Tag Archives: brunch

Pay It Forward—With Indian Food—at Karma Kitchen

Do you ever wish that a stranger would anonymously gift you a delicious, vegetarian Indian meal?  And does that urge to brighten someone’s day with a delicious, vegetarian Indian meal ever overtake you?  Luckily, Karma Kitchen in Dupont Circle will allow you to partake in just such an “experiment in generosity,” and fill both your belly and soul for the day.

Located in what is normally Dalchinni Indian restaurant, Karma Kitchen exists only on Sundays from 12-3pm.  Everything on the menu costs $0.00, because the idea is that the attendees of last week’s brunch have already paid for your meal.  You have the option of contributing any sum—including nothing—for the brunch in an envelope at the end of the meal.  The folks at Karma Kitchen are quick to point out that the food isn’t free—it is a gift, and philosophically there is a big difference.

The mouth-watering, all-you-can-eat menu changes every week, but is always vegetarian and once a month is vegan.  The food when I attended consisted of mango lassis, chai tea, saag paneer, sweet potatoes and peas, chana peshawir, and kheer to top it off.  All servers and hosts are volunteers from around the entire metro area, and the food is made by Dalchinni employees (the restaurant receives an undisclosed amount at the end of each Sunday afternoon to cover food costs and labor).

Where else could something like this have started than Berkeley, California?!  The Karma Kitchen in Berkeley provided the capital for the DC location to begin, which then paid for the Chicago location.  Karma Kitchen founders are currently in talks about new locations, perhaps New York City and perhaps international.

My favorite part of the experience was when our host made everyone in the whole restaurant get up for a dance break.  He blasted bhangra music from a small boom box, and we all swayed to the Indian beats, cracking up but getting groovy by the end!  This sort of hippie-dippie love-fest happens all too rarely in our city, and made my heart swell just a little bit bigger.  Or was that full feeling just all of the Indian food I had ingested?  Whatever it was, I walked away from Karma Kitchen feeling recharged, optimistic, and ready to take on life’s challenges, I expect that even a cynic would have a hard time not cracking a smile!

To visit:  1736 Connecticut Ave NW, Washington, DC.  202-483-8705.  Sundays 12-3pm.  Red line Metro, 42 or L2 bus lines.

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A Worldly Brunch at the National Gallery of Art

The National Gallery of Art is decidedly not off-the-beaten-path, yet its Garden Café has a hidden treasure that is one of the most delightful and delicious food conceits in the city.  The Café features a $19.75 all-you-can-eat menu that is designed by a well-known Washington chef and inspired by the featured exhibit in the museum’s ground-floor galleries.

Currently the Garden Café reflects the “From Impressionism to Modernism: The Chester Dale Collection” exhibit, and runs until February 10th 2011.  Perhaps best of all for the amateur DC foodie is that the menu is hand-designed by Chef Michel Richard, of Central and Citronelle fame.  Previous Garden Café themes over the last few years have included Spanish by celebrated Chef Jose Andres, “Summer in Venice” featuring traditional Venetian dishes, Central American inspired by ancient Mayan recipes, and the American Café serving crab cakes and Boston cream pie.  Upcoming in mid-February is Garden Café Italia, with a menu designed by Chef Fabio Trabocchi of Fiola.

The menu of the “Garden Café Français” is an impressive array of classic French food, from Camembert and Roquefort cheeses and charcuterie to soups and salad to ratatouille and stew. Especially divine, of course, was the chocolate mousse. Although all-you-can-eat French food is a tad oxymoronic, I was certainly back for more than one plate!  I will give major points to the National Gallery of Art for its impressive set of vegetarian options, especially for such a condensed menu.

The Garden Café’s atmosphere is wonderfully charming, with dozens of skylights and a tinkling fountain displaying Herbert Adams’ sculpture Girl with Water Lilies.  It is quite fun to eat while the hubbub of the museum carries on around, and feels nearly improper to be sipping a cup of coffee and eating mousse while tourists wander aimlessly nearby!  If brunch and art history is your perfect pairing, this is the place for you.

To get there:  National Gallery of Art west wing,   (202) 712-7454.  Hours:  Hours Monday–Saturday 11:30 a.m.–2:00 p.m., Sunday noon–4:00 p.m.  NGA is right on the Mall, so accessible from various metros and bus lines.

*Correction:  an earlier version of this post incorrectly referred to the National Gallery of Art as a part of the Smithsonian Institution.  Thanks to a savvy commenter for pointing this out!

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Hanging Out Up on 14th at The Highlands Café and Grill

The Highlands Café in Petworth (not to be confused with Highland Origin Coffee in Silver Spring) is a charming neighborhood spot that is unassuming on the outside and colorfully artsy on the inside.  Located on 14th Street between Crittenden and Decatur, this is one of “it” spots in the 14th Street Heights neighborhood.  Didn’t know that there was a 14th Street Heights district in DC?  Neither did I, so that’s another good reason to go up there and hit some of the other local staples along the way—Districto Federal, the Red Derby, etc.

The most memorable quirk about this coffee shop/restaurant/bar is its long mural on the southern wall, depicting the life-cycle of coffee from the berry-picking to the barista-ing to its enjoyment by friends.  Along with its mainstay beverage The Highlands also boasts brunch and dinner menus that seem a bit ambitious for such a small place, but the results are great—hearty, Southern-style meals with a smattering of vegetarian options.  I was a fan of the towering smoothies!

According to the mission on its website, The Highlands is trying very hard to not just be another relatively funky coffee shop in our city, but a place where patrons can interact with management and feel ownership over the location.  I can only speak to my Saturday afternoon visit, but I was very impressed with the variety of clientele, from older men reading newspapers to young Millenials rubbing the sleep out of their eyes, but the best thing is that they all clearly were residents of the neighborhood.  In my opinion, this kind of community-oriented local watering hole is just what DC needs more of!

To visit:  4706 14th St. NW, 202-829-6200.  Moderate walk from Petworth or Columbia Heights Metros, or the 52 and 54 buses will drop you outside the door.

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