Tuesday, January 21, 2014

A Rose By Any Other Name

by EP

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I recently had the pleasure of dining at Rose's Luxury in the Eastern Market/Barracks Row neighborhood. This place is on every top restaurant list and is the talk of the town (at least, according to my twitter feed). I had been wanting to go but in the back of my mind was skeptical - is this place really that amazing? I'm pretty snobby - maybe this place isn't all it's cracked up to be? Spoiler alert: IT IS.

During the polar vortex that brought temperatures in the area down to single digits (not to mention the wind chills), best buddies Mark and Craig and I headed down to Southeast DC. Normally the wait time is about 2 hours at Rose's, even if you get there right when they open at 5:30. Yeesh. Mark got there at 5:40 and by some polar vortex miracle, we were seated at 6:10. I was excited, to say the least. There may have been applause when we were seated. Maybe.

The space is cozy but modern, not too stuffy, not too crowded. It was a nice mix of modern and classic, which even the plates themselves reflected.

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We saw both old-timey dishware, like this, and modern dishware

We started with some bubbles - why not?

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Rose's has a very interesting vibe to it. On the one hand, it's the hottest place in town, it's impossible to get in, yet the people there are so cool about it, so friendly, and not a whiff of pretentiousness about them. Even the menu is chill, and welcomes you with the following:

"Okay, so here's how this works: 
- Order yourself a nice cocktail or glass of wine
- Choose a couple of Small/Family style dishes to share
- Eat, go home, come back tomorrow." 

The menu also concludes with "All unattended or misbehaving children will be given a shot of espresso and a free puppy." Good policy!

The staff there are so enthusiastic about what they do and the food that they are presenting. Our server was almost as excited as we were. First, he brought us a wee loaf of bread that apparently incorporated cooked potato into the dough. The potato bread was served with a butter-buttermilk spread with chopped potato skins and chives. Put it all together and what do you get? Tastes like a baked potato, but with the light fluffiness of a croissant. ZOMG.

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We ordered about 8 items off the menu and they were all a share-able size - not too teeny but not so large that there were leftovers. Also the deliciousness factor contributed to the absence of leftovers.

We started with the Vietnamese Pate, Peanuts, Herbs, and Garlic Bread

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This was essentially very fancy banh mi and was really delicious. 

I had been hearing about the Pork Sausage, Habanero, and Lychee Salad from my twitter peeps. I normally am not a huge lychee fan, and it sounded like a very strange flavor combination, but lo and behold, this was magnificent. There was definitely something coconutty going on in here too - perhaps the cream. The pic below is as presented, but you need to stir it up and get all the flavors in one bite: spicy sausage, spicy habanero, sweet lychee, raw onion, creamy coconut. As someone said about this (and many of the dishes at Rose's), this is not a strange combination of flavors for the sake of shock value; it really works. Like adding a hip hop beat to a classical piece - they go together when you least expect it.

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We also tried the Burnt Romaine with Avocado, Poblano, and Cotija Cheese. This was not your typical grilled romaine salad - lots of great strong flavors in here and we definitely could have eaten more.

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The Popcorn Soup with Grilled Lobster was another item whose reputation preceded it. We had to get it. And, I pretty much lost my mind when I took my first sip. It sounds obvious but it really did taste like popcorn in soup form! So buttery and corn-y, and then you are surprised with chunks of lobster at the bottom!? I could have bathed in this.

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Note: I recently saw on Rose's Instagram feed that they are no longer serving this soup! Tragic. But I'm sure they will come up with something equally mind-blowing. Or we will get out the pitchforks and torches, right? Right!

Another veggie dish was the Crispy Sprouts with Tarragon, Mint, and Winter Citrus Vinaigrette. This was very good, though I think the other dishes out-shined it. At any other restaurant I'd probably be raving, but it's all relative.

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There were several pastas on the menu but there was also a Pasta Special, featuring several cheeses in a creamy sauce, and sliced truffles over the top. I don't know about you but "sliced truffles over the top" makes it non-negotiable.

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This was excellent. The truffle flavor was actually stronger as a scent than as a flavor, but it was lovely as creamy pastas go.

Then our waiter brought out a dish we didn't order, a surprise dish of Linguettini with Hazelnut-Parsley Pesto and Parmesan. It was really delicious - very earthy from the herbs and nuts, and the pasta was perfectly cooked. I think we might have liked this better than the truffle pasta!

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Then, another surprise dish came out, the Pickle-Brined Fried Chicken, Honey, Benne Seed. I'm not sure if this was a mistake or if the waiter had heard us struggling with whether to order this, but I am SO glad it made it to our table. This was incredible fried chicken: sweet, savory, crispy, juicy. And they served it with a teeny bottle of Crystal hot sauce - perfect.

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We also ordered the Classic French "Pommes Puree" with Crispy Potato Skins and Red Wine Sauce. As was explained to us, classic pommes puree is half potato-half butter, and that's pretty much what we got. It was super creamy and rich, complemented by the red wine sauce and crispy bits of potato skin, and a bit of chive for some onion-y flavor. It was presented in a wee saucepan, which made me love it even more.

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Our last savory dish was the Softshell Crawfish, Antebellum Grits, Crystal Hot Sauce Beurre Blanc. This was another dish I had heard about and seen in Rose's Instagram feed. I had never had a softshell crawfish but it was just as I expected from my soft-shell crab experience: all the flavor of the hard-shell version but with none of the work! The cornmeal coating was crunchy (and didn't fall off), and the grits were creamy and spicy from the Crystal hot sauce beurre blanc. Tangy, creamy, crunchy, fishy. Mmmmmm.

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Although we were reaching tummy capacity by this point, we had to try some of their desserts. We ordered coffees (serve in little French presses, my favorite), and two desserts. First we got the Chocolate Cremeux with salt and toasted bread (and some other stuff - I can't find the descriptions on their website). The cremeux was very rich like a chocolate mousse but much denser. The salt on top and the oiled toasted bread were perfect accompaniments.

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We also got the Olive Oil Cake with some sort of ice cream. Although I don't remember the details, I remember this being a favorite - nice balance of flavors.

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They even gave us a little treat with our bill: chocolate mint meringues. Delish!

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In short, it's worth the hype and worth the wait. There are plenty of nice bars (or not-so-nice, if that's your thing) in that area where you can kill a few hours. (Note that the first time Mark, Craig, and I tried to go, we didn't feel like waiting so we went up the street and had a lovely meal at Ambar, which serves Balkan cuisine (and lots of cabbage!). Very very good.)

Bon appetit! See you soon, Rose!!



  1. Um this all sounds effing amazing. ALL OF IT! Might have to commit to waiting it out and going for dinner sometime... but will wait for warmer temps!

  2. Any time you want, lady! Warmer temps isn't a bad idea though :)

  3. The fried chicken was not a mistake. Sometimes they'll just throw comp dishes at you, especially if you're at the chef's bench. I've been back twice already. lol Who was your waiter/waitress? We had Bobbi the first time and she kicked ass.

  4. I love a comp dish! We were not at the chef's bench - we were right in the front of the house, near the windows and hostess station. I can't remember our waiter's name, David? He was Jewish (he told us), shaved head, VERY enthusiastic, talked a mile a minute :) He was great!

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