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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