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Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Masa 14, Part Deux

For this Part Deux, Official Friendof DCWD Talia and Official Girlfriend of DCWD Texas wanted to start the day off with a birthday brunch (before a night at CityZen, of course). We wandered ourneighborhood, until we settled on the admittedly trendy Masa 14.

The Food

Masa 14 offers a $35 all-you-can-eat-and-drink brunch, which we partook in for this meal. Spoiler alert: if you are part of a group of ladies who brunch, or are looking for a bottomless boozy brunch where you can linger, this is a decent deal. Otherwise, you are stuck playing catch-up, knowing that you have to make it up to at least five dishes/drinks a person just to break even. This factor explains the sheer amount of food that we covered here. On the one hand, it’s nice to see the size of the portions. On the other hand, it means you’re best going a la carte unless you plan to hang around for a bit.

Dishes started arriving fast and furious, which to me says they’re already pre-cranked out, a fact which probably accounts for a variance in dish quality. The first to come out was an arugala salad topped with seared tuna and avocado, and drizzled with wasabi (also normally bacon, but you know, pescetarians). The tuna was nice, but nothing distinguished this from any number of tuna tartares we’ve had at any number of restaurants.

This was a similar issue for the breakfast pizza (egg yolks, gruyere, pico de gallo, and arugala, and also again normally bacon). Compared with other breakfast pizzas, which marry the eggs and arugula and toppings into its thin crust, this seemed perfunctory at best, and boring at worst.

Three egg dishes were next, starting with a veggie benedict, served on toasted challah, with spinach, tomato, and a green chili hollandaise. The second was a smoked salmon omelet, with goat cheese, spinach, and caramelized onions in a tomato jam.

The main crime for both of these dishes was their overcooked eggs, the purest sign of pre-made small plates that morning. You can always tell with eggs, with that glazed-over, rubbery texture, and this was apparent for both. Then they each had their own problems: a blandness and a completely oversized piece of bread for the benedict, a complete loss of the goat cheese for the omelet.

The truly forgettable egg dish was one that threw in its egg as an afterthought: a black bean puree, with a fried egg, both topped with cotija cheese. The beans were nice, but this was nothing more than a side, and one that overall bored at that.

At this point, my meat dishes started appearing. First up, the smoked brisket hash with onions and chilis and yucca with chipotle hollandaise and a poached egg. Successful hashes blend well cooked pieces of meat with soft potatoes and provide some salt and some heat. This did all of those things, though in muted forms. This was one of those good-but-not-great examples: something I didn’t mind finishing, but not something I would recommend.

The sets of three continued with the three Asian-influenced sandwiches. For me, the star was the pho beef sandwich topped with a sriracha-hoisin aioli, Thai basil, bean sprouts, and pickled onion. Maybe it’s my affection for pho, but this did actually match up pretty well with the flavor profile of the traditional Vietnamese soup, and included all of the necessary side ingredients (oh how you woo me, Thai basil). Rich without being super dry, and fun.

Less successful was the banh mi burger – a pork patty with pickled vegetables and citrus aioli. Banh mi interpretations for me range from “thanks for playing” to “well, that wasn’t that bad.” This one was squarely in the “aww, well at least you tried” category. For one, I’ve never had a banh mi in my life with a pork patty. Braised pork belly? Pate? The weird pork baloney beloved to Vietnamese people, cha lua? All yes. But not what vaguely resembled a burger. The aioli was nice, but pickled vegetables and crusty bread a banh mi does not make.

Somewhere in the middle was the Wagyu beef burger, marinated in teriyaki with a chipotle aioli. The meat was nice, but not nearly as tender as the Wagyu descriptor led one to believe. It might be that my memory of the day is slighted by my distaste for the banh mi burger, but this seemed average to me.

Serving as the French fries for this meal was a bowl of grits, spiced with chipotle pepper and green onions, and bound together by Oaxaca cheese. We all like grits, but the heat on these was aggressive, and not in a good way. The grits themselves had a nice texture, but the spiciness was too much for everyone but Texas.

Throughout the meal, my drink of choice was the lemon lager, a blend of Dos Equis, lemon, basil, simple syrup, and St. Germaine. Easy and refreshing, I have to say that I was actually sort of impressed by this. And weighing it against the steady wave of bellinis and fruity drinks that the girls were ordering, I’ll take this one.

Looking to get us over the top, the three of us compromised on the pan dulce, French toast with ancho whipped cream and a roasted pineapple syrup. I can’t remember anything about this dessert, which is probably to say that it was neither cloyingly sweet nor dull. Texas claims it was about the only thing she actually enjoyed, which is to say that it was good, at least. I guess we didn’t hate it.

The Verdict

Everything was interesting, andcertain things were decent but nothing demanded to be eaten more than once. Andcertainly not worth the bottomless brunch price.

Food Rating: ** 1/2
(out of 5)

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