It’s hard for me to pick favorites—in anything. In fact, it’s a running joke among my friends and family. I have about a dozen favorite songs. A dozen favorite foods. A dozen favorite pieces of clothing.
Most often, my friends will ask “Is it your favorite, or your favorite-favorite?”
But, I can say with certainty: Hazel is my favorite new restaurant in Washington. In fact, it’s my favorite-favorite.
When I first visited over the summer, I was blown away by the inventive new American fare crafted by Chef Rob Rubba. I loved the steak tartare, served with tater tots and creme fraiche. It’s sort of a poor man’s steak tartare, in that it’s meant to be eaten like tater tots—an accessible, playful take on a French classic. The quality is impeccable. I also adored the zucchini bread, a recipe from his grandmother. The moist, delicious zucchini bread is served with whipped foie gras, bee pollen and a chamomile gelee. This dish is decadent—it’s utter heaven. You can read my full review of the dinner here.
With its beautiful build out, Hazel manages to be a great place for a romantic dinner, a posh place for cocktails and dessert at the bar, and a fun place for an outdoor patio brunch. The interior is unique, with its gorgeous wallpaper, dark wooden booths and a long bar lined with sleek leather stools. The low lighting makes for cozy, comfortable nooks. Outside, there’s a playful patio lined with artificial turf flooring, a bright, floral mural and a wall lined with potted plants.
The restaurant is managed by my friend Chris, a career restaurant guy who I first met at brunch at the Ritz-Carlton before he went to Table in Shaw, and then made his way to Neighborhood Restaurant Group’s latest venture, Hazel.
When I heard Hazel was launching brunch, I immediately let Chris know I’d be coming by, STAT, and booked a table for my first available Sunday, October 31. As it was the morning after Halloween festivities, I could barely function and I definitely still had paint from my Dia de los Muertos costume in my ears and corners of my face. While I refrained from wearing my flower crown to brunch, I sat outside so that I didn’t have to take my sunglasses off. It was a beautiful, breezy fall day, and I sat in the shade trying to hold it together.
Like an angel from heaven, Chris whisked over brandishing a bottle of champagne and house-made orange juice and quickly all became right in the world.
Hazel serves brunch on Sundays at its appropriately titled Dim Sunday—with a menu of 11 inventive small plates meant for sharing. You can order the Whole Shebang for $95, and it could easily be shared between 3-4 people, making it an affordable dining experience. So call your Bitches, and get there ASAP.
The first dish to arrive was tater tots, which was heaven for my hangover. God bless the person who began serving hash browns at diners, because fried potatoes are the perfect cure for morning ailments. These round tots were fried, crispy, and served with a black garlic ketchup in a charming little squirt bottle. The presentation on every dish was absolutely perfect in its own unique way. I appreciated the varying plates, bowls, dishes and accouterments that arrived with each dish. It made brunch a true culinary experience, with the diners eagerly awaiting the arrival of the next plate.
Next up came the doughnuts—but they were curried squash doughnuts and I was skeptical. And boy was I wrong. These damn doughnuts were one of the best things I’ve ever eaten. The round balls of moist, yeast dough were filled with a curried butternut squash paste and topped with a sweet, green glaze, and sesame seeds. Thank goodness there were two doughnuts, as I wasn’t planning to cut this one in half for Alana, no matter how much I love her.
Speaking of delicious carbs, Hazel serves bacon cinnamon rolls. And they are as good as they sound. The savory rolls are made with brioche dough and filled with chunks of bacon and bacon-flavored jam. They were dense and hearty.
I didn’t have room to have much of the Koji Texas toast, a thick slide of bread served open-face with smoke hamachi fish, yogurt, and pickled red onion. Yet again, Chef Rob Rubba takes an American classic and elevates the dish.
Duck seems to be very in vogue these days, as I am seeing it on so many menus at popular, new restaurants in Washington. To be honest, it’s not my favorite meat—I don’t tend to order duck when it’s on the menu. Hazel has not one, but two dish dishes on its menu.
First, the Duck Muffin arrived, a breakfast sandwich with duck sausage and a baked egg atop a biscuit with a spicy Asian mayonnaise. It was really, really good.
I didn’t really love the duck confit salad, made with julienned apples and mustard greens in a Hazelnut vinaigrette. It was well executed and inventive— but just not something I would typically enjoy.
Chef was wise to put my favorite-favorite dinner dish, the zucchini bread with foie gras, on the menu. It arrived near the end of our meal, but I still made room to indulge. I convinced Alana, who does not normally care for foie, to also give it a try. She enjoyed it, and agreed that the zucchini bread was delectable on its own. Moist and flavorful, it’s literally the Chef’s Grandmother’s recipe.
I didn’t think I could eat anything more but then a trio of Asian-inspired egg dishes arrived to the table. I wished I had saved room—but then I didn’t wish I had saved room.
The kimchi scrambled, a rice-based dish, was incredible. Crispy rice was the base, and you use a spoon to mix it up with kimchi, garlic aioli and shaved bonito flakes. Simple starches are oh-so-satisfying when packed with flavor and bonus points that it helped my hangover.
The breakfast Donburi was enormous and delicious—perfect for sharing. The big bowl had rice as a base, with pickles, cotija cheese (an interesting addition), a spiced aioli mayo, bacon jam, and topped with a fried egg. This was a bowl filled with quite a lot of diverse flavors that somehow came together very well.
The other savory Asian egg dish was the Mapo Eggs, with a base of ground lamb meat in a spicy red Szechuan pepper sauce, topped with fried eggs, and sprinkled with scallions. It was simple, spicy, and utterly delicious. This is a solid brunch dish that meets all your needs: a savory dish with perfect eggs, but with the twist of Szechuan and lamb.
The Bitches say: A. For an inventive, shareable brunch that’s a dining experience. The space is comfortable, stylish and cozy, the service friendly and efficient, and the food delectable.
Hazel serves its Dim Sunday brunch on Sundays. (202) 847-4980