Editor’s Note: I’m doing a collaboration with my friends, the ladies who write Bitches who Brunch, on brunching on U Street. A few weeks ago we checked out Bistro La Bonne.

Bistro La Bonne on U Street has been open for just over a year; it replaced the beloved Axis Bar. From the same management, Bistro La Bonne still features the great beer selection of Axis but with the added bonus of well done and affordable French food. And a killer brunch.

The Bitches and I stopped by Bistro La Bonne to check out their brunch one cool Saturday morning a few weeks ago.

BistroLaBonne_DiningRoom3

As Becca noted, it’s not a classic French place unless a crazy Frenchman welcomes you inside. Cue the conversation:

“Bonjour, madame. Comment allez-vous?”

“Ah, oui. Tres bien.”

And then he rattles on in French, to which her five years of French classes answers, “Yeah. I don’t speak that much French.” And then we’re shuffled to a table.

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Editor’s Note: My friends, the ladies who write Bitches who Brunch, will be doing occasional guest posts on U Street Girl when they brunch on U Street. Here’s their first report from Creme. Also, I’ll be doing an occasional post on their blog when I brunch on U Street.

When we suggest brunch on U Street, the first question everyone asks is whether we’ve been to Creme. It’s the classic comfort brunch that the neighborhood relies on, and it’s been so forever (or so it seems).

With all the raving about the place, we were shocked when we stepped inside and realized how absolutely tiny it is. Seriously, there must not be more than 10 tables in the entire restaurant. Big wall mirrors create an illusion of depth, but the crunch of after-church families and couples piling in the front door make it crowded.

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When we arrived last Sunday morning, there were no less than five or six groups waiting for tables or vying for a spot at the small bar. Thankfully, the hostess was super efficient, and the restaurant was turning tables faster than we could keep track. Clearly, Creme has service down to a science.

The brunch menu is fantastic. It has all the classics and more, plus some dishes are made with a spicy twist. We began with the fruit bowl which, while enormous, was definitely the lowest point in the meal. There was a lot of fruit – a whole banana, melons, berries, grapes, apples – but it was all kind of mushy, un-fresh, and entirely lacking in flavor. It did, however, have a bit of creamy yogurt underneath and granola sprinkled on top, which was nice.

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Salmon fume

So I finally made it out to Bistro La Bonne for brunch this weekend. (Apologies, I’ve been a bit derelict in my duties in trying out new places, I promise to go to Patty Boom Boom and Homemade Pizza Co. soon). Bistro La Bonne has been open for about two months now, and is serving French bistro fare with Daniel La Bonne as chef.

So I was a bit surprised that Bistro La Bonne was pretty empty when we walked in (before noon, but still, it was just us and 2 other people). Service was prompt and even came with a French accent.

We ordered French toast, bacon (duh), and the salmon fume. My companion devoured the French toast so fast I was unable to try any, but I hear it was pretty good. The bacon was perfectly cooked, so crispy. My salmon fume came with a lot of smoked salmon (I couldn’t finish all of it), a little salad, toasted brioche, capers, onions, and a lot of salmon roe (and some little gherkins? anyone know what those are?). Now, you can’t really tell in the picture, but unfortunately the salmon roe wasn’t that fresh, it was a bit wrinkly, not as tight and bright. Therefore, it tasted too fishy and didn’t pop in your mouth, which is unfortunate because I’m a pretty big fan of roe. While we weren’t imbibing, I noted that traditional brunch drinks (mimosas, bloody marys, bellinis) were $3, a good deal.

So I like Bistro La Bonne for brunch, and I guess if you go on the early side you’ll have no problem finding a seat. I will return for dinner or lunch sometime soon.

And, I saw that they have a pretty good happy hour deal that they don’t advertise on their site: $4 draft beer, $5 wine, and $15 moules, frites, and beer.

Courtesy of dctourism (Flickr)

Courtesy of dctourism (Flickr)

Duke Ellington’s Jazz Festival runs through the 15th, and with the plethora of events associated with it comes Jazz in the hoods – there are a plethora of options in the U street area. From Marvin to Vinoteca to Bohemian Caverns to Sala Thai, there are free (mostly as far as I can tell – the only place it looks like you have to pay is Bohemian Caverns) jazz performances happening through next week.

On top of performances, there are some jazz happy hours and jazz brunches. Options for jazz brunch in the ‘hood include Marvin and Utopia.

And, the big jazz on the national mall event is happening this weekend on Saturday and Sunday. So let’s celebrate the Duke and U street’s rich history of jazz this week.

Half smoke benedict

Half smoke benedict

I noticed last weekend that while Ben’s Next Door was advertising that they were showing March Madness games, and they were also serving brunch. Score! I went in on Sunday and was thrilled to see an awesome, chili/half smoke inspired brunch menu. The food was great, my companions and I tried the half smoke benedict, Ben’s omelet, and the Belgian waffles. We liked it all. My one food complaint were the eggs in the benedict were a little over cooked for me, there were no runny yolks.

The other problem was, and the waiter/manager noted this, the food did take a while to come out. They’re still working out the kinks, and I don’t think they had enough people working there to get the food out in a quick manner. But the food was great. Thumbs up for that. And I confirmed that they’ll continue brunch after March Madness is over.

Pictures of the menu after the jump.

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Dark 'n stormy, courtesy of Matt Feifarek, Flickr

Dark 'n' stormy, courtesy of Matt Feifarek, Flickr

My favorite summer drink? No, scratch that, my favorite drink? Dark ‘n’ Stormy. Dark rum, ginger beer, some lime, and it’s heaven. The best rendition I’ve tasted? Over at Creme on U street. Also, their shrimp and grits are divine. I barely ever order anything BUT their shrimp and grits because they are so good it just doesn’t make sense to eat anything else. And have you tried their coconut cake? Amazing, and I don’t even like coconut that much.

I really like the service, the atmosphere, and obviously the food. I find it a great place to get dinner on a weeknight and also to stop in get a drink later at night and be able to hear your companions talk. And their brunch, when you can actually get a seat (yes there is usually a crowd outside before they open) is fabulous as well.

And of course, I like that it’s a locally-owned restaurant by two chefs who are there to cook. It’s one of my go-to places to get dinner in the ‘hood. So stop on by if you haven’t made it there yet.

A regular feature in which I spotlight local businesses.

Sunday afternoon I came upon a difficult dilemma: what to do as a diner when you receive poor service. Out at brunch at Vinoteca, the restaurant a few weeks ago I sung the praises of, my companion and I had ordered our food. Talking pleasantly, about 30 minutes later we noticed that the food had not yet come.

I decided to be casual about it, we weren’t in a rush, though the place was rather unbusy and we hadn’t really seen our waiter since our drinks came. However, soon enough he seemed to have noticed the situation and a few minutes later came by to apologize for the wait and promised the food would be out right away.

20 minutes after that, still no food. I was getting very hungry, I hadn’t had anything to eat all day and it was now 2 pm. I was ready to be patient though, and once we got our food not give a very good tip, perhaps explain the problem to the manager. However, what really pushed me over the edge was watching a couple that had arrived perhaps 10 minutes before receiving their food when my companion and I had been waiting nearly an hour.

So that was it, I flagged down a waitress and asked for the check, explaining that we’d been waiting nearly an hour for our food and wanted to leave. She did the right thing by alerting the manager, and he came over and apologized for the wait, explained that there had been an issue with the system they used to get the orders to the kitchen, promised the food would be on them if we wanted to wait for it come out, which he said would be very soon.

The food got to us not 5 minutes after, and it was very good. The restuarant did the right thing for comping the entire meal, though I do wish they had noticed the problem earlier and righted it earlier. It would have been fine if they had brought us something to snack on while we were waiting, and not comped the entire meal because of it.

The problem was, because they were so unbusy no one really noticed that our food hadn’t come out, and me trying to be patient and understanding, didn’t say anything. And, half hour wasn’t a terribly long time to wait, it was the half hour after that when they said the food would come out right away that really bothered a very-hungry me. I am glad though that the restaurant fixed the situation, and that I’m not writing this post irate that I waited for my food for an hour and then just gave up and left.

Ben's Next Door, open

Ben's Next Door, open

After hearing from my roommate that she’d spent part of New Year’s Eve at Ben’s Next Door (and being incredibly jealous) I had to check it out and see if it was open. It is, sort of: it’s had its soft opening; there is a full bar and some small plates from the chef as well as Ben’s classics re-thought. A full menu will be available in a week or so. I also learned from friendly Rob that there is a possibility of them serving BRUNCH on the weekends. That got me very excited.

The place was relatively crowded for a bar that hadn’t even opened yet. I have a feeling it will be packed on weekends. There were a few glitches to be expected from a place that had just opened: I sat at a high table near the bar with a companion and it wasn’t quite clear if we were supposed to order from the bar or if a server would attend to us. The management staff though was very attentive, stopping by often to see how our experience was.

The menu itself is small for now – small plates from the chef (who was also walking around and introducing himself to diners, as well as giving autographs) and a few classics from Ben’s, but more upscale. The beer menu is extensive (prices ranged from $5 for a Bud to $10 for Chimay), and well priced: Delirium, on tap, was $7. Wine is available by the glass ($6 to $14), and champagne by the bottle as well as glass.

I wish I hadn’t eaten dinner before I went or I would have more room to taste some of the dishes. I plan to be back real soon to offer a more detailed report. More pictures from Next Door after the jump. (more…)

Vinoteca, off of U Street

Vinoteca, at 11th and U

After seeing 14th and You’s post on brunch at Vinoteca a few weeks ago, I thought to myself, why don’t I go there more often? It’s a block away from my place, the times I’ve been there the food has been good, the wine choices plentiful, and the service friendly. I guess for me, and for others in the neighborhood, it doesn’t really come up as a “go to” place when you’re thinking of a place to go to dinner. It really should be.

Vinoteca has been open a little more than a year, and is a nice alternate to the always-packed, though wonderful, Cork. Their winter menu has some nice options, such as the great Lobster and Grits I had the last time I was there, along with classics like Duck Confit and things you can’t usually find, like Bison Top Sirloin. Their brunch sounds great though I haven’t had the chance to make it over yet (a late morning Pilates class gets in the way of Sunday brunch).

I also like that they offer events like wine classes, for about $35, where you can explore different grape varietals with a knowledgeable instructor. (It looks like, however, they’ve temporarily suspended the classes, usually held every Tuesday, hopefully they’ll start up again.)

So, I’m going to make visits to Vinoteca more regular, because I really like what they’re doing.

A regular feature in which I spotlight local businesses.

pumpkin pancake and apple compote

For breakfast: pumpkin pancake and apple compote

A good weekend always includes, at least for me, a good breakfast. This weekend, it was pumpkin pancakes with apple compote and some good coffee.

The pumpkin pancake recipe is from Kim O’Donnel at Mighty Appetite. In the recipe she says that you likely will have to add more liquid to get the pancake batter to the right consistency. And you do, I found myself adding a lot more, definitely more than the quarter cup she recommends.

I don’t know if it’s just me, but whatever pumpkin things I make never really taste like “pumpkin” – probably because I feel like pumpkin isn’t a very strong flavor, but what makes pumpkin “pumpkin-y” is the spices we add and associate with pumpkin pie. So in order to get it to taste more “pumpkin” adding plenty of spices and other flavors to enhance it are necessary. And I think this recipe gets that well.

As for the apple compote, it is very simple and easy to make, and is a really nice addition to the pancake. I made it over the week and had it ready for breakfast this morning, just needed to warm it up before served.

It’s a very late fall kind of breakfast.