I’ve obviously waited too long to do this restaurant review, because I have to actually go back to the photo I took of the menu to remember everything we ate that night. My lasting impression of the place was: Yum. We need to go back.
So there’s your review.
Longer version: I first heard of Rolf and Daughters back in the first few months of the year when reading a review of the city’s best spring cocktails. One of the cocktails was a creation at Rolf and Daughters, and I realized there was a new restaurant in town that Manda and I needed to add to our list.
There’s a large factory in the “Germantown” area of town that has been transformed into loft apartments. I’ve dreamed of living there since my early days of moving here, ever since I began going to the parish in Germantown for Sunday Mass. The lofts are out of my price range and the neighborhood is still on the sketchy side of the upswing into yuppiness, but it doesn’t stop me from getting on Craigslist occasionally and looking at pictures of the various units for sale or rent.
When I found out Rolf and Daughters is in the transformed boiler room of that factory, I already liked the place.
Manda and I had a little trouble getting reservations, and we blamed the fact that we hadn’t gone before they were featured in Southern Living. Now we were just jumping on the bandwagon. But we did our research, figured out what we wanted to try, and headed over there.
They are a restaurant that prides itself on its “seasonally-driven menu,” which I really appreciate. This city really has fantastic restaurants. If you’re willing to spend the money for a nice night out, there’s no excuse to go to a chain restaurant in this city or a restaurant that doesn’t have respect for real ingredients. I’m getting spoiled by the prevalence of farm-to-table restaurants around here, too.
I loved the vibe of the place — they had a cute little front patio of outdoor seating, and then the inside was very open and natural. Everyone seems to be going for the natural wood look, but they got some props in my book for not covering the place with the Edison bulb light fixtures that are everywhere now. (I love them, don’t get me wrong, but they’re everywhere. There were a couple here, but not evident at first.)
The ceiling was so awesome I almost wanted to take a picture of it – and probably should have. You can kind of see it in the picture below – it was exposed wood laid almost like a floor — but unfinished (some strips still had the bark on them). Hard to explain, but very neat.
The crowd was fun – some families, some couples, some groups of friends. It was pretty laid back, although you wouldn’t have been out of place dressed up. The owner of one of our favorite coffeeshops, Barista Parlor, was sitting next to us. I’m not usually a “he’s cool, he’s here, this place is cool,” type of person, but when a successful restauranteur is sitting next to me at a restaurant (Barista Parlor makes darn good coffee and knows how to treat their customers), I’m feeling good about my choice of dinner locale.
We started off with cocktails – a Buon Appetito for both of us (Campari, Cocchi Americano, Grapefruit, Lemon, Soda Water). We wanted to try the Cumberland Sour, which has sorghum in it, but it wasn’t on the menu that night and we decided to wait for our next visit. (We’re sure they would have made it for us.)
It was excellent — definitely girly-looking, but not girly-tasting. If I was a cocktail connoisseur, or a true food blogger, I would describe it to you, but all I can say is that the taste of it was complex — not sweet, like it looks — and the taste changed after about the fifth or six sip. Since I’m not a cocktail connoisseur, I will tell you it was “delicious.”
In the course of our research, Manda read that their pate was quite good. Since we aspire to be foodies, Manda questioned whether we should try the pate, even if “chicken liver pate” kind of made us feel a little funny inside. How were we ever going to be foodies if we weren’t a little daring? I encouraged this line of thought and said I would go for it if she did.
So for our first course — our “snack,” if you will, we ordered the chicken liver pate, carrot marmalade, cacao.
Well, there it is.
At first I was on board. Then I realized it was really just the carrot marmalade I liked and I was trying to like the pate so I could be a foodie.
Do I want to know what that layer of gelatin is on the top? Do I really? I don’t think so. We ate a few pieces of toast with the pate, finally finishing the toast with the marmalade and wondering if our server would notice we couldn’t finish it. I’m sure it’s good pate. Nothing against R&D. I just don’t like pate. It has the consistency of Fancy Feast, and I don’t really want to think about it.
When our food came, the pate was still sitting there. So our waiter asked if we’d like more toast. I shook my head no, hoping the pate would go away. Manda said, “Sure!”
As he left, I hissed, “That means we have to finish the pate!”
He brought more toast — after quite a long time, I might add– and we tried to push around the pate to make it look like we ate it. I think I may have eaten another bite.
My one complaint– and I really think this was my only complaint of the evening with R&D — is that they charged us for the second plate of toast (only a buck or two, but still). And our first toast had been slightly burnt. I thought that was pretty lame.
Any complaint with burned toast was forgotten when I tasted my pasta. It was beautiful, and it tasted just as beautifully as it looked. We had both ordered pasta dishes — Manda had the Garganelli verde with heritage pork ragout and parmesano, and I ordered the pasta special of the day. They have a pasta special each day, and that day’s had lamb and chili pepper in it and other wonderful things I’ve forgotten because I took too long to blog about it.
It was glorious. Goodness gracious, I’m not sure I’ve had pasta this fresh since living in Rome.
And I’m not just talking about the fact that the pasta was clearly made in house. Everything about it was fresh — the flavors exploded with a clean energy. They had been treated with respect — what was in season, what was at hand, what played together well.
It was unexpected, actually. I knew I would find great food and flavors at R&D, but I wasn’t going thinking I was going to order pasta. When Manda and I go to these places, I tend to order steak or fish or something I wouldn’t cook at home. Most people think pasta is easy. R&D reminded me that good pasta is an art.
Next time I’m in the mood for good pasta, I won’t be going to an Italian restaurant in town. I’ll be heading to Rolf and Daughters.
Of course, no meal is complete without dessert. Since the serving size of the entree was actually a normal, healthy serving, there was room for dessert. Another sign that R&D just understands food. And life.
There were three options, all of which sounded pretty incredible: there was a bomboloni with vanilla cream and chocolate sauce, a vanilla panna cotta with saba and almond cookies, and a chocolate torte made with local Olive and Sinclair chocolate with caramel and bourbon nibs.
Manda got the chocolate tart:
And I got the panna cotta:
The tart was deceivingly light, and my panna cotta was refreshing, as I expected. I had never had saba before — a reduced grape juice that reminded me of balsamic (similar process) but had a sweetness to it. I guess it’s a classic in traditional Italian dishes, so it fits R&D’s description of their food as “modern peasant.”
We will definitely be back — there was a Brussels sprout salad we wanted to try that wasn’t on the menu that night, and there’s that sorghum cocktail we need to go back to get. We just won’t ask for more toast.