Rural Society-A Taste of Argentina in Washington DC
The dining scene in Washington D.C. just keeps getting better. A number of celebrity chefs along with a wave of creative newcomers looking to make their mark have found culinary inspiration in the nation’s capital leaving me spoiled for choice when looking for a memorable meal. During my recent stay at the Loews Madison I was delighted to find that I didn’t have to go far. Rural Society, the Madison’s flagship restaurant, is Iron Chef Jose Garces’ first foray into Washington D.C and is a new darling among district foodies. Having dined at Tinto and Amada, two of Chef Garces’ restaurants in Philadelphia (the latter of which is solely responsible for my new found love of sherry), I knew I’d be in for a great dining experience at Rural Society.
Happy hours in Washington are practically a sport and Rural Society is definitely a major league player. Gray suited politicos mingle with tourists over well crafted cocktails and South American wine at the restaurant’s popular bar. I enjoyed an amazingly smooth gin and tonic alongside an empanada tucumana; a tender, buttery crust encased braised wagyu beef with a slight kick of chile which just melted as soon as I took a bite. Also highly recommended are the fugazza, thick crusted Argentinian-style pizzas oozing with cheese and caramelized onions.
In a town known for dark, clubby steakhouses better suited for brokering power deals; Rural Society offers a fresh take with its nod to traditional Argentine parillas. Rich wood is accented with the pale blue of Argentina’s national flag and vintage images of gaucho culture grace the walls. Private alcoves are tucked throughout the restaurant for groups looking for a little more privacy. Overall this is a relaxed space where you”ll feel comfortable spending a few hours enjoying the fruits of the grill with a bottle of South American wine.
The heart of Rural Society is the open parilla-style grill, a $20,000 behemoth custom made for the restaurant that is presided over by chef de cuisine Louis Goral. Chef Goral draws inspiration from his recent travels to Argentina and Uruguay in order to create an authentic, but elevated take on gaucho cuisine.
I had trouble choosing from the extensive (and extensively meat-centric) menu so I opted for the $75 tasting menu and left my meal in Chef Goral’s capable hands. Don’t expect dainty three- bite portions here either, this experience is an eating marathon; in fact it probably wouldn’t hurt to have run 10 miles earlier in the day to make sure you’re hungry enough for all the deliciousness that is about to ensue.
A flurry of appetizers immediately started making the rounds to my table accompanied by a trio of condiments; malbec butter lends an earthy umami note to anything it touches while the chimichurri and criolla are bright and zingy. Over a dozen dishes graced my plate this evening ranging from morones,ember roasted peppers and whipped eggplant, to handmade gaucho-style sausages. A nod to Argentina’s Italian influence, handmade taglierini laced with rock shrimp and cockles wouldn’t seem out of place on the Amalfi coast. Standouts for me were the the carpaccio de pulpo, incredibly tender braised octopus drizzled with a bright tomato escabeche and an earthy crunch from malbec chips (if you think you don’t like octopus this will change your mind, Chef Gabal has had quite a few converts); and the humita, a comforting corn tamale with salty sardo cheese that I just couldn’t get enough of.
As good as everything was up to this point I knew I had to pace myself as the best was yet to come. Rural Society is a carnivore’s paradise as I found out when some absolutely glorious cuts of meat graced my table. Adorned with nothing more than olive oil, salt and pepper the meat itself is allowed to be the star here. Perfectly medium rare sliced wagyu rump steak was tender and richly beefy while the Colorado lamb is the best I’ve had anywhere.
Grilled wild mushrooms and nury, crispy hasselback-style roasted potatoes with truffle aioli were a decadent accompaniment that paired perfectly with the richness of the beef and lamb. When at long last dessert arrived I full intended to only take a bite or two as I was beyond stuffed but the intense caramel notes of the dulce de leche flan was just too good to pass up.
I finished every last bite.
Having enjoyed several great experiences at Chef Garces’ restaurants in Philadelphia I had high expectations for his D.C. outpost at Rural Society and Chef Louis Gabal and his staff fulfilled every one of them. Simple but beautiful preparation of the best ingredients with an Argentinian flare make Rural Society a great option to satisfy your inner carnivore.