Aaron Silverman, the visionary behind one of the most beloved dining destinations in Washington, says, “We’re not in the restaurant business, but the business of making people happy.” Sure enough, dinner at Rose’s Luxury commences with light-but-luscious focaccia offered with housemade ricotta and accompanied by the kind of music you wouldn’t mind as background to your life. The restaurant’s smart service with a smile feels like old times. Kudos to the server who presents the menu as if his fingers were a frame and the list were worthy of one.
Which it is, despite some trimming of the drinks and wine lists and a format switch. Go now, and you “build your own adventure” by ordering two dishes from a roster of some of the most novel food around. Chewy, foot-long noodles tossed with a vivid “pesto” of garlicky arugula puree and rough-cut pistachios is as much fun in the eating as the reading: “Think fusilli and spaghetti had a baby and somehow bucatini got into the mix,” teases the menu. A staff snack whipped up from leftover oxtails proved so popular, it was redesigned for public consumption. Open wide for oxtail birria starring beef-fat tortillas and a steaming teacup of reduced braising juices, a dunk like no other.
New head chef Samuel Meoño, 27, is behind the whole chicken, brined in a host of goodies — ginseng tea, Sichuan peppercorns, ginger, honey — air-dried for a day, roasted, lacquered and gussied up with so many colorful flowers, it’s as if the chicken encountered a ticker-tape parade en route to the table. Culinary heroes Nobuyuki “Nobu” Matsuhisa and Joël Robuchon are celebrated in a sublime dish pairing the Japanese chef’s silken fish in miso with the late French chef’s crazy-rich whipped potatoes. (Rose’s Luxury swaps sea bass for the original black cod and rings the entree in brilliant chive oil. Suffice it to say, the deftly charred fish and luxurious potatoes would make their masters proud.)
The bottom line at the restaurant: “Make it delicious and pretty and give customers a sense of value, whether it’s one bite or a platter,” says Silverman. Desserts are outsized. Ask for the chess pie and you get the whole thing, presented in slices beneath a glass globe.
“We try to create joy,” says Silverman, whose team excels at awesomeness.
717 8th St. SE. 202-742-3570, rosesluxury.com. Open for indoor and outdoor dining. Tasting menu, including bread service and dessert, $75 (Tuesday through Thursday) and $85 (Friday and Saturday).
The most dramatic restaurant entrance in Washington? My vote goes to Daru, whose black-and-glass door commands attention with concentric white rings inspired by Himalayan mandalas and a welcome written in Sanskrit: The guest is god.
Owners Dante Datta and Suresh Sundas bring to their maiden restaurant off the H Street corridor mouthwatering résumés. Datta, responsible for the 12-seat bar, counts time at Elle, Columbia Room and the esteemed Rasika West End, where he met Sundas, the former tandoor chef there. What was originally conceived as a watering hole was, because of the pandemic, rethought as more of an “Indian-ish” dining establishment.
Smooth off the edges of a rough day with the Hari Daiquiri. Crafted from rum, curdled and clarified kefir and a puree of cilantro and mint, it’s the color of life — green — and inspired by mint chutney. Another liquid pleasure is an old fashioned, gold with saffron liqueur, biting with ginger liqueur and softly nutty, thanks to the introduction of Scotch to cashew butter.
The chef uses local ingredients and Indian techniques to come up with such intriguing dishes as a chicken kebab plied with blue cheese, sour cream and cream cheese and set on a pool of spiced sour cherry sauce, a nice foil to the rich meat. Tacos are fashioned from herbed Indian flatbread and jackfruit lit with chile paste and lemon juice — a vegan draw if you opt out of the sour cream base.
Sundas clearly learned a lot at Rasika West End. Even his more straightforward-sounding dishes sparkle at Daru. Lamb chops are marinated overnight in garlic, Greek yogurt and green chiles — elements that insert themselves into every nook and cranny of the meat — and acquire a shower of crushed pink peppercorns after they leave the grill. The green comet tail on the plate? You’ll want to swipe a bite of oh-so-soft lamb through a puree sparked with oregano, parsley, garlic, turmeric and red wine vinegar. Set off with a pretty viola, a side dish of smoked mashed eggplant fairly pulses with cilantro, ginger and sweet onions.
The entrance catches your eye at Daru. The food, drink and hospitality — even early in its game — win your fandom.
1451 Maryland Ave. NE. 202-388-1848. darudc.com. Open for takeout and inside and outside dining. Main courses $16 to $26.
Service just about everywhere has taken a hit during the pandemic. A visit to this cozy Belgian outpost in the Palisades proves a welcome exception. Drinks show up quickly. Bread lands promptly. And it’s no big deal when an elderly woman pauses at the entrance, struggling to find the mask she swore she stowed in her purse. A host offers her a fresh shield from a basket inside, where she’s led to her reserved table and handed — how quaint — a menu with a cloth-and-vinyl cover.
It’s a kinder, gentler dining experience at Et Voila!, which might find House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) or Imperfecto chef Enrique Limardo at the next table. The constant here is consistency. Expect the snails to show up in a bubbling green carpet of herbs, Parmesan and butter, topped with a raft of thick toasted bread. Know that the signature steamed mussels still come in a double pot, with a thatch of crisp fries in a newspaper-lined, copper-colored vase. We marvel as a waiter removes the bones from a plate of Norwegian sole with the precision of a surgeon. “I used to work at Montmartre,” the much-missed French draw on Capitol Hill, he tells us. The sight of a tall hamburger being ferried through the long and narrow dining room has me rethinking my order, a thought dismissed as I tuck into tender hanger steak lapped with green peppercorn sauce. The entree is textbook perfect, down to a hedge of mustard-sharpened salad greens.
Desserts — chocolate mousse, floating island, profiteroles — run to the classic. The most Belgian of them all, though, is a waffle — chocolate, served with white chocolate whipped cream and chocolate sauce. Voilà!, for sure.
5120 MacArthur Blvd. NW. 202-237-2300. etvoiladc.com. Open for takeout, indoor and outdoor dining. Entrees, $19 to $48 (for whole sole).
Federal Fritter & Federal Bistro
Few businesses have been untouched by the labor crunch. The owners of Equinox in Washington, Todd Gray and Ellen Kassoff, have a distinct advantage over the competition at their youthful eatery in Rehoboth. The building housing their combination fritter operation and 30-seat bistro finds three bedrooms above the shop — perfect for their 21-year-old son, Harrison, a college pal and a cook to lodge at while they’re working for the chef and his wife. And just a block from the beach! “We call it employee housing,” cracks Kassoff.
Federal Fritter, inside the door, is an offshoot of a pop-up the owners introduced outside Equinox in February 2020 and plays to beachgoers in search of a hot snack and a cold drink. Regulars of Equinox will be familiar with the fried fare; risotto fritters and crispy artichokes have long been mainstays there. Federal Bistro, a reference to the small, L-shaped dining room, is a chance for Gray to showcase whatever is in season. Seated in the snug restaurant, its walls dressed up with an urban mural of the District on one side and a collection of mirrors on the other, I recently got a chance to graze from the range.
Fritters are the obvious launch to a meal. Gray has extended his collection to include cauliflower tempura, blushing with chili powder, and thyme-laced corn fritters that are essentially hush puppies. The snacks (Kassoff likes to call them “crisps”) arrive in red metal stands with dips of your choosing. Explore creamy ranch, tomato-pink rémoulade, aioli ignited with horseradish, even vanilla caramel sauce — the last the best dunk for “apple pie” fritters.
Much of the rest of the menu underscores the time of year and proximity to the water. Say yes to gazpacho graced with crab, as it’s available, or tender scallops and shrimp served as cannelloni in a little black skillet. Carolina white shrimp, anointed with the lightest of barbecue sauces and splayed over a bed of summer-fine sweet corn and sugar snap peas, slips fine-dining into time at the beach. (The owners plan to stay open through December and reopen in March.) For $50, Gray can whip up a four-course tasting menu. A recent dinner saw the veteran chef slicing black truffles over plates. Even hours from home, Gray seems to be a city boy at heart.
62A Rehoboth Ave, Rehoboth Beach, Del. 302-727-5609. federalfritter.com. Open for takeout, delivery, indoor and outdoor dining. Entrees, $16 to $28; four-course tasting menu $50.
Frankly … Pizza!
The name of his place is tongue in cheek, says owner Frank Linn. When he opened his Maryland pizzeria seven years ago, friends told him he needed to round out the menu with appetizers and pasta. “I just wanted to do one thing as good as I can,” says the chef. The singular sensation at Frankly … Pizza! is a cross between Neapolitan and New York-style pizza based on a dough that’s fermented at least a day, cooked in an oak-stoked oven and simply dressed with toppings that show thought. The tomato sauce — a touch sweet, a little tangy — comes from an old family recipe; the bacon is made in-house.
And yet, “it’s always about the crust,” says Linn, a veteran of such notable dining destinations as 1789 and 2941. Black blisters populate the rim. The eating is soft-crisp and chewy. No floppy crusts here. “I’m a folder,” says the owner. Count on bold flavors, as on one night’s Provençal, a special trumpeting capers, olives, juicy sun gold tomatoes and salami slices practically thin enough to read though. Linn’s sly sense of humor resurfaces in the terrific “Porky Marge,” a margherita pizza punctuated with crisp nubbins of bacon and showered with Romano cheese.
Aim for a counter stool and the chance to watch the staff shape rounds of dough on a surface of durum and maybe meet Valerie Harding. The server has been on board since Frankly … Pizza! served its first pie and makes an ace ambassador, asking strangers where they’re from and letting them try as many of the suds on tap as they want. Kudos to the restaurant for keeping most wine bottle prices below $30.
The owner says he’s doing one thing right. The truth is, there are lots to like here: housemade sodas that change with the season (think strawberry-rhubarb in summer), a small dining room decorated with old cooking utensils and Mason jars-turned-lights, and warmth beyond that of the oven. Harding insisted we stay for dessert. Our reward was a moist wedge of vanilla-fragrant cake sweetened with blackberry cream cheese frosting. Of course, it was made there. Of course, we inhaled it.
10417 Armory Ave., Kensington, Md. 301-832-1065. franklypizza.com. Open for takeout, inside and outside dining. Pizzas, $10.50 to $19.50.
For a restaurant steeped in old-fashioned charm, Heirloom, in the quaint beach community of Lewes, Del., sure feels progressive. Owner Meghan Lee not only cross-trains her entire staff — cooks might deliver food, servers might whip up a cheese board — she did something novel when her head chef bid farewell in July. Instead of launching an outside search, or promoting an individual from within, Lee tasked all seven cooks with filling the job.
Too many cooks in the kitchen? Not from the vantage point of diners, who benefit most from the collaboration. An abundance of mushrooms, banana peppers and Swiss chard might lead to a roesti of king trumpets staged with banana pepper sauce and sauteed chard, a farm-fresh accompaniment to steak. While the menu changes depending on what’s in the market, recent highlights have included a peach gazpacho floating an island of corn custard — summer in every spoonful — scallops lapped with cauliflower cream and blackberry gastrique, and a mighty pork chop flanked with farro and carrots seasoned like barbecue. Menu descriptions run a little longer than most; Lee likes to flag the folks who grow, raise or catch Heirloom’s ingredients.
The decor in the 1899 structure — some botanical prints, plants on a mantel — is intentionally minimalist. “I want to showcase the tables and what goes on them,” says the owner, whose grandmother’s desk doubles as a host stand. Lee is doing it her way, and — with some notable exceptions on social media — making customers happy in the process.
212 Savannah Rd., Lewes, Del. 302-313-4065. Open for inside and outside dining. Entrees, $29 to $36.
The Restaurant at Patowmack Farm
Major talent has stepped into big shoes at this road-trip-worthy restaurant in Loudoun County, where Vincent Badiee replaced Tarver King last November, following King’s news that he planned to open a place of his own in the area. Any concerns I had about a successor were erased by a July dinner consisting of nine small courses that seemed to channel much of the new chef’s résumé. Before coming to Patowmack Farm, Badiee, 33, cooked at Gravitas, Cranes and Fiola — three different but impressive Washington restaurants — and in New York at such notable brands as Eleven Madison Park.
The setting at Patowmack Farm — 40 acres owned by restaurateur Beverly Morton Billand — proves beautiful and practical. At different times of the year, the organic soil provides much of the makings for meals. Lettuces, shishito peppers and cardoons are a given. So are frost grapes, wild chamomile and pawpaw. The owner’s “earth-to-table” philosophy is based in part on her wide-open pantry. “I want to be the change,” she says.
Most guests are led to an open-sided white tent on a stone terrace, where the view of rolling green hills and a glimpse of the Potomac River vie with Badiee’s cooking for diners’ attention. His tasting menu changes from visit to visit; the nine or so courses marry just-picked ingredients with abundant creativity. A simply billed “farm egg” finds an egg, its top removed, in a nest of hay. A dip of a demitasse spoon into the shell finds a sunny yellow custard flavored with some delightful surprises: anchovies, golden raisins, fennel and more. Something seasonal — tomatoes in a rainbow of colors — might star in a salad invigorated with sherry vinegar and dashi as well as accents of shiso and hyssop. One of the best vegan memories in recent month is the chef’s Blue Ridge bowl with local vegetables and basmati rice, over which a server pours an amber liquid that tastes like the distillation of a garden with a whisper of ginger.
Corn is stuffed into pasta and arranged on a piney flavored cream sauce; local beef is sliced over charred shishitos alongside a brushstroke of mustardy Diane sauce. Diners are sent into the night with treats for tomorrow — granola, zucchini bread — that in some cases never make it home. Guilty!
42461 Lovettsville Road, Lovettsville, Va. 540-822-9017. patowmackfarm.com. Open for indoor and outdoor dining. Tasting menu $125 a person, brunch entrees $26 to $36, family-style Sunday supper $95 a person.
The owner likes nothing more than when customers opt for a thali: “All the flavors of Nepal” in an assortment of dishes, says Subash Rai, who does double duty as the restaurant’s chef.
Diners choose a centerpiece (chicken, lamb, goat, wild boar, potato-cauliflower curry), which is positioned on a long wooden board with a changing vegetable, buttery black lentils, baby spinach sautéed with ginger, garlic and cumin seeds, plus a bite of dessert.
Further crowding the table is a brass plate set off with a bed of rice topped with a fried egg, sprinkled with chili powder, and enhancers of purple onion and lemon wedge. A thali is a lot to take in. Alone, the stewlike wild boar, cooked with onions and tomatoes, hums with mustard powder, chili powder, lemon juice and sage. But you wouldn’t want to miss a note in the concert.
“What we do is cook what we eat at home,” says Rai. Lucky visitors to Royal Nepal. A meal begins with complimentary sel roti — rings of honey-sweetened rice bread — accompanied by a bowl of fermented daikon, slick with mustard oil and tossed with both mustard and fenugreek seeds. A bite of fry bread followed by a taste of daikon — sweet followed by savory and decidedly sour — wakes up the appetite. “It’s an amuse-bouche for us,” says the chef.
There are abundant comforts on his menu. The one that calls loudest is kwati, a soup prized by the Nepalese as much for its health benefits as its heartiness. The combination of nine beans — mung, kidney, soy and fava, among others — warmed with bay leaf, cloves and chiles is fuel you won’t forget. And I can’t imagine a Nepalese meal without momo. Try the dumplings filled with shredded cabbage, carrots and potato, each bite improved with a swipe through roasted tomato sauce.
Throw in some folk music and some murals from far away, and it’s easy to think you are, in fact, in a Himalayan roost.
3807 Mount Vernon Ave., Alexandria. 571-312-5130. royalnepalva.com. Open for takeout, delivery and indoor dining. Entrees, $13 to $23.
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