I’m so used to servers telling me how to eat (“we recommend a few small plates per person”) and how the food is going to get to the table (“as it’s ready, in no particular order”) that the introduction at the youthful Rose’s Luxury on Barracks Row catches me off guard.
“This is kind of like a dinner party,” begins my waiter. “We’re going to take you on a joy ride.”
A scan of the brief menu, composed of ubiquitous “small dishes” and two “family-style” platters, suggests that what he’s saying is true; pureed popcorn soup with lobster and pork with litchis are not the stuff of most restaurant debuts. No sooner does our guide disappear than a treat from the kitchen shows up. Kushi oysters with a pinch of vinegary citrus granita make us feel as if we’ve come to the right place for dinner. The edible welcome is trailed by a loaf of hot potato bread, which comes with a tangy whip of butter dusted with chives and dried, fried crumbs of potato skin. The clever spread suggests a loaded baked potato.
Almost everything that follows the freebies gives us the sense that Washington is gaining another dining sensation along the lines of such personal statements as Etto in Logan Circle and Little Serow in Dupont Circle. The pork dish, in particular, is one of those combinations I expect to see on future Best of 2013 lists. The bowl brings together crumbled country ham sausage, juicy litchis, coconut milk, red onion and a bouquet of tropical herbs that together initiate that joy ride the waiter promised. There are peanuts for crunch, habaneros for fire and mint for a breeze; thrills aplenty.
The backgrounds of the staff, led by chef-owner Aaron Silverman, 31, read like a list of hot spots from around the country. General Manager Andy Erdmann hails from the esteemed Uchi and Uchiko in Austin. Chef de cuisine Scott Muns comes to the project from the very good Volt in Frederick. Last but far from least, Silverman, a Maryland native who trained at L’Academie de Cuisine in Gaithersburg, counts time at the beloved McCrady’s in Charleston and Momofuku Noodle Bar in New York.
The top chef’s philosophy is simple: “I’m not in the restaurant business. I’m in the good times business.” Fun is in his blood; the restaurant’s name is a salute to the chef’s long-gone grandmother, Rose Silverman, revered in her time for her dinner parties, poetry and playwriting. “She enjoyed life and having fun,” says her grandson.
Time for a course of cauliflower, which is deep-fried and served with goat’s-milk yogurt and golden raisins, one of a handful of dishes on the list to please those who avoid meat. The next dish, for two, is a heaping helping of sliced brisket that our waiter compelled us to get after sharing a personal story. Turns out he’s Jewish and had only ever had his grandmother’s brisket. She came in to Rose’s Luxury, tried the restaurant’s version — and made a face when her grandson came to the table. “I don’t like it,” she told him. “It’s better than mine.”
Our verdict: Smoky slices of beef served with pickled sliced apples, pears and cabbage along with horseradish cream for slathering on white toast makes a super supper. Our waiter (can we clone the guy?) instructs us to turn the ingredients on the platter into sandwiches, or what he calls “Hebrew tacos.”
Silverman says he decorated his two-story, 75-seat, no-reservations restaurant with items from “Goodwill, Pottery Barn and my house,” which is a short way for him to declare himself “anti-design.” Even so, the place pulls in diners with a row of counter seats facing the open kitchen and a high-ceilinged rear room illuminated by stringed lights. Picture a Capitol Hill rowhouse dressed by a hipster.
The one dish I wouldn’t want to repeat, at least in its current serving size, is the aforementioned popcorn soup with floating morsels of grilled lobster. A jelly jar of the hot, ultra-rich soup, which is made (I kid you not) with Orville Redenbacher’s “movie theater” popcorn, is excessive. A shot glass of the indulgence would suffice.
Plus, a shot glass would leave more room for another order of pork with litchis.
A neon sign on a scarred wall pretty much sums up an admittedly early visit to Rose’s Luxury.
“Awesome,” it reads.
717 Eighth St. SE. 202-580-8889. rosesluxury.com. Small dishes, $11 to $13; family-style platters, $28 to $29.