It’s not very often I take free brunches for this blog. I like to be stealthy with my reviewing—snap quickly, judge harshly, and exit swiftly—without making my presence known. I’ve even been known to lie to servers. Upon predictably being asked “Why the massive camera?” I quip back, “Assignment for a photography class.”
But when the great PR champ Jill Collins calls, I cannot resist her charms. Even if she’s luring me to a restaurant that Cori Sue previously had dismissed. It was Jill’s birthday, after all, and so we must celebrate by being spoiled at her favorite restaurant, by everyone—especially its new chef, Aaron McCloud.
Spoiled we were. This review is clearly not unbiased, as we were given the royal PR treatment in Cedar. We got the Cedar-encyclopedic waitress and were checked on frequently by one of the managers. A water glass never went half-full. Having provided that preface, the Mizzou J-school grad inside me prevents me from calling this a review. And so I will simply tell you about my experience.
Cedar is tiny. Jill tried to warn us of this by saying it’s “like a New York restaurant,” where you walk downstairs, underground, to a small room with a few tables and a very attentive chef. Also in the small room, a fully stocked granite bar that has pineapples infusing and mixologists at the waiting.
Indeed, there are only 60 seats in the entire restaurant. You are given the full luxury-in-the-forest experience as you walk down the steps from the entrance on E Street in Penn Quarter. The walls are covered in wallpaper with a big photo of a cedar forest—our feelings on that and the mirrors are being censored. Let’s look past the interior for a second.
The food took us to another place. For some, the pitch is that it’s supposedly like “Ivanka Trump eating in an upscale hunting lodge” (Jill’s words). Cedar’s brunch menu is meant to be rustic, heavy, and full of gourmet meat. I almost wished it were blizzarding outside and we were eating brunch by a fireplace in the cozy space.
We started with cocktails, of course. Tammy and I both had champagne cocktails, of which there are six to choose from. Tammy went for the Snowflake, a concoction of white cranberry juice and champagne, which didn’t taste like cranberry juice at all. She thought she was making the healthy choice; instead she just made the cool-looking and delicious choice.
I had the Stratosphere, which was made with crème de violette and champagne. The color of it was stunning, like a silver grey. It was delicious. Later, we tried the Poodle, made with grapefruit juice and champagne, and the St. Germain, which is made with Elder Flower Liqueur. My favorite was still the Stratosphere.
Eric had The Uziel, which is named after the bar manager’s wife’s maiden name. It was made with vodka infused with grapefruit, lemon, and honey from the bar manager’s family’s beehives in West Virginia. The drink was smooth and didn’t have a bite, which is perfect in the morning. That honey came around to our table again later during brunch.
We didn’t get much farther than that on the cocktail menu. Instead, we ordered coffee, which came in French presses. There was the option of Sumatra (bold), Brazil (mild), and decaf, of course. Cedar’s Bloody Mary is made with house-infused vodka, garlic, jalapeno and habanero. I love that the cocktail menu had so much thought behind it.
On top of our brunch menu, the servers dropped a small card with options for wild game sausage. Our choices: venison with blueberry, wild boar with cranberries, rabbit, and buffalo with chipotle. OK, we’ll try all of them … if you insist.
The buffalo was amazing, the wild boar, so good one of us asked where it came from. “Um, it’s wild, of course, so who knows?” The rabbit, we were all scared to touch. Though I did try a small taste and it was fine.
The best part was that the sausages came chopped in pieces on a cedar plank with four different choices of mustards to dip them in. Those mustards were amazing. The apple mustard was made with white mustard seeds, reduced apple cider, sage and roasted Fuji apples. The bourbon mustard (yes, bourbon mustard!) had brown Indian mustard seeds mixed with white and prepared Dijon, raw bourbon, and a touch of Vermont maple syrup. It was smooth.
The spicy mustard had black mustard seeds, the chef’s hot sauce, which includes pickled habanero peppers, pickled jalapenos, and 16 different spices. Finally, Cedar’s Honey Mustard is made with bar manager’s farm honey (there’s that honey again).
Along with the sausages, we ordered a side of the housemade banana bread, which was served in thick slices, and covered with a sprinkle of powdered sugar. In hindsight, we shouldn’t have ordered this. Even though it was delicious, there was no need to stuff ourselves with bread before the rest of our brunch.
I loved how the dishes were presented at Cedar. If they weren’t on crisp white plates in various shapes, they were placed on the table balanced on cedar or wooden planks. The slices of bread, for instance, were balanced on top of one another on a cedar plank. Light and fluffy, and slightly grilled and covered in oil, the bread was still light and good for dipping, or eating with cheese, which we found out later. It came with delicious butter and house-made jam.
For our entrees, we each ordered the most interesting sounding item.
I ordered the smoked salmon benedict, because I wanted something that had been smoked on cedar, to live up to the name and the hype. The chef came out to our table and told us the story of the restaurant’s smoker. It was his grandfather’s, and it probably 70 years old. It’s tiny, but he smokes many of the menu’s dishes in it.
The chef, we should mention, is brand new at Cedar. Well, a few months new. He started back in December, coming to the D.C. area from various restaurants around the country. The cool part of his story is that he was a child prodigy, an accomplished violinist when he was young, and found his way into restaurants after a chance performance at a restaurant. It was there he decided to jump into the restaurant business, and worked his way up from being a dishwasher.
Cedar doesn’t offer a regular ham Benedict. But that’s okay because the salmon Benedict was delicious, and so the crab cake Benedict must be just as worthy. The smoked salmon Benedict was perched on potato cakes, the perfectly smoked salmon was topped with poached eggs and a delicious caper hollandaise sauce. Probably the most unusual (lumpy, certainly) and strongest hollandaise I’ve ever had.
That Hollandaise sauce had such a distinct taste to it, I could barely taste the salmon or the eggs. But it was so great. On the side of the dish was a pile of mixed greens, which was refreshing after the strong hollandaise sauce. It was sprinkled with balsamic.
Jill ordered the braised pork belly BLT, mostly out of curiosity. It was Cedar’s interpretation of a BLT, with braised pork belly, fried egg, smoked tomato, basil aioli, and mixed greens, all inside two pieces of toast. The basil aioli held it together, and the entire sandwich had a mix of tastes once you bit into it.
Eric ordered the French toast, which was supposedly banana nut crunch French toast. We think it was the banana bread, toasted with butter and oils, and given a corn flake trimming around the crust. Delicious nonetheless. It was served with Chantilly cream and maple syrup.
Tammy, much to my dismay, ordered the omelet of wild mushrooms (I hate mushrooms, and I love to try everything on the table). It looked quite plain when it arrived, but it was filled with spinach and cheddar, along with all the slick, slimy wild mushrooms. She cut into it so I could take a photo with a peek of the inside. On the side, garlic roasted potatoes, which were not greasy at all, but rather firm and filling.
There were a lot of dishes on the brunch menu that we wanted to try, but couldn’t, as there were only four of us at the table and our stomachs were already so full. The deviled chicken hash looked interesting (what the heck is deviled chicken hash?). There’s a fried oyster sandwich, which would have been daring. Oh, and Jill really wanted the Hangtown Fry, but we were selfish and wanted the pork belly BLT instead.
Jill wasn’t going to let us leave without trying dessert. We were so full it was painful, but we persevered. We ordered the carrot layer cake, which was served with bourbon sauce and caramel pecan ice cream. We also ordered the coconut tres leches cake, with passion fruit sauce and pina colada sorbet. I tried neither of these. I was too focused on our third dessert dish …
We got the artisanal cheese plate—all five cheeses. It was extravagant and amazing. When the plate was dropped, I marveled at how pretty it was, and then turned my nose up at the smell. Who took their shoes off? Stinky cheese, indeed.
On our plate, there were four American and one foreign cheese (British! From the midlands!), and we were okay with that. Domestic cheese included the San Andreas, a sheep milk cheese from California, a camembert (my favorite) from New York, a Grayson from Virginia, and an extremely decadent “ash” goat cheese.
Our foreign cheese was a blue cheese from Nottinghamshire. It was rich and both moist on the inside and crumbly on the outside. It was during this cheese course that we learned that morning milk and evening milk produces different flavors of cheese. Who knew?
We were so full after nearly five courses of food that we had to be rolled onto the nearby National Mall and to the Tidal Basin, where we plopped ourselves under the Cherry Blossom blooms and admired the sights in gluttonous agony.
The Bitches say: B+. No bottomless here. No big parties. Rather, a gourmet, hearty brunch in a cozy little restaurant, served by friendly staff and a very talented chef.
822 E St. N.W.
Cedar serves brunch Saturdays and Sundays