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  • Writer's picturethe_maestro

Rooster and Owl – Washington, D.C.

As part of the little mileage run I've been undertaking this summer to reclaim my Delta Platinum status, I did hours of flight searching to find the cheapest but most miles-rich way back to Austin to pick up my car. From Seattle, I already had a flight booked with Georgia to Minneapolis, where mom was scheduled to collect her, so I looked and was dismayed to find that the Delta flight from Minneapolis to Austin was laughably expensive.

Fortunately, Google Flights is the greatest thing in all of the universe, and lets you search, with a given airline selected, for the cheapest destination from any origin city. Behold, less than $100 to DC, and on Delta flight 1776. How patriotic! Moreover, the fare for the flight from DC to Austin wasn't bad, and so I booked these two legs, saving me a good chunk of change on the way to get the car, and peppering me with a cool 2,400 qualifying miles.

This was also fun since I'd never been to DC, and although I had just 24 hours in the city, and a good amount of that was spent working in my hotel room, I finally made my way outside into the hot and sticky DC summer air, rented a Bird electric scooter (a godsend in that heat), and motored my way around the National Mall. I checked out the White House for but a second before I felt myself preparing to vomit when considering the inhabitant, and quickly raced away past the MAGA hat-wearing shiny tourists to catch a quick nap at the hotel. I will check out the White House again when my girl President Warren lives there.

As you know, the biggest part of Steve tourism is food, and DC has a pretty remarkable restaurant scene. I found dozens of exceptional establishments to explore, and while many of the most celebrated, such as Inn at Little Washington, were well out of my price range this time around, I was able to find some really reasonable spots. Add the benefit that my good friend Carson, who I know from my time at the University of Utah, just relocated to the Baltimore/DC suburbs, and was also scoping out the restaurant scene, and I was able to snag a reservation at Rooster and Owl, a new establishment getting scores of attention in the Washington food critic circle.

Rooster and Owl is helmed by Yuan Tang, a native of Washington who spent some time in Hong Kong, and his wife Carey. So named because Carey is an early riser (Rooster) with a day job at a Children's Hospital and Yuan works evenings at the restaurant (Owl, "night owl" don'cha know), Rooster and Owl is a passion project for the duo, who have quietly worked their way through the east coast's restaurant scene with popups, line cook gigs, and driving for Uber (who knew?).

Carson and I made our way up to 14th street after an unceremonious turning-away at José Andrés' imposing Barmini, and successful consumption of our alternative, gin and tonics at his Jaleo. After two G and Ts made us a little spinny, we realized we were absolutely famished and ready to stuff ourselves. Situated smack dab between a handful of surrounding DC neighborhoods on 14th street, the dining room is understated but pretty, albeit little and a bit noisy; I was, however, most taken by the two bathrooms, one with rooster wallpaper and the other with owl wallpaper.

We were sat at a roomy four-top and provided drink and dinner menus. The cocktail program is impressive, but much like almost everywhere these days is focused on tiki cocktails, of which I'm growing a bit weary. I was able to land a stellar but simple concoction of Monkey 47 gin (the best), honey, and lemon. The gin was allowed to shine due to the sparse but balanced inclusion of lemon and honey, and my fear that the beverage would be too sweet proved unfounded. Carson's drink was downright special, a "Laotian Lemonade," celebrating flavors such as lemongrass and asian citrus. Carson remarked that it tasted exactly like southeast Asian street fare, which he'd sampled countless times whilst living in Bangkok. Slightly sweet, slightly tangy, slight umami-driven, this drink was a triumph, and certainly pays homage to the growing expansion of the Laotian dining scene in DC.

The menu is structured as prix-fixe––four courses, each with four options from which to choose, with the option of doubling up on offerings in other course listings or adding a course for a very reasonable $10. The goal is to get something different for each person so that you may try many dishes, and of course that is what we did. They also offer two beverage pairings, one with a cider, beer, wine, and vermouth, and the other just wines. Naturally, we did one of the former and one of the latter.

I really appreciate a restaurant bread service these days; one of the consequences of the overblown paleo nonsense is the dearth of bread services, even at higher-end spots. These were presented as "Hong Kong-style milk bread," and were soft and slightly sweet, and warm enough that the house-made butter melted daintily into the bread's tender flesh. We both remarked, nearly simultaneously, that these reminded us of King's Hawaiian rolls.

For the first course, we were presented, as promised, a cider and a glass of bubbles. The cider was from Poma Áurea in Spain, a dry cider with a nice snappy crispness and the slight funk I love in a good craft cider. The sparkling wine was insanely cool––a rosé made from nebbiolo grapes, the rockstar of the Piedmont in northern Italy and the constituent grape of the revered Barolo and Barbaresco. The tannic quality of nebbiolo gave this wine an unusual body and heft for a sparkling, with plenty of tiny bubbles and bright fruit to balance.

First course was up. Carson was served watermelon cubes with green curry paste spread atop, and garnished with microgreens and salty toasted almonds. This was really exceptional, and unlike anything I've had; we both agreed this was likely the standout course of the evening. The watermelon was, of course, slightly sweet and firm, and the curry added a warm, complex spice to the fruit. The salt from the almonds, however, was critical, adding a saline component to the gentle sweetness of the watermelon. The pairings were alright, but the Laotian Lemonade, with a bit left over from the earlier pre-dinner cocktail serving, was a rockstar pairing.

I do love burrata and have a hard time resisting; this was no exception, and it was the choice on this course that most stood out. A healthy sphere of slightly liquid cheese was garnished with balsamic, basil, and pistachio, with ground cherries (goldenberries) surrounding in a manner that resembled yellow cherry tomatoes, making this a play on the classic caprese salad. Really lovely, and worked well with the nebbiolo rosé in particular. I spent the course craving more bites of the watermelon, however!

It was at this point that we were introduced to the sommelier, and Carson giggled to himself while I flirtatiously nerded out to wine with the (v cute) som each time he brought a new bottle. Y'all may recall that I engaged in some exploring of roussanne back in January after my dinner at SingleThread, where the austere som boldly suggested that the varietal would replace chardonnay in domestic winemaking in a couple of decades. While I doubt the cougar class would allow that, I can certainly see the crossover. Marsanne is typically a blending grape with roussanne in the Rhône, and this expression came from the Willamette Valley (what a coincidence, having just been there!) This one from Cowhorn was a baby, but still had some rich, nutty notes, but with a nice acidity that I love from Willamette whites. The beer was from one of my favorite breweries, based in Japan, Kiuchi––a white ale with plenty of spice, much like a Belgian tripel, but with a nice crisp mouthfeel and hits of Japanese botanicals. If you get a chance to try their yuzu lager, jump on it. It's fabulous. Man, why is everything from Japan so amazing?

Course two featured crispy pig's ear with shaved kohlrabi and carrot, as well as a house "hot sauce," celery seed, crumbled peanuts, and a yogurt atop. This was definitely crispy and loaded with flavor, but once again it was Carson's dish that won the day. Tang really likes to focus on veggies, and presented us with a shiitake mushroom-based larb, a Lao dish that has been described as the "national dish of Laos" traditionally made with minced meat, rice, and herbs, and served like a taco in lettuce leaf. The server explained that they were previously making the dish with meat, but the vegetarian option was shiitake, and then they realized how much better it was with shiitake, and changed the regular dish. They served it with thin slices of magnificent peach, which we placed atop the larb as we rolled the butter lettuce into little tacos. Wowie. This is a special dish, y'all... I need to learn to make it. I could eat it by the spoonful. Recipe forthcoming.

More wine arrived. Cute som and I had mutually bemoaned the warmer climate of Willamette when chatting about the previous wine, particularly in regards to the fate of pinot in the region, and consequently both celebrated the glory of Santa Barbara pinot. Well, what a fortuitous conversation, since that is precisely what landed on our desk. This single-vineyard from Wenzlau Vineyard in the Santa Rita Hills (drool) is produced by The Drawing Board, and had the slender quality juxtaposed with blue fruit that I expect from this AVA. The whole-cluster fermentation helps contribute to the magic of this wine, and it paired nicely, surprisingly, with all three courses to come.

Alongside, one of my favorite rosés was served, made from the tiburoen grape in Provence. I've had this exact wine at FAR more expensive restaurants than this, which is a testament to this place's glorious and generous wine program. The rosé was complex, yet light, and the unusual tiburoen grape gives it a nice body and nuance that I really love.

We opted for three courses for our "entrée," taking advantage of the availability of the $10 extra plate. The first we sampled was a ravioli, which enveloped a beautiful carrot purée and was topped with pickled blueberries and a walnut pesto. Carson and I both loved this––I think it was my favorite of the three, but then again, I am a hoe for carbs! The sweet carrot burst from the perfectly cooked pasta, and the tang of the blueberries helped balance the weight of the nutty pesto. The somewhat earthy pinot was a star pairing, though I wasn't wowed by the tiburoen with this course.

The most underwhelming course of the night was the second of these three––a sea bass with pattypan squash and a cucumber yogurt sauce. I wasn't a huge fan of this dish; I found the sauce to be a little too light and watery in flavor, though I appreciated the effort, and the squash wasn't interesting enough, especially given what preceded, to rescue the slightly undercooked fish.

A lovely NY strip was the final savory offering of the night. The strip was a perfect mid-rare, although was among the leaner strips I have consumed in my day, which was slightly unappealing, but was topped with a tasty combo of spinach purée and horseradish cream. The foamy brown butter hollandaise on the side was the tastiest single favor I had all night, despite my affinity for the watermelon course as a whole. Potato crisps and seared shishito peppers were served alongside. The som indicated that he surprisingly adored this rosé with the steak, and I honestly could not agree more; the pinot was also good, but there was a tang in the hollandaise that really spoke to the rosé, and the tiburoen had enough heft to stand up to the meat.

Ah, dessert. It's funny, I never really cared about dessert in my younger years, but now can't live without. To pair, we were served a red wine-based amaro, served in a device that sort of flushed the amaro into the glass. Cool, but a little too reminiscent of a toilet. This was my least favorite pairing of the night, since I am not generally a huge fan of bitter liqueurs in isolation. The dessert wine was a sparkling gamay, another interesting permutation of sparkling wine, which was rather bright and semi-dry, with only a hint of the hint of funk that gamay can impart.

One of our desserts was posset, a set cream dish like a panna cotta. The posset was flavored with key lime and served with a mango sorbet, raspberries, a blackberry jam with mint, and macadamia nuts. The second dessert was a custard made of brie (omg) with a "Ritz" cracker, thinly sliced pear, a pear mostarda, and honey. Both were really outstanding, and a great way to end the meal, although the last bite we received was a pair of raspberry gummies in the shape of robots.

I stupidly had my entire trip switched to Dulles Airport after my bag was diverted from DCA to Dulles on my flight in, which meant that I had to be up bright and early for my 7:00 AM flight to ATL and then on to Austin. When I landed in Austin, I decided to stop in to the new Sky Club for lunch and a beverage, since I'd been so rudely denied entry back in June. Easily the nicest Sky Club I've seen.

Was so fun to explore the culinary scene in DC, and yet to only scratch the surface! I will look forward to more visits, and hopefully a dream trip out to the Virginia countryside for a visit to the famed Inn at Little Washington.

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