) or drink a dozen bloody marys (p. 802), brunch can be a healthy start to your day. Instead Bittman could order an herb frittata (p. 741), or an onion quiche (p. 744), or a bagel with cream cheese and homemade gravlax (pp. 300-1). In fact there are plenty of excellent and healthy brunch ideas (see "Brunches," pp. 810-11).

Next time Bittman's in D.C., I encourage him to try 2 Amys homemade bagels, cream cheese and house-smoked salmon, Rosemary's Thyme's pides, or the Tabard Inn's crab, spinach, and gruyere tart.

Hopefully he will see the error of his ways; in fact, he admitted to enjoying Cafe Atlantico's vegetarian tasting menu brunch this past Sunday. I encouraged him to build on that promising brunch beginning. Soon, perhaps, his next book will be entitled "Brunch Matters."

UPDATE: Bittman replied to me via Twitter: "Half of your examples are fat bombs!" I'm not sure which half he's referring to since I provided three examples, and of the three, only the tart is arguably fat bomby due to the eggs and cheese; but in any event, since when is Bittman concerned about too much fat? These are three delicious (meat-free) brunch options.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Cafe Saint-Ex

Cafe Saint-Ex is an aviation- and travel-themed bistro located in the newly-cool 14th street corridor between U street and Logan Circle. While many people know of Saint-Ex primarily for their weekend tradition of sweaty, crowded and dude-tacular basement dance parties, it actually has a decent brunch.

Saint-Ex is a small bistro with a small brunch menu and they do a few things well; in particular, they know how to fry green tomatoes. These slightly tart and crispy breaded fruits provide a refreshing edition to their eggs benedict and BLT. Both dishes skillfully incorporate the tomatoes: For the benedict, the fried green tomatoes are placed between the eggs and the English muffin, which is then topped with a tomato hollandaise. In the BLT, the fried green tomatoes provide a nice complement to the smoky and crispy bacon. The dish is finished with a tomato mayo and comes with fries or a salad (I recommend the sweet potato fries).

Another interesting brunch dish is the Monte Cristo. It is essentially ham and cheese sandwiched between two thick slices of French toast and served with a side of maple syrup. A successful Monte Cristo combines the saltiness of the ham and cheese with the sweetness of the French toast. While this one could have been a crispier, it was fine though not outstanding

Surprisingly good coffee as well.

Contact information after the jump. Continue reading.

Cafe Saint-Ex.
1847 14th St NW
Washington, DC 20009
(202) 265-7839.

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Friday, May 1, 2009

Darlington House

Darlington House opened to high expectations last year when it replaced the popular Childe Harold on 20th and Connecticut Ave, north of Dupont Circle. Unfortunately, Darlington House, despite its pleasant outdoor seating, fails to live up to expectations.

Like many other brunch establishments in the District, Darlington House offers homemade doughnuts (in this case, doughnut holes) as an excellent shareable brunch accompaniment. These holes, strangely, are delivered to your table in a paper bag, but once removed from said bag, are warm, fluffy, and delicious, and come with both chocolate and caramel dipping sauces. While I found the paper bag presentation to be bizarre, I was subsequently informed that this is not as unusual as I had thought. Evidently, you're supposed to shake up the bag to ensure uniform sugar disbursment among the holes. I still don't see the point. Nonetheless, the holes were good.

The rest of the food is adequate, but not exemplary. The highlight was the smoked salmon eggs benedict. The eggs were nicely poached, topped with a light hollandaise, and served with a side of in-season asparagus. Oddly, though, the eggs were placed on top of both smoked salmon and ham, as if the chef thought I ordered a traditional benedict but then thought "Oh no, did he order it with smoked salmon? I'll throw some of that on there too just in case." Alternatively, the dish is supposed to contain both salmon and ham. Which would be weirder? I'll let the readers figure that one out. Nonetheless, it was nice dish.

The omelets were also pretty good. The eggs were nice and creamy and the fillings were fresh -- I recommend the Connecticut Ave. Omelet, which is served with ham, goat cheese, and tomatoes. However, it came with a meager amount of breakfast potatoes and dry toast without any butter, jam, or cream cheese in sight.

Finally, we tried the vegetarian sandwich, which was supposed to come with grilled fresh "seasonal vegetables," but instead came with only mushrooms and zuccini, which are definitely not seasonal. The fries were decent.

The service was poor -- it was slow and unhelpful despite the restaurant not being that crowded. Darlington House is a decent choice if you sit on their patio on a nice day, but don't expect above average food.

Contact information after the jump. Continue reading.

Darlington House
1610 20th St. NW
Washington, DC 20009

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Sunday, April 26, 2009

Brunch DC Update

Sorry for the sparse posting, I've been traveling a lot for the past month visiting law schools. Right now the decision is between NYU and Columbia. If you have any advice about those schools beyond what you'd find at AutoAdmit, feel free to email me. Regular posting will resume this week. In the meantime, I courage you to check out what I've written on Wonkabout:
  • Bad food at The Heights in Columbia Heights
  • All-you-can-drink bloody marys and Southern cuisine at Creme Cafe.
  • Scandinavian brunch at Domku in Petworth.
  • Fried chicken and waffles at Marvin on U. Street.
Thanks for reading!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Liberty Tavern

Generally I try to avoid brunch buffets. They're usually overpriced and consist of food that has been dried out sitting on hot plates all morning. Liberty Tavern, in Clarendon, is an exception.

Liberty Tavern serves a bountiful amount of fresh food, both hot and cold, at their (unsurprisingly) popular Sunday buffet for a reasonable $17. The buffet begins with homemade mulled hot apple cider, which, other than coffee or fresh squeezed OJ, is perhaps the only acceptable non-alcoholic brunch beverage. At least two dozen buffet items follow, most of which are fairly original and well-prepared. Their homemade frittata with tomatoes, rapini, and mozzarella and their inventive pizza with prosciutto, apples, and sauteed onions were highlights. Most of their other hot dishes were made with interesting ingredients to distinguish them from ordinary buffet items. The scrambled eggs were combined with a touch of cream and applewood smoked bacon. The potato gratin had broccoli and sharp white cheddar. And there is a carving station with roasted turkey and pork loin with assorted gravies (the turkey is recommended).

For the cold dishes, I was immediately impressed by their Irish smoked salmon, which had a good amount of accompaniments. The salmon was fresh, though a little salty. They have assorted homemade breads and cakes -- my favorite was a cranberry pound cake with walnuts, which produced a really nice salty-sweet combination. And they have a few forgettable pasta salads.

Perhaps the biggest draw is there dessert buffet, featuring a large selection of vintage candy, such as whoppers milk balls, bit-o-honey, neccos, dots, and my personal favorite Mike and Ikes. That was complemented by a homemade shoofly pie which was sweet and delicious.

The coffee, which is not included in the buffet price, comes in a very elaborate presentation. It features a 3-serving french press with an hourglass that informs you when it is time to press the coffee. The resulting brew is nice and rich with a flavorful aroma.

Contact information after the jump. Continue reading.

Liberty Tavern
3195 Wilson Boulevard
Arlington, VA 22201
Sample brunch menu.

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Monday, March 2, 2009


[Ed. note: A shorter version of this review appears on Wonkabout.]

There are many fine upscale pizza places in D.C. Only one of them has an all-you-can-drink mimosa deal for only $9 at brunch. Sure, the "champagne" is Andre - - the Two-Buck-Chuck of sparkling wine -- reminiscent of sorority formals where that stuff flowed like water. Unlike sorority formals, however, RedRocks Firebrick Pizzeria in Columbia Heights also serves exceptional pizza.

Red Rocks has a small brunch menu that they serve alongside their regular menu. The brunch menu has some ordinary items like French toast, waffles, and scrambled eggs, but also has more inventive offerings, which make good use of its wood-fired oven. Their "sunrise pizza" features a fried egg, well-seasoned breakfast potatoes, parmesan, and herbs, which is then cooked in their pizza oven. The resulting pizza has crispy cheese on the top while the dough remains soft inside. Nonetheless, it is a little dry, and could have been improved with a sauce; ask for a side of their excellent marinara. Their omelet is untraditional -- it is large circlular and unfolded, resumbling an egg pizza. The "pizza omelet," filled with green peppers, onions, mushrooms, pepperoni, fennel sausage, and mozerella was an excellent choice, with crispy fillings well-complimented by the creamy mozerella and eggs.

The pizzas off the regular menu are prepared with fresh ingredients. My favorite is the pesto pizza with really good homemade pesto, fresh mozzarella, ricotta, and cherry tomatoes. The "Funghi" is also a good choice. It contains mushrooms, fontina cheese, parsley, garlic, and cherry tomatoes.

RedRocks has a small collection of appetizers. Most of them are fairly starchy, which doesn't make a whole lot of sense if you're going to also order a pizza. Nonetheless, their mussels with marinara stand out as a decent choice.

Contact information after the jump. Continue Reading.

RedRocks Firebrick Pizzeria
1036 Park Road, NW
Washington, D.C. 20010
(202) 506-1402

Sunday, March 1, 2009


[Ed. Note: This weekend I was invited to attend a food bloggers brunch at the Meritage, the restaurant at the North Bethesda Marriott. The purpose of the brunch was for local food bloggers to get together and to give us the opportunity to describe the restaurant to our readers. Thus, consider this a description rather than a review.]

The Sunday brunch at Meritage features both a hot and cold buffet, coffee, and one mimosa, bloody mary, or glass of champagne for $24.95.

The buffet is extensive. It has a cold antipasto bar featuring various salad ingredients and prepared salads such as a shrimp salad and a cherry tomato and mozzarella salad. The cold offerings also include a shellfish displace with shrimp cocktail and crab claws -- shells pre-cut and with two dipping sauces. It also has smoked salmon with accouterments, and a tapas selection including roasted peppers, olives, sundried tomatoes, and others.

The hot buffet has various breakfast items like scrambled eggs, bacon and sausage. It also has chicken and fish entrees that change weekly as well as homemade potato pancakes and blintzes. To complement that, there is a omelet station with a variety of choices, and there is a carving station with roast beef and turkey with a choice of sauces.

For dessert they have a large variety of cakes, pastries, and pies as well as a large fondue selection with a tower of liquid chocolate. They also have mini creme brulees.

The hotel is situated across the street from the White Flint red line metro station in North Bethesda.

Contact information after the jump. Continue reading.

The Meritage at the North Bethesda Marriott
5701 Marinelli Road
North Bethesda, Maryland 20852
(301) 822-9234
Brunch menu

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Friday, February 27, 2009


[Ed. note: A shorter version of this review appears on Wonkabout, where I am doing a weekly brunch post.]

Residing in a former nineteenth century post office, Poste, an aptly named New American brasserie serves up inventive, though ultimately middling brunch. The pleasant decor features high ceilings, skylights, and simple but elegant tables, contrasted against the exposed original outside walls of the old post office. Like some other upscale brunches in this city such as Brunch DC favorite Tabard Inn, Poste features truly excellent homemade doughnuts. One order features doughnuts filled with the assorted flavors of chocolate ganache, lemon curd, and fig compote, alongside a warm chocolate sauce. The crispy outside is dusted in sugar and gives way to a soft and light interior with decadent flavors. Unlike the brunch at Tabard Inn, however, the rest of the dishes at Poste's do not stack up to its doughnuts.

Poste's take on Eggs Benedict, Eggs Hussarde -- poached eggs in hollowed potatoes with bacon served with merchand de vin sauce (a rich butter/wine sauce) below the eggs and hollandaise above. This was an interesting combination (though not exactly unique, even Emeril makes it). The eggs were unfortunately inconsistently prepared -- some were overcooked, despite what should have been an unnecessary request to the waiter that the yolks be runny. Further, the attempted separation of the sauces fails once you attempt to cut into the dish, which results in an odd hollandaise-merchand de vin mix that was rich but not entirely enjoyable.

Another interesting dish was their scrambled eggs with smoked salmon, crème fraiche, and caviar. The eggs were soft and the salmon was nice and mild. This was a good dish when placed on top of their toasted baguette accompaniments but by itself it was just a little bit too many soft things together. When the crème fraiche was mixed into the eggs, it resulted in a consistency that can only be described as "mushy."

The French toast was prepared from large slices of fairly ordinary brioche. It was tasty but there was nothing particularly special about this dish, and you can get better (and cheaper) French toast elsewhere, such as at La Fourchette. The Croque Madame was also a good dish, though nothing spectacular. It's esentially a French ham and cheese sandwich with mornay sauce, a sunny side up egg, and fries. This filling dish is a decent choice but it's also nothing special and certainly doesn't warrant its $15 price tag.

Finally, Poste offers a variety of fresh, though expensive ($11), brunch cocktails. We tried the "Poste Mary," which had an interesting orange color. While it tasted fresh and was obviously made in house, it was conspicuously lacking in heat, which was a big disappointment. It was refreshing though.

The service was very accomodating. If only their entrees were as good as their doughnuts.

Contact information after the jump. Continue reading.

555 8th Street, NW
Washington DC 20004
(202) 202-783-6060

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Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Bar Pilar

Bar Pilar is a small Ernest Hemingway-inspired bar between Logan Circle and U St, owned by the same people who own the popular cafe/dance club Cafe St. Ex. "El Pilar" was, as devoted Hemingway aficionados such as me know, the name of Hemingway's fishing boat that he kept at his home in Cuba. Naturally the place contains a photo of a fishing boat. While Bar Pilar is mostly known for its inventive drinks and small sharable plates for dinner, where the same bartender who served you and your drunken friends a G&T at St. Ex the weekend before might be here serving you a small plate of pork loin with red cabbage slaw or blanched radishes with Amish country butter. For brunch, however, Bar Pilar still has some kinks to work out.

Unlike its dinner menu, its brunch menu does not feature small plates. Its menu is notable for including "Bulls-eye Toast" also known affectionately as "egg in a hole" and at least a dozen other names including my personal favorite "yolky pokey." This dish consists of a fried egg within the hole of a (thick) slice of bread. The result is an egg and bread combination with the yolk protruding from a hole in the center of the slice. If done well, this is excellent comfort food. Unfortunately, it was inconsistently prepared at Bar Pilar. Half of the eggs were overcooked, which cannot happen for this dish to be successful. The other dishes were also fairly mediocre.

The chocolate chip pancakes with walnut butter was an interesting idea but was dry and did not come with maple syrup. In fact, Bar Pilar would not provide us with syrup when asked -- a seemingly bizarre concept since they are serving pancakes. The eggs benedict were decent albeit a little salty. The bloody mary was well-garnished with a lime and three olives, but it could have used a little more kick.

The service was also spotty. Our dishes came out at different times. The waiter claimed that the kitchen is not used to making sure that each table has all of its food at one time because the kitchen is more used to making the dinner's small plates which they evidently just churn out and leave them under a heat lamp until they are ordered. That was an odd admission and should certainly be remedied for their brunch service to be put on the path to success.

Contact information after the jump. Continue reading.

Bar Pilar
1833 14th St. NW
Washington, DC 20009
(202) 265-1751

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Friday, February 6, 2009

Beyond the Beltway: Barney Greengrass

Update: For an updated review see New York Food Journal.

On a recent trip back north, I headed to my local 100-year-old culinary institution: Barney Greengrass. Barney Greengrass, a.k.a. the "Sturgeon King," is a Jewish deli, breadshop, fish shop, and restaurant. Unsurprisingly from their self-selected nickname, and my admitted bias for smoked fish, I was inclined to make a recent appearance. Barney's is known for incredible house-smoked fish, slightly spendy prices, extremely gruff employees and wait staff, and delicious bialys. (My understanding is that they serve H&H bagels. I do not know where they get their bialys from. They taste different/better than Kossar's or Bell's, the two major NYC bialy powerhouses. One of life's great mysteries)

Barney's is both a store and a restaurant -- with many of the tables for the "restaurant" situated in the portion of the establishment ostensibly devoted to the store. Predictably, you don't want to sit there. The back room is solely devoted to the restaurant. On this most recent visit, I was there with two out of town friends. Naturally our waiter picked up on this and treated us with an appropriate level of gruffness. He also tempted us with some excellent looking latkes by repeatedly bringing over a plate to our table, but we were unmoved.

The best dishes at Barney's naturally involve some combination of bialys and smoked fish. Past favorites include their Eggs Leo - Nova Scotia Salmon scrambled with eggs and onions. On this occassion, we had their gravlax, white fish salad, and a pastrami omelet. The gravlax and white fish were predictably superb; the white fish was well-suited as a schmear for the bialy. The gravlax was a similarly good complement -- the salt-cured fish had a tender and smooth texture. The eggs were also nicely done, but obviously they were not the main attraction. The pastrami omelet got mixed reviews. It is served open-faced. The pastrami itself was crispy and delicious but the omelet had an enormous amount of oily cheese, which was excessive.

Overall, it remains a staple on the NYC brunch scene. Be sure to pick up some bialys for the road on your way out.

Contact information after the jump. Continue Reading

Barney Greengrass
541 Amsterdam Avenue
New York, NY 10024
(212) 724-4707

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Sunday, February 1, 2009

Brunch-Hating Reporter at Washington City Paper

I have just become aware of this brunch-hating screed published in the Washington City Paper this past October. City Desk reporter Jule Banville complains that she doesn't like brunch because she doesn't want to get dressed in the morning to "sit for hours over breakfast." The other main points of her diatribe are:

(1) She doesn't want to go outside with a "put-together outfit" as is supposedly required.

(2) She doesn't want to be tempted to drink "eight cups of coffee just because it’s there."

(3) She doesn't want to "listen to you and people I don’t know gab on about politics because it bores me."

(4) She doesn't want to "pay $20 for pancakes."

(5) She'd "prefer not to drink Champagne unless someone I know is celebrating something more significant than eggs"; as for bloody marys, they are "gross."

Finally, Jule concludes that "I must admit I don’t get brunch."

Well you know what, Jule, brunch doesn't get you either. First of all, it's D.C. not New York. You don't need to "shower" and put on a nice outfit to go out to brunch in this city (though it is preferable.) Nonetheless that complaint makes it seems like you just don't want to leave your house, it has nothing to do with brunch. You don't want to drink eight cups of coffee because they keep refilling your cup, and then be jittery? Amazingly there is an easy solution to that. Don't order coffee! Incredibly you also complain about listening to people in Washington, D.C. talking about politics. Again, nothing to do with brunch. That is all people in Washington talk about. Don't like politics, don't live in D.C. Sure, this supposedly $20 pancakes is probably a rip off. Order something else. There are plenty of reasonably priced and excellent brunch places. Like my top brunch list and brunch awards. Can't help you if you don't like mimosas or bloody marys. Obviously you've never taken advantage of their hangover-curing properties and, of course, their inherent deliciousness.

Though at the end of the diatribe, Jule finally reveals her true reason for hating brunch. Her "go-to is The Diner" in Adams Morgan but she can't get a table because it's too crowded. As I've repeatedly maintained, the Diner doesn't have very good food. Obviously her brunch tastes aren't up to par. Go somewhere else in Adams Morgan like the excellent La Fourchette, Bourbon, or L'Enfant.

D.C. Brunch Culture: It Sucks [Washington City Paper].

Saturday, January 31, 2009


Levante's is a Mediterranean restaurant south of Dupont Circle. For brunch they offer a large buffet with both hot and cold dishes, breads, fruit, Mediterranean spreads, fish, and an omelet chef. As is often the case with buffets, the cold dishes were a lot better than the hot ones.

The cold section of the buffet consists of fruit, smoked salmon, breads, cakes, various vegetables, salad, and spreads such as hummus, baba ghanoush, and tzatziki. Most of these dishes were solid, though not extraordinary. The hummus, baba, and tzatziki, appeared to be home made and were well-done, the baba particularly so, and the salad and fruit were fresh. Given its presentation, the salmon was probably purchased elsewhere but it was still good and had a nice selection of accoutrements.

The hot food, unfortunately, suffered. The pides and other bread-based dishes were situated under a heat lamp and were all dried out. Other dishes in heated buffet containers looked like they had been sitting out there for a while. The eggs benedicts were not bad, but the Hollandaise sauce looked like separated, presumably because it had been sitting out there for a while. The highlight of the hot food area was the omelet chef who makes omelets to order with a variety of ingredients -- staples such as peppers, onions, and ham, and more interesting and Mediterranean options like feta cheese and shrimp.

For $20, this is a decent deal. I would recommend sticking with the omelets and the cold dishes.

Contact information after the jump. Continue reading.

1320 19th Street NW
Washington D.C. 20036

N.B. They also have a location in Maryland but I have never been there.

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Saturday, January 17, 2009

A Year of Brunch: Mailbag

My selections for 2008's top brunches and brunch awards elicited a variety of comments and emails. Here I'll address the most pressing criticisms. (Names are included for comments on the website; excluded for emailed comments). I did minimal editing of comments for length.

Its appalling that you left out Vinoteca. I'll take a monte cristo and $1 mimosas over your top selections anyday.
- John

A monte cristo and a $1 mimosa (vinoteca) is way more worth getting up for than a plain bagel and cream cheese at 2 Amy's.
- T. Torres.

These are just a sample of the criticisms I received related to my exclusion of Vinoteca from my best brunches of 2008 list. While I gave Vinoteca a favorable 3-star review, it does not belong in the category of the top four restaurants. First, the $1 sparkling beverage drinks are a promotion, that, though they extended it until April, is not a regular part of their brunch experience. Second, on a subsequent visit to Vinoteca, their food was significantly downsized. The once mightly Monte Cristo was reduced to an ordinary sandwich. While the pre-downsized Monte Cristo was certainly an excellent choice, the overall menu is fairly limited. Finally, their service did not compare to the top four places. There's only one or two servers for the whole place which means that they're generally slow to take your orders and slow to bring your rounds of $1 drinks. They did not have the flourishes and service of the Tabard Inn, the originality of Domku, the homemade quality of 2 Amys, or the consistency of La Fourchette.

Notwithstanding these criticisms, I still think Vinoteca is a solid brunch choice and have duly awarded it one of 2008's "best deals."

You clearly have allowed your personal love for salmon to overtake the good sense you have displayed since this site began.

- T. Torres

All of your top choices are salmon-heavy. What's the deal with that?

Yes, three out of my top four choices have strong salmon and fish offerings. I hadn't initially taken that into account when I made the listing but it is a fair point. I will admit to a smoked fish bias. I'm from the Upper West Side of Manhattan, I can't argue against my upbringing.

I love the Diner!!!! Why hate?

I'm surprised you said the Diner was so bad. Especially after your review of Afterwords I'd think that would be your most overrated

I'm sorry, "Why hate"? We're talking about brunch here. And I don't "hate" the Diner. It just doesn't have very good food. It continues to baffle me that so many people make the trip to go there when there are countless other better brunch choices just down the block. It's baffling. And yes, I also think that Afterwords is extremely overrated. The reason I gave the award to the Diner is that Afterwords is a tourist trap and most DC residents know that. Local Adams Morgan residents frequent the Diner. That's a huge difference.

You should try ______. It's so much better than your choices.

How about some Georgetown or Capitol Hill reviews?

Yes you may be right that your favorite restaurants that I haven't reviewed would stack up to my top choices. I'll hopefully try out your favorites in due course. Of course, if you're interested in contributing to Brunch DC, feel free to email me. I live in the Adams Morgan/U St. area. Naturally my reviews are going to be skewed in that direction. I am going to make an effort to branch out a little bit more. Chances are I won't be reviewing many places in Georgetown or Capitol Hill though.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

A Year of Brunch: Brunch Awards of 2008

Best Deals

(1) Vinoteca, 1940 11th St. NW, (202) 332-9463, Menu.
Vinoteca wins the award for best brunch deal of 2008. Their $1 sparkling wine drinks (made with Jacob's Creek brut) -- mimosas, kir royales, and bellinis -- are excellent, particularly the mimosas which is made with fresh-squeezed juice. This deal, unfortunately, ended on December 31. The brunch itself was notable for its deliciously excessive Monte Cristo, a towering sandwich of French toast, proscuito, gruyere, bacon, and eggs. Like its $1 drinks, however, the Monte Cristo has fallen victim to recent downsizing, which management has not commented upon by post-time. That and their often slow service has unfortunately dropped Vinoteca from my best brunch choices. Nonetheless, their omelets and crepes are solid choices and Vinoteca remains a decent brunch option even without the deal.

Update, 1/12/09: Vinoteca has extended their $1 sparkling wine drinks until April 1.

(2) Café Tropé, 2100 P St. NW, (202) 223-9335, Menu (incomplete).
Café Tropé serves very good eclectic French-Caribbean food in an attractive setting. Most dishes are moderately priced, from $10 omelets to $12 coconut french toast or $14 salmon eggs benedict. All of its brunch offerings come with a class of champagne and delicious warm crusty rolls served with a garlic and artichoke tapenade. The best dishes are the benedict, which is served with a Caribbean sauce instead of traditional Hollandaise, and the French toast, which is excellent though a little sweet. A great Dupont circle staple and an overall excellent deal.

Best French Toast

(1) La Fourchette, 2429 18th St NW, (202) 332-3077, Menu.

La Fourchette's French toast, made with fresh baguettes wins the award for best French toast. This large portion is fresh and spongy with real maple syrup and a little powdered sugar. No accompaniment required.

(2)Mezè, 2437 18th St. NW, 202-797-0017, Menu.

The best item on the brunch menu at Mezè is the French toast, which you might not expect from a Turkish restaurant. It is prepared with homemade cinnamon bread topped with a generous amount of fresh fruit. The bread is thick, soft, and spongy and the complement of cinnamon with sweet fruit and maple syrup presents an ambrosial combination. If you've never been to Mezè before for brunch, there's no reason to order anything else.

Best Bloody Mary

(1) L'Enfant Cafe, 2000 18th St NW, (202) 319-1800

L'Enfant has exceptional bloody marys. These homemade brunch libations are thick, well-seasoned, and spicy, but not too spicy. The best I've had in D.C. so far.

(2) Logan @ The Heights, 3115 14th St. NW, (202) 797-7227, Menu[PDF], Bloody Mary menu[PDF].

The Heights has an extensive, and complicated, bloody mary menu that allows you to pick one of many varieties of alcohol (vodka and gin), adjustable spicyness, additives such as lime juice or clam juice (recommended), and then a choice of up to three vegetables.

Best Beyond the Beltway
(1) Essex, 120 Essex Street, New York, NY 10002, (212) 533-9616, Menu [PDF].

Essex, set in an austere lofty space on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, is a New York culinary institution specializing in "drunk brunch" -- a $16 prix fixe meal that includes (at least) three bloody marys, mimosas, or screwdrivers. The food is a creative Jewish-Latin mix that includes food you don't tend to find in D.C., such as bialys, matro brie, a Latin twist on the latke, etc. A must-visit location for trips up north.

After the jump, the worst brunches of 2008.

Continue Reading.

Worst Brunch

Worst Food
Mixtec, 1792 Columbia Road N.W., 202-332-1011, Menu.

This overpriced Mexican restaurant attempts to distinguish itself with various creative regional Mexican dishes. Unfortunately, they miss the mark. The food is overcooked and underspiced -- bland Mexican food just doesn't go very far. And at $11 or more per dish, this place is not worth it. Their strange refusal or inability to make poached eggs is a further detraction.

Worst Service
Utopia, 1418 U St NW, (202) 483-7669, Menu.
Utopia Grill has respectable brunch food and an aesthetic decor consisting of exposed brick walls, chandeliers, and original artwork. The service, however, is awful. It appeared that there was only one waitress for the entire restaurant. We waited at least 20 minutes before she took our order and at least another 15 minutes before we got our drinks. She also did not bring our second round of drinks. It took an equally long time before our food arrive. This was a serious problem and hampered our brunch enjoyment and almost ruined what is respectable food. Utopia needs to improve its service before I can recommend that people go.

Most Overrated
The Diner, 2453 18th St. NW, 202-232-8800, Menu.
It always amazes me to see the lines out the door on Sunday mornings. The Diner serves average, reasonably priced food. There's nothing that is particularly great. It is open 24 hours a day so I can understand going for a late-night/early morning brunch meal. However, I see no reason to go during the traditional brunch hours when there are much better places just down the street such as La Fourchette or Bourbon. So why is there a wait to get in almost every Sunday? Is it herding? Hype? Lack of brunch knowledge among the D.C. populace? I wish someone would fill me in.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

A Year of Brunch: Best of 2008

Here are my recommendations for the best brunch in Washington, D.C.

(1) Tabard Inn, 1739 N St. NW, (202) 833-2668, Menu.

The Tabard Inn is one of D.C.'s oldest and most historic hotels and it wins the honor of the best brunch in the city for 2008. 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; at $1.50 a piece, no Tabard Inn brunch is complete without a few donuts for the table. Their extensive menu changes seasonally. The best dishes are the smoked fish plate, which comes with a large portion of house-smoked salmon and bluefish, with frisée, caper berries, crostini, and homemade crème fraîche; and the lobster and brie omelet, which was prepared in a trifold design, reminiscent of classic French preparation with large pieces of lobster, and exuding soft melted brie cheese, which provided a nice complement to the lobster. The homemade bread and biscuits are also superb. There is no better place for brunch in D.C. than the Tabard Inn.

(2) 2 Amys, 3715 Macomb St. NW, (202) 885-5700.

2 Amy's brunch consists solely of homemade bagels and bialys with house smoked salmon (along with their traditional menu of superb pizza) and they rightly take their place as the best in the city. These are not traditional New York-style bagels. Instead they are larger, crispier, sourdough rolls with a slightly tangy taste. The tangyness of the sourdough used to make them comes from using leftover whey (from their homemade cream cheese) instead of water. The homemade cream cheese is whipped so it's very soft and spreadable. A virtually perfect brunch experience.

(3) La Fourchette, 2429 18th St NW, (202) 332-3077, Menu.

This authentic Parisian cafe serves the best brunch on 18th street (so authentic it's closed for much of August in true Parisian form). It had a solid selection of exquisitely prepared dishes, is not particularly expensive, and provides excellent service and atmosphere. The best dishes include the omelet Provençal, which contains a variety of fresh herbs and is covered with a tomato sauce and a side of potatoes, which are crisp well-seasoned; and the French toast, which is made with fresh baguettes.

(4) Domku, 821 Upshur St. NW,(202) 722-7454, Menu.

Aside from the almost undrinkably spicy bloody mary, Domku, in Petworth, serves excellent Scandinavian and Eastern European cuisine. It has great originality and a welcoming environment. Dish highlights are the Norwegian pancakes that are thin and crepe-like and can be filled with a variety of meats, cheeses, and vegetables that are cooked into the pancake; and the Swedish waffle, prepared in an interesting heart-shaped waffle iron and topped with whipped cream and lingonberry preserves. The lightness of the waffle was an excellent complement with the heartiness of the preserves. Worth the trip.