Restaurateur John Andrade is still getting used to dealing with tablecloths and the finer points of proper dinner service. But a year after opening upscale Italian restaurant Rosario in Adams Morgan, the Pint Size Hospitality Group founder who made a name for himself with neighborhood bars (Meridian Pint, Brookland Pint) and casual barbecue restaurant Smoke & Barrel, continues studying wine lists and private dining options.
Along the way Andrade has learned to lean on chef Logan McGear, whom he brought over from Smoke & Barrel, and bar guru Steve Laycock, who is in charge of drinks at the recent arrival. Andrade recently promoted McGear, an Arkansas native who spent some time in Kansas City before moving to D.C., to become his company-wide chef. In his new role, McGear will oversee the menus at all of Andrade’s existing restaurants, as well as at Dominion Pint — the beer bar Andrade is working on opening in Arlington, Virginia, where he lives.
One year after opening Rosario, Andrade and McGear talked to Eater about what’s worked (pasta), what hasn’t (fancy crab cakes), and what lies ahead (focusing on Virginia).
How does opening your own restaurant change the more times you do it?
John Andrade: It gets easier and harder at the same time, the further along that you go. Especially in a place like D.C. — not the most organized for business development and permit processing. What should be a six-month to eight-month buildout can turn into 18 months. It seems like an obstacle course to find your way through. After you’ve done it a few times, you know the path for it.
So you’re not opening up another spot in D.C.?
JA: I am not opening anything else up in D.C. … I am tired of going against the current. And Virginia steers the current in my direction more than D.C. does. I live in Arlington, a quarter mile away [from Dominion Pint]. I’ve already presented at the local civic association. Everyone is elated at having it, we’re waiting to sign the lease.
How is it different running a place like Rosario rather than Smoke & Barrel?
JA: It’s definitely out of my wheelhouse in terms of what I’m accustomed to: craft beer and casual vibes. I love every bit of it. I ventured pretty heavily into wine and learning about wines. It’s a learning curve, but I’ve surrounded myself with a lot of people who have a lot of experience in the culinary and beverage side, craft cocktails, and Italian wines. If there is one thing I know, if I don’t get a good team around me, we aren’t going to go anywhere.
Logan McGear: It’s two different animals. One takes several hours to smoke the meat. Here it’s cooked to order. Here it’s wine-oriented with tablecloths, and over there its community tables with a long beer list. But it’s been kind of fun to have both of those options to go to.
So what’s been the biggest success on the menu?
JA: Because of McGear, every single dish has been a breakout dish. I am not born and raised Italian, I only know it from the consumer perspective in the states. There’s the Caesar salad served in a parmesan crisp bowl, the chicken parmesan, which I’m stuck on now, or the meatball bolognese — garish, but oh-so-perfect garish.
LM: One of the only items that hasn’t been a big success at Rosario is the Sicilian crab cake. I found that in this part of the world, people are so particular about their crab cakes that this version with white wine, braised vegetables, and crab mixed in wasn’t a fan favorite.
What’s coming up this spring?
JA: We are building out a private dining room … for special occasions. I’ve never gotten more requests for large groups: 15 to 40 people, three to four times a week. It’s become very apparent that it’s the way people dine Italian. Large, festive groups; people love to get together to eat Italian. To accommodate that we are building out a 20-person private dining room. It will open at the end of April.
LM: More handmade pasta on the menu at Rosario, including intricate styles like corzetti and garganelli — the ones you have to roll by hand. Also a panzanella,and a different type of strip steak, like a Tuscan steak. And now that I’m the executive chef of four restaurants, I’ll be putting out a new menu for the Pints in April.
Any other mistakes you’ve made with Rosario that you won’t repeat?
LM: We’re done doing our own laundry. We are going to outsource our laundry to a linen service instead of doing it in-house.
This interview has been edited and condensed.