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.

Friday, January 2, 2009


"Domku," which means "little house" in Polish is an Eastern European and Scandinavian gem in Petworth. The brunch menu features customizable Norwegian pancakes, Swedish waffles, and smoked fish. The place looks more like a neighborhood lounge than a restaurant, as most patrons sit on couches with coffee tables. The decor also includes an exposed brick wall, track lighting, and purchasable art by children.

The Domku bloody mary is one of the more interesting, and definitely spicy, interpretations of the classic drink. Our waiter informed us that they infuse vodka with certain habanero peppers that are so hot you need gloves to touch them. The vodka is added to a thick tomato mixture and served separated. I do prefer thick and spicy bloody marys, but this one went overboard. Many of my brunch companions thought it was virtually undrinkable. I wouldn't go that far, but I won't recommend ordering it unless you are ready for serious and overpowering heat.

The food was a lot better and a welcome addition to the D.C. brunch scene. Since it's a Scandinavian restaurant they specialize in fish, pancakes, and waffles. The salmon eggs benedict with house-smoked gravlax is well-presented on top of crispy sourdough rounds and served with a side salad. This was a good dish: the gravlax were mild, the eggs were nicely poached and presented on top of the rounds. The salad had an interesting dressing that was not too heavy.

The Norwegian pancakes are thin and crepe-like and can be filled with a variety of meats, cheeses, and vegetables that are cooked into the pancake. This is a specialty of the house and it has a very nice light texture and satisfying intricacies.

The Swedish waffle was another highlight, 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.

We also tried the "Salmon Pyt i Panna" which is essentially a hash of potatoes, carrots, and onions with salmon and topped with a poached egg and mustard mayo. The softness of the salmon well-complemented the crispiness of the potatoes. But I felt the sauce was prosaic and it didn't rise to the level of the other dishes.

It is certainly worth making the trip up to Petworth to visit Domku. It's unique food and comfortable setting gives it high marks. Contact information after the jump.

Continue reading.

Menu [Domku]

821 Upshur St. NW
Washington, D.C. 20011
(202) 722-7454

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