Brunching in the City

AAaaannnddd…..we’re back! I’ve been on a bit of a Persnickety hiatus–for no good reason, mind you–but I’m happy to return with a decadent post in tow. Although Thanksgiving preparations are currently very much underway, I wanted to take a little tour of my recent brunch outings around the city. The DC’ers among you should know the minor (ahem…major) obsession that DC inhabitants have with brunch, and I have had multiple weekends with both a Saturday and Sunday sampling. There’s always a modicum of guilt associated though; I avoid the healthy options on the menu, and consistently gravitate towards the most decadent instead. So, from most recent…here are three brunches I’ve loved in the past few months.

Founding Farmers

Previously only having visited for dinner–which is marvelous–I finally planned a brunch with a good friend of mine. Without meaning to, we actually ordered the exact same meal: coffee, fresh squeezed orange juice, and stuffed french toast with strawberries and whipped cream. (I mentioned the always ordering the most unhealthy item on the menu, right?). She mentioned that every time she’s gone, she’s lusted after the stuffed french toast, but never actually committed, so she was thrilled to finally order it. And I was thrilled to eat it. I have to say that we were so preoccupied with catching up that I delayed asking about peanuts until they had actually brought our food, but luckily everything had been prepared safely, and there were no cross contamination issues to worry about. Now – don’t ask me how they make this and don’t expect me to know what what makes it so gloriously rich (you can probably guess from the pictures). Just admire.

Shaw’s Tavern

Although I rarely choose a savory brunch selection, I had gotten up particularly early this Sunday, and had already had a full breakfast of oatmeal with cinnamon, brown sugar, dried fruit and pecans. I was sugared-out, so I chose the pulled chicken sandwich instead. It was actually quite lovely, with a great kick from the jalapenos mixed in with shallots, cilantro, cherry tomatoes, and peppers. The sandwich came with potato chips, but after discovering that they were cooked in corn oil, the waitress graciously supplied me with a darling little bowl of blueberries and strawberries, and left the chips for my dining companions to munch on. Along with an absurdly delicious fresh squeezed orange juice, it was a pretty healthy and pleasing meal!

Cafe Sorriso e Gelateria

As part of my quest to visit all my local neighborhood spots, I wandered into Cafe Sorriso a few months ago to try out their coffee. A tiny little space, it’s full of character and extremely hospitable people. It’s relatively new, and unfortunately a bit hidden, but the place opens quite early for their weekend breakfast/brunch and provides a really nice option for a relaxed meal with friends. Three of us live in the same building, so it’s easy to coordinate a nice, early brunch on a weekend. On this visit, I ordered the whole wheat pancakes with banana, walnuts and maple syrup and accompanied the meal with a pot of delicious Earl Grey tea. My friends had oatmeal, and smoked salmon scrambled eggs, respectively, and each enjoyed the uncomplicated and delightful spread.

Now, as a teaser for you all, today we have completed our massive shop for the Thanksgiving meal at Chelsea Market in NYC, and have successfully retrieved our 14 pound bird. I’m baking a chocolate pecan pie, there will be two types of stuffing, multitudes of roasted vegetable goodness, and fresh home-made cranberry sauce. And of course, we have bottles and bottles of wine and about 7 different kinds of cheeses and cured meats for snacking during the day. Never fear, the Thanksgiving post will be epic, and hopefully completely absolve me from my disgraceful lack of posting for the last few weeks.

The trees are looking a little naked

View from my rooftop before the storm. I don’t have an “after” because, well, it’s kind of a dreary day today.

Afternoon! My neighborhood has borne the wake of Hurricane Sandy quite marvelously, and I’m happy to report that I suffered from nary a flicker during the storm, although it seems like there are more leaves on the ground now than there are on the trees! It’s been a nice break having 2 “rain days” from work, but I expect that the city is eager to get back to its usual pace. I hope that everyone is doing okay; good luck to anyone out there that is recovering or rebuilding from the storm.

As you might expect, being holed up during one of the worst storm/hurricane/crazy weather events of the century didn’t really allow me to go out to eat. Alas, I really have nothing to report on the dining out front except to say that I had another marvelous meal at Oyamel (they did that awesome menu thing again!), and I had an unfortunate run-in with cornmeal on the bottom of a pizza at District of Pi. I soldiered on through the pizza (who was I to abandon the sweet prosciutto, tangy arugula and creamy goat cheese that adorned that pie?), but my stomach was obnoxiously cranky the next day.

But, fall is here, and that always makes me smile. I love the change in season, and all the good changes that come with it–crisp days, crunchy leaves, slow-cooked soups, and an unending array of baked goods that involve pumpkin. Here’s a few things I’ve been making myself lately…

Lemon-massaged kale salad with red onions, slivered almonds, honey crisp apple slices, dried cherries and pecorino romano cheese.

Red quinoa croquettes made with grated carrot and zucchini, onion and garlic. Inspired by this recipe.

Gingersnaps! I made these for a friend’s birthday party, and they turned out fabulously! Find the recipe here.

Once this week dies down, I’m planning on making some pumpkin curry soup, bake some pumpkin cookies, and perhaps prepare some pumpkin spice overnight oats for my breakfasts. (Are you sensing a theme here?)

A Mini Rant on Catered Events

On Wednesday night, I performed at an awards ceremony for a great social service organization. The event organizers were generous enough to invite us to the pre-ceremony reception, and encouraged us to eat, drink, and be merry. Yes, please! Yet, when I started traversing the reception floor–nearly knocking 12 things over, mind you–I was baffled and disappointed to find that absolutely none of the food had any labels. Now, this might be fine and dandy for most people in the room. They don’t need to know every ingredient in a dish, and are perfectly safe filling their plate. Unfortunately, I don’t have that luxury.

In such circumstances, I usually can find some safe dishes, but always bypass the dessert table. Yet, at this event, the dishes were so obviously complex that even taking a piece of chicken seemed risky. At every turn, I worried that something had a peanut glaze, the fried foods were fried in peanut oil, that nuts could be lurking in the salad. And you know what, I was right to be worried. A friend (without allergies) starting eating some fancy cole-slaw dish (served in martini glass, mind you), and immediately said “Oh yah – there are totally nuts in this!”

Now, I know that I can’t expect a full list of ingredients written on a card next to the food, nor can I expect that the servers will be able to accurately tell me if a dish has a certain allergen (they really don’t have the time or knowledge base to do that). However, it would be easy enough to identify dishes that do have common allergens, and simply put up a little placard next to the dish that says, “contains nuts” or “has dairy ingredients.”  I know I’ll never be able to feel completely comfortable at catered events like these (unless I’m the one that’s planning the menu and ordering the food, which I do quite frequently), but really, catering companies should really jump on this dietary-restrictions-are-a-big-deal bandwagon. A little more thought and planning might lead to safer and more enjoyable experiences for guests with dietary restrictions. As it was, I filled up on pineapple chunks, grapes and some crackers. Sigh.