Argentine steakhouse Rural Society only opened in Thomas Circle’s Loews Madison Hotel last week, but already the staff is talking a big game. “We’re going to win the Best Restaurant of the Year from the RAMMYS next year,” General Manager Robert Esplen told me on opening day.
Bold words for the third South American–inspired steakhouse to open within a mile radius in the past year and a half (Del Campo and Toro Toro being the others). This one comes from Philadelphia-based celebrity chef Jose Garces, who is making his D.C. debut.
“Jose is a world-renowned chef, James Beard award winner, Iron Chef. The food is phenomenal. The service, I think that we’ve done such a great job in training our servers and also wine knowledge… It’s a different league," Esplen says when asked about the local competition. Game on.
One thing that makes this steakhouse a little different menu-wise? Pastas and flatbreads. Esplen explains that Buenos Aires has a lot of Italian influence due to a wave of immigrants in the 19th century. One popular Italian-inspired Argentine dish that will be represented on the menu is sorrentino, a ham and cheese ravioli. The exhibition kitchen also features a wood-fired grill similar to the one at The Red Hen. Steaks are pre-sliced and served family style. “Everything is meant to be shared,” Esplen says. There's also a variety of sausages, seafood, and vegetables cooked by flame. (Check out the full dinner menu below.)
The restaurant is open for dinner to start but will expand to breakfast and lunch on July 17. Breakfast will include traditional Argentine breakfast with mate and pastries as well as more typical American breakfast offerings. (It is in a hotel, after all.)
The restaurant gets its name from La Sociedad Rural Argentina, or Argentine Rural Society, which puts on an annual agricultural and livestock show where champion bulls and cattle are shown. The decor includes lots of livestock ribbons, bull heads, and other tributes to that show. “There’s a lot of sort of tongue and cheek stuff about beef production as an industry and beef beauty pageants,” says designer Matthew Goodrich of New York–based AvroKo. He describes the look as “gaucho rusticity” meets "'60s swank power broker Washington,” a nod to the Madison’s history of attracting presidents and politicos.
It turns out that Jonathan Tisch, the chairman of Loews Hotels, had his own Argentinian steakhouse 30 years ago called Gaucho Room in Miami. The restaurant has some of the original livestock photos from that place.
The main dining room includes four nook tables that are essentially their own little rooms. Each is decorated differently, including one room with meat hooks, lassos, and bridles. Each also has its own minibar with whiskies, ports, and a decanting set. If you’d like something at the end of your meal, all you have to do is ask and the server will pour it. The minibars are an homage to hotel minibars, which the Madison Hotel purportedly invented in the 1960s.
A meat locker, where the restaurant ages some of its meats as well as cheeses, greets you when you arrive. The bar up front also has a bottle-encased tasting room, which is stocked with Italian aperitifs and more than 75 different whiskies. Esplen says top clientele, regulars, or even “great first-time guests a server might want to bring in” may be invited to taste some spirits with cheese or meats in there. “It’s more of an exclusivity thing,” Esplen says. “It’s a nice little ending experience or welcoming experience that we can have for a guest.”
All the cocktails are also South American and Argentine-inspired. Wines by the glass are also South American. A happy hour will be available from 4 to 6 p.m. at the bar and on the covered 40-seat outside patio.