Vietnamese pâté at Rose’s Luxury
No one who drops by sites like this needs a nudge to go to Rose’s Luxury, which has been the very definition of buzz since it opened not quite three weeks ago.
But I still keep thinking about chef Aaron Silverman’s Vietnamese pâté. Topped with crushed peanuts, it’s as brown as the darkest roux, as smooth and spreadable as whipped cream cheese, and as rich as a lobe of seared foie gras. The notes of star anise are unmistakable, and if you close your eyes and concentrate on the residue of the pâté on your tongue, the depth and intensity of the flavor, you might think what Silverman and his team had done was to reduce a tureen of pho down to an ounce and then somehow convert it into a solid.
It’s served with small, crusty squares of garlic bread. Slather it on, and garnish with bright pickled onions, cucumbers, and jalapeños.
Fusion gets a bad rap. We think about some guy in the back of the restaurant throwing together foods that don’t really go, hoping vainly to strike gold, or, failing that, to win over a diner with novelty—the shock of the new. But this pâté is proof that you can cross cultures and make magic, if you know what you’re doing. Silverman knows. The influences here are French, Vietnamese, Italian, and Jewish deli, and the wonderful thing is that at the same time you can pick apart what goes into the dish, the dish itself feels new and without precedent.
Burger Americain at Le Diplomate
When it comes to burgers in the $10-plus range, I often find myself coming back to one conclusion: I’d rather just have Shake Shack. I mean, cave-aged cheddar and brioche buns have their place, but the Shack’s perfectly proportioned burgers, with their greasy-salty patties doused with creamy Shack sauce and squished onto Martin’s potato rolls, are tough to beat.
The burger at Le Diplomate (which arrives bearing French and American toothpick flags) comes close. Like the best high-end burgers in town—the ones at Mintwood Place and Westend Bistro are in the top tier—it takes cues from Le Big Mac. The two patties are diner-style thin. And they’re not afraid to use American cheese, which melts beautifully and crisps up at the edges. There’s special sauce and a sesame-seed bun. I’m not ready to give it the best-in-show crown quite yet, but this is a hell of a burger, and well worth enduring the inevitable wait for if you go at night (late brunches are a much easier bet, though). And Le Diplomate does best Shake Shack on one front: the salty, crunchy—and, yes, McDonald’s-skinny—fries.
Kale chaat at the Bombay Club
I’ll admit to being a little enamored here. Of all the restaurants in Washington, the one I send out-of-town people to the most is the Bombay Club. Rasika and Rasika West End, the other two Indian spots in Ashok Bajaj’s arsenal, get a lot of attention, but I prefer both the atmosphere and the subtler, always elegant cooking at the oldest of the three. The expression “see and be seen” is, generally speaking, a barf-y one, but the neck-craning at Bombay Club feels somehow more exciting than obnoxious, and I love the combination of intergenerational family celebrations and political power-brokering in the beautiful dining room.
The most famous dish at Rasika, and for good reasons, is palak chaat—crispy spinach with sweet yogurt, tamarind sauce, and date chutney. The contrasting textures and flavors win over anyone who has the good luck of tasting them. But I think I might actually prefer the version with kale at Bombay Club. Kale is such a great conduit for the intermingling sauces, and the green feels well suited to cooler weather. Order it in advance of the Samundari thali—wee servings of grouper curry, garlicky spinach, and other dishes served with a perfect piece of tandoor-cooked salmon, naan, and rice.
Hot charcuterie at Bluejacket
Charcuterie plates are ubiquitous these days, and few are memorable. Many are like high-end bar nuts: a tasty, salty side to your cocktail. “House-cured” meats are very au courant, but let’s face it, not all chefs have the talent, experience, and/or kitchen capacity to recreate some of the finer salamis and hams. (Mockingbird Hill’s “ham plate” shows the beauty of outsourcing alongside an expertly made sherry cocktail, allowing the bartenders and meat masters to show their best.) When it comes to house-made items, the “hot charcuterie” plate at the newly opened brewery Bluejacket stands out in both temperature and deliciousness. The plate arrives with a wedge of crispy pig’s head terrine, paper-thin slices of seared tongue, and chicken sausage. The last isn’t your typical gym-bunny indulgence: Thigh meat and chicken liver are blended together in rich, earthy coins, perked up with sweet cubes of pear. The tongue is surprising, too—pile it on the accompanying grilled bread with its Thousand Island-esque aïoli and pickled onions, and you’re eating a mini Reuben. I can’t yet speak for the more traditional “cold charcuterie,” but there is another in-house special that’s definitely worth a try: the beer.
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