Rose’s Luxury, Barracks Row

On a rainy Monday evening I was heading downtown to have dinner somewhere – perhaps Purple Patch, or Thip Khao – but I thought to myself, at 7:45 tonight, this is my best chance to get into Rose’s Luxury, so I went to Barracks Row, driving around-and-around for what must have been over twenty minutes, trying to find a parking space that wasn’t zoned. Finally, I succeeded (anyone who thinks Rose’s Luxury isn’t a neighborhood restaurant only needs to try and go to it from another neighborhood – the fact that they don’t offer valet parking almost by definition makes them a neighborhood restaurant).

I walked in, and despite there being no customers at the host stand, the hostess told me there was still a short waiting list, but the bar upstairs might have seating – I walked up, and as I did before, grabbed the very last seat at the bar – this restaurant was now completely full on a rainy Monday at 8 PM.

My bartender clearly demonstrated why Rose’s has such a fine reputation for service – he was as friendly to me as he could have possibly been, and while I saw some professional service lapses when I was there (not from him), the service staff is absolutely there to please the customers. The service at Rose’s really does make a customer feel like a welcome guest, and that the staff is glad to have you there. Why can’t other restaurants use such common sense in dealing with their clientele?

Wanting to unwind with a drink, I began my meal with a cocktail from the “everyday” section of the “Cocktails” menu: a Dry Rye Gin and Pumpkin Spice Tonic ($12), and despite it being stirred with a deft hand, it was like so many other pumpkin-based drinks are: overwhelmingly of pumpkin. Pumpkin, nutmeg, and sugar. Oh, it was a real cocktail, but if you get as tired of pumpkin being the dominating flavor whenever you order something with that word in the name, I would advise turning your attention elsewhere.

My kindly bartender advised me that even though the restaurant features “small plates,” they add up quickly, and for me to get two or three, depending on how hungry I am. I made my meal nearly vegan, save for a bit of yogurt in one dish, some grated cheese in another, and of course the generous use of butter in the wonderful potato brioche that everyone receives who orders dinner. This is one of the best bread services in town, and is an early way to go straight to the diner’s heart – a smart move, and a wonderful treat. The crust keeps the bread warm inside, so there’s no need to tear right into it, if you want to wait and have it with your meal (although it’s hard to resist the bacon, chives, and butter which come along side, just for one, little piece before the meal). The bread knife they supply is a good imitation of a Laguiole (but it isn’t).

Rose’s Luxury was offering 13 plates total on this evening, 2 of them family style. From the “warm & grill” section, I began with Charred Carrots with Harissa, Housemade Yogurt, and Pearl Onions $12. In my limited experience with Rose’s, I’ve noticed that they take seemingly disparate ingredients, and mix them together in a bowl, figuring the flavors will work when taken as an ensemble. In this case, they worked fairly well, but the execution is what fell short – my first bite of carrot (they were cut into bit-sized morsels) wasn’t completely cooked, and was very firm, almost to the point of being crunchy. I didn’t know if this entire plate would be al dente, but I didn’t think this worked at all. My second bite of carrot, on the other hand, was cooked all the way through, and was the typical mushy carrot you’ve come to expect. The harissa atop the yogurt made this a fairly spicy dish, and the little pearl onions hidden underneath added a nice touch of sweetness. This was a good, innovative, and somewhat interesting dish, but not something I’d get again in the future, as the flavors didn’t really resonate with me – even if the texture had been perfect, I would have merely “liked” this creative dish.

Before my first course, I opted for the only Rosé on the wine list: a glass of 2014 La Grange Tiphaine, Tournage Riant, from Touraine in the Loire Valley ($12, retail price $16.99 a bottle). I had no idea what type of grapes went into this wine, but it was a fascinating mix of Grolleau Noir, Cot, Cabernet Franc, and Gamay – no Pinot Noir! Unfortunately, the wine is red and fruity, more in the style of a Spanish Garnacha, and I was hoping that it would be a typical, bone-dry, pale, French Rosé. Having clearly undergone malolactic fermentation, where tart malic acid (think: apples) turns into soft lactic acid (think: milk), this had a nose of yogurt, which I find off-putting in my rosés, and without the perceived acidity necessary to work well with food. I was wondering, after taking the first whiff, and knowing this would be a highly lactic wine, whether or not the yogurt-on-yogurt combination would work; it didn’t – this dish, because it had sweetness from the pearl onions, needed a more neutral or acidic wine. It’s a shame this is the only Rosé on the entire list. Of note: diners get a tasting pour before having to commit to an entire glass here, so I certainly had the option presented to me to change wines, and opted not to. This is yet another wonderful service touch that Rose’s is so famous for.

For my second course, I ordered from the “pasta” section: Hand-Cut Chitarra with Caramelized Cauliflower and White Wine Soffrito ($12), chitarra being a relative of spaghetti, and soffrito being the Italian cousin of a French mirepoix. This dish was very uninspired, if pleasant, and the caramelization of the cauliflower was the one thing that made it stand out from being something you might make at home. With the Rosé, it was actually somewhat ponderous, but when I switched to my final drink, a glass of 2014 Weingut Muller-Grossman Grüner Veltliner ($11) from Kremstal in Austria, the formidable acidity took over, lifted the butter and herbs, and made the pasta dish better than it previously was – a perfect example of food-and-wine synergy, and a fine pairing. Weingut Muller-Grossman makes several Grüner-Veltliners, and I don know which this was; I suspect it retails for around $14. In summary, if youÅ•e going to get this pastas dish, have it with the Grüner and not the Rosë – the Grüner stayed with me for the rest of the meal.

My final small plate (my bartender was correct: three was plenty) was Vadouvan Curry with Sweet Potato and Caramelized Banana ($12), a typical, Rose’s Luxury dish due to its unabashed use of sweetness as part of a savory course. In this case, it was something of a thick, squash bisque in nature, despite having no squash – it came in a bowl, was to be eaten with a spoon, and had distributed throughout it, bite-sized chunks of sweet potato and banana. Vadouvan is a French derivative of masala – essentially aromatic herbs to enhance the curry. This was another fascinating fusion of the Far East, the Near East, and Europe, all in one bowl, and I’m afraid to say it didn’t work within the context of this meal – by itself, for a quick, healthy lunch, it would have been fine. I don’t know what the base was, but I’m thinking there might have been some yogurt in it – regardless, this thick, sweetish “curry” went beautifully with my zippy, acidic Gruner, and was another match made in heaven. Once again, the execution had some problems – for example, my first bite of banana was actually cool, cooler than room temperature, but not cold, whereas everything else in the curry was warm. I was wondering if Chef Silverman was pulling a José Andrés and playing around with temperatures, but my other bites of banana, except one, were all warm, so it was a mistake in execution.

Chef Silverman exudes confidence in mixing savory and sweet, and such disparate flavors from around the world into one melange. I applaud it, and I respect it, while not necessarily liking everything I have here. Wine selection is absolutely crucial, because with the right wine, these dishes either improve, or they decline – order wisely, or ask for help – and think: acidity, acidity, acidity: This food cried out for a crisp wine of at least medium body, preferably without any oak – my Gruner Veltliner. Out of 10 wines by the glass featured on the menu, my Grüner was one of only 4 which were $11 – the least expensive price. You don’t need to spend a lot here. That said, by the bottle, there are two slightly pricey examples of “orange” wine (I still want to know who coined the term, “orange” wine – it’s appropriate, and I never saw it before the first time I ate at The Red Hen). I have yet to encounter one, anywhere, that’s fairly priced – these are not expensive wines.

In retrospect, I was wishing I had saved room for dessert, because I’m sure they were both fabulous and partly savory. My bartender handed me the menu, and I had to decline because I had been pleasantly sated. Midway through the meal, I ordered one item from the “Family Style” section of the menu to take home with me for lunch the next day: Smoked Brisket, White Bread [Actually, Texas Toast], Horseradish, and Slaw ($29) which was delivered and explained to me just as I was paying the check (perfect timing, Rose’s, and a good all-around job with the service!) I was encouraged to make sandwiches, and so I did – I had enough for two full sandwiches: four pieces of Texas Toast, five generous cuts of brisket with a good proportion of fat attached, a tub of horseradish, and a tub of beautiful, red cabbage slaw. One of the two sandwiches is pictured, in two perspectives, in this post. You might be asking yourself two obvious questions: 1) with tax and a 20% tip, the price of each sandwich came out fo $18.85. Is this a crazy amount of money for a couple pieces of brisket on toast? 2) Equally as interesting, is this the type of thing you’d expect to see in an absolute, very best, top-of-the-top, lines-down-the-street, nationally recognized, restaurant that has critics fawning and assigning the highest possible rating? I have enough faith in our readers where I feel no need to answer either of these questions.

Rose’s Luxury is an excellent restaurant that does so very many things right. It’s also not trying to be an elite, cross-town place to dine, or a destination restaurant like Inn at Little Washington. Rose’s Luxury is to be lauded for doing exactly what it set out to do: Be a comfortable, exciting, neighborhood restaurant that exceeds the normal standards of that moniker. Aaron Silverman is to be commended for taking all the inexplicably lavish praise in stride, and for sticking to his guns. Although I’ve never met Aaron, we’ve talked on numerous occasions, and I think very highly of him as someone with his head screwed on properly. He won the lottery by opening Rose’s Luxury, and should enjoy this ride for as long as it lasts – this is perhaps the single most successful restaurant in the history of Washington, DC., outdoing every queued-up place from Pasta Mia, to Georgetown Cupcake, to Little Serow (well, maybe not Little Serow) – my point is that there’s no logical possibility that Aaron could have predicted, or should have predicted this extraordinary level of popularity, and from what I can tell, it couldn’t happen to a nicer person.

In the Don Rockwell Dining Guide, Rose’s Luxury is maintained as “Excellent,” and is ranked 3rd in Barracks Row behind  Garrison and Sushi Capitol, although I can easily see how any informed, reasonable person could shuffle that order around. Though I most likely prefer The Red Hen (which opened at almost the same time as Rose’s, and was completely drowned out in the publicity wars and social-media chatter – Rose’s is a genuine cultural phenomenon), I have all four of these restaurants rated as “Excellent,” and consider them all to be peers. Beuchert’s Saloon and perhaps Montmartre (I haven’t been since a recent change occurred) are not that far behind. On any given day, I could not say one is better than the others, and (this is important, so remember I said this) neither could anyone else. We’re lucky to have all six of these restaurants, five on Barracks Row where Belga Café used to be the best game in town (and I could name a dozen more area restaurants on the same level, or even at a higher level) – Rose’s Luxury is an excellent restaurant that will most likely remain in Italic for as long as it wants to stay open, and is certainly one of the Top 10-20 restaurants in the Washington, DC area – I say that as a high compliment and honor, even though people will read that and want to approach my house with pitchforks and torches, and burn it to the ground for committing heresy – to these people I simply say that Rose’s Luxury was not, is not, and never will be aiming to be ranked in Bold – they are not *trying* to be the best-of-the-best-of-the-best. Nothing of the sort – I suspect that, like Mike Isabella (btw, have you heard anything at all about Graffiato lately?), Aaron feels as though he won the lottery, and if the press wants to rave about his restaurant and make him and the investors millions of dollars? Good for them, I say – I’m happy for them. I’m happy for them all. No, I can’t explain it, but I can’t explain a lot of things – I just hope that the quality, or at least the press, remains where it is so the dining public remains happy as well.

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