Words By Austa Somvichian-Clausen
Restaurateur John Andrade is no rookie to the D.C. food scene, and if owning two vastly different restaurants on the same street doesn’t prove it I don’t know what does. AdMo’s new Italian kid on the block, Rosario, is Andrade’s fourth notch in his proverbial culinary belt.
Some may do a double take though when they see Chef Logan McGear in Rosario’s kitchen. Logan is also the chef at Andrade’s popular barbecue joint, Smoke and Barrel, which is located halfway down the street.
Andrade admitted that he was surprised to discover that McGear previously worked at Italian restaurants in Arkansas under the mentorship of Chef Orazio Rosario Patti, for whom the restaurant owes its name to, before he was introduced to D.C.’s culinary scene at Smoke & Barrel.
Andrade said that he was amazed when McGear, who he is used to see carrying trays of brisket and jalapeno cheddar grits at Smoke and Barrel, put before him the likes of Parmesan Caesar baskets and delicate chocolate desserts.
The Parmesan baskets are great, by the way. Crispy, with a handful of salad tossed inside. The crispy cheese didn’t stop there – a disk of it also sat atop a large meatball, wading in pool of marinara. Not to mention these were just a portion of the starters I had at Rosario.
A sucker for polenta, I also enjoyed the oyster mushroom polenta with black truffles and butter. Triangular planks of fried polenta were topped with soft oyster mushrooms, and the taste of truffle was noticeable without being overpowering.
Before I get too ahead of myself, let’s talk drinks. If you’re looking for something unique, try the “Vintage Bottle for two.” Each month, Rosario bartenders prepare a batch of their signature Negroni for cellar aging. Presented in a bottle that serves two – you receive both glasses with orange rinds pinned to them by the tiniest clothespins you ever have seen.
There’s a selection of refreshing aperitivos, such as the Arrivederci Felice – a cocktail of St. Germain, cantaloupe, prosecco and sage. Classics & Contemporaries make up the other side of the drink menu, with staples like the boulevardier and a tasty Rosario new old fashioned, made with Elijah Craig Small Batch and an “Amaro of the Day.”
The Amaro of the day was C3 Carcifio Artichoke Liquor. A bitter aperitivo, C3 is based on an infusion of three different types of California-grown artichokes, and has an extremely complex, earthy flavor, almost cave-like. Please note, this is a good thing.
Back to the food. Try the Osso Bucco, paired with ricotta salata and saffron risotto. Hefty enough for two, the beef shank is locally sourced from Roseda Farm in Monkton, Maryland, and is extremely flavorful, if not a bit heavy on the fat. The bed of risotto underneath is a great touch.
You’ll be pleasantly surprised by the options for the less carnivorously inclined. Their soy-based vegan chicken is prepared in the styles of Marsala and Parmigiana, both with a side of Pomodoro pasta. While vegan meat is not necessarily my jam, Rosario’s tasted much better than most that I’ve tried elsewhere.
Tying a bow on the meal are the desserts, where chef McGear’s finesse really shines. The pistachio cannoli is a crispy treat after a big meal of soft pasta and rich meat. The panna cotta was my favorite – a classic and simple Italian dessert, elevated by a structural, delicate web of caramel and a garnish of citrus.
Taking classic recipes and putting a unique spin on each seems to be the name of the game at Rosario. With a dark, cozy atmosphere and an extremely well stocked bar, it’s a welcome escape from the hustle and bustle of the busy neighborhood outside, and an alternative to the formality and high price tags of many of the Italian offerings in the District.
Front page photo by Joey Schaefer, story photos courtesy of Rosario