Major awards and honors can undermine what caused success to begin with. Bon Appétit Magazine recently named Rose’s Luxury, in Washington, D.C., the Best New Restaurant for 2014 in the entire United States. While certainly gratifying, that creates a lot of additional pressure to live up to the hype that goes along with the recognition. The demand on Rose’s Luxury has sky-rocketed and what used to be little or no wait for a table in this no-reservations establishment, now has blossomed into people waiting for an hour or more even before the restaurant opens for service. It would be understandable for a restaurant to wilt under that kind of pressure. At Rose’s Luxury, though, it helps one to more fully understand what garnered it the accolades in the first place. They have managed to make the very act of waiting for a table or a spot at the action-packed counter an actual positive. I arrived at about 3:45PM to find people already waiting for the 5PM opening. During the wait, I managed to make friends with a few people, including a noted Darwin scholar and her husband who chose to return to celebrate his 73rd birthday, while sipping hot cider handed out by the restaurant.
I must admit, I generally hate to wait in line and typically that is a non-starter for me. With extremely limited time for a visit, I contacted the chef/owner , Aaron Silverman¹, to see if I could come without a wait. He responded very politely that they have decided to stick to a strict policy without exceptions and wouldn’t be able to make one for me or anyone else. I respected that policy and even though it might have meant that I might have been unable to make it to the restaurant, I appreciated their approach. As fate would have it, my situation changed somewhat and I was able to get to the restaurant early to wait with everyone else. Luckily, I was one of the first wave in and as a solo, diner, was fortunate to find a seat at the counter overlooking the open kitchen.
With only an hour to be there, I would have been happy ordering and trying a few items to get a sense of the place and plan for a future return for an unhurried experience. Instead, Chef Silverman took me under his wing. He, Tyler Teass and the rest of his staff prepared an abbreviated tasting menu to give me a sense of what they do. Even more remarkably, they did it within the hour I had available and managed to make it so that it was fun, delicious, satisfying and un-rushed. It proved to be a remarkable display of skill, talent and above-all hospitality that left me all the more thrilled and impressed. As with their approach to those who take the time to wait in line, they managed to convert what ordinarily would be a negative and created something quite positive. While I would not recommend getting in and out within an hour in lieu of a more relaxed and full experience, in this instance, it somehow exceeded my needs and expectations and enhanced my overall enjoyment of the evening. What impressed all the more was that, in various ways, they were enhancing the enjoyment of all I could see, including the diners seated to my left, a father and his five year old daughter and another single diner to my right, all of whom appeared to be receiving “special treatment” for their own particular needs The solo diner received her own special gift course, while the five year old was treated like a princess and kept enthralled by the activity in front of her. This is a restaurant that understands what hospitality is all about.
For health reasons, I have been trying to limit my intake of carbohydrates as much as I can and no longer routinely eat pasta or similar starches. As a result, I had told Chef Silverman that I would prefer to avoid the pastas on the menu. Happily for me, he didn’t listen to that request, though he did limit the portions served. I have surprised myself to discover that I generally don’t miss eating carbs like pasta, etc. anywhere near as much as I thought I would, but then most of those carbs don’t pack quite the punch of deliciousness as the pastas or rices served at Rose’s Luxury.
Chef Silverman absorbed much from his time working with Chef Sean Brock at McCrady’s in Charleston, including an appreciation for Carolina Gold rice and benne, the flavorful precursor to today’s sesame. He made his rice as a sultry, creamy risotto adorned with a tantalizing and inviting sheet of gold leaf. Unlike all the other dishes that I received, this was an off-menu item, the very knowledge of which contributed to its sense of provocative sinfulness.
As fabulously sensual as the rice was, the pasta was even more exhilarating. Silverman’s spicy-enough Amatriciana sauce, served atop caprice, a tightly wound pasta, was saturated with pork essence and layers of complexity to complement the meatiness of the delicious pig.
Somehow even a step up on the Amitriciana was the Cacio e Pepe served over Martelli Spaghetti. This richly sumptuous, cheesey and peppery pleaser was on a par with Rome, Italy’s Roscioli, my benchmark for the dish.
The best of all, though, was the Rigatoni with Parmigianno cream and truffled bread crumbs, the very definition of divine decadence. Pastas like these are worth the personal medical penance that I had to pay as a diabetic. If at all possible, the pastas at Rose’s Luxury should not be missed. I will never again go to Rose’s Luxury thinking that I won’t have pasta. I save eating carbs for when they are really, truly worth it. At Rose’s Luxury, they most certainly are worth it.
With rice and pastas as good as these, it would have been easy to make Rose’s Luxury into an Italian restaurant and likely a very successful one at that. As truly exceptional as they are, though, it would have been a lesser restaurant than what Rose’s Luxury is. It is the very eclecticism of the restaurant that makes it so particularly special and that eclecticism is not limited to the food. The beautiful collection of dishes, cutlery and glassware astounds with quality, beauty and variety. For example, house cured trout roe was served in a fabulous snail-shaped serving piece. Paired with house made potato chips and crème fraiche, the combination made a fun treat on a number of levels.
Heritage beef was served as a carpaccio with locally harvested watercress as well as mustard and watercress oils that allowed for several delightful bites. Thgis dish was served in the fashion of an hors d’ouvres for easy sharing, a direction that Chef Silverman is planning to take with his starter dishes.
Silverman’s culinary eclecticism and skills were further displayed by his ability with Asian ingredients, perhaps skills that he learned while working with David Chang at Momofuko Noodle Bar in NYC. A meaty, raw Virginia oyster was the first dish served to me by Chef Silverman. It was topped with a granité of true wasabi and green apple. The flavors meshed well, but the overall balance was a touch sweet for my preference, cutting into the oceanic minerality of the bivalve. Then again, it is the rare adorned oyster that I would choose over the simple brininess of one with just a squeeze of lemon.
A better balance of sweetness (to my palate) was present in the pork and litchi salad. Slightly sweet, salty and spicy with plenty of umami from the litchis, pork, raw onions, coconut milk and habanero chiles, this dish could have been just as comfortably served in a top-notch Thai restaurant. It was brought to me in a bowl with each of the ingredients placed separately and instructions to mix them all up well. The result was a synergy of flavor and textures that brought a smile to my lips and warmed me up.
An even better conjugation of cultural flavors was the Rose’s Luxury version of the famous Nashville hot chicken. Spiced with a slew habanero peppers, the chicken had been confited in guanciale fat before being deep-fried and tossed in their peppery jerk marinade and served on white bread with a pineapple aioli, mint, pickled papaya and red onions. It was a wonderfully fiery way to end the savory portion of my meal.
To wash down the variety of dishes, I enjoyed a couple of whiskey-based cocktails. The first (and my favorite) combined Rye, rose water and lemon. The rose water could easily have dominated the cocktail, but it was present just enough to notice and give the drink that little something to elevate it into something special.
My other cocktail, which combined Scotch, Earl Gray Tea and honey was also good, but without that little extra spark to make it truly memorable. Regardless, the cocktails were good and interesting enough that I would have loved to plow my way through the entire cocktail menu.
By the end of the meal I was fully committed and carbs be damned. The desserts did not disappoint and while not quite as rhapsodic as Silverman’s pastas, they too were worth the extra carb load. An ice cream of avocado with white chocolate and candied pistachios appeared familiar. Despite the description, the mere appearance of the ice cream and the presence of the candied pistachios led my subconscious to expect pistachio ice cream. While pistachio ice cream, when done well, is a favorite, this proved to be a very pleasant surprise to my confused palate.
Stracciatella ice cream wasn’t ordinary either. This was made from goat’s milk whey with chocolate drizzled in and served with macerated raspberries, whipped cream and a spicy cacao meringue.
The best of the lot, though was the one that was also most creative and most beautifully presented. It was an English pea cake made with English pea puree served atop a mint curd with sweetened buttermilk, pea shoots and johnny-jump-up flowers. A particularly cool aspect of this particular dish was that these flowers were the very first produce to come from the restaurant’s own farm. The farmer will be growing produce to the restaurant’s specifications through the winer and beyond.
One of the elements that makes Rose’s Luxury so special is the way they pay attention to all the little details. Actually receiving the check at the end of the meal is rarely the most enjoyable part of the meal and it wasn’t here either, but it was a whole lot more fun than at most restaurants. With a sweetly whimsical touch, the bill came embedded in a golden fortune cookie along with a few benne-rich petits-fours.
The food at Rose’s Luxury was not the most extraordinary that I have ever eaten, the cocktails not the most sensational and the service not the most refined. It is not any one of those elements that makes Rose’s Luxury the totally satisfying restaurant that it is, though each of those parts are in and of themselves superb. Rather, it is the combination of all of the above, a fun room, a great vibe and most of all a genuine sense that all of the people working at the restaurant care and want to make the entire experience a warmly memorable one for each and every diner who has made the decision to come to Rose’s Luxury, await their turn and indulge in the original and unique experience. Rose’s Luxury is a complete package unlike any other restaurant that I have been to. I truly look forward to returning with enough time to not worry about lines or anything else.
See the entire Flick’r Photoset here.
¹I make no claims to be a food critic out to review a restaurant anonymously on behalf of the general public. I am out to experience the best meal that the restaurant is capable of serving to me and to report on those that, in my estimation, excel. This is more likely to reflect what a restaurant does for regulars and may or may not be how they treat everyone. Of course, the best restaurants always put their best foot forward regardless of who the diner is.