With culinary school slated to start in just a few days (!!!) and the onslaught of recipes that will surely be posted over the course of this new endeavor, I thought I would spend the week before school starts sharing a restaurant review instead. Fortunately for the blog, this past weekend provided ample source material. Unlike my usual haunts, the gastronomical outposts I visited last weekend were from a different land, a somewhat-far-away city, one that is very near and dear to my heart: Washington DC.
The first sort of higher education I ever experienced was down in the DC-metro area, in College Park, Maryland. UMD was an amazing place to spend three and a half years; somewhere where I made friends that would last me a lifetime, and connections that have continued to enhance my life even now, more than two years after graduation (terrifyingly, yes, it has been that long). UMD is also where my love for food and cooking was truly cultivated; it was in the apartment that I lived in junior & senior year that I made a lattice-topped apple pie from scratch, turned a pumpkin into french fries, cooked a medium-rare filet mignon on a searing hot panini press, and roasted red peppers by hand over an electric stove. Yes, college was a wonderful time during which these interests grew and blossomed, and visiting DC always reminds me of those simpler days. It’s no surprise that I love going back to visit any chance I can get.
This weekend, while reminiscing and catching up with old friends, I learned that DCers and New Yorkers aren’t all that different. In fact, what we have in common just might be a universal truth: we all love brunch. I mean really, who doesn’t like brunch? In a 48-hour trip we got in not one, but two deliciously indulgent brunches, complete with alcoholic beverages and high-calorie goodness. One friend enjoyed brunch so much (as he always does) that he proposed we create a new Food Network show where we drive across country and capture all of our mind-blowing brunch adventures from coast to coast. The eggs, the hollandaise, the waffles… ah, but I digress.
The last meal of the trip was on the fashionable M Street in DC’s Georgetown, which one might compare to New York’s Fifth Avenue, or I supposed now, SoHo’s Broadway. It’s an enticing medley of fantastic retail, quirky off-the-beaten-path shops, cupcakeries, and of course, restaurants. These restaurants all seem to have that certain one-of-a-kind unique appeal, in a place where words like “bistro” still have a somewhat exotic effect on passers-by.
One of our gracious hosts of the weekend proposed a group brunch at a restaurant on M Street called Mie N Yu, just a few blocks up the road from our hotel. The proposition was as follows: a three-course brunch, with a cocktail included, in a decently fashionable restaurant, for twenty dollars. Honestly, a twenty-dollar price tag will sell me on most things, and a three-course meal plus cocktail was definitely near the top of the list. Hence, Mie N Yu it was.
Now, I had never been to Mie N Yu before this weekend, but I’d heard of the restaurant back in college when a girl who lived in my dorm sophomore year was whisked away to Mie N Yu by her older, more sophisticated senior boyfriend for a romantic Valentine’s Day dinner. Left only with her vague recollection of the restaurant’s wonders, Mie N Yu had always held a bit of a mystique for me, and I was glad to be able to visit the restaurant for myself.
Upon entering, we were greeted by a friendly older host, who took our coats and pointed us to the bar where we could wait for the rest of our party. But fifteen minutes later, the rest of our party had yet to appear, and the host returned. He asked us if we would like a tour of the restaurant, which to my own eyes seemed mostly in sight. Still, my two other friends graciously accepted Carl, the host’s, offer.
“You’re standing in the Hong Kong bar,” Carl explained at once, motioning around the room with one hand.
“You’ll notice that the bar is shellacked with these Mahjong tiles that are covered in Chinese characters and symbols. Mahjong is a traditional game played in Hong Kong, not all that different from the American game of solitare.” We all stepped forward to get a closer look at the small white tiles covered in green and red swooshes that were inlayed in the black, shiny bar. They not only looked, but also felt exotic and mysterious. “A lot of the different decorations that you’ll see throughout the restaurant are completely authentic,” Carl continued. I suppose we had all fixed him with curious gazes, because he stopped, and then explained further.
“A lot of people assumed that Mie N Yu is an ‘Asian-Fusion’ restaurant, but it’s not. The restaurant was conceptualized off of the Ancient Silk Road that ran from Southern Europe, through the Middle East, to Asia. Mie N Yu is more of a mélange of different cultures and types of food than fusion – North Africa, what you might call Moroccan, Middle Eastern, Mediterranean, Southeast Asian.”
He took a step backward and continued back into the restaurant, leading us into another space that was set up on a floor, raised about two feet above the ground. The entryway to this room was hung with thick layers of tapestry and drapes of beige and deep burgundy.
“Traditional Turkish wedding tent drapes,” he told us, reaching out to stroke the drapes with one hand. “These were actually sourced all the way from Turkey by our interior designer. We call this room the Turkish Tent, and it can be reserved for private parties.” He leaned casually on the black velvet rope partitioning the room off from the rest of the restaurant. “When this room is full of people, and the smells and sights of food, it’s hard to feel like you’re not actually in Turkey, experiencing this for real.”
We were still staring over our shoulders at the Turkish tent as the host turned a corner on the first floor and led us into the main dining area, which as he explained, transitioned from a daytime theme to a nighttime theme as one walked from the front to the back of the restaurant, the lighting and blue color of the walls darkening as one descended. He drew our attention to the way each booth was set beneath a draping, colorful sheath of striped fabric, propped up on poles, just like a traditional Moroccan bazaar.
We then walked up to the second level of Mie N Yu, where our hands grazed a wrought-iron banister that was hand-forged on the other side of the planet, hanging under the seemingly misplaced decadent crystal chandelier of the building’s original owner. “Her,” Carl said, pointing to the wall opposite the chandelier where a larger than life oil painting depicted the portrait of good Lady Mie-N-Yu, the original woman of the assumedly wondrous house this restaurant used to be. Upward, we went.
Upstairs were even more rooms, but these were more private in nature. There was the Venetian Lounge, where one wall was covered in tens of mirrors, all of different shapes, sizes, and colors, all from the legendary sinking city of Venice.
Beyond that was the Tibetan Lounge, most commonly used for private parties or Mie N Yu’s weekend “In The Cut” dance party events, but which was currently being used for a quite serious looking photo shoot, which we breezed past. I had the sudden sensation that I was on a movie set, floating eerily past extravagant decor where neither the people nor the artifacts they meandered past took notice of my presence.
Finally, we came to the show stealer, which Carl had clearly been saving for last. The Bird’s Nest.
A wrought iron masterpiece that hangs, suspended between the first and second floors of Mie N Yu, accessible only via a gangplank-ish pathway. The Bird’s Nest is perfectly round, with a smaller round table inside the larger spherical confines. The benches surrounding the table are covered in super-plush silk pillows (I know because, of course, I had to sit in it). Carl easily informed us: “Anyone can rent out The Bird’s Nest for their own private party. It goes for about $500 on a weeknight, and starts at $900 on the weekend.” We immediately began plotting various occasions for which we could rationalize renting out this awesome dining space.
Back on the main floor, my mind was slightly blown by all there was to know about this restaurant, when the executive chef walked by. He was in a hurry, and didn’t respond when our host greeted him. Carl merely smiled, and said to us with a knowing grin, “That’s the executive chef. Sometimes you say hello, and sometimes you don’t.” Carl chuckled, and I faked a grin. This wasn’t the first statement of the weekend that left me with a sense of foreboding about my academic endeavors to come, but I shook it off upon catching a whiff of some food from the kitchen.
Because yes! After all of that, a tour through the gastronomical Silk Road, there was still, after all, a meal to be had, and at that precise moment the rest of our party arrived, and we were seated. To my delight, we were escorted to a booth directly below the famed Bird’s Nest – also perfectly round and lined with the most comfortable pillows ever (which we would later learn, were quite dangerous in encouraging a post-brunch food coma).
Now it was time for laughter, light conversation, undoubted banter, but most importantly, food! Almost immediately we were offered brunch cocktails – either a mimosa, or a Bloody Mary. While Bloody Marys aren’t usually my thing, I was feeling risky on this particular morning, so I went for it. And boy, am I happy I did. This was by far the best Bloody Mary to ever hit my lips. It was light and refreshing, served on a ton of rocks, rather than thick and gelatinous like terrible Bloodies can be. It had just the slightest hint of pepper and spice, and other than adding a hint of sweetness, the alcohol was virtually undetectable. A great start to the meal.
Next up was the first course: The Good Morning Sunshine. I was a bit skeptical of how an Eastern Mélange restaurant, as we’ll call it, could pull off a regional yogurt parfait, but they did it. Something about the way the dried apricots were mixed in with fresh strawberries, crunchy granola, and extremely tangy Greek yogurt gave this dish a distinct far-away feel – something an All-American parfait surely would not do. I would eat one of these every morning for the rest of my life if I could.
Mie N Yu also offered a delicious Bombay Peanut Salad made of mixed greens tossed in a toasted cumin and yogurt vinaigrette. Probably the first time in my life I’ve turned down an interesting salad (no regrets, clearly), but I did snag a bite and it sure was tasty. I can’t wait to recreate this dressing at home!
Then we were on to the main course. Mie N Yu offers two breakfast options – Eggs Benedict, and Banana Walnut Pancakes (not sure which stops on the Silk Road these were, but it sort of seemed rude to ask) – as well as one lunchier option. Since it was already two in the afternoon, I opted for the Korean Bulgogi Sandwich, and never looked back. After one bite I realized that despite already being somewhat full from the parfait, and knowing that a third dessert course lay beyond, I had no choice. It was me and this sandwich, on a journey, and I was destined to finish every last bite. Yep, it was that good.
Imagine meat as soft and tender as pulled pork, but with that amazing soy sauce tang of the best Chinese beef you’ve ever had. Then think of it, resting on a soft, floury roll, with layers of tangy cabbage and radish forming the kimchee around it. Throw in a spicy kick from the aioli, which will be running down your fingers with the beef’s juices in just a second, and you’ve got yourself one hell of a sandwich. Oh, and with a side of fries. No big deal.
Needless to say, I was pretty quiet during this portion of the meal. I always feel the sign of great cuisine is when everyone at the table just shuts up and eats. Some find silence awkward, but I kind of feel like there’s no time the ancient “silence is golden” proverb is more true than at that moment when the food is set down.
Dessert was probably the least impressive part of this meal; that’s not to say it wasn’t very good, it’s just to say that the kitchen ran out of one of the two dessert options – tiramisu, failed to replace it, and that at this point everyone was too stuffed and suffering from over-stimulated taste buds to care much. We all enjoyed the Asian Pear Strudel, which was pretty much a mini apple turnover, but with pear. The one exciting element of the dish was the “pomegranate creme anglaise,” which we decided was most likely a pomegranate balsamic reduction and added an tangy tart bite to each morsel of the strudel, which was buttery and sweet. What can I say? I ate all of that, too.
Most of the remainder of my day, including one four-hour bus ride back to New York, was spend with a serious case of the “fulls” – like, “so full I can barely move” full, or “I should probably take a nap til I digest” full. But honestly, it was one-hundred-percent worth it, because not only did I discover a restaurant that I came to know and completely love for its food and its concept, but I also know this: DC is for foodies. Move over, New York. You have East Coast competition.