Jose Garces’s Rural Society starts strong


The food and decor at Rural Society make it easy to forget you’re dining in a hotel. (Melina Mara/The Washington Post)

The recently revealed restaurant in the Loews Madison Hotel does an impressive job of convincing diners they’re not eating below hundreds of beds.

Rural Society is a series of dining rooms that border on the sultry, at least from a patron’s vantage point in the back, where ropes form a tented ceiling and the reserve wine cellar is visible through thin black bars. The focal point of the expanse is the Argentine restaurant’s middle, where an enormous wood-fed grill slows diners in transit. The bonfire, stoked with hickory and oak, is mesmerizing.

Watch your back burner, Toro Toro. Pay attention to the fresh competition, Del Campo. That grill at Rural Society is the source of one of the choicest cuts of meat in recent memory, rib-eye from Uruguay. Lean yet juicy, the steak, finished with malbec butter, does not need the salsa criolla that comes out with the bread, but the all-purpose condiment is nevertheless a jazzy addition. Be sure to throw in a thatch of fat french fries, rousing with their smoky aioli.

Jose Garces, the Philadelphia celebrity chef, is the vision behind the city’s newest steak house, which takes its name from the annual agricultural and livestock show held in Buenos Aires. But this restaurant has more than meat to recommend it. Beets, cooked in the embers of the hearth, take on brightness with citrus and fragrance with coriander seed. Taglierini tinted with saffron makes a fine bed for cockles, tiny shrimp and tomato confit, a dish invigorated with lemon butter. House-made blood sausage is dark, intense — and irresistible to those of us who like such links. There are pizzas, too, underscoring the influence of Italy in Argentina.

The coolest dessert at Rural Society is honey ice cream dusted with cinnamon and treated to a tiny pitcher of red dessert wine, splashed over the scoops upon arrival. The idea came to Garces when he and his team were eating at a winery in Uruguay that produces the aromatic Alcyone Tannat.


Standouts: The Uruguayan rib-eye is lean yet juicy. Thick potato fries make a worthy accompaniment. (Melina Mara/The Washington Post)

Garces has installed Louis Goral, 31, as chef de cuisine. Stints at Amada in Philadelphia and Mercat a la Planxa in Chicago helped prepare Goral for the job, and it probably doesn’t hurt that he hails from meat-and-potatoes Iowa.

1177 15th St. NW. 202-587-2629. ruralsocietyrestaurant.com. Entrees, $16 to $48.

Weaned on a beige buffet a la “Fargo” in Minnesota, Tom Sietsema is the food critic for The Washington Post. This is his second tour of duty at the Post. Sietsema got his first taste in the ‘80s, when he was hired by his predecessor to answer phones, write some, and test the bulk of the Food section’s recipes. That’s how he learned to clean squid, bake colonial cakes and distinguish between nutmeg and mace.
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