(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.
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.
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.
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.