The Dish: Dining on the Pampas

Iron Chef ’ Rural Society a gaucho’s paradise.

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Photos courtesy

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A delectable opener.

Heading out one night to the grand opening of the Argentinian-themed Rural Society, I was sure glad I had the address, for the name escaped me.

Rural Society: “ Farming communities marked by a high regard for intimacy and traditional values.”

Political and media dignitaries mingled freely in the deep warm space, while chefs fed us mouth-watering sausages and sizzling steaks, still hot from the grill. Waiters served heaping plates of meat charcuterie and aged cheeses, while pouring deep South American wines. The rustic decor had warm dark recesses to fall in love, a terrace to catch the sun, and a whiskey room to forget the day.

As I surveyed the scene, I felt like I had found a corner slice of Buenos Aires. It was then that I realized that I was not in Argentina — I was in asado heaven.

Rural Society is one of a dozen establishments run by Iron Chef Jose Garces, winner of a James Beard Foundation’s Best Chef award. Garces developed the concept after inspiring trips to South America. He appointed the talented from meat-loving Iowa, as chef de cuisine.

dining room

The rustic, elegant dining room

With its strategic location just off the lobby of the Loews Madison hotel on 15th Street, AvroKo Design LLC pulled a conejo out of a sombrero. The authentic elements of rusticity reminded me of old gaucho movies. Stacks of fire wood line the promenade to the immense wood-fired grill; Along the way are several adorable private dining rooms, known here as“tack rooms.”

Wood, leather, ropes, cattle and vintage photos create the backdrop for the Argentinean adventure.

I returned recently for a food tasting with a handsome bon-vivant friend. They knew who we were in advance of our arrival, and as a result — or despite this, we were treated like royalty. Like they had read my mind, they seated us in one of the little private mini rooms — this one had a bull motif and a quiet ambiance.

One by one, we were warmly greeted by 1) the chef, 2) the manager, 3) the sommelier, and then, 4) our waiter.

While we discussed wine options, our first course arrived: a well crafted salad of baby arugula and Reggianito with a fig reduction.

My friend loves malbec and chose the Luigi Bosca DOC, as he had visited the winery in Mendoza, Argentina. Friend and sommelier nudged me away from my comfort zone chardonnay to the albarino. It was full, flowery with a hint of fruit and now a new favorite.

Next up, lengua a la vinagreta: pickled smoked veal tongue. Yes, you were better off not knowing. Powerful balsamic flavors filled our mouths and as a tragic bit of ill-timing, overpowered our fine wines. Despite this, we soldiered on.

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The famous grill.

After that out came the empanada de espinaca. It had fancy Swiss chard instead of spinach, plus creamy provolenta, roasted onion and a subtle taste of Pernod. Our delicate palettes were restored, but now we were out of our delicate wines.

My friend was also out of his beloved malbec, but I decided he was getting into a rut, so the sommelier suggested we try the Centauri. This is a flawless blend of cabernet sauvignon merlot and carignan. After our first sips, we shared a secret wink, knowing we had found a new favorite red, one that would forever eclipse any malbec. From the Maule Valley of Chile, it was robust, smoky and deep. Like the voice of Shirley Bassey.

Then a huge board of savories conquered our table: flavorful Chorizo gaucho and chorizo con queso.

Then it was time to try the dark morcilla (blood sausage). I twice suggested they change the name, but no luck. I had to put a virtual facon (gaucho knife) to get a friend to try it. He liked it. I loved it.

Finally, mollejas, or sweet breads (lamb thymus glands). Tasty, but if you are not culinarily adventurous, stick to the chorizo.

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Savory grilled meats.

Then, a sliced picanha Wagyu — a tender and divine steak — appeared, accompanied by nury, darling little potato puffs which came with a ramekin of black truffle Hollandaise to be dabbed onto our steaks.

For a main course, we tucked into the chuletas de cordero, double-cut lamb chops ($42), which was perfectly grilled and aromatic.

They practically had to pry the rest of our Centauri power wine from our fingers. We really wanted another glass of this magic potion, but knew we were on a sampling mission. The sommelier, Erin, suggested the carmenere from Chile’s Maipo Valley, which she felt would pair better with our next courses. We remarked on the light wine’s citrus notes, rare for a red.

For another main course, we had a fire-roasted Maine lobster tail. Lobster is my favorite, but if I’m going Argentinian, I’d rather h ave one of the six cuts of Uruguayan or domestic beef. Lobster, Tasmanian sea trout or the cockle-flecked saffron taglierini would be nice entrée options for diners who don’t eat meat.

For a side, we had the delectable remolachas rescoldo, ember citrus roasted beets. So tasty and sweet, a diner could probably get small children to eat them willingly. A must at $10.

Dessert presented another occasion to ply us with more alcohol. Little beakers of port appeared, poured over honey ice cream. The refreshing mango sorbet and dense flan put us over our intake limit. But then, the sommelier invited us to the whiskey tasting room to try one of 25 types of grappa. Even I know when a mission was about to take a dangerous turn. We thanked our hosts for an amazing culinary experience and headed home.

“This is one of the best restaurants I have ever been to,” said my traveling companion.

I had to agree.

Rural Society, 1177 15th Street NW, 202-587-2629. Dinner 5 p.m.-10 p.m., Breakfast 7 a.m.-11 a.m., Lunch 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Happy Hour 4 p.m.-6 p.m.

Donna Drejza is the author of “Palm Beach Busybodies” and “Soul Mates and the 102.”

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