Thursday, May 7, 2009

Somewhere very "us"

S. came back to DC before embarking on her summer stint at the WHO, and I wanted to treat her to lunch to celebrate the end of her first year in graduate school. I gave her free reign over the location and cuisine - surviving Glennon is no small feat. People that have found their way back to DC often request Ethiopian food. After weeks away, I hanker for Thai. There's something very interesting about food nostalgia, the twin aspects of the meals that you miss, coupled with the places and people that made them special. S. said she wanted to go "somewhere very us."

Before Buzz, my regular post-office watering hole was Leopold's. Tucked away from the bustle on M street on Cady's Alley, their terrace is open for most of the year, and I've always found it a pleasant place to stop by for dessert or a light meal. While the d├ęcor is nothing like you would expect from an Austrian coffehouse (for that, go to Neue Galerie in NYC), the bright and airy space is decked out in orange, the signature color of the Leopold Museum in Vienna, has plush flowers for barstools, and it is the only place in DC to get a cup of Julius Meinl coffee on a silver tray next to a glass of water. Over Inaugural weekend, Dr., Viennese to the core, gave it her thumbs up.

On this particular outing, we sat in the terrace enjoying the sunshine and the babble of the courtyard's fountain. We started out with cocktails: a Strawberry Kir for me and a Summer Lemonade for S. The Kir was sparkly and refreshing, with the fresh strawberries giving a bit of acidity to the Chambord, which took the place of the creme de cassis. S. declared hers to be a fun spin on SoCo and lime.

S. ordered the Heurigenplatte, a charcuterie plate that features prosciutto, ham, green olives and some very fresh cornichons. The plate is big enough to share as an appetizer and the presentation is thoughtful and balanced. I had the Tunfischsalat Nicoise, their towering interpretation of the French classic, minus the egg. The presentation puts the roasted tomatoes at the base, giving the impression of a tuna tatare. Upon closer inspection, I found the cooked tuna nestled under the string beans. It is always interesting to see a salad that won't let the greens define it. The herb tapenade dressing plays very well with the smokey taste of the roasted tomato.

The crown jewel of Leopold's is, of course, the pastry case. S. and I went to inspect the contents - macarons, petit fours, tartes, chocolate and hazelnut in every which way - we set aside old favorites (including the Papillote) for the Malaga, a raspberry mouse topped with very light vanilla cake, enrobed in white chocolate. Fresh and tart, it is s a perfect summer dessert. It is hard to go wrong with that pastry case (which can look a bit bare on Sunday nights) and my only disappointment in 4 years has been their Sachertorte, which I found dry and too dense. We raised our double espressos to the friends that used to come with us to Cady's Alley, gone but never forgotten: the defining taste of food nostalgia is always bittersweet.

Leopold's Kafe view menu
3318 M St NW
Washington, DC 20007
(202) 965-6005
www.kafeleopolds.com
Leopold's Kafe + Konditorei on Urbanspoon

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