The servers at most restaurants treat the chef with kitchen mitts. In conversations with customers, they tend to put the one in whites on a pedestal.
The waiters at Rose’s Luxury are different.
“He’s insane!” one of them tells me, even though the subject of her declaration is at the very next table chatting up company. If Aaron Silverman can hear my young attendant, the chef and owner of the new Capitol Hill dining destination doesn’t let on. “His ideas are all over the board,” the server continues.
Her broad smile suggests this is a good thing.
I scan the sheet in my hand. In the course of eating away from home 500 meals a year, I see a lot of dishes, but never popcorn soup with grilled lobster, and strawberry pasta with ricotta cheese under the same roof.
And an attractive roof it is. Silverman, a son of Maryland who previously cooked in Charleston at McCrady’s and in New York at Momofuku Noodle Bar, calls himself “anti-design,” but his two-story dining room, named after his late grandmother, a bon vivant, says otherwise. Ask to sit at the chef’s counter in front of the kitchen, or the back room facing the bar, beneath strands of tiny white lights that let you pretend you’re dining outside even in winter.
The menu at Rose’s Luxury spares diners the long-winded tour verbalized by too many restaurants about how to order by printing a few suggestions up top. “Order yourself a nice cocktail or glass of wine,” the list begins. “Choose a couple of small/family style dishes to share,” it goes on. “Eat, go home, come back tomorrow,” the script concludes.
For sure, you’ll want to return tomorrow for one of the best appetizers I’ve had in the past 365 days: crumbled pork sausage, litchis, coconut milk, tropical herbs and fiery habanero. “Mix it up and make it as ugly as you can,” a companion and I get coached, the rationale being that an unbeautiful combination of lovely flavors makes for zestier eating. The exciting side trip to Southeast Asia is one of those dishes I’d file away as a last meal request.
So is cacio e pepe, a testament to minimalism composed of perfect spaghetti, grated Parmesan and pecorino, fresh cracked pepper and butter. Yes, it sounds like something you could whip up from what you have at home in the fridge, but trust me when I say this is a pasta on par with what I’ve enjoyed from chefs Roberto Donna and Peter Pastan, two of the market’s Italian role models.
I’m hardly the only fan of the food. “These two don’t like octopus,” a young man at the neighboring table rats on his companions across the table to a server. “But they loved yours.” The kitchen’s treatment of the seafood, which is griddled just to give it a slight crisp, then nestled in a bowl with a black swipe of squid ink shocked with lemon confit, lets the small plate swim to the head of its class.
A lighter start to a meal: chilled Malpeque oysters, prickly with a dot of sparkling granita atop each slurp. Seldom does the sea taste closer.
The chef has a bit of a sweet tooth. A bowl of fried, brined chicken, glossy with honey and freckled with benne seeds, suggests an upscale twist on General Tso’s chicken, hold the goop factor. Fried cauliflower atop Greek yogurt takes on some sweetness with a puree of golden raisins. But where there’s sugar, there tends to be balance: That “strawberry” pasta is better than it sounds, al dente spaghetti checked by freshly cracked black pepper, red onion and a strawberry sauce that gets its tang from San Marzano tomatoes.
The beverage list is in the spirit of the dinner menu: concise and designed for the curious. Mark-ups are a fair two times retail, with a few great deals in the bunch. They include the 2011 Affinitas Furmint, a Tokaj from Hungary for $30, and the 2012 Marcel Lapierre Raisins Gaulois, a swell Beaujolais for $35 — and just right for smoked brisket. Served family-style on a big platter, the sliced beef is joined by pickled sliced apples, pears and cabbage plus white toast on which you’ll want to spread the accompanying horseradish cream. For some of us, the feast induces homesickness.
With just a dozen or so dishes on the menu on any given night, diners anticipate a well-curated collection of dishes and minimal if any flaws. The kitchen reveals imperfect humans are on the line with a jelly jar of popcorn soup stocked with lobster bites, its broth so rich with hot cream and buttery pureed popcorn that a sip or two suffices. Was it my imagination, or could I feel my arteries harden as the liquid washed past my tongue? A main course of schnitzel had this fan of pounded, breaded meat on the edge of his seat with anticipation. Luxury’s alternate family-style selection arrived as big slices of crisp pork and a bevy of trimmings: homey apple sauce, mustard, a twist on potato salad made with sunchokes. The enhancers upstaged the merely ordinary main event, however, which put me more in mind of the Vienna in Virginia than the city of the same name in Austria. Spear a bite of schnitzel with a little of each condiment, however, and the experience is more Alplike.
In view of all the good this place is doing, in light of how happy it makes its guests feel, the above might seem minor. There is no aspect of dining here that doesn’t show attention to detail, thanks to a team of players with strong résumés, including general manager Andy Erdman, who comes from Uchi and Uchiko in Austin, and chef de cuisine Scott Muns, late of Volt in Frederick.
At a time when bread service is going the way of uninked chefs, for instance, Rose’s Luxury bakes potato bread that comes to the table by the hot loaf, with an escort of whipped butter sprinkled with chives and what looks like bacon bits but are in reality dried, fried potato skin crumbs. Good luck sticking to one slice. A dessert of a tiny poached pear, rolled in crushed walnuts and perched on a faintly smoky celery root mascarpone, is celebration aplenty. Yet mention to your young server that you have a birthday, anniversary or just got back from an overseas trip, and you’re likely to be the recipient of a serious treat from sous chef BJ Lieberman. No matter what kind of mood you registered when you walked in, the spectacle of a banana cake with coffee icing set off with an animated, illuminated lotus ornament is going to make you feel like the star of a sparkling party.
A small plate of chewy, mint-chocolate meringues means you’ve asked for the bill. They’re divine.
Part of me doesn’t want to write about the no-reservations Rose’s Luxury. Already, knots of people sometimes form ahead of the newcomer’s 5:30 opening time, and if you show up in the middle of service, the host is likely to (sweetly) inform you that the wait for a table is two hours.
But I’m not in the business of keeping secrets. I’m all about sharing the wealth, and frankly, Rose’s Luxury is the best news to come out of Capitol Hill in ages.
★ ★ ★
717 Eighth St. SE.
5:30 to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 5:30 to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday
METRO: Eastern Market.
Small dishes $11 to $14, family-style plates $28 to $30.
with raised voice.