Eggs Benedict With Business

Posted May 16, 2007 at 4:52pm

It’s 8:30 in the morning, and as cubicles and offices slowly fill across town, so do dining rooms in certain restaurants in the nation’s capital. Dark suits file in, slap backs, shake hands and order coffee. They dine on lobster and eggs at The Willard Room, eggs Bernadotte at Palette, baskets of sugar-dusted beignets at Johnny’s Half Shell, and crab cakes benedict at Seasons.

It’s the scene of the power breakfast, “power” referring not to nutrition-packed food but to the movers and shakers who partake, starting the day with a social ritual tailor-made for Washington, D.C. And though the power breakfast doesn’t get as much publicity as its midday counterpart, it’s alive and well.

“Restaurants always provide a more conducive environment in which to conduct business, and there is a certain freshness in starting the day with an important meeting while dining and discussing the business at hand,” said Lynne Breaux, president of the Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington. “As lunch schedules increase, business breakfasts provide an alternative to a crowded, hectic midday schedule.”

The advantages of a power breakfast over a power lunch also may include increased efficiency. After all, it’s a little too early for the three-martini meal that can render the remainder of a workday useless.

Choices for the power breakfast crowd range from classics like the Willard Room and Old Ebbitt Grill to newer options such as Johnny’s Half Shell and Palette in The Madison hotel.

“If you’re walking through our lobby at 7:30 in the morning, everyone has their BlackBerrys out, everyone’s on their cell phones, everyone’s shuffling papers. It’s all business here in the mornings,” said Dan Hogg, Old Ebbitt’s assistant general manager. He said weekday breakfast guests at Old Ebbitt use the meal to get up to speed on the day’s business. “We get almost all people on their way to work, having meetings before their meetings.”

As Capitol Hill’s newest breakfast hot spot, Johnny’s Half Shell, sits in a prime location as one of the closest restaurants to the Capitol. It has no doubt absorbed some of the morning business of its predecessor La Colline, including larger groups that can take advantage of the partitioned rooms for private breakfast meetings.

The sleek and modern Palette, hidden behind frosted glass walls, breaks from The Madison’s traditional vibe but adds a dose of history to the menu with eggs Bernadotte, a recipe that appeared on the hotel’s original breakfast menu nearly a half century ago. You could call it the original power breakfast dish since it was created specially for a VIP, Prince Bertil of Sweden, a descendant of Sweden’s House of Bernadotte. The current incarnation, interpreted by executive chef Stefan Jarausch, pairs poached eggs with prosciutto, gently cooked tomato, crisp asparagus and Béarnaise sauce over an English muffin. Palette also plays to its political clientele with a bipartisan choice of pancake toppings: “blue state” blueberries or “red state” strawberries.

Brasserie Les Halles recently joined the power breakfast fold with the addition of morning hours in March. With free wireless Internet and an appealing patio, the French steakhouse attracts a different kind of power breakfaster: the solo diner with a laptop looking to catch up on work before heading into the office. But it’s also drawing the more traditional breakfast meeting crowd, according to a spokesman for the restaurant.

Another French breakfast hot spot is Bistro Bis, where a regular roster of Senators, Representatives and lobbyists come to break bread and talk shop.

Among the city’s classic settings for business breakfasts, Seasons’ elegant dining room in the Four Seasons has long attracted bold-faced names. And the historic Willard Room sets a glamorous scene for an early morning meal with crystal chandeliers, dark wood paneling and top-notch service.

The restaurant has been a breakfast destination for the power set for decades, said Herve Houdre, general manager of the Willard. “We certainly have our regulars given our proximity to the White House, and we keep them content by providing discreet, efficient service and a diverse menu of traditional offerings that appeal to taste buds on both sides of the aisle.”

The Willard Room was joined in April by the less formal Café du Parc on the other side of the hotel. The two-level space offers an attractive upstairs dining room with large windows overlooking Pershing Park and patio seating and a takeout counter downstairs.

The hotel tapped Michelin-starred chef Antoine Westermann to create a classic French bistro menu for the new cafe. Guests can pick up coffee and housemade pastries, such as the signature caramel and walnut sticky bun, at the bar in the morning or have a seat in the upstairs dining room where a buffet and extensive menu are offered. Diners will find Black Angus filet mignon with eggs cooked to order, quiche and crepes, alongside standards such as oatmeal and pancakes.

Café du Parc may be one of the best spots for early risers to find a hearty breakfast — it opens at 6:30 a.m. (6 a.m. for takeout) Monday through Friday.