Saturday, March 21, 2015

Masa 14 Brunch Review

Grilled Chorizo Sausage

It's only March, yet there's a good chance I've already discovered DC Outlook's Best Restaurant of 2015. Today was my first-ever visit to Richard Sandoval's Masa 14 and I can safely say, "I was blown away." I discovered brilliant customer service, delicious food and perhaps most important of all... variety, tucked inside a gorgeous, hip space along the U Street Corridor. If they can do as good a job with dinner, the aforementioned honor is likely in the bag.

Is it possible I am a brunch person after all? Let's not go crazy; but if Masa 14's Chris Hawkins is doing the cooking, I may seriously have to reconsider. Today's brunch was a grown-up meal without pretense or errors. After a warm greeting from hostess Tracy, I was escorted to a quiet nook in the middle of Masa 14's beautiful dining room. Server Kim took over from there, asking if this was my first visit (it was) before giving me a crash course in Latin-Asian tapas. Thankfully, I could try them all if I wanted, as part of their weekend Unlimited Prix Fixe Brunch (a literal steal at just $39.)

Pork Belly Benedict

Kim got me started with a Masa Mimosa (one of six libations, included in the price.) It's house champagne, with blood orange & mango purée in place of traditional orange juice. Delicious. Drink in hand, I placed an order for two tapas (cleverly referred to as Eggs & Such.) Grilled Chorizo Sausage and a decadent sounding Pork Belly Benedict. I don't normally fall in love with my first bite, but spicy chorizo, salsa Mexicana and a poached egg over the best chipotle grits I've ever had, gave notice that this brunch was going to be special.

For the record, this dish could warrant inclusion on our Dirty Dozen top 12 bites in DC; but it may have competition from the second of two incredible desserts I managed to tuck away at the end of the meal. Chorizo should be spicy (even for breakfast/brunch) and that extra kick is what transcends the dish... along with those scrumptious grits, which I used the edge of my knife to "gobble up" every last morsel.

Harris Ranch Beef Barbacoa

Pork Belly Benedict is wonderful too, although the spiced curry potato cake takes center stage over the pork. This was also the second of four consecutive plates with egg (my choice, not theirs) so it's obvious I was in the mood for indulging this morning. By the way, eggs (just like bacon) make everything taste better. That includes the fried version atop a gorgeous combination of tender beef, kimchi pico de gallo and smoked spinach in the Harris Ranch Beef Barbacoa. Does the word "yummy" leap to mind? Does it ever. And I haven't even mentioned the brilliant use of a wasabi black bean purée underneath. If you're ordering a la carte, be warned... it's the priciest item on the brunch menu; but as part of the Unlimited Brunch, it's an absolute no-brainer.

My final egg dish was a pair of Breakfast Tacos (chorizo, egg, potatoes and salsa verde.) It also comes with cotija cheese; but the kitchen had no problem with my request to omit it. First impressions? They come loaded. Ditch the fork, grab 'em by both ends, and pray nothing pops out. Seriously though, the toppings are literally overflowing... one more example of Masa 14's neverending generosity. In regards to taste, how do you mess up such a perfect combination? It goes without saying, they didn't. I could devour four of these bad boys every morning, if I was only so lucky.

Breakfast Tacos

At this point, I had consumed four tapas completely. Cue pangs of fullness. What better time to talk about Masa 14's atmosphere. The lower level dining room (there's a rooftop too) is huge, and expertly spaced. Walls sport a combination of brick and light-colored wood panels, with exposed fixtures lending a modern, industrial look. Red-colored light fixtures split the room in half, giving way to sleek, brown lacquered tables, leather-covered wood chairs and pretty table settings. Thrust against the backdrop of Masa 14's gorgeous (and active) bar, it's one of the nicest looking restaurants in the city. No wonder there's so many attractive people (myself excluded, of course) dining here.

One final bit of praise... Terrific music. From Fifth Harmony's "Worth It" to Nick Jonas, Katy Perry and Lilly Wood, there's a constant stream of toe-tappin' background music, that's thankfully played at a decent decibel. Speaking of noise, the expansive room seems to keep it in check, although a true test would come later in the evening (or early the next morning, up to 2 AM on Friday and Saturday nights.)

Crispy Smoked Brisket Bun

Back to the food, which seemed to come from every corner (I ate all this inside of an hour.) I wrestled over ordering an Angus Beef Slider or the Crispy Smoked Brisket Bun, and settled on the latter. Thank Heaven, I did. The sesame seed bun was cake-like, and opened a la a pita pocket. What went inside was nothing short of spectacular. Smoked brisket (crispy, as advertised) awash in hoisin barbecue sauce with pickled onions. OMG. I must admit, the barbecue sauce was strong; but I devoured it all in mere seconds. Remind me to find out what kind of bread that was... I'd love to try and replicate it for late-night sammies at Casa de moi.

Wok-Fried Home Fries

What goes better with sliders than fries? I wanted to try the Bacon Fried Rice; but a fifth egg would be pushing it, even for me. Luckily, Masa 14 offers Wok-Fried Home Fries, impossibly tender and spicy with chopped spring onions, green and red peppers. Once again, a "grown-up" way of presenting a staple breakfast item. Cheers! Hmm, that reminds me: Water is refilled frequently and discreetly. The attentive staff manages to be semi-casual and ninja-like at the same time.

Sweet Plantain

By now, my gas tank was at near-capacity, and I had a noon screening downtown for the Environmental Film Festival. Leave, right? Wrong. What about dessert? Thankfully, they only offer three; but after ordering the Pan Dulce, chef Chris stopped by my table and asked if I'd ordered the Sweet Plantain. End result? I had both. As luck would have it, the Sweet Plantain arrived first. Fried plantains over ancho whipped cream and ginger-strawberry sauce with sprinkles of crispy cinnamon rice on top. Wow! Great texture, multiple flavors and that strawberry sauce is literally to die for. Hands down, the best dessert I've had all year. Until...

Pan Dulce

The Pan Dulce. Despite an avalanche of delectable food, I managed to find room for the best dessert of 2015 (OK, OK... so far.) Picture three pillowy-soft cakes (French toast?) with an incredible roasted pineapple preserve (somebody, put this in a jar!) Together with Masa 14's ancho whipped cream, these last few bites put this brunch into another stratosphere altogether.

So there you have it. I hope I was able to convey half the joy I experienced in devouring it. Masa 14 is not a Michelin-starred restaurant (although I tend to prefer the standards they adhere to) but fussy stars do not a great eatery make. I walked in, expecting a generic brunch with perhaps an interesting twist or two. What I got instead, was near-perfection across an extensive board. I rarely look forward to a meal anymore; but I can honestly say, I can't wait to come back for dinner. Charred Octopus, Lo Mein Noodles, She-Crab Bisque... there's apparently no end to their menu. As luck would have it, they offer an Unlimited Chef’s Tasting Menu from Sunday-Thursday for $49. Time to crack open my piggy bank.