One of the (more) annoying things about the rapid gentrification in DC's Shaw neighborhood is that even "Shaw-adjacent" areas are getting "trendy" names dreamed up by luxury condo developers. For example. the area just south of U Street has now somehow become "North Shaw", with an ever growing and frankly exhausting list of hipster brand names being added to the ground floor of various residential developments - Warby Parker, Steven Alan, I'm looking at you here. I have nothing against brands like these but it's hard not to feel that approving yet another Bonobos store comes at the expense of a smaller, DC-based small business.
Luckily right in the middle of this rapidly changing area is the relatively new restaurant Hazel. Chef Rob Rubba opened the restaurant in June and quickly generated a buzz for instant-classic dishes like his zucchini bread (apparently a family recipe from his grandmother), "KFC" crispy wings inspired by Bonchon - as well as house made chili sauce. There is nothing formulaic or artificial about this food, despite what the broader neighborhood around it looks like.
I came here a few weeks ago for dinner with a small group of friends and at night, I couldn't see very much of the space except for its cozy banquettes in dark wood, dim lighting and impressively (if not slightly pricey) inventive menu. In the day time though, the space transforms into a sunny, welcoming space with funky decor and inviting vibe. Walking in, you are greeted by a huge patio with bright green astro turf, replete with designer mural and lounge chairs. It's the sort of space you want to hang out on for hours during the summer - if you can snag a table.
When we sat down, I was even more excited to discover that Hazel's brunch menu is offered "dim-sum" style - there's about a dozen different dishes and you check off what you want on the paper menu, similar to the stamp cards at traditional dim-sum restaurants. Definitely gimmicky but the paper actually comes in handy as the servers check off each dish as it arrives - and the dishes did start arriving very quickly, in an absolute flurry.
Since there were only two of us, we couldn't get everything on the menu (you can actually do this for a neat $99), but here are some of the highlights after the jump.
We started with their house made tater tots which were - without exaggeration - some of the crispiest tater tots I've ever had. The black garlic dipping sauce that comes with the tots in a squeeze bottle was also an ingenious addition, kind of like a hoisin sauce but much more complex and less sweet. Next were the doughnuts with squash and what appeared to be some kind of icing with vadouvan curry which was certainly a combination of flavors I'd never had before. A bit sweet for me in the end but definitely worth a try.
When someone tells you they have brioche bacon rolls with bacon jam on the menu, you're morally obligated to order them - and this was no exception. Unfortunately the "breakfast donburi" bowl was far less tasty compared to the way it looked. Disappointingly there wasn't enough rice and the chefs had been a bit heavy handed with the cotija cheese and the mayonnaise sauce. I'd take a pass on this one, sadly.
And finally, a triple whammy to finish - Hazel's "duck muffin" breakfast sandwich, kimchi scramble with crunchy rice and - my favorite of the whole day - mapo tofu style eggs with a Sichuan peppercorn lamb sauce. As you can see, Hazel doesn't shy away whatsoever from big and bold flavors which I really appreciated. The breakfast sandwich was like a Michelin-star version of an Egg McMuffin (#whatsthebadpart), and the kimchi scrambled eggs had a wonderful mix of textures, from the smooth eggs to the crispy rice mixed in. If I had to pick three dishes from the whole menu, it would be the kimchi scramble, mapo eggs and those ridiculous tater tots. There will be many gym visits to pay for these calories, but boy are they worth it.
Hazel has gone straight onto my list of top go-to brunch locations and with each dish priced at under $15, it's a solid choice especially if you want to try some of Chef Rubba's cooking without paying full dinner prices. The full wine list is available, as are by-the-glass wines, beers and breakfast cocktails so there's plenty to go around for day drinking purposes. I'm looking forward to another trip to Hazel soon, perhaps with a larger group so we can go ahead and order the "Whole Shebang" option of trying everything on the menu!
One woman's journey to eat all the food. Or at least, most of it.