Sunday, January 3, 2010

Sustainable Brunching: "Are You Ready for This?"

Let's welcome a brand new guest blogger! RBC, who lived in DC & worked with me my first year here, now resides back in her hometown of that other city, New York, though she does occasionally grace us with her presence back here in the District (she's the one in blue, below). This past weekend was one such gem of a visit. On Saturday morning, she also joined in on Round IV of The Great DC Brunch Tour, wherein six of my favorite ladies braved the winter cold to dine at Founding Farmers, which I've been dying to try for months now. Read on for RBC's review!

Biting winds couldn't keep us away from Founding Farmers, the site of the Saturday stop on the Great DC Brunch Tour of 2009-2010. While outside, it was blustery and cold, the inside of this sustainable restaurant on 20th & Pennsylvania was a bright, warm space, with large windows that made the most of DC's feeble winter light, & eco-friendly decor that inspired both the foodie & HGTV-watcher in me. From the moment I stepped inside, I was ready to dig into brunch & bask in the atmosphere that was so perfectly up my alley.

Upon arriving considerably early, we chose to bide our time at the bar (which serves fresh Arnold Palmers, a particular joy in my life) before heading upstairs to our perfectly sized round table - a feat for large, oddly numbered parties such as our own. Two minutes of consulting the menu told me my pledge to bring moderation into my new year would have to wait another day. Cory, our fantastically friendly & impressively game waiter, took our orders & did a commendable job keeping up with our requests (& keeping any opinions about the quantity of food I ordered to himself). Bonus points to him for affably chattering with us, finding the perfect balance of attentiveness without hovering, & laughing along with our over-long innuendo-fest regarding the strangely named peanut/fruit mix titled "Jonny's Nuts."

We Brunch Tour participants ordered a variety of items that, I believe, all hovered on the delicious end of the food-critic spectrum - all enhanced by the waitstaff's enthusiasm when bringing our meals out: exclamations of "OK, are you ready for this?!" & "Here's some Florentine action for you!" accompanied our plates to the table.

The verdict: the coffee was excellent, a proper brunch blend. My roasted tomato soup, pastrami hash & black pepper maple "bacon upgrade" were all flavorful & to be savored, the latter of which prompted me to enthuse, "I want this with me always." [ Note from your Suburban Sweetheart: This was one of the most hilarious food-induced utterances ever.] Admittedly, I spent more time powering through my own piles of food than I did paying attention to the reviews of my fellow diners, but I did manage to catch their applause for the fruit salad's lack of honeydew (apparently previously ferreted out to be a sneaky space-filler) & the reasonably priced menu.

On a slightly different note, though certainly no less important, the auto-flush in the restrooms were perfectly timed, & the music playing unobtrusively in the background was an eclectic, fun mix. I clearly had a ball & find myself wishing Founding Farmers would open a satellite location in New York City, preferably on 52nd & 1st.

Peanut Butter & Chocolate Overload FT(actual)W!

Let's cut to the chase on this one. To make a long story short, my friend JW had a 25th birthday party yesterday. Her Evite announced, "Here's the twist - it's IRON CHEF style. Your challenge is to bring a dessert that involves chocolate AND peanut butter." Creative, no?!

My visiting friend RBC took it upon herself to Google a few potential recipes so that we could team up for a PB & chocolate takeover. Short on time, we ultimately chose to make Crunchy Mega Peanut Butter Cups, a recipe found & adapted from this recipe from Two Fat Als.

There were 14 entries in total, each more delicious than the next - torte cakes, ganache brownies, Puppy Chow, popcorn, Buckeyes. All party-goers sampled the goodies, cast their ballots (a whopping 178 votes total!) & consumed a lot of liquids to wash down so much sticky PB & chocolate goodness. The end result, as decided upon by the voters, was that RBC's & my joint creation was, in fact, the most delicious of the bunch!

One anonymous voter wrote of our PB cups, "
HOLY SHIT! Sophisticated - like a Joyce novel, not for everyone but those who put in the effort are swiftly rewarded."

Want to be like us? Well, we can't blame you. We also can't guarantee you'll win any prizes for your dessert, as we did (a bag of Reese's cups, plus "Milk" & "Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist"!), but we can guarantee that it'll taste pretty gosh-darn good.
  • 2 cups milk chocolate chips
  • 1 cup peanut butter chips
  • 1 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 1 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • generous pinch salt
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • Reese's Dessert Toppings
  • 12 muffin cups

    Combine the chocolate & peanut butter chips. Melt half the concoction by microwaving for 30 seconds then stirring (& repeating) until chocolate has melted. Spoon a little of the chocolate/PB mixture into each muffin wrapper, spreading the chocolate up the sides of the wrapper (we used a cheap foam craft brush like these to make this a little easier). Freeze candy shells until set.

    In a small bowl, whisk together peanut butter, confectioners’ sugar, salt & vanilla. If it is not soft, you can microwave it a bit. Add a generous amount of the filling into each prepared candy cup, & chill again until set. Melt all remaining chocolate & peanut butter chips, & use it to cover peanut butter filling with chocolate. Top cups with crushed Reese's Dessert Topping. Chill a final time until set.

The end result should look something like this:

And your pride should look something like this:

Recapping 2009 – Retro Reviews from the Great Brunch Tour

Ladies & gents, please enjoy a guest post from one miss Rachel BC, the first guest blogger to review the Great DC Brunch Tour of 2009/2010. We'd taken a quick hiatus from our brunching, but we're BACK, & Rachel reviews the not one but TWO places we forgot to tell you about - & we assure you it won't happen again. Brunch well, all ye hungry Washingtonians!

Welcome to the New Year, loyal Suburban Sweetheart readers! After taking some time off from the Great Brunch Tour for work & holiday travels, we resumed on the first weekend of 2010 with a wonderful meal at Founding Farmers in Foggy Bottom - but I’ll leave that review to another RBC & instead do my best to catch you up on where we’ve been since our first very successful stop at Crème Café on U Street back in October. Apologies for the delay, but you know what they say – better late than never. In the New Year I resolve to use fewer clichés, but again – that’s another post for another day.

Our second brunchventure took place at Rosemary’s Thyme in Dupont, an old favorite of many in our group. We enjoyed benedicts, pides (a Turkish pizza-like treat often topped with fried eggs) & tasty French toast. Rosemary’s was a great place to accommodate our large group – nearly 15 friends showed up to enjoy the company of one miss Micaela HT, who graced us with her presence before traveling to Rwanda for a year of service (yes, she’s a better person than the rest of us). Rosemary’s gets high marks for its creative menu – particularly the pides & Mediterranean influence throughout– and its friendly service, but I’d recommend returning on a day when you can sit outside and enjoy all the people watching that 18th street has to offer. Rosemary’s is like an old Snuggie – warm, comfortable, reliable, but it’s not going to knock your socks off.

Stop 3 on the Great Brunch Tour took our group back to U Street, this time to Ulah Bistro, which our fearless leader Kate had ‘previewed’ to make sure it was worth our time & critical expertise. I'm automatically a big fan of any place I can walk to in 10 minutes or fewer, & luckily three of our four stops have fit this criterion! After our first two brunches brought groups of at least 10 each, we decided to venture to Ulah with a slightly smaller crowd. This was a good thing, as Ulah has a minimal seating area & more intimate feel than some of our other destinations. Just a few blocks past Crème (at the busy 14th & U intersection), Ulah is much quieter, though I’m not sure why - the food is equally delicious & on par in terms of price.

The décor at Ulah is simple but welcoming – lots of warm wood on the walls and floor, wine bottles lining the sills, and simple decorations throughout. But we didn’t waste too much time savoring the atmosphere - we had come for the food & were ready for plenty of it. We quickly surveyed the menu, made our choices (being sure to sample a variety of items off the menu), & caught up on the events of the previous evening as at least one of us nursed hangovers with ample water & coffee.

Writing several weeks later, I can’t fully recall all the meals around the table, but I had the pleasure of savoring the French toast, a plate I won’t soon forget. Topped with a drizzle of raspberry sauce, syrup, & (the real finishing touch) a dollop of creamy mascarpone, I can honestly say that Ulah makes some of the best French toast I've ever had (though my favorite French toast of 2009 is still Zaftig’s Deli in Brookline, Mass.). With a perfect ratio of bread (the good, thick kind) to eggs to keep the toast from drying out during frying, a nice balance of sweet & savory between the syrup and mascarpone, & four thick slices to fill me up, this meal did not disappoint. I could've used a bit more color on the plate (fruit salad never killed anyone!), but I can’t complain. Like at most brunch spots, Ulah doesn’t serve its sweet dishes with potatoes or bacon - an unfortunate reality for those of us who enjoy both the sweet and savory sides of the best meal of the day - but the reviews of the sides from others at the table were equally impressive. The boys around me enjoyed hearty omelets full of veggies & proteins; I can only assume that they were tasty, as neither of them saved any for me to try!

If you’re looking for a relatively quiet brunch spot in the neighborhood & want to enjoy both sweet & savory options without the lines at Kramers or The Diner, Ulah may be the place for you. Call ahead because the dining room is small, but don’t worry – they do feature a full bar (showing football games in season), & you’re sure to enjoy a nice plate of food. All in all, Ulah was a delicious stop on the tour, one that this diner will surely will return to. OK, let’s be honest, I already went back for a second shot at the French toast last week – & it was still good!
  • Service: 7 – attentive but not particularly friendly – no wait for table though, which is huge
  • Food: 8.5 - see paragraph-long French toast description above.
  • Decor: 5 - nothing special but everything was clean and nice enough
  • Noise/Ambiance: 8 - significantly quieter than our other stops despite a full dining room. I, for one, appreciate a little peace and quiet as I brunch, but if you are looking for hustle, bustle, and people-watching, Ulah may not be your best bet
  • Value: 8 – average prices for above average food
  • Coffee: 6 – drinkable but not memorable
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