The idea came to Rose Previte in a dream. The Compass Rose owner had traveled to Morocco twice before. She imagined herself in the Sahara desert, sleeping inside a Bedouin tent. She went to her head chef, Sam Molavi, when she awoke.
"She told me about this dream, and that she wanted to turn our backyard into a tent," Molavi says. "It sounded crazy to me."
But, after letting the idea sink in a bit, Molavi says it started to make sense. On Monday, after several months of construction and menu planning, Compass Rose will start taking reservations for a private dining experience that sounds somewhat like another D.C. restaurant— Rose's Luxury.
Previte has been thinking about expanding the dining at Compass Rose for the last six months. She says the restaurant gets lots of requests for private dining, but there's very little space to work with. At one point, Previte told Eater she was toying with the idea of a second-floor dining room, which currently serves as office space for front-of-house operations.
That project is on hold for now, Previte says — the idea for a tent attached to the back of the restaurant was a quicker move.
"We basically use every inch possible for our restaurant, but we still had this back patio that was maybe a two-top dining option or a place to drink cocktails," says Previte. "Now you can shut the door behind you and enter this private dining experience that transports you all the way to Morocco," she explains.
It cost about $4,000 to build the tent, and it's insulated and heated for winter. Restaurant designer Molly Allen decorated the interior with Moroccan-style rugs, beaded fabric and plush pillows that will have diners imagining that they're in Casablanca, Rabat, or Marrakech.
This is a family-style, five-course menu with a mix of Morocco food. There's street fare, eggplant fritters, and traditional soups and stews like tangines. There are also some stranger dishes like a whole roasted neck of lamb.
Designing the menu was a month-long crash course for Molavi. He's never been to Morocco. He says the dishes are largely interpretations of staples, like harira, a lentil and chickpea soup that's typically served after Ramadan. But it's not entirely a traditional menu.
The drink pairings are offered from the wine and cocktail direction of the Compass Rose bar. "We acknowledge that Morocco is not a drinking country. We're serving a variety of drinks that stick to the theme of international travel and that pair well with the food," Previte says.
Dinner without drinks is $70 per person (before tax and tip). It's $100 per person with the addition of cocktail and wine pairings.
While hearty Moroccan soups and stews will dominate the Bedouin tent experience this winter, Malovi says they're changing the menu each season to reflect a different country's cuisine. The idea is to travel the world. Compass Rose will change the country and food theme every four months.
Starting on Monday, the restaurant will begin accepting online reservations for up to eight people. Dinner in the tent is offered once each night, three times per week on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays. Previte says the reservations will extend to five days each week (Tuesday through Saturday) by January.