I like being outdoorsy. And by outdoorsy, I mean drinking on patios (isn’t that a Some ECard?). However, sometimes I don’t even do that well. A few weeks ago, I met my gay husband, Josh, for brunch on the umbrella-lined patio at Occidental, a Washington mainstay on Pennsylvania Avenue a stones throw from the White House.
Inside and out, the Occidental aims to impress. Think your very cool grandfather’s study inside with wood paneling, high ceilings and lots of brass. Outside, you can easily forget that the White House and reams of tourists are just blocks away on the Occidental’s patio. The plants and tables arrange to give illusions of privacy and quiet you won’t expect from such an open, expansive seating area.
We sat on the patio, per my request, and had the most lovely server. The service at Occidental is attentive, old school style service—where every breadcrumb will be scooped, plate swept away, and need attended to. It was sunny, but windy, that day. Wearing summer attire, I proceeded to freeze.
I mentioned the chill, and within moments, the waiter had turned on and wheeled over a heat lamp (in June). Then, as it was windy, my napkin blew away. The waiter promptly brought a new one. Then, as we were outside, a spider dropped onto my plate, and I leapt up. Josh and the waiter quickly tended to my fears and assassinated the pesky invader.
No, apparently, I’m not outdoorsy. I’m not even cut out for drinking on patios. Sometimes, I’m just a high-maintenance pain in the tail.
Now that we’ve established what most of us already knew, let’s get to the food.
The Occidental’s brunch offers great blend of starters, entrees and sides with breakfast and lunch options available. Vegetarians will be pleased. Pescetarians? Even more so. Crab omelets, salmon tartar and shrimp and grits all pack a nice punch. Two people could easily munch through three or four appetizers and have a perfect sized meal.
The crab omelet was fluffy, with sweet crab that needed little embellishment (thank goodness, I hate complicated omelets—it’s early, simple is better). The banana bread was crumbly and soft, probably fresh out of the oven.
We opted for coffee, which was served in a French press and regularly refilled by our attentive, polite gem of a gentleman waiter.
Because it was early June and I was feeling festive, I also sampled the iced strawberry mint tea, which was flavorful and refreshing but just a titch too sweet for my liking.
We selected the bread basket, as we are both runners and carboholics. The banana bread was the best part of the basket—soft, moist, and crumbly—likely fresh out of the oven. The chocolate cake doughnut holes were also delicious. Coffee cake and blueberry muffins were also discovered in the basket, but slightly less impressive.
We shared the salmon tartar appetizer, made with pressed avocado, juicy red grapefruit slices, dehydrated quinoa and a jalapeno vinaigrette. The dish was presented in an absolute stunning fashion and was fresh, light, and healthy while still satisfying.
Josh had the Occidental Signature omelet, made with jumbo lump crab meat, dill and a green asparagus coulis. The omelet was enormous, and they certainly didn’t skimp on the crab, which was much appreciated. The omelet itself was simple, so as to not take away from the flavor of the sweet crab. It was served with buttery grilled toast and some grilled summer vegetables.
The presentation of the shrimp n’ grits was lovely but not exactly practical: a rather small cast iron skillet filled to the brim with grits and shrimp with the tails still on. It was difficult to cut, eat, and share. However, the flavor certainly was there, often times an issue with the dish. It was a very well done, flavorful sauce, with large, fresh shrimp, and properly cooked grits.
For dessert, we argued over which dish to pick, but gentleman Josh let me win. Rather than house-made gelato, we went with a house-made caramel cheesecake, served atop an oreo crust, which you poured over the dessert. It was an exceptionally decadent cheesecake, so rich and thick we could only muster a few bites.
Last but not least, Josh, who always dresses to please when he’s brunching with yours truly, offers some attire recommendations. He says: “If you’re inside, I really recommend long pants for the gentlemen and polos or button-downs inside or out. The Occidental is classy, bring your fussy grandma from Westchester classy so t-shirts would be a definite faux-pas. On the other hand, if you throw on what you wore out the night before, you’d fit right in!”
This is not your every weekend kind of brunch, but as a special occasion or celebratory outing the combination of style, service, food, and ambiance is hard to beat. (Occidental invited us in so this one as on-the-house, but the spot is known for its service). For those open to a relaxed, slow paced brunch you will find the service is worth the price and the effort to doll up for the Occidental. We’ll certainly be back for more, particularly as the patio is a perfect cocktail break between summer sightseeing.
The Occidental: A-. A spectacular, historical Washington restaurant brimming with history, serving gourmet cuisine and providing stellar service. A bit on the pricy and stuffy side, but a great place to take visitors or to enjoy on special occasions.
The Occidental Grill & Seafood
1475 Pennsylvania Ave. N.W.
The Occidental serves brunch Saturdays and Sundays.