Et tu, B Too?

B TooLike all mothers, mine believes emphatically that she doesn’t see me often enough. So two and a half months after coming for a week in March, she was back for a repeat visit at the beginning of June. I was able to take a few days off, and we enjoyed a thoroughly relaxing weekend. Forced inside by some monstrous downpours, we contented ourselves by watching Netflix, doing crossword puzzles, and baking. Although the visit was ultimately lovely and successful, it didn’t start out that way. 14th Street beckoned, and our curiosity was piqued by the new Belgian restaurant from the owners of Belga in Eastern Market, B Too. B Too is in good company for newcomer restaurants–it joins Le Diplomate, Etto, and Ghibellina as all very recent additions to 14th. With Belga being a consistent favorite, we entered with high hopes, and even higher expectations.

Although we were about 15 minutes early for our reservation, the staff seated us immediately, and tried to make us comfortable with drinks and a paper bag of crusty (and I mean, crusty) bread to dip in olive oil. The trouble started when I asked our server what kind of oil they use for frying. It’s common for upscale restaurants to use peanut oil for frites, and the server confirmed that yes, B Too uses peanut oil for their frites. Disappointed, but not yet discouraged, we asked about ordering the hangar steak and roasted root vegetables with something other than frites. The server’s response was a bit shocking: “No, we don’t do any substitutions here.” Incredulous, I asked, “No substitutions? Not even for an allergy?” He then left to confer with the chef. His return was very positive–they would certainly accommodate my request and substitute a different side. We settled on the potato mousse, and also ordered the monk fish, and an asparagus dish to start. Before he left, he urged that he would put a large “No nut” warning on our entire order, and that the restaurant would use vegetable/canola oil for any of our dishes.

My suspicions started to grow when we were given our first dish: white and green asparagus with chopped egg and butter sauce. The dish was topped with a rice cracker that looked like it had been flash fried. A little nervous, I asked him again to confirm that the kitchen hadn’t used peanut oil. After another trip to the chef, he confirmed that they had used canola oil. Still, I decided to set aside the cracker, and just focus on the asparagus. Unfortunately, they didn’t hold my attention for long. Well cooked, but lacking in flavor and literally drowning in a tasteless, oily sauce, the asparagus had few redeeming qualities.

B Too AsparagusWe were served our main dishes, which we planned to split between us: Kraaie Biefstuk met Vergeten Groente (Josper grilled hanger steak with root vegetables, and our subbed side of Potato mousse with roasted garlic), and Roulade van Zeeduivel met Bloemkool (Monkfish roulade with cauliflower risotto, fried capers and parsley). It all looked delectable, but looks can be deceiving. I tried the hangar steak first–ordered medium rare, but served almost well done–and was dismayed to find the steak had little flavor, and gained little even when completely dunked in the hot pepper sauce. The root vegetables were equally lackluster, and though sprinkled generously with herbs, were obviously not roasted with them. Finally, the potato mousse was not the fluffy, garlicky masterpiece I had expected. It resembled a thick cheese soup, and was so buttery and rich you could barely eat a bite without your arteries clogging. But then, it got worse.

B Too Hangar steakWe switched plates, and I started in on the monkfish. While the fish itself was properly cooked, and sat on a bed of cauliflower “risotto” (although I hardly think pats of rice mixed with various vegetables can be called risotto), I found the presentation, with the strange foam and giant okra pods a bit disconcerting and pretentious. A few bites in, I had…well…a moment. Others with food allergies may know what I’m talking about. It’s the tiny seed of panic, lodged only in your subconscious, that you might have a big problem on your hands. I realized that the capers in the dish had been fried. I know enough about kitchen practices to assume that my capers would not have gotten special treatment, and, more likely, were made in bulk in a fryer, to be tossed into the various dishes when necessary. I immediately feared that they had been fried in peanut oil, and I was about to face a serious allergic reaction.

B Too MonkfishWe called the server over for the umpteenth time, and I hastily explained that I wasn’t feeling well, and that he needed to check on whether the kitchen had accidentally included capers from a peanut oil batch. A scuffle ensued, which ended up with the manager coming over to the table to look after my well-being. Then the most unbelievable thing happened. “We don’t use peanut oil for anything in the restaurant,” the manager said. Excuse me? He further explained that the restaurant doesn’t use peanut oil, but it does use Pinola oil, apparently a brand of vegetable oil. The server had apparently gotten very confused, and heard peanut, and not Pinola. I was shocked that such a miscommunication error could have happened, and I asked to speak with the chef personally. So out comes the chef, obviously harried, but exceedingly pleasant and goodnatured. Yes, he assured me, the only oil we use in the kitchen is Pinola. No peanuts anywhere. So I was safe. Sure. But not happy.

We never saw our server again–the manager stepped in to handle us. He admitted that it was the server’s first day without supervision, and offered to get us a dessert on the house. Uninterested in dessert after a veritable anxiety attack, I instead aired my frustration and dismay at the poor training this fellow had received. This was a most basic error in communication, and could have been totally preempted had the server had a more thorough knowledge of the restaurant’s menu and policies. Peanut allergies are everywhere. They are not obscure, and they’re entirely manageable. One would think that a restaurant would have trained their staff in how best to deal with food allergies, and would have required at least a basic understanding of food preparation (e.g., what kind of oil the restaurant uses, if they make desserts in-house, if the soups are made with chicken or vegetable stock, etc.).

Ultimately, the manager was sincerely apologetic, and after failing to tempt us with a free dessert, took the asparagus appetizer off the bill. Personally, I expected a bit more, but that’s neither here nor there. I was disappointed and still suffering the effects of my psychosomatic allergy symptoms when we left. I hope that B Too can improve and expand their training practices to better prepare for customers with food allergies, and to avoid these grievous miscommunication errors. With that said, I hope their food gets better too.

B Too | 324 14th Street NW 20005 | 202.627.2800

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Je Voudrais…

Le Diplomate“Je voudrais…” was one of the first French phrases I was taught in my middle school French class. I vividly remember our teacher (“Madame,” of course) bringing in Coke and Orangina to our class so we could practice saying, “Je voudrais un Coca s’il vous plaît.” It was thrilling, I tell you. Of course, if I had used the phrase when placing my order at Le Diplomate last Sunday, I would’ve gotten some strange stares, both from the waiter and my dining partner. I’ll say, although I was slightly offended at the mangled French pronunciations used by my waiter, once the food came, it really didn’t matter. The food was rich but summery, meticulous but comforting. Having opened only a few months ago on the 14th street corridor, Le Diplomate has basked in an array of shining reviews. And with the sun peeping through bright red awnings and reflecting off the chummy yellow patio bistro chairs, it’s hard to imagine a more perfect place to enjoy brunch with a good friend.

Le Diplomate patioWe were seated after only about 20 minutes, preferring the short wait to eating inside or on the side patio (with a lot more foot traffic). We snagged a perfect table at the sweet spot between inside and out. With its towering ceilings, skylights and dining room completely open to the patio, Le Diplomate has completely mastered the dining “en plein air” effect. Entranced by the absolutely perfect weather, we were content to gaze lazily around at our fellow diners, slowly peruse the menu, and sip on the Mimosa Lorraine (Crème de Griotte, Crème de Pêche, Orange Juice, and Sparkling Wine) or Bloody Mary. More importantly, our servers were content to let us do just that.

Le Diplomate DiningWhen it did come time for ordering, I prattled off my list of allergies and asked if there would be anything problematic with my order. Although our server didn’t seem exceedingly informed, he was confident that the restaurant wouldn’t have any peanuts anywhere near my dishes. Peanuts aren’t really a thing in French cooking, thank goodness. mimosa and bloody maryI will note, however, that the bread basket brought over by another server did include a cranberry walnut bread. Although tree nuts are entirely safe for me, I still would have appreciated a head’s up. For many people I know, this would have been a big faux pas (see how I used the French, there?).

croissantOne buttery, crackly croissant later, the server brought our main dishes. I’m told that the egg white omelette with ratatouille was lovely, but I can only really speak for my dish: Eggs Boudin Noir. Baked “en cocotte” (in a vivid orange Le Creuset boat-like dish), my soft boiled eggs were surrounded by crispy, salty boudin noir (blood sausage) and roasted asparagus, with some crusty, grilled levain bread on the side. Outrageous. I assure you that this dish was responsible for my inability to move for several hours afterwards. Luckily, my afternoon consisted of lying on the grass in Meridian Hill Park people-watching and reflecting on my meal. And imagining a new one.

Eggs En CocotteYesterday, I decided to capitalize on the obviously genius combination of eggs, sausage and asparagus to make my own version of eggs en cocotte. IMG_1633With my CSA bounty at the ready, I made a delightful little frittata with scallions, chives, sharp cheddar, roasted asparagus, and chicken sausage. I may have then topped it with tabasco sauce. Not exactly French, but very delicious!

Le Diplomate | 1601 14th Street Washington DC 20005 | 202.332.3333

Pancakes, Beer and Popsicles…in that order

A few weekends ago, urgent and important business compelled me to make a special trip to DC Brau–a local production brewery churning out deliciousness in the form of The Public Pale Ale, The Corruption IPA, The Citizen Belgian Ale and an awesome array of seasonal, limited-edition beers. Lucky for us, the brewery was actually in operation during our Saturday tour (the brewers had been going strong since 5:00 am that morning!). This meant a lot of noise, but it also meant we could watch the canning machine in action! If you have car access, this is definitely a fun outing (it’s all free) – and there’s even a food truck parked in their lot so you can get lunch before your tour!

DC Brau Using Catoctin Creek Barrels!To fortify ourselves for the tour and tastings, and because we were going into NE anyway, I convinced M to stop off for brunch on H Street. I was tempted by the Argonaut–a fantastic place (and the site of a very mimosa-heavy birthday brunch 2 years back), but opted for something new: Boundary Road. This lovely, brick-walled spot opened almost exactly a year ago, and has been a hit among H Streeters and beyond. It was bright and sunny, with just a small smattering of people enjoying a lazy Saturday morning. Our coffee was served in a pot right out of M’s childhood home, and the two raw sugar cubes served with it were perfect for sucking the coffee through our teeth (doesn’t everyone do this?)

Boundary Road CoffeeThere are a few peanuty items on their brunch menu (the Yelp reviews hold the Peanut Butter & Banana Monte Cristo to a gold standard), so I was sure to ask our waitress about the level of caution in the kitchen, and whether they used any nut oils in their preparation. M is allergic to tree nuts, and I peanuts, so we allergenically complete each other, and make it easy on restaurant staff by simplifying things accordingly: no nuts. Our waitress was very thorough about addressing our concerns, and made a point of saying that they do use peanut oil for some fried entrees, so I should be especially careful if I were to come back for lunch or dinner. I definitely appreciated her candor–next time, I’ll be prepared for a menu that includes peanut oil, and can plan accordingly!

Boundary Road PleasantriesThe food turned out to be pretty solid. I ordered the Apple Cheese Pancakes, which were fluffy and creamy with a nice light char on the outside that gave them fantastic texture. I, of course, smothered them in maple syrup, and speared pieces of my fruit cup to accompany my bites. It was an enormous portion though, and after finishing his rather conservative portion of eggs, bacon and hashbrowns, M demolished the last 1/3 of my pancakes.

Apple cheese pancakesI really enjoyed Boundary Road, but perhaps more for its charming decor than anything else. The 2 stories of exposed brick, the crazy chandelier made from a repurposed antique spring mattress, and the assortment of vintage crockery all make you feel so at home. Granted–an ingeniously crafted home designed to evoke nostalgia at every turn, but that’s beside the point. Unfortunately, upon our departure, we were dismayed to find that 1) the car was now sporting a shiny ticket because we were a little daft and didn’t notice the pay-to-park sign and 2) that the car was blocked in by a food delivery truck servicing The Big Board across the street. It was lucky we had good beer to look forward to.

Crazy ChandelierPS: The next day, my friend Sara and I finally stopped by Pleasant Pops Farmhouse Market & Cafe, a brick-and-morter outpost of the (very) popular local popsicle purveyors (say that 5 times fast!). Inside they have a wall devoted to local food brands, from Whisked (specialty pies) to Gordy’s Pickle Jar (self explanatory) to Goldilocks Goodies (gluten-free treats)! I was even able to accompany my cup of earl grey with a chocolate chip cookie from Blind Dog Cafe! It was a great little spot, and a great addition to my neighborhood!

Pleasant Pops

Boundary Road | 414 H. St NE Washington, DC | (202) 450-3265

DC Brau | 3178-B Bladensburg Rd NE Washington DC 20018 | (202) 621-8890

Pleasant Pops | 1781 Florida Ave NW Washington, DC 20009 | (202) 558-5224