Crios

Crios | 2120 P Street NW | Washington, DC | 20037

This was my second brunch at Crios. The first time I went, I was absolutely blown away by the food and have been dying to return since then. I am not huge fan of Mexican food (especially for breakfast), but this place has turned out to be my go-to spot for a filling, delicious, boozy brunch.

Crios, which is Spanish for ‘children’, opened its doors a few years ago by a pair of sisters. The self titled ‘modern Mexican’ establishment is nicely situated just west DuPont Circle on P Street between 21st and 22nd.  Personally, I think Crios has one of the best, most expansive brunch menus in the area (at least from what I have seen). If you want to preface your brunch with an appetizer, they offer a handful of shareable starters, such as guacamole, stuffed tortillas, and cheesy shrimp fritters. Other non-traditional breakfast items include a plethora of both hard and soft-shelled tacos, soups, and salads.

Since I am a huge breakfast fan, I went straight for the ‘huevos y mas’ section- eggs and more. They offer breakfast sandwiches, crab cakes, burritos, and omelets, all with a Mexican touch. My favorite part of the menu is the ‘build-your-own-scramble’ option. You pick a protein (such as crab, rock shrimp, chicken sausage, or carne asada), a choice of cheeses, vegetables, and a side of either yucca fries, breakfast potatoes, or cinnamon sugar tortilla strips. I opted for crabmeat, Monterey jack, corn, mushrooms, and yucca fries. It made for a FANTASTIC, cheesy combination.

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As good as it looks.

For those who like savory dishes, Crios also offers ‘cinnamon cornflake crusted french toast’ and nutella banana pancakes. There is also a kids menu, a dessert menu, and a ‘liquid brunch menu’, where you can find bottomless pitchers for $13. I can speak to the bottomless part.

Conclusion: I highly recommend this place! It’s a great spot for meeting up with friends, spending long mornings, and eating your heart out. The atmosphere is very laid back and there are menu items for everyone. Check it out!

Agora

Agora | 1527 17th Street NW | Washington, DC | 20036

This review is for my brunch experience at Agora, a quaint Mediterranean restaurant just northeast of DuPont Circle. This place manages to be both trendy and low-key at the same time, with dim lighting and exposed brick walls to complement the basic wood furniture. Agora also boasts a large outdoor patio, which unfortunately is cheapened with poorly hung Christmas lights and seemingly random plant displays.

Agora specializes in Turkish and Greek fusion cuisine, with a large assortment of wood-fired small plates, flatbreads, salads, and spreads. The executive chef hails from Lebanon, so you know you are getting the real deal. You will find plenty of lamb, grilled vegetables, mozzarella, yogurt, and spices on this menu. Each item is also specified as dairy-free, gluten-free, peanut-free, or tree-nut-free if applicable.

But of course, we ventured to DuPont for the awesome brunch deals. On Saturdays and Sundays, Agora offers an unlimited pre-fixed brunch + bottomless drinks for $33. This is a fabulous deal for those with large appetites, as you can order as many brunch items as your stomach desires for two hours. All of the brunch items can also be ordered a la carte, in addition to $5 individual boozy drinks, a $15 bottomless option, and authentic Turkish coffee.

We were lucky to get an outdoor table on such a spring-like Saturday. However, our luck ended with the subpar service we experienced. After only minute or so at the table, out waiter abruptly asked if we were ready to order our entire meals. We told him we were only ready to order our mimosas and he looked disappointed that we wanted to spend time with the menu. As quick as he was to take our order, it seemed odd that our drinks took so long to arrive (however, worth the wait). For my meal, I ended up ordering the vegetable omelet, complete with asparagus, mushrooms, and peppers, which comes with a side of home fries.

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Light and fresh

The dish was not bad, however it was rather small as you can see. That ‘side of home fries’ was really just three small bites of potato drenched in oil. Luckily, we had plenty of fresh pita to satisfy our appetites. Our waiter even refilled our single-order mimosas at no charge, which was a kind touch.

Conclusion: No real complaints, but the meal was nothing special and the service could have been better. I was certainly not wow-ed by the brunch and will probably not return. However, I can tell this place is very authentic so I would recommend Agora to anyone looking for a true Mediterranean experience.

Kafe Leopold

Kafe Leopold | 3315 M Street NW | Washington, DC | 20007

In an effort to expand my brunch repertoire, I ventured over Georgetown with an old friend to try the European-inspired breakfast hotspot, Kafe Leopold. It is tucked away in an alley off 33rd Street and although we were just a few feet from M Street, it felt as though we were in a different part of the city.

It was very busy that Saturday morning. A beautiful, crisp fall day will do that to a Georgetown cafe. Every spot in the restaurant and on the patio was taken and there were quite a few people outside waiting for tables to open up. It was a certainly loud but it embodied your typical lively city brunch experience. The interior had a sophisticated feel, with  stark white tables and chairs and bright orange lounge furniture. I could tell this place had a European theme before I even opened the menu.

My friend is a regular at Leopold’s and she said no matter what we order, we have to get a side of fries. I never say no to fries. I had some trouble picking out what I wanted to eat because the menu is fantastic. There was the Belgische Zuckerwaffein (Belgian sugar waffle with whipped cream, honey or chocolate), the Kaiser-Schmarrn Mit Zwetschgen-Roster (scrambled soufflé with plum compote  with currants) and other things that I could not pronounce. The menu was pretty short but I loved the unique sweet and savory options. It was a tough choice! I ended up playing it safe and ordered the classic Frühstück, two eggs with smoked & grilled ham on toast points.

Unfortunately, things went downhill from there. I was never served my coffee and everyone around us seemed to be getting their food well before we did. We ended up waiting almost 50 minutes for our breakfasts (and there were only two of us!) On top of the wait time, my eggs were cold. Not sorta-warm, but they were actually cold. The ham and toast seemed as though they were sitting out for awhile too. However, I could tell that the food would have been very good had it been warm. We also drew the short straw with our waiter, who pretty much ignored us the whole time. The one redeeming quality of the brunch was the fries. My friend was right. They were absolutely top-notch and we went through them fast.

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Conclusion:  This place has a lot of potential so I was disappointed. The menu is definitely fun and different- many points for that. Avoid the Saturday brunch if long waits and loud crowds are not your thing. Overall, I am glad I tried Leopold’s and it was not the worst experience in the world, but I probably will not return. I do recommend it though. I think we just went at a bad time.

Metropole (Cincinnati)

Metropole | 609 Walnut Street | Cincinnati, OH | 45202

I took a four-week hiatus while writing this review because the day after I started, I flew right back to DC to move into my new place! It was certainly a hectic time but my wonderful and relaxing trip home made me well prepared for the journey.

Michael Paley’s Metropole was the second new Cincinnati restaurant I tried while at home in August (Kaze set the bar pretty high). I was so excited to eat here because it was among the 50 nominees for Bon Appetit’s Best New Restaurant in America. What an honor! Everyone around town was buzzing about this place so I had high expectations.

Metropole is located downtown on the first floor of the newly opened 21st C. Museum Hotel on Walnut Street. For those of you who are not familiar with 21st C. Museum Hotels, they are a funky fusion of high-class hospitality and contemporary art. I find it suiting that it is situated across from the Aronoff Center! The company also boasts successful properties in Louisville (which has been ranked in the top 10 hotels in the U.S. by Conde Nast) and Bentonville. Keep an eye out for Lexington and Durham locations in the next few years!

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Aronoff Center for the Arts – view from the hotel

My family and I walked around the museum before taking our seat at the restaurant. I thought this place would be a hotel with a museum, but it is actually more of a museum with a hotel! There is over 8000 square feet of exhibition space here spread out over two levels. I wish I had a greater appreciation for art because the exhibits seemed well done. Here are a few snapshots of one of the galleries (aka the hotel lobby):

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B&W

As much as I enjoyed the exhibit, I was hungry and ready to be seated. The decor in the restaurant really caught my eye as we first walked in. The interior has a historic vibe, yet it is somehow contemporary and cleanly refined at the same time. Modern elegance meets vintage charm with a dash of pizzazz. That is the best way I can put it. It is quite beautiful in there!

One look at the menu and I realized the food is just as eccentric as the ambiance. The dishes all seemed so unique and there was a nice variety. I loved that each menu item has an ingredient or two that seem a little out of place. I remember thinking, ‘wow, I am definitely going to try some new things tonight!’ Most of the dishes here are cooked in a wood-burning fireplace built just for Metropole- a wonderful signature touch!

I started with the summer squash soup, complete with mushroom pierogie, crème fraiche and basil oil. I could describe in detail how it was one of the best soups I have ever had, but that would take too long. I WILL say that the mushroom dumpling front and center was outstanding (although I did not know exactly what it was) and I would have been fine with just a plate of those for dinner. I highly, highly recommend this decadent starter.

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I want another..

I ordered the string roasted chicken for my entree, which came with pole beans, fresh thyme, roasted garlic & grain mustard. I have to say, it was some of the freshest and juiciest chicken I have ever tried. My dad kept stealing the chicken’s crispy skin from my plate. I think he liked my dish even more than I did. Had I not ordered the chicken, I would have tried the bison burger! I saw a few of the burgers around the restaurant and they were absolutely mouth-watering.

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Yum!

The most unique thing we ordered was the summer corn chaat, a classic Indian snack and one of Metropole’s signature dishes according to our waiter. Oh man. I think I ate the whole thing. I was not familiar with chaat before I dined here but this particular dish consisted of corn, couscous, chickpeas, basil, lime & smoked aioli. It was addicting, fresh, tangy, and just a powerhouse of different flavors. The flavors worked together so well yet I could distinctly name each induvidual ingredient I was tasting. Don’t skip on this side dish!

Conclusion: Cheers to you Michael Paley. You are awesome. This place will become a facet of our downtown restaurant scene in no time. The service was notably amazing as was the food presentation. They also gave us a cup of homemade cotton candy with the check- a sweet bookend to such a fabulous meal! It was not your typical night out in Ohio and we all appreciated that. Head on over to Metropole and see why it earned its spot Bon Appetit’s top 50 list!

Kaze (Cincinnati)

Kaze | 1400 Vine Street | Cincinnati, OH | 45202

Before I get to my review, I want to give you a little history of Cincinnati to explain why Kaze is more than just a fantastic new addition to our restaurant scene, but how its opening represents the end to Cincinnati’s darkest hour (in my opinion).

Cincinnati faced a serious setback in April 2001.  A downtown shooting spurred four days of significant race riots that jolted the city. There was vandalism, looting, arson and physical assault, which resulted in citywide curfews, millions of dollars in damage, and over 800 arrests. Downtown was no longer considered safe and it took 10 years to change that tarnished reputation (but time heals all wounds!).

Cincinnati is an amazing, amazing city. I lived there my entire life and love it to pieces. Since moving to DC, I realized that most people think Ohio is one big boring farm with no redeeming qualities, when that absolutely could not be farther from the truth. Cincinnati has thriving music and restaurant scenes, the most picturesque parks, an engaging downtown, a beautiful waterfront, passionate Reds and Bengals fans, and a breadth of local food that we swear by (Graeter’s, Skyline, Montgomery Inn). We have dozens of neighborhoods, each with their own unique cafes, quaint coffee shops, boutiques, and weekly farmers markets. We also have annual events that bring the city together, such as the Flying Pig Marathon and Oktoberfest Zinzinnati (the biggest Oktoberfest in the world, second to Munich, of course).

There have been tremendous transformations in Cincinnati in the last decade, such as The Banks project, Washington Park overhaul, and major upgrades to UC and Xavier. We also hosted the 2012 World Choir Games last summer (which brought $70 million in revenue and 300,000 international visitors to the city) and the MLB All-Star Game will be at our beloved Reds stadium in 2015!

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The Banks/Waterfront (downtown)

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Music Hall in the newly revived Washington Park

Kaze comes into play because it is in the downtown neighborhood, Over the Rhine, where the riots originated and were most severe. This restaurant would never have made it 7 or 8 years ago, considering its target customer. It is a contemporary Japanese lounge and bar that specializes in authentic Asian small plates and sushi. After dark, Kaze offers live entertainment almost every night, plus karaoke! This place is gorgeous and expansive.

Our waitress was so kind and knowledgeable about the menu. We all loved her. She explained how the menu items are on the smaller side and designed for sharing. To start, we ordered the soybean hummus (my choice) and summer truffle salad to share amongst the three of us. I had never before tried hummus that was made from edamame but it was a tasty surprise. The dip came with salty homemade chips that left a tangy lime aftertaste. The summer truffle salad was amazing as well and came heavy on the truffles, I’ll say! It was a medley of squash, peas, turnips topped with balsamic vinaigrette. It was as simple and fresh as could be.

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Truffles!

I ordered the sea scallops for my entree, which came with bacon, sweet corn and was drizzled with a shitake ginger vinaigrette. Oh my. The scallops themselves were cooked to perfection and really allowed the shitake ginger vinaigrette to stand out. It was also beautifully presented:

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Scallop heaven

We also ordered 2 of the s’mores desserts to split amongst the three of us. The marshmallows were deliciously toasted and the sesame seeds added a unique touch! It was topped with a creamy chocolate mousse. I think this picture speaks for itself:

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Even better than it looks.

Conclusion: Dining here made me so happy! The food was absolutely superb. We all agreed that this was one of the best and most unique meals we have ever had in Cincinnati (and we have all lived here forever!). It was also so amazing to see people flock to Over the Rhine. I was raised to be weary of this neighborhood so it’s exciting to witness its redemption because OTR has so much to offer historically. Kaze and the other new additions to OTR are doing awesome things for our downtown (and tastebuds). Please go check it out!

Circa at Foggy Bottom

Circa | 2221 I Street, NW | Washington, DC | 20037

This Circa location is directly across from the Foggy Bottom metro station at the ever-busy corner of 23rd and I Streets. I walked past this restaurant daily for years before ever trying it. I always found it intimidating! The small outdoor bar is overrun with 20-somethings in their business professional attire and it is always very loud, but in a trendy, cool, hip way I suppose. To those passing by, it certainly looks like the place to be.

I dined here the other evening for an early dinner, although I did want my inaugural Circa experience to be their famous brunch service. I was honestly taken back when I first walked through the door. This place is beautiful: sleek, chic, dark and modern complete with mood lighting and a huge bar. It is definitely as trendy on the inside as it appears from the outside.

We had to sit outside because there were no more available seats inside. I was hesitant because it was so humid, but I was also starving so I tried to ignore the stickiness. With dozens of people standing around us with their happy hour drinks, the outdoor patio was definitely a little cozy. I was personally a little uncomfortable with the mixing and mingling right next to my table, but the speedy and consistent service made up for that.

The menu is a long list of mouth watering small plates, flatbreads, and savory entrees. I was eyeing the wild mushroom ravioli, caramelized diver scallops, and hummus platter, but ended up ordering the lobster ravioli (had to…) and my dinner guest and I also shared the crispy calamari and mac and cheese. YUM! It was as great just amazing. The mac and cheese was a searing pot of cheesy baked goodness with topped with toasted breadcrumbs. The calamari was fresh and hot and paired with a lemon-thyme aioli sauce and a tangy marinara.

My lobster ravioli dish was superb as well. The 3 raviolis were filled with goat cheese, plenty of lobster, and a blend of herbs which made for a wonderful flavor combination. The dish was garnished with toasted almonds and smothered with a delicious pesto-arugula sauce. I highly recommend it! Beware, it is a rather small dish, but I guess that is why they call it a small plate.

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Yum yum yum!

Conclusion: I only have nice things to say about Circa! It made for a wonderful dinner and (although I have not tried it) I know their happy hour one people swear by. Take note that Circa is basically always loud and fast-paced, but the action is certainly part of the ambiance. Definitely worth a try! Has anyone been to the DuPont or Claredon locations?

Napoleon Bistro

Napoleon Bistro | 1847 Columbia Road NW | Washington, DC | 20009

Adams Morgan is such an intriguing and unique facet of the Washington community. It is also one of our neighborhoods that I have yet to completely explore! This diverse area of town has so much to offer, with a thriving nightlife scene and plethora of restaurants that dot 18th Street and Columbia Road.

My friends and I timed our walk (yes, WALK) from Foggy Bottom to Adams Morgan so we would be at our brunch destination, Napoleon Bistro, by the time it opened at 10am.  The interior is quint yet Parisian-chic, with bold black furniture and accents against its simple white walls. The atmosphere was very inviting, as was the staff.

I was so excited as I read the menu. Napoleon offers a variety of omelets, savory and sweet crepes, and a long list of decadent breakfast specials, such as crab benedict, bison sausage and eggs, croque monsieur, and the Mona Lisa (an egg crepe cup filled with mushrooms, onion, provolone and parsley). I was like a little kid in a candy store. Perhaps my favorite part of our brunch was my drink: an iced nutella espresso. Yes, it was as perfect as it sounds: a large, nutella-lined shot glass filled to the brim with rich espresso and topped with fresh whipped cream. I had to exercise some serious self-control by not ordering a second round.

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Yum.

I ordered the Voltaire for my breakfast entree: scrambled eggs with cheddar cheese inside one of Napoleon’s homemade croissants. It also came with roasted potatoes and looked a little something like this:

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Go carbs!

I really don’t have words to describe how good this was. The eggs were cooked to perfection and the croissant just melted in my mouth. I wanted to devour all of the potatoes, but I had to leave some behind to avoid a stomachache. This dish was beyond delicious. It was such a treat, and one well deserved after our 2 1/2 mile walk! Luckily, there is a bus stop right out front of the restaurant so we caught the 42 home.

Conclusion: Go! Go! This was one of my favorite brunches. We were all beyond satisfied with our meals and my entire bill was $16 after tip. It was SUCH a steal! You will especially like Napoleon if you like Café Bonaparte, its sister restaurant in the heart of Georgetown. These people know French, and they know it well. Bon appétit!