Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Rural Society - Jose Garces and Louis Goral's Contribution to DC is a Love Letter to Men and Women Of The Grill

Rural Society
1177 15th St. N.W.
Washington, DC

Alex was camping with the Boy Scouts on a Saturday Night. If things were going well, he was probably eating hot dogs cooked over an open fire with his friends. Cheryl and I were also eating a meal cooked over open flames, also surrounded by friends, though we just met them. I'm willing to bet that our meal was a little better.
Rural Society is in the Loews Madison Hotel on the corner of 15th and M Streets N.W in Washington. It is the first restaurant from Jose Garces in the district. He's a JBF Award Winner and has restaurants scattered around the country, with most of them being in Philadelphia.
What brought me to his restaurant though, was the Grillworks Grill. I'd read about it and have run into the man behind the magic, Ben Eisendrath, a few times over the years, but never got to see one of his pieces of work. It's something to behold. More on that below.
We had reservations, but when I saw no one was sitting at the long bar that is in front of the grill I asked to be seated there. The hostess was more than happy to oblige. To the left is Louis Goral, Chef de cuisine.
As I was seated next to the pass, I got to see many dishes that I didn't actually get to taste, which is kind of a shame.
We both got the chef's tasting menu which was well worth the money. Sometimes it isn't at other places. We started out with Morrones, which is a roasted red peppers with grilled, whipped eggplant and anchovies. Truth be told, I'm not a big fan of whole anchovies, but I at one like a good boy. I skipped the rest of them. The other components of the dish were a harbinger of the good things to come.
The salad was arugula with some fennel, nuts, and a fig puree. I guess we were in for a meat-tastic meal and he figured we needed some greens.
The condiments brought out with the bread basket were well-composed. The breads were excellent as well. There were cheese puffs that were perfect!
The shaved, pickled veal tongue was next, served with pomegranate and grape mustard.
Here's where we started really getting into it. Empanadas with Swiss Chard, cheese and roasted onions.

As the dishes were coming, we were treated to a show from our seats. This is THE GRILL. Three individual units, all with two grills apiece. The upright bars you see there holds new logs. When they throw the logs in over the top of those you get a mini-fireworks show. Very neat! As they burn down to red-hot embers, they are pulled under the cooking surface. The grates are adjusted for height by the wheels you see in the picture. The grill surfaces are made of heavy steel Vs and the juices from the meat runs into pans and is used for basting. Wicked smart!
This looks like your normal, every day ravioli right? Wrong. My wife said, "Oooh. Cheese ravioli." I took a bite and said, "OOooh. Bacon ravioli!" It was both.
This was the chef's nod to Washington. A house-crafted 1/2 smoke. For those of you who don't live here, that would be a 50/50 blend of pork and beef sausage.
We moved on to the Fugazza. I was thinking Fugazi, but this is more along the lines of focaccia. Excellent-quality crust with savory onions, mozzarella and oregano. Olive oil keeps the bread moist.
Sparks flying!
Here is some random skirt steaks that I though looked very nice. Speaking of looking very nice, I liked the way these guys worked. It was a pleasure to sit on the pass and watch some dedicated chefs really care about what they were sending out. Not just the taste, but the look as well. More than once Chef Louis refused to send out dishes that were handed to him because they weren't perfect. That is a rarity when you've got a full house and the rail is full of tickets. Respect.
I saw him plating this up and took a few pix because it looked so nice. Chef backed up to give me some room and I said, "No, do what you're doing. I don't want to get in the way." He said, "It's your dish. Snap away."
Rare organic ribeye and lamb chops. These were, bar-none, the best lamb chops I've ever had. They're sourced from Pioneer Ranch in Colorado. I usually feel better about eating local, but if the lamb in Colorado is this good it would be OK by me to fly them into DC first class.
The key to some of the dishes was the rustic ingredients fused with modern flavor profiles and preparation methods, like in the Zanahorias above. Wood roasted carrots braised in cider and vinegar with toasted fennel seeds, then finished on the grill. I attempted these at home the next night. I got pretty close....but only pretty.
Just to prove that not everything here is meat: mashed potatoes with mozzarella curd and garlic. Excellent.
Here's a nice shot of the steak.
This dish was inventive as well. the Pamplona. Pork tenderloin stuffed with wood-roasted vegetables. This was nice, but it showed up late in the game so we took it home.

Still cookin'!
I usually only Tweet once when I go to a restaurant, but I got excited when I tasted this. The management tweeted back asking what my favorite dish was and I told them they'd have to wait to read my post. This was it. The Flan. A standard dish that is served in so many places, yet taken to a level of flavor that I've never tasted before. The texture was perfection, but the taste was a knife-edge balance between caramel and burnt. It can happen in the blink of an eye as anyone who's ever cooked it before can attest.  You don't get anymore on-the-edge than this was. Perfect umami. Bravo!
We sat for a little while and watched some more of the kitchen ballet while we had coffee. It was a good night.
The service throughout the night was exemplary. We chatted with the manager a few times and the chefs were happy to share their knowledge and passion for what they were doing.
Being able to do that in the middle of a Saturday rush means you got it handled.
Well done.
If you'd like to learn more about Grillworks and how you can get one of these puppies installed in your kitchen or at your house, check out the website here: http://www.grillery.com
Tell them you read about it on Pleasures of the Table.

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