Words and photos by Jordana Well
Jordana is a homegrown Washingtonian and vegetarian with lots of friends with varying diets. But she loves a challenge as well as good food. So she’s attempting to bring many of these friends — a porkivore, carnivore, a kosher pescatarian, and a vegan — to the table, eating off the same menu, all being completely satisfied. Impossible you say? Better luck getting Republicans and Democrats to agree on tax cuts? Stick around.
No, Carnivore Mike answers. I will not go to a vegan brunch, ever. I don’t blame you, I say. I wouldn’t normally give up my smoked salmon and scrambled eggs either. But this brunch is at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, I add, and it’s Todd Gray. The Todd Gray, Mike responds incredulously, the same Gray who braises prosciutto and octopus up the road at his famed Equinox. Yes, I say, the one and the same, so off we go. And by “off we go,” I mean I promise him a cheeseburger if he isn’t satisfied.
We enter Todd’s Muse Cafe in the Corcoran atrium. Before even tasting a bite, we are impressed. Very clever of Mr. Gray to make the brunch buffet-style. This way, you can explore the food with the same open curiosity as you would the artwork. That’s vital when introducing vegan food, especially to someone who hates vegetables as much as Mike does. (This is round one, at left.)
Mike bites into the potato and “cheddar” croquet (pictured center, with a dollop of remoulade). I wait for a grimace, a sound of disgust. Instead, it’s just like he’s eating a burger: his eyes close, moaning and grunting with every chew. Now this is a croquet, he mumbles; most croquets have too much crust and too little filling, but this one is all creamy goodness with only a thin crunchy armor to contain it. He hands me the other half of the croquet and I sink into it and he’s so right it’s delicious and creamy and cheesy without cream or cheese and before I know I’m grunting and moaning too.
We try some of Muse’s other vegan goodies, including pumpkin pancakes in salted caramel sauce and homemade smoked peanuts, which alone are worth coming back for. So confident is Mike now in Todd’s talents that, despite my warning about faux food, he tries the deviled “eggs”. Wow, he says dejectedly, that does not taste anything like it looks. Which brings me to the warning: stay away from vegan food that tries to turn the ingredients into something they are not. Fortunately, we end with the fig and lemon scented blintzes.
Mike cannot believe his taste buds. This is by far the best blintz I’ve ever had, Mike says, but such intense flavors without the crutch of cream or eggs or butter? We ask Ellen, Todd’s wife and his muse behind Muse, who says they first sauté the figs, then marinate them in the lemons’ juices. It takes literally days to prepare, but if that’s how they get that roar of lemon swirling around the profound and sweet fig, it’s totally worth it. The only thing missing from this dish, Mike says, is a side of bacon. But you’re right again, he admits to me, which almost never happens: great chefs make great food, period. After we finish brunch, Mike’s in the mood for Monet, so we walk around the Corcoran for a while. No cheeseburger necessary.
Want to book your own vegan brunch? Make a reservation at Muse now.