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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