Words by Kaylee Dugan
Photos by Jeff Martin
The first thing Rose Previte says to me before we walk into her apartment is, “You’re going to get the real deal.” She admits that she thought about stopping at the 14th Street Trader Joe’s to perk her fridge up, to give it a little more color and flair. But between running a restaurant, opening a new one, and hosting a television show, it would be an understatement to call Previte busy. While her first restaurant, Compass Rose, continues to lure people through the door with promises of great cocktails and heaps of khachapuri, Rose is focusing her efforts on Maydan, which will start serving old school / old world style food out of the Manhattan Laundry building sometime this fall. And when she’s not running around dealing with contractors, there’s also Check Please!, the WETA TV show she’s hosting that highlights both D.C.’s most famous restaurants and its hidden gems.
As the owner and mastermind behind D.C.’s favorite street food themed restaurant, it’s no surprise that Previte’s home (and her fridge) are influenced by her travels. She’s lived in Russia and spent time in Italy, Argentina, Georgia, Lebanon, Armenia and too many other places to list. She even took her Maydan team on a tour through the Middle East, North Africa and Eastern Europe to learn from grandmothers of different cultures, and yet, Previte is the most excited when she talks about her family.
“I grew up in a grocery store,” she says with a laugh, as she tells me about the store her Sicilian grandfather owned all throughout her childhood. “My whole family just geeks out about grocery stores, I’ll still geek out at a Whole Foods.” Since her and her younger brother took shifts at the store when she was growing up, we kick off the tour of her fridge talking about the places she loves shopping the most. When she’s not ducking into the Trader Joe’s on the corner, Previte prefers international stores. Like many Washingtonian’s she’s a huge fan of the Hana Japanese Market on 17th Street, but she also finds her self in H Mart quite a bit picking up things for herself and Compass Rose. “I make my pilgrimage to Arlington,” she says.
Her fridge shows it. Peeking in we see a good sized container of kimchi (although it’s from Number One Sons) and vegan ramen. There’s also some roasted and seasoned seaweed perched on a counter, but the first thing that strikes me is the meat and cheese options. “I am constantly prepared for a cocktail party,” Previte jokes. Cured meats and cheese are a staple in her fridge, and sometimes even in her purse. She tells me about taking a road trip through Italy and stashing different cheese and meats in her bag for later.
In the freezer we spy a pint of Ice Cream Jubilee, some mysterious “soda” popsicles that taste more like bubble gum than any soda I’ve ever had, as well as caviar from her Russian days, Omaha steaks and homemade sausage made with the recipe used in her grandfather’s store. Soon enough we find ourselves hanging out by the spice rack. Previte explains that this is the most interesting part of her kitchen because it’s more informed by her travels, but first we start with the local ingredients. Previte always has four to five tins of Old Bay at the house, which stems from her husband’s days at the Baltimore Sun. They use it on everything from french fries to meat. “We went through a big phase where we put it on popcorn,” she says. There’s also Za’atar from Z&Z (“I always have that on hand.”), paprika from Hungary, Tajin from Mexico, oregano from a Greek festival in Florida, herbal salt (“I put this on everything, especially meat and tomatoes”) and the crown jewel of her spice collection, locally imported saffron.
“Everything in this house has a Mediterranean flavor,” Previte says, referencing her Italian and Lebanese heritage. While Previte has been too busy with Maydan to do much cooking as of late, (“My mother is going to cry when she reads this,” she says) she loves making homemade chicken soup and her Italian red sauce comes with some special traditions. It’s the first thing she makes whenever she moves into a new place.
After spying some cider and Gordy’s brine in the fridge, Privete takes us over to her bar cart, which features as many international flavors as her spice rack. We kick off the tour with the locally made Green Hat gin, but there’s also Russian vodka, aquavit from Denmark, Lebanese wine, raicilla from Mexico, rakı from Turkey and Cuban rum. When it comes to drinking Privete’s go to cocktail is a Negroni, but she also loves French 75s.
“I’m nostalgic for the lifestyle of a foreign correspondent,” Previte says after talking to us about Iranian berberis and Russian tea. It strikes me that D.C. is lucky to have people like Rose Previte. Through it’s cheesy khachapuri and Georgian wine list Compass Rose has exposed District diners to food, cultures and traditions they might not know about otherwise. We might not have traveled like Previte, but her restaurants are taking us on our own little adventures one meal at a time.