The following review appears in The Washington Post’s 2016 Fall Dining Guide.
Arepas from Colombia, pakora from India, currywurst from Germany: Reading the menu in this Bohemian retreat can give a diner jet lag. While the kitchen takes a few liberties with some of the pit stops, a lot of the dishes ring true; keepsakes from my last scouting mission included a stinging Jamaican goat curry and ground lamb a la Lebanon, brightened with lemon tahini. Owner Rose Previte is a sparkling mistress of ceremonies, best observed by those who reserve the Bedouin tent behind the tchotchke-dressed dining room, where the restaurateur guides a lucky handful through a themed feast. One of the best trips of my year was a wintertime Moroccan spread — eggplant fritters, chickpea-thick harira soup, lamb tagine, a farewell of (flaming) tea — in a den rendered cozy with scarves and rugs and the realization that I could Uber there rather than fly to Rabat.
2 1/2 stars
Compass Rose: 1346 T St. NW. 202-506-4765. compassrosedc.com .
Prices: Plates $6-$20.
Sound check: 83 decibels / Extremely loud.
The following was originally published on Feb. 12, 2016.
The newest culinary journey at Compass Rose leads to a Bedouin tent
Six of us have just been led through a rambling dining room into a cocoon fashioned from scarves and rugs, where our hostess informs us there are no signs pointing out the restrooms.
“It’s intentional,” says Rose Previte, co-owner of the worldly Compass Rose, which transformed its rear patio into a Bedouin-style tent earlier this winter. “We want people to get lost and ask for directions,” just as they would if they found themselves in a foreign land, the seasoned globetrotter explains. (Then, with a smile, she tells us where to go if we need to go.)
Nothing about the added attraction, currently the scene of thrice-weekly Moroccan feasts, feels like workaday Washington. Not the tent, with a single table and a painted floor that channels the Alhambra palace in Granada, Spain, where Previte studied in college. Not the menu, a leisurely parade of dishes that would look at home in Rabat. Not the owner’s appointment of a toastmaster from the group to say a few words before each new course. “I want this to be Grandma’s house on a holiday,” says Previte, whose manager and beverage director also charmingly attend to the assembly. The only time the dream is suspended is when the door to the tent opens and the roar of worker bees on the other side interrupts the calm.
Go slow with the thin eggplant fritters, sparked with preserved-lemon yogurt, that launch a meal, and the hearty harira soup, thick with chickpeas, that follows. Such caution requires great restraint, but the hours ahead pack in a shredded carrot salad sharpened with harissa and sweetened with raisins, and two tagines: one featuring fish, another meaty with braised lamb neck. A farewell of tea involves dousing a sugar cube with lavender absinthe, then setting the sweetener aflame before adding it to your steaming cup. “Coffee is more of a goodbye,” Previte says. “Tea begs you to relax.” And so we do.
My dinner was one of the last prepared by chef Sam Molavi before he decamped to Ripple in Cleveland Park this month. Not to worry. His successor, Angel Franco, had a chance to cook alongside Molavi before taking over. Franco also brings with him a résumé that includes Maketto, the thrilling Cambodian-Taiwanese restaurant on H Street NE.
The price of admission to the Bedouin tent is an agreeable $70 per person, $30 more for optional drink pairings. (Spring for the lubricants, which include a refreshing punch made with Pink Lady apples, beer and fresh ginger.) Reservations can be made online for six to eight guests. “We’ve done 10 before,” says Previte, “but it gets squishy.” Six of us sat knee to knee — but also smile to smile.
Previte plans to keep the tent as a backdrop but change the menu seasonally. One idea is to have her new chef show off the food of his homeland. Puerto Rico, here we come?