In an attempt to stand out from its downtown steakhouse brethren, Rare Steak and Seafood recently replaced its 12-seat oyster counter downstairs with a dedicated charcuterie bar showing off meats cured on-site and a host of Midwestern and Mid-Atlantic cheeses.
Chef Marc Hennessy and his staff are making their own rolled Cajun tasso ham, lardo, head cheese, duck cherry pate, and pate de Campagne, for example. There’s also an au poivre-cured wild king salmon and maple smoked sturgeon, a fatty fish that’s making a comeback to local waterways as the Chesapeake Bay’s health improves. Hennessy says he’s been workshopping some of these recipes for years.
“We use up everything we have in the true sense of nose-to-tail eating,” he says. “It’s the right thing to do and it tastes really good.”
The charcuterie bar at Rare (1595 Eye Street NW) opens every night at happy hour time (4 p.m.). Anyone seated in the 60-seat bar area in the casual tavern space downstairs can order off the charcuterie bar menu, which also includes bar snacks like cheese curds or pork belly with mumbo sauce along with two entrees: a dry-aged burger and steak frites.
At the rest of the steakhouse, people can sample the meats and cheeses from a little board (two meats, two cheeses) or a big board (four of each).
The boutique chain, which has Wisconsin locations in Madison and Milwaukee, put down roots in D.C. about two years ago.
The cheese menu kicks off with a rare 15-year sharp cheddar from Hook’s creamery in Wisconsin that the chef first sampled when he was helping open the original Rare in Madison. A Parmesan-like Montamore comes from Wisconsin’s Sartori Cheese Company.
“It stands up with any Parmesan in Italy,” he says. There’s a brown butter flavor to it he’s “obsessed” with.
Hennessy prefers Wisconsin cheese over many fancy European options due to the quality of the milk.
“It begins with the ingredient at the very beginning,” he says. “You can taste how much grass-feeding the cow has and how much the animal is able to move around.”
The cheese section also shows love for creameries in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Vermont. Two-year aged gouda from Beemster Farm in New Jersey has a crunchy crystaline quality to it.
“It’s an added bonus that makes a cheese unique,” he says.
Gooey raclette, sourced from the Alps and slathered over potatoes, is the only non-American cheese at the bar, but Hennessy plans to find a prime domestic replacement.
Rare has whittled its wine list down from 400 to 280 bottles since opening to make guests feel less overwhelmed with options. Its by-the-glass list includes a sparkling $15 glass of JCB Cremant Rose — an entry-level pour from a top-notch brand that’s ideal for pairing with cheese. Lambrusco, like a glass of Northern Italy’s Fattoria Moretto, goes well with charcuterie.