Nestled just north of the U Street corridor is one of D.C.’s innovative, community driven gems: Rooster & Owl. Now in their fourth year, this Michelin-starred spot is led by husband and wife team Yuan and Carey Tang.
The name of the restaurant is an ode to the hours that restaurateurs must keep. The duo works opposite schedules: Carey the rooster is up early and Yuan the owl works late. The two have always come together over food and in this spirit, they founded Rooster & Owl.
The menu is built for sharing, balancing both a commitment to fun and funky innovation and a focus on locally-sourced ingredients.
“We’re not constrained to a particular style, so we do what we want,” Yuan says. “We incorporate all the unique backgrounds of our team to make something new and exciting, grounded in the familiar.”
While it’s not a secret, the team at Rooster & Owl have an interesting way of creating dishes that riff on classics. They start with a tried and true dish (for example, cacio e pepe) and then take a step — or half a step — away, challenging the tradition without disrespecting it. The half step for their cacio e pepe is the introduction of soba, or buckwheat noodles. All members of staff pitch in to this process, with the kitchen team experimenting with dishes they love during all day brainstorming sessions.
“It’s always a basis of love and respect for food and classics,” Yuan says.
For more fun takes, this week you’re likely to find harissa-garnished autumn mushrooms, a foie gras and bacon bahn mi, black bass with pumpkin mole or a hanger steak served with fermented soybean paste.
It’s important for any restaurant to fit in with the local community, and Rooster & Owl has formed deep connections with the produce, people and places of the DMV. To stock the larder, they rely on fresh produce, their menu mirroring what’s in season and available from trusted suppliers in the region.
They’ve built relationships with local farmers and purveyors, avoiding rare ingredients that might be consistently available in good quality (although they do have a pretty neat caviar service). If they’re unable to reliably source an ingredient that does meet their standards, they simply won’t use it. For example, a fan favorite dessert was uni, a steamed Japanese egg custard, but due to supply chain issues it’s no longer readily available — so they’re moving on and creating a new fan favorite.
From a community support standpoint, Rooster & Owl haven’t flown the coop. Not only does a lot of their staff live in the area, but they support local organizations like Martha’s Table that combat childhood hunger. They are also pretty heavily involved in the Chefs Stopping AAPI hate campaign.
Splitting plates and adding on courses might be unusual for high-end restaurants, where portion sizes are sometimes comically small and tasting menus effete, but you’ll find Rooster & Owl an accessible spot to enjoy good food. Their funky twists on time honored dishes are fun to explore, and the intimate dining room is the perfect setting for this culinary journey.
For their New Year’s Eve service, they’re serving a six-course menu instead of the usual four, showcasing older favorites like barbeque carrots with new dishes — one time only. There are two seatings, with the second accompanied by a Champagne toast, so it’s the perfect venue for you and your friends to share a meal this new year’s.
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