Paean to Rose’s Luxury

There’s almost always a line outside Rose’s Luxury because the gourmet comfort food restaurant doesn’t take reservations. It is in this way similar to Sally’s Pizza in New Haven. As an Italian immigrant state legislator in Connecticut once quipped, “There’s only two foods I stand in line for: Sal’s pizza and Communion.”

I’m not much of a line-stander, so I took advantage of proximity during Snowzilla last weekend. Metro marked the snow days with crawling, then crippled, then closed service. I put on my snow boots and trudged two blocks east. If they were open, this was my chance. They were and it was.

“Do you have seating for one?”

“Not quite yet, but soon!”

I was invited upstairs, where I could order from the bar. The hostess warmly assured me she would “find me” when a seat became available. Ten minutes later, she returned, as if to an old friend. (Sorry, but you just can’t teach that.)

I took my seat at the open kitchen and met Janine, who greets everyone with her “I’ll remember you next time” smile. No uniforms, no name tags, just (seemingly) authentic interest. She asked right away if I had any food allergies or sensitivities, as if she was interested in me more than whatever food I might end up ordering. I said no. She smiled.

The menu is small, so choosing wasn’t difficult. I ordered their Peruvian chicken, then watched the (kitchen) show in front of me. Soon a small loaf of bread (they called it something fancier) arrived, with a generous dollop of infused butter beside it. Then they brought me a small carrot appetizer, as a “gift from my server.” This was not going to be a normal meal.

Before the dinner arrived, I went to the restroom, where restaurants often show their true colors. A small sign by the sink said it all. “Employees must wash their hands before returning to work. Fortunately, we hire smart enough employees that we don’t have to remind them to do so.”

Let’s unpack this departure from protocol for a moment. Health regulations across the country require that this reminder be placed in every restaurant restroom. But the regulation does not always stipulate the font or size (yet), nor does the regulation limit the message. So, brilliantly, management has taken a “yes, and” approach to the signage requirement. They turned the regulation into an opportunity to praise their employees for all to see. Not incidentally, the other placard in the restroom says, “Fuck Perfect.” As far as I know, there is no government requirement for this (but maybe there should be.)

The meal arrived, dressed perfectly. The plate included three dipping sauces: Peruvian spice, jalapeño cilantro, and a spiced mayonnaise. The chicken and very-fancy potato was served beside an orange-and-onion salad. At this point, I stopped tracking the ingredients and surrendered myself to the flavors. The parts yielded to the whole.

I’ve always insisted that I have “a single-digit palate.” I can tell the difference between a two-dollar burger and a nine-dollar burger, but expensive entrees are wasted on me. Now I wonder I’ve eaten only at restaurant knock-offs for my entire life — never at the real thing, until now. That’s how good Rose’s Luxury was.

I was treated well from the start, without exception. The service was comfortable but excellent. The food came quickly, along with surprises before and after. (There was peanut brittle delivered in a shot glass with the check.) I tipped generously, not only because the service was excellent, but because I felt the meal had been underpriced.

Rose’s Luxury serves excellence without pretense. As they remind their bathroom audience, “Fuck perfect.” It’s no wonder that Bon Appetit magazine chose Rose’s Luxury in 2014 as the best new restaurant in America and that the Washington Post’s food critic has named it the best restaurant in the region for the last two years.

Rose’s Luxury is among the half-dozen restaurants closest to my front door. If there’s a better definition of a charmed life, I’d like to hear it.