“I always felt like this strip needed something really good,” a dining companion commented after savoring a forkful of smoky grilled greens blanketed in creamy cotija cheese at Barracks Row newcomer Rose’s Luxury.
The 3-week-old restaurant at 717 Eighth St. SE was intentionally designed to stand out from its rapidly multiplying neighbors (Ted’s Bulletin, Belga Café, Matchbox), approximating a much more intimate feel via a funky, come-as-you-are environment.
“It’s a neighborhood place,” chef and founder Aaron Silverman said of the custom townhouse he designed to be home to the captivating open kitchen, cozy dining rooms boasting non-uniformly carved wooden tables and welcoming bars festooned with dangling greenery and strands of holiday lights.
Silverman, who has cooked his way up and down the East Coast — including stints in award-winning kitchens such as Momofuku Noodle Bar in New York, 2941 in Falls Church, Va., and McCrady’s in Charleston, S.C. — originally flirted with the idea of steering meals via a multicourse tasting menu, but has since retooled his vision to allow patrons to choose their own epicurean adventures.
“We like it, and the guests seem to like it too,” he said of a deceptively eclectic carte composed of a dozen small plates — carved into trios of cold dishes, grilled fare, seasonal pastas and culinary mashups — and a pair of family-style platters (currently split between a meat-and-two feast of pork chops, beans and greens, and
a barbecue spread featuring smoked brisket, white bread and coleslaw).
Young and Tattooed
Staff is young, heavily tattooed and very enthusiastic; one cheerleader explained that the restaurant prides itself on doing things differently, urging us to try something relatively familiar (“So you can taste how chef has tweaked it”) as well as venture into the gastro-unknown.
Every dish features just a few ingredients. But the totality of each bite confirms they are, for the most part, cleverly combined.
The aforementioned salad proved irresistible. “Burnt” romaine ribs (the edges charred black while the hearts remained tender) were taken south of the border by a hail of crumbled Mexican cheese, buttery avocado slices and tongue-teasing lemon-poblano sauce.
Popcorn soup was more of a one-hit wonder. The marriage of heavy cream and commercial grade popcorn, with a few pieces of salty-sweet kettle corn floated on top for added effect, seemed excessively rich after the third spoonful. Even fishing out the diced bits of grilled lobster sunken to the bottom didn’t provide enough incentive to finish it.
Plainly visible octopi fared much better. Ribbons of sweet shaved fennel bolstered the flame-licked cephalopod and a robust sauce forged from squid ink and cooked lemon.
A three-bone stack of glazed pork ribs proved mouthwatering. The fork-tender swine smacks of sour fruit — “The ribs are sprayed with peach vinegar while they are on the grill,” Silverman shared — and sweet fire, thanks to a swipe of roasted poblano-fueled sauce.
A summery twist on traditional Italian cuisine, strawberry pasta features a sauce of the red-skinned berries and their acidic fruit cousin, the tomato. The reduced strawberries are quite prominent (almost jammy) but are complemented by piquant red onion and defiant black pepper. A dab of tangy ricotta ties the whole thing together, producing a salty-sweet-savory-tangy union not often exhibited at noodle joints.
Desserts are no less ambitious, starting with the homemade ice creams.
Silverman said sous chef B.J. Lieberman, a Northern Virginia native and fellow McCrady’s alumnus, takes sweets-making to heart, tempting guests with everything from a plain vanilla to the ambitious cinnamon toast crunch creation married to dredged brioche and flash-seared foie gras for a reimagining of French toast.
Dark chocolate cremeux did not disappoint. The dense chocolate — staff makes sure to warn guests that it falls somewhere between mousse and ganache on the thickness scale — brightened as it is by a sprinkling of sea salt and rose petals, seemed much too decadent to just lick from the spoon. When spread on the companion slice of olive-oil-brushed crostini, however, the rich chocolate immediately gelled with the toasted bread and nutty oil. A bonus pour of vermouth (“It actually smells like chocolate and roses,” Silverman said) cuts right through the chocolate, drenching the taste buds with hints of aged cherry and burnt orange.
According to Silverman, folks can’t seem to get enough of an Asian salad tossing together pork sausage and lychee, as well as the popcorn soup. To wit, of all the dishes his maternal grandfather sampled while visiting earlier this week, the soup was the one recipe he asked Silverman to share.
Silverman is still smitten with the strawberry pasta. Just don’t expect it to stick around too much longer. While the dinner-only establishment is unlikely to try cutting into other meal times in the immediate future, Silverman et al. want to keep diners intrigued every time they pull up a chair at Rose’s.
“You need everything at the super peak of its season. That’s how I want to eat,” Silverman said.
Food Court is an ongoing series of semi-regular spot checks of new and evolving eateries with ties to Capitol Hill. Rose’s Luxury: 717 Eighth St. SE; 202-608-5988; rosesluxury.com. Average entree: $13-$20 ($$). Open for dinner Monday through Saturday.