Rose's Luxury has had its doors open for less than a year, and it has already reached legendary status (as have the waits for one of its coveted tables). With recognition coming from local and national publications alike, it would be easy for a young chef to get a big head. But chef Aaron Silverman stays pretty humble. He still answers his own emails and writes (yes, writes) his schedule on a personal itinerary. Despite it being filled to the edges with pen and pencil marks for meetings and interviews, the Maryland native took some time to catch his breath and talk about the whirlwind of the last year at his Barracks Row restaurant. Silverman insists that despite the restaurant being named the "Best New Restaurant in America 2014" by Bon Appetit, it is just at 60 percent of where he wants it to be. There's always room for improvement.
Have you been surprised with the accolades and the recognition Rose's Luxury has received over the last year?
I definitely didn't expect that many to happen. I hoped we would do well, and I was optimistic we would do well. As for being well-received, you really never know. It was a huge gamble. I didn't know if people were going to buy what we were selling – literally and figuratively. We had one night in the restaurant – this was early on – and we were busy from the start, but not crazy busy, and around 6 o'clock, the only people in the restaurant were my parents and my sous chef B.J.'s parents. B.J. and I just looked at each other and it was like our worst fears being realized.
As far as the recognition Rose's Luxury has received since you opened, which one really took you by surprise?
Bon Appétit, for sure. Specifically getting number one. We had hoped we would be in the top 10. Then when they were shooting video, we had a good idea we were in the top 10. As time went on and we started getting hints, we began to wonder if we'd be really high up there. And you just never know. We made the long list for James Beard, but we didn't make the short list. You just never know. Getting named the "Best New Restaurant in America 2014" still hasn't really sunk in. It was mind-blowing. We felt like it was a confirmation of all the hard work we had put into Rose's.
Where were some other locations Rose's Luxury could have been?
We looked on 14th Street, we looked at Shaw, and other places as well. But none of the buildings we saw really sang to me. And then, I moved in across the street from here [Rose's Luxury], and I loved the neighborhood, and I was in my apartment for six months when I found this spot. Apparently — and I don't really remember this — friends and advisors were telling me not to take the spot because it'll be too much work. But there were no questions about it. No matter how much work was needed, it was going to be here and it was going to be done right.
How do you think the presence of Rose's Luxury influences other businesses in Barracks Row?
I mean, it's definitely brought business to the neighborhood. Not that it wasn't a busy neighborhood before. I'm friends with the guys behind Cava; I've known those guys since high school. They've been on the street [8th St SE] for four or five years now and were telling me about the growth in the neighborhood. The growth has been very big every year. It was already an established street before we arrived, but I think we just added some icing to the cake.
Recently there was an Instagram picture about a possible farm. What's the situation all about?
A friend of a friend reached out to us, and she has a big plot of land that can hold 10 greenhouses. And she called us up one day and said she's doing non-GMO, vertical gardens and has all this produce that's getting thrown away because she has no one to sell to. She didn't want to deal with multiple restaurants and businesses and payroll. She just wanted to grow produce for one restaurant. So we went out and checked out her land in Prince George's County. She has two greenhouses and she's going to build eight more. She's got the knowledge, skills, the land and the supplies. She just needed someone to sell it to. It'll probably be a couple more weeks before we get our first produce from there. It'll start off slow and should grow into a bigger production.
If there's one thing you would change about Rose's Luxury, what would it be?
It's actually two things, which are tied together. I would close another day. I can't do it now because how would we take more seats out of the restaurant. I would close another day so I can make this restaurant what I really want it to be, which is super relaxed, luxurious and enjoyable. And while I think it's already relaxed, luxurious and enjoyable, I don't think it's at the level I want it to be. It's 60 percent of where I want it to be.
I envision something that was completely free of anything that would negatively impact your meal. Even the slightest thing, like a table that's too close or a light that's too bright or a guest in a corner talking too loud. I wanted more space between tables, servers to have 8 or 6 seat sections. I wanted the kitchen not to do 300 covers a night but 100 covers a night so we can really do the food we're totally capable of. Right now we're doing 70 percent of the food we're capable of. And the service is probably 80-90 percent of what we're capable of. And we can have nicer things, nicer ingredients, nice plates, and even more attentive service. Or inattentive. Whatever makes sense. It can just be more luxurious and enjoyable. We've already taken out 6 or 7 tables so that's 12 or 14 seats, which is a ridiculous amount of money if you think about it.
But getting to that 100 percent mark is a gradual process, right?
It is, but we are limited by the amount of business we do here. We do so much business that we can't fully do the things we want to do. So if I could change something, I would slow everything down. I think we can do everything even better without being more formal at all.
Does that mean there may be a new restaurant down the road?
Of course. I want to do a lot of things. There are a lot of great people who work here who are super passionate and super intelligent and super hardworking and super creative. I have a million things I want to do in life and definitely won't be able to do them all. For me, I would like to do one or two more things under my name, and then help all my friends who helped me get here. We've talked about a bakery, we've talked about a garden store. We'd love to do a sandwich shop and a super, super fine dining place, like French Laundry-esque and four-star dining. Without the fuss, but with all the luxurious elements surrounding it. There are a million things we'd like to do — a coffee shop, a to-go foods place, like Whole Foods, but a mini version run by chefs.
It's about building a collaborative network of awesome people. Part of the reason the food's so good and part of the reason the service is so good is it's just not me. There are seven other managers in this building who work together to come up with ideas. And it's because we work together that we are so good. If it was just me, Rose's Luxury would be less than half of what it is now.
But we'll never do Rose's Luxury 2. We'll do something different. Totally different.
Did you think the pork lychee salad would be as popular as it is?
We knew it would be popular. It did well at our pop-ups and events we did before opening. I didn't expect it to gain as much popularity as it has. But yeah, I mean, I'm sick of it because I eat it everyday. We expected it do well, but not that well.
What dishes haven't worked out?
We had fried green tomatoes on for three days. We weren't happy with that so it came off. We had a parsley hazelnut pesto with snails that wasn't bad, but it wasn't awesome. So we took that one off. But there wasn't a whole lot more beyond that. We try to only put things on the menu that are crave-able. Often you have to get the dish on and put it out 50 times to really refine it and take it from 90 percent to 100 percent, and those dishes never got past 90 percent.
Part of it had to do with the fact that we're so busy we didn't have time to refine it. We are just getting to the point where we're beginning to stabilize our time and our schedules. We never let the guests feel the impact, but our personal lives are just beginning to stabilize. And only barely.
So coming into fall, are there any surprises from guests to Rose's Luxury?
Well, the roof garden is closing for the season in a few weeks. But we will be reopening it with an enclosed greenhouse, so it'll be a greenhouse in the next winter so you can be out there when it's snowing. And because it'll be able to be opened and closed, guests can eat up there year around.
We are not going to do lunch. We are not going to do brunch. We are not going to do Sundays. I wish I could close Saturdays, but I'm not going to.
We are in the off-season with the roof garden, we would like to — it's not a definite — but we would like to do pop-ups at my house the way we used to. Like every other Saturday or something like that. At least once a month. Maybe starting in the new year. We used to do pop-ups in my house across the street and do dinner for 8 or 10 people for $90 for booze and food included, and basically threw a little dinner party. We have a nice courtyard at my house with a koi pond and people can have cocktails in the garden.
Would it be the same style of cooking at guest would find at Rose's Luxury?
A little nicer. Wine pairings. But even more casual than here in a weird way. It'll be super casual, and it'll be at my dining room table at my house. We did it before for a year before we opened, and maybe did 25 of them. It's really fun, and we all enjoy it. We haven't figured out how we would book it and handle that end of it. But I really like cooking at home.
Have you gotten any new tattoos since Rose's Luxury opened?
Not in the last five or six years. No money and no time for that. Tattoos are too much money, too much time, too much work.
If someone could take over the kitchen at Rose's Luxury for a night, who would you want?
I would want one of two people. Either John Shields. Or Stuart [Brioza] and Nicole [Krasinski] of State Bird Provisions [San Francisco] because I haven't been able to get out there to eat their food.
And for Rose's Luxury's second year, what's on the docket?
For here, it's about doing nicer food and slightly better service. Spending more time creatively on dishes. That doesn't mean making them weird. We don't try to do weird food; we like interesting but familiar at the same time. Doing better dishes. Doing more seasonal stuff because we opened in October and we didn't know farmers. So we can get better products and refine service.
Does that mean you'll be expanding the menu?
So in the next month or two, we'll be switching up our "cold" section to "hors d'oeuvres". It's going to be a section of five to seven or six to seven small bites. These will be composed bites as opposed to composed dishes. So when you sit down, you can order tempura shrimp by the piece or oysters by the piece. And then the small dishes and then the family style. So that's definitely in the works.
You talk about refining service and doing better food. But many probably feel Rose's Luxury has set that bar pretty high.
Yeah, but the bar can set higher. We haven't even sat down and had dinner ourselves. My goal is to sit down in every seat in Rose's. That's almost impossible. But I want to experience Rose's from every seat. Same for my managers. I want them to sit in all the seats. Guests are happy, but I know we can do a lot better.