A Note from the Bitches: Ceiba is now closed.
Note from Becca: Perhaps we need to start a section of this website called “Bros Who Brunch.” The men are getting Bitchy, too! (Though they do ask for their bylines to read “Guest, Bitch.”) First, my boyfriend’s hilarious review on brunch in Dublin. Now, here, my friend Zohaib gives his take on brunch at Ceiba. What’s next, boys?
I moved to D.C. less than a year ago and, in that time, there is one thing that has become clear about this city’s personality: We’re a city that loves to brunch, and we brunch hard.
Becca invited me and my girlfriend to have brunch with her and her man at Ceiba, a trendy joint that serves up contemporary Latin-American-inspired food in the heart of D.C. This was Ceiba’s inaugural brunch, despite the fact that they have been open and serving dinner and cocktails since 2003.
Now, by way of introduction, and to be accepted into the code of Bitchiness, I would like to tell you a bit about my personal culinary brunching choices. I am a man who likes his steaks rare and his eggs poached, and so I love to have steak and eggs for breakfast. But, occasionally, I do veer from this path—though not far (after all, I am a man of habit).
Becca’s choice to go to Ceiba piqued my interest, but initially I was a bit skeptical, as I prefer classic American joints serving up some high-quality steaks with perfectly prepared eggs. But for the sake of seeming agreeable, and as we are new friends and I didn’t want to piss off a real Bitch, I decided to accept the invitation. And, man, were we in for a treat.
But before we get to the food, let me take a moment to comment on various elements I find crucial to a great brunch experience: the ambiance, the wait staff, and the relative value for my greenbacks.
Ceiba’s atmosphere is at the same time inviting and classy without seeming pretentious or overbearing. This might be why it was easy to ignore the weird plastic palm-type trees that hovered over my girlfriend’s head. It’s fancy enough for white table cloths but with a fun Latin kick. It’s also full of sunlight from big windows overlooking 14th Street, which allow for great people-watching.
Our waitress was friendly, genuinely excited to be there, and knowledgeable about the menu. In fact, I took all of her recommendations when deciding my meal (it didn’t hurt that she was effective at pushing blood orange mimosas on us—I lost count at five, but, I digress). The price point is average compared to other brunch spots in D.C. (read: slightly pricey), but the quality of the food is magnificent, so you get what you’re paying for.
Back to those blood orange mimosas for a second. There are plenty of fun cocktail choices on the menu, but we couldn’t resist the offer for $1 mimosas or Caesar Marys. There was a catch, though: You have to be a card-carrying member of Passion Food Hospitality, the restaurant’s management company (they also own Acadiana, DC Coast, District Commons and others), and its loyalty program.
Becca quickly talked the waitress into getting her a membership (the $25 cost was then credited to our bill), snagging the dollar deal for the entire table. The mimosas were great, and the proper orange color, but they got more and more orange (meaning less and less champagne) as the brunch went on. In our later rounds, we were specifically asking for more champagne, less juice, please.
Drinks in hand; onto to the food! We all got appetizers. My meal started with some oyster shooters, followed by a Peruvian-style ceviche that was large enough to share. The shooters were presented in a bowl of ice with three individual double-shot glasses containing raw oyster and spicy Bloody Mary mix with a splash of Dos Equis beer (“I don’t always shoot oysters—but when I do, I use Dos Equis”). The shot glasses were rimmed with salt and crushed cayenne pepper, which added quite a bit of kick with every sip.
The ceviche came in a small bowl—also served over a large bowl of ice—with freshly squeezed limejuice, thinly sliced red onions, crushed red pepper (Aji Picante), and what appeared to be a meaty white fish, possibly tilapia or swordfish.
It was obvious that both the shooters and ceviche were prepared with careful attention to presentation and balanced powerful ingredients, resulting in a blissful medley of flavors. My only complaint is that they went too fast, mostly because of the small portions, but also because they were delicious.
Becca and Eric ordered apps, too. Becca got the other ceviche that was on the menu, the Yucatan shrimp ceviche cocktail. It arrived in an ice cream dish with crisp tortillas on the side, and it was more runny pico de gallo than an actual ceviche. There were only a few shrimp, and they were tiny. Bitch was dismayed.
Eric’s empanadas Argentinas were better. Not as enormous as those from a certain late-night empanadas haunt, we all commented, but rather, gourmet, filled with beef, olives, egg, and raisins. Four of them surrounded a spicy rocoto dipping sauce, which was excellent.
For my main course, I ordered ropa vieja with a side of sweet potato hash. Now, I said earlier that I am a man who likes his steak rare and eggs poached, but sometimes I make exceptions—this being one of them.
The meal came with a heaping amount braised beef shortribs with perfectly prepared, sunny side-up eggs. The shortribs were tender and juicy with a hint of smoky flavor and the eggs weren’t overcooked since the yolk was still runny. The sweet potato hash had been incorporated into the braised beef, along with red peppers.
My girlfriend got the Huitalacoche Tamales, which was a colorful medley of food. The spring vegetables and goat cheese were piled on top of the tamales. The dish was filling enough to be a great hangover cure, but with enough vegetables to where you feel like you’re being slightly healthy.
Becca, of course, got the dish that resembled eggs Benedict, this being the poached eggs “Cubano.” It was basically just that: a deconstructed Cuban sandwich, eggs benedict-style. So, ham, roasted pork, and Swiss cheese set atop thick slices of fresh Cuban bread, with big poached eggs on top. This was all topped with a really tasty lemon mustard hollandaise.
What’s missing from the Cuban sandwich here? Pickles, of course. They came fried in the center of the dish as a side. The entire creation was unique and delicious—a great Latin American-influenced take on a classic brunch dish.
Eric got the coconut pancakes, topped with pineapple confit. The syrup was canela agave nectar. Again, a brilliant international take on a classic brunch dish. And they were cooked perfectly, delicious and filling.
After having tried a few other Latin American-inspired eateries in D.C., I have to say the chefs at Ceiba know how to do it right by the taste buds. The chefs are creative but still respectful of D.C.’s treasured classic brunch dishes. That’s a difficult balance to strike, and they hit it perfectly. The menu was clearly built with a lot of thought.
We were stuffed and tipsy, but we kept ordering more (all for the sake of research). For dessert we enjoyed a few churros, and freshly brewed French pressed coffee. The churros were crispy and light on the outside and slightly chewy and warm on the inside and were accompanied with a small bowl of melted chocolate that actually had two home-made marshmallows floating in it. The coffee was absolutely perfect.
The Bitches (Bros!) say: A. The brunch exceeded expectations. The menu is creative yet respectful of classic brunch dishes, the service attentive, the drinks only $1 (with restrictions).
701 14th Street
Washington, D.C. 20005
Brunch at Ceiba is served on Sundays.