Sunday, March 15, 2009

The Brunch Eclectic

Last week I was invited, along with other card-holding members of the unofficial press, to sample the new items on the menu for 1905, a restaurant that opened a few months ago in Shaw/U Street down the street from the fabled Etete. Though the awning that covers the door to the small building that houses both 1905 and a (independently owned and managed) wine store is festooned with the street number (which also happens to be the named of the restaurant, flanked by two skeleton keys) you'll stop for a moment at the base of the stairs, wondering what you're in for. Like Darlington House in Dupont Circle, 1905 feels intimate, as if you are being hosted by your hippest acquaintances. You'll see several decades represented throughout the dinning room (which features chandeliers and communal tables) and bar, as well as aged wood (the benches came from a locker room in the University of Maryland) that compliments, rather than compete with, the houses outside. Unlike its spiritual cousin, the kitchen, with Chef Jose Sanchez at the helm, concentrates on the food and its ingredients. The decoration compliments, rather than makes up for, the eclectic menu.

Since it was Happy Hour after all, I started with Peared Up, a pear cocktail - vodka, ginger liquor and fresh lemon - that was refreshing and aromatic without being overwhelming. I've had pear-infused vodka with ginger ale before, but the ginger liquor gave it a lot more depth, with the slight bitterness bringing out the acidity in the pear. We started the tasting with two items from the brunch menu - a Spanish tortilla (and egg and potato pie, made on a skillet and without crust) topped with some aioli, a garlic and olive oil dressing that sometimes includes egg. The tortilla is served cold, as a tapa would, and while I understand some people may not want something cold for brunch, it seems like the perfect choice to bridge the divide between breakfast and lunch. The following course, the Creole Benedict, was my favorite dish of the evening: a poached egg over a Cajun fried rice cake topped with a crawfish hollandaise sauce. There are a lot of Cajun elements in the 1905 menu, and this is a very successful dish: the rice cakes were steaming hot, and the rice within kept its firm texture giving it a great counterpoint to the soft, and not as hot, egg. The hollandaise gave it a lot of heat without being overpowering. The egg was perfectly poached - though I do not mind some yolk, runny eggs would have ruined the crisp of the rice cake.

We were also served selections from the dinner menu. The soup course was fantastic - heat from Cajun spice paired with the creaminness of a crawfish bisque, which reinforced the New Orleans connection. The Pan Roasted shrimp, seasoned with Espelette pepper, is the kitchen's take on shrimp and grits - though the grits are replaced by creamy coconut crab rice, a very interesting re-imagining of the starch: the texture was there, but the taste was augmented by the pungency of the crab and the slickness of the coconut. The Angus burger was very well done, and centered on smokey flavors - gouda cheese and a red onion marmalade. The roasted beet salad had prime ingredients and look beautiful, but the arugula and goat cheese combination is something we've all seen before. The ox-tail ragout came out of left field for me - though the fettucini was great in both taste and texture (hand rolled in the kitchen, with saffron for taste and color) and patrons will always find comfort in pasta, it wasn't as connected to the rest of the menu, and lack the heat I had come to expect from the kitchen. For dessert we had chocolate bread pudding with vanilla ice cream, a very successful layering of hot and cold and dark and light.

1905 won't stay a secret for very long, but while it does, you'll feel like you've been handed the keys to the very cool kingdom.

(Photos courtesy of Dakota Fine)

1905 Restaurant
1905 9th St NW
Washington, DC 20001
(202) 332-1905 view menu
1905 on Urbanspoon

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