It was yet again another rainy Sunday, where I easily could have spent the day cooped up in my apartment with a good cup of coffee, my to-do list, and my pup. Instead, I decided to pull myself together to meet my good friend, Allee, for brunch. We were invited into Nopa Kitchen and Bar in Penn Quarter and despite the proximity to my office, I admittedly had never stepped foot inside the restaurant until then.
When we walked up the awning covered stairs into the large space, I didn’t know where to look first. To the right was an open, airy dining room with rustic Americana decor and glamorous red leather booths. To the left was another, albeit smaller, dining room with a large bar. Tucked behind the host stand were several spaces for private dining.
We were seated in the large dining room to the right, at a corner table that allowed us to experience both the curved booth and a window view. Right off the bat we were greeted with a basket of warm, delicious cinnamon buns (sans icing) sprinkled with chunks of sugar crystal on top. It was a cozy start to a leisurely brunch.
Our grand plan for the rest of the day was to introduce our canines on a puppy play date, so we couldn’t think of a reason not to indulge in one of the flavored mimosas. Yearning for summer, we both choose seasonal flavors, grapefruit for me and white peach for Allee.
Allee and I hadn’t spent one-on-one time in what felt like ages, so we glanced at the menu between debriefing on recent travels, work stories, and wedding planning. Allee, who also happens to be Italian, and I love to cook. We share recipes and when our schedules permit, experiment in her gorgeous kitchen with lots of wine on hand. In fact, one of our biggest accomplishments to date was making homemade gnocchi together. So, naturally, when we saw the gnocchi and egg “BLT” on the menu at Nopa, we had to try it.
I pitched her on the chicken salad tartine as a starter, but since it wasn’t listed under appetizers we asked our server if the open-faced sandwich was too big to order before our mains. To our delight, he said it would be a perfect start to the meal.
The strawberry and chocolate pancakes were an atypical order for us, but they were calling our name. It was rainy and cold and we needed some sweet comfort food in our lives. We balanced the order with a savory side of bacon. It went without saying that we would be splitting all three dishes.
As we took the last sips of our first round of mimosas, our chicken salad tartine arrived on a small plate with a side of mixed greens. Our waiter was right, it was the perfect portion to share. The chicken salad was made with green goddess dressing and served on a Bibb lettuce cup with pine nuts and a piece of crispy chicken skin, all on top of a grilled baguette. I could have done without the chicken skin, but it was a great first couple of bites.
The gnocchi and egg “BLT” was an unexpected combination of flavors. We’ve never met a pasta we didn’t like, so we passed the plate back and forth, seemingly picking up a gnocchi and a new ingredient — tomato, egg, spinach, bacon chunks — with each bite.
The side of bacon was greasy, but not super thick. I found myself reaching for a piece after every few bites of pancakes.
Speaking of, the pancakes were fluffy and warm, so warm in fact that the whipped cream and chocolate nibs were perfectly melting into the dish. The strawberries were a nice seasonal touch and were definitely soaked in a thicker jam, kicking the pancakes up a notch.
Like I said, we took full advantage of having a free afternoon and therefore got carried away in conversation well beyond our meal. To our surprise, the attentive wait staff sent over two more mimosas— pomegranate and grapefruit — to cap off the relaxing brunch.
The Bitches say: B+. Refined American fare with a European twist, in a rustic, upscale environment. Perfect for a first date or catching up with your friend on a lazy Sunday.
Nopa Kitchen and Bar
800 F St. N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20004
Nopa Kitchen and Bar serves brunch on Sundays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.