The Gleeful Gourmand: October 2015

Friday, October 16, 2015

Rose's Luxury - Worth the Wait

Once a year, I get to take a just-for-me weekend. For the past couple of years, this means heading up to D.C. to see one of my best friends, Elizabeth, and having all sorts of fun doing cultural and fine dining stuff.

And by that, I mean we sit around drinking, watching The Sound of Music.

Seriously, though, every year I have one or two restaurants on my "D.C. Bucket List" that I absolutely have to go try. Last year it was a toss-up between Toki Underground and Rose's Luxury. Toki won out, which you can read about here. We made the right choice, as I still dream about the exquisite ramen there. Toki had been mentioned many times in the press, but it was Rose's that was named by Bon Appétit as the best restaurant in the country for 2014.

The best restaurant in the country, and it was only 2 hours away? It was a no-brainer for this weekend.

Interior of Rose's Luxury. Photo courtesy of The Washington Post.
So on Saturday we got our rear ends in gear to get across town before 5 p.m. Why so early? Rose's Luxury does not take reservations, and even though the space is two stories (with limited outside seating), it's rather small, so people start lining up before the doors ever open (Sound familiar? That's exactly what we did last year at Toki Underground). Regrettably, we had transitioned from a morning of Body Combat (ouch) into deciding that lunch, the rest of The Sound of Music, and then the first season of Arrested Development, plus a bottle of white wine was in order. We were the antithesis of "rushing."

We arrived at the untimely hour of 5:15 and were greeted with a line that stretched down the block. After waiting for about 30 minutes, we were informed after putting our names on a list that we'd probably be seated at 9 p.m. However, because the upstairs bar also serves full dinner, we were encouraged to put our name on their list too, which we immediately did. This turned out to be a very wise move because we only had an hour wait to be seated there, which we killed by going next door and ordering drinks and some light appetizers. So really, I can't stress this enough: Put your name on both lists. Don't assume that you can stand behind people at said bar and expect to be served as soon as people vacate their seats (more on this later).

The restaurant is gorgeous - downstairs it's airy and bright with a vintage, yet rustic feel to it, and upstairs there's a cool, buzzy vibe thanks to the excitement of the bar area. We were warmly greeted, and immediately ordered drinks (I got a sparkling Chenin Blanc, hedging my bets it would go well with a variety of dishes we were ordering). All of the staff at Rose's Luxury was so accommodating, and genuinely happy and eager to serve. Their service immediately set the restaurant apart in our eyes. With a continuous crush of people on a busy weekend, they could have been grumpy, tired, and just trying to make it through. There was none of that - just super affable bartenders and servers, which made us feel pretty special. We hadn't been sitting very long before a waitress delivered a small loaf of some of the most delicious bread I've ever had. I want to say it was brioche, but honestly, I couldn't tell you. It came with a generous quenelle of softened butter sprinkled with chives and crumbled bacon. The slight sweetness of the bread, mingling with the salty bacon and fresh herbs was fantastic.

The bread at Rose's Luxury. Heaven help me, that bread!

And that was just the bread. Rose's serves mostly small plates designed to share, but they also offer a family-style type of meal too. Since we had already indulged in some appetizers next door (nothing works up an appetite like standing in a long line), we chose some of the smaller plates. We started with their Pork Sausage, Habanero, Peanuts, and Lychee Salad. To say I loved it was an understatement. Sweet thanks to the lychee fruit and whipped coconut milk; spicy, savory, and crunchy; it all worked together beautifully. We moved on to their Cicerchie Bean Salad with confit goat and marinated tomatoes. This was also excellent, but the beans were a little too crunchy for my taste. Next up was their famed Pasta with Strawberry and Tomato Sauce. I was most eager to try this since it sounded so unique, and it delivered. The sweetness of the strawberries and tomatoes rounded out the spiciness of the dish in a near-perfect marriage. I never would have thought strawberries could work in pasta, but Rose's Luxury made a believer out of me.

So back to what I was saying about standing behind people hoping to get a seat once they vacate, without putting your name on a list. This was the only downside of the evening, and it had nothing to do with the restaurant itself, but it is a cautionary tale of what you can expect when dining at a bar. There was an older, nattily dressed man standing behind us next to another couple who were standing having drinks, and this man really, really wanted a seat at the bar. So he stood there, the entire time we ate, making comments, taking endless pictures over my shoulder (Was he taking pictures of the bartenders? My food? My actual shoulder? I couldn't tell, but it was annoying), and growing increasingly agitated. I half expected him to stick his head in between us and ask if we were done eating yet. When we finally ordered dessert, he audibly sighed in disgust. And then took more pictures.

We tried to ignore him as we enjoyed our Corn Creme Brûlée, which was beyond excellent. Imagine the best, freshest corn pudding you've ever had, caramelize the top, and serve it with marinated blueberries. Honestly, it was out-of-the-box thinking (but not as out-of-the-box as their Eggplant Tarte Tatin - sorry, but yuck. I hate eggplant), and it was a revelation. My one and only complaint would have been that there was nothing chocolatey on the dessert menu, and everyone loves a good chocolate dessert (chocolate good, caramelized eggplant...well...).

Corn Creme Brûlée, with berries.

We finished our meal with a deep sigh of satisfaction, shied away from the man at my shoulder who was now saying, "We've been waiting FOREVER. When are we going to get a seat?!" which was curious since he was all alone; paid our bill and walked happily away. I hope that man, like us, had a most excellent meal, and finally learned that most important lesson my mother routinely repeated throughout my childhood: Patience is a virtue. Especially when it comes to Rose's Luxury.

Friday, October 2, 2015

The Unvirtuous Salad

I eat a lot of salads. I LOVE salads. The bigger the better. But not all salads are created equal, and the ones I stick to are usually the healthiest, the ones that would probably bore the grand majority of America: dark leafy greens, loaded with tons of veggies (beets, especially!), a hard boiled egg for protein, lightly salted pumpkin seeds for extra crunch, fresh herbs like parsley, and scant dressing.

I seldom order salads at restaurants since most of them bear no resemblance to a healthy salad. But sometimes you just want to, as Elaine from Seinfeld would say, dive into a Big Salad. So I construct my own, and thereby get to control exactly what goes into it.

I am a paragon of healthy salad eating, am I not?

No. I'm not. Not really. Because here's what's been taking up residence in my head since early summer when salads are better than ever thanks to fresh produce: a salad with FRIES on it. And not just any fries. CHEESE FRIES, y'all.

Let me explain. I grew up in a wonderful planned community that was situated right on a gorgeous lake. My house was a 15 minute walk to that lake, and right next to where all the boats were kept was a restaurant called Sunday's. I loved biking to Sunday's with my pals for ice cream or cheese sticks when I was a kid, and going to Sunday brunch with my family. But when I was a teenager and into my college years, one of my favorite things to do was have lunch with my mom there on warm Spring and Summer afternoons, sitting on their sun-dappled deck overlooking the lake.

And our favorite thing to eat during those lunches was a really big salad. Imagine it with me: fresh, crisp lettuce; ripe tomatoes; blackened grilled chicken; and fries smothered in cheese. I don't know who the genius was who decided that cheese fries belonged on a salad, but we wanted to shake their hand heartily and possibly build them a shrine. The cool freshness of the veggies, the spicy kick of the blackened chicken, and a light Honey Poppyseed Dressing all worked with the decadent, sumptuous cheese fries. Salty, spicy, sweet. Tender and crisp all at the same time. It was a bowl full of contrasting textures and flavors that all mingled perfectly somehow.

The Unvirtuous Salad.

To this day, it's the one salad that has stuck with me because of how delicious it was. Sometimes I have been known to order a salad at Chick-Fil-A and sneak a fry or two from my kids, and shred it into a (mostly) virtuous salad. But I knew I could do better. I had to reconstruct my favorite dish from so long ago. So I brought a whole mess of ingredients over to my mom's house this week to attempt it.

There were definitely some things I wanted to switch up from that original salad. The first is that I really don't like blackened anything. Not only do I not want to eat it anymore, I don't want to make it either. So right away I had to figure out what would account for the spicy factor. I wanted to throw the chicken on the grill but we've been rained out since last Friday, so that was out of the question. I bathed some chicken breasts in a spicy mesquite BBQ sauce, and baked them on 350˚ for about 30 minutes so that they were super juicy and tender. I decided to make the star of the show - the fries - a little healthier by buying a high-end brand of baked, nearly fat free fries. I baked them according to the directions on the package and then at the very end hit them with some freshly grated colby-jack cheese.

The dressing I used was - gasp! - bottled Honey Poppyseed Dressing. Yes, fellow Gourmands. I used bottled dressing and packaged french fries. I can feel the disappointment rolling off of you as you read those words. And I'm ashamed (I'm not, really, but I have to say that to protect my image).

The salad was the BOMB. It was fantastic, and definitely fulfilled my nostalgic jones as my mom and stepdad and I munched on this most unvirtuous of salads. If I had to do it again, I'd lightly brush the chicken with vegetable or canola oil, and dust it with a bit of Creole seasoning like Tony Chachere's before grilling it. Or I'd switch the cheese up to a Pepperjack to bring out that spicy component that was missing. That's the beauty of this salad though - you can literally do whatever you want with it to make it your own.

Just don't forget the cheese fries.

The Unvirtuous Salad

• 1 or 2 heads romaine lettuce
• 1-2 cups cherry or heirloom grape tomatoes, halved
• 1 cucumber, peeled, seeded, and diced
• 3 chicken breasts, cooked to your preference (grilled with spices, marinaded and baked, etc.)
• 1 packaged frozen french fries
• 6 oz. colby-jack cheese, shredded
• Dressing of your choice (I used Honey Poppyseed)

Assemble salad except for fries and chicken. When the fries are just about done, sprinkle with shredded cheese and bake for about 5 minutes longer. Cook chicken to your liking, then slice thinly and place on top of the salad. Serve. Eat. Swoon. Repeat.
Serves: 4-5