The first time I went to Rooster & Owl I didn’t eat anything.
This was a few weeks ago, you might remember it: what seemed like every DC-area Instagrammer was posting about the recently-opened spot – which sits a stone’s throw from Maydan. We showed up on a Saturday, near to 5 p.m. as we could, and were welcomed to a restaurant that was fully booked for the evening. So, we made a reservation for the following Saturday with the maître d right there and then.
Seven days later, we were back, and hungrier than before.
For as much as the internet serves to give its users the experience before the experience (AKA reading the Wikipedia entry of a movie), food will always be protected from this. You can look at hundreds of Yelp or Instagram photos, read hundreds of words from critics, and yet they can’t tickle your taste buds. Sure, things sound and look good, and that’s valuable promotional and decision-making material, but the restaurant experience happens in real time. It’s one of few experiences that still does.
That’s to say I knew to order the carrots.
Rooster & Owl has 16 items, which the restaurant says will “change often” on its menu across four courses. To order, each person picks one item from each course and can add a drink pairing (as I did) or just drink the many other drink options offered (as my fiancé did); with the two of us, we got to try half the menu. Plus, bread to start. It was glorious.
The menu is slim, but we never felt boxed in by what to order; everything is different enough, and looks appetizing enough, that we made our order confidently. There are times when that’s not the case—when I’m stuck between a few dishes and pick one reflexively only to immediately wonder if I’m now living in the darkest timeline—and it haunts the whole experience. With Rooster & Owl, I knew it all looked good, and we could try half of it anyway.
You have to start with the carrots. Charred and sauced as you might pulled pork, they’re not too sugar-sweet and play an excellent foil against a dollop of cornbread ice cream. Elsewhere to start, we went with the kanpachi, a bright burst of citrus compared to the more-savory carrot. My palate doesn’t tend to reward the isolated pucker of the grapefruit, but I certainly would eat this again—next time though, I’d close my eyes and dream of white sand beaches and margaritas with salted rims.
Sad as it is to admit, we’re stick-to-your-ribs eaters. That makes eating out all the more fun, what with all the butter and cream a less jaded eater might not think makes their meal so delicious, but also taxing. We don’t follow the Confucian concept of hara hachi bun me; we eat, we fill, and then we regret. So, it was no surprise when the etouffee and “pot roast” were gently placed in our shared space. Nor that they were taken away in short order, our plates damn near licked clean.
What was a surprise was the quail. Built like a lean-to on a bed of cheddar grits flecked with sweet pepper jelly, this was the dish that really hit me. Had I forgotten how good pepper jelly was? How interesting the small, but mighty quail could be when it takes a left turn from France and sinks down to the Low Country? My God. I’ll have many more meals out this year, but my heart and my head know the quail at Rooster & Owl will sit on the shortlist for the best dish I ate in 2019.
I’ll be back, probably sans drink pairing, and all I can do is hope the quail is still there to greet me when I do.