I would describe some D.C. restaurants as places specifically established for diplomats, ambassadors, senators, and lobbyists. To that end, these spots are amazing places to visit to receive that essence of history and culture that is prominent around D.C. A majority of the Penn Quarter restaurants embody this feeling of political importance—and going there means you need to be extra fancy-shmancy. Occidental is a restaurant perfectly positioned between D.C.’s iconic monuments, the White House, and the Smithsonian Museums. There are few places that breathe D.C. to the extent that this place does.
Occidental has a wide, street-side patio that is visible right as you pull up to its entrance. It was much too humid (classic D.C. summer) to enjoy a meal outside, so my friend and I decided to take a window seat inside. The interior had classic portraits of every president covering the entirety of the wall space. Gold touches accented the railings and framing components of the restaurant. Overall, I would describe the space as somewhere between an old-school Italian restaurant, where Frank Sinatra could start singing at any moment and an elegant French bistro, where escargot could be delivered on a silver platter.
Our waiter was very attentive and gave excellent recommendations about what he thought the restaurant did really well. My friend and I desperately needed to cool down, so we opted for some cocktails to begin. My friend got the frozen Rosé, and I their new tropical-inspired drink. I was expecting cocktails that would require me to hold my pinky out as I sipped on it, but they were pretty standard and casual. The drinks arrived and Kate’s was refreshing and sweet. It kind of looked like a 7-11 slurpee, but it kept its varietal integrity. My tiki drink was strong, sweet, and ideal for a summer day, but maybe if I were at a bamboo-constructed bar on the beach.
As we sipped our cocktails we placed an order for their notorious seafood tower— I knew I was going to order this prior to stepping foot into the restaurant. If there’s one thing Occidental knows how to do well, it’s seafood. As someone who could eat briny oysters at any time of day, this item was at the top of my list. The tower arrived and was absolutely gorgeous. The prawns on top were sweet, hearty, and soft, unlike many shrimp cocktails I’ve consumed. The tuna with mustard sauce was buttery and acidic and, the oysters were salty and smooth to slurp back. I would say the caviar and clams were my least favorite components of this masterpiece. They were drizzled with a sauce that was extremely pungent, so it slightly took away from the natural tang of the seafood, which I enjoy.
All the main dishes that were coming out of the kitchen were extravagant. We were finding it difficult to decide if we should play it safe with a classic egg dish or go full Donald Trump on this situation. We figured, why not do both? We ordered the soft scrambled egg croissant with lobster and the steak and eggs.
Both of these dishes were probably the fanciest brunch entrees I have ever encountered.
The steak and eggs were aromatic from the minute I saw them coming towards the table. It was beautifully presented and unlike any breakfast rendition of steak frites seen before. The steak was tender, not overly chewy, and rested for an ideal amount of time to keep all the juices in tact. The fries we ordered on the side were definitely a showstopper. It doesn’t matter what meal you’re having or who you’re with, these fries need to be on your table. The eggs that accompanied the steak were duck eggs and while I’m a big fan of duck, it was a little much to have this on the plate as well. Duck eggs have a little more umami in flavor and less opacity in color, so when paired with a well-seasoned steak, it’s slightly overwhelming.
The soft scramble was over the top and unnecessary, but in absolutely the best way. I’m typically hesitant to order omelets or scrambled eggs at some restaurants because they are often overcooked or rubbery. These eggs, though, were voluminous and held the true to their title as “soft-scrambled.” The eggs were accompanied by huge chunks of lobster meat. The lobster was a much needed textural contrast in the scramble, while also adding a little saltiness. As if this couldn’t get anymore decadent, it was served on a sticky, flaky croissant that was delicate, but sturdy enough to hold up the weight of the protein intensity in this dish.
The Bitches Say: B+. Occidental still has delicious food, and a very nostalgic atmosphere that screams D.C. A special occasion is definitely when we would put on our best looks and strut into this spot for a fancy-pants brunch.
Occidental Grill serves brunch on Saturday and Sunday from 11:30a.m.-2:30p.m. (202) 783-1475