Tommy Malz has a lot to say about maple syrup, definitely more than one conversation can contain and maybe enough to fill a book he’s yet to write. Regulars at the Partisan, Neighborhood Restaurant Group’s meat-heavy restaurant that’s attached to the Red Apron Butcher in Penn Quarter, can expect to learn a lot more about the sweet sap product now that Malz is the chef.
Malz has been in his new role and collaborating with Red Apron boss Nate Anda since June, but the two just released their first full menu together last week.
One of the new dishes sure to catch the eye of customers is a smoked half rack of wild boar ribs that have been brined in a solution that includes dark, molasses-like maple syrup and glazed in a light, amber syrup. There are about five varieties of maple syrup in the kitchen at the Partisan now, and Malz says he wants to show customers how different types show of the terroir of where their trees are planted. Born of French-Canadian stock in Vermont, raised in New Hampshire, and briefly the owner of a farmhouse restaurant in Maine, Malz identifies as a son of New England.
Much of the new menu at the Partisan represents that frigid corner of the country and a neighboring region, Quebec. There’s a Bavarian braised rabbit that’s cooked down with fennel, parsnips, mirepoix, Pommery mustard, and madeira wine. It’s served over green spaetzle, an Anda recipes that takes its color from spinach. Malz says he also throws in a layer of hay that he chars to perfume the braise before removing every particle from the serving dish.
The rabbit is an example of a peasant food, Malz says, shot through with classic technique. He says he and Anda share a fascination with Continental cooking that blue bloods eat at country clubs in New England, which explains the presence of a cedar-planked salmon with crispy potato terrine, buerre monte, and braised cabbage.
“We’re both blue-collar guys, and I think we have a certain obsession with opulence,” Malz says.
Like Anda, Malz gravitated to butchery early on. He apprenticed with a sausage company when he was in culinary school, and he says he flew to New Orleans sight unseen to ask for a job as a line cook at Cochon, where whole pigs were coming through the door two or three times a week. That Louisiana influence shows up at the Partisan in a plate of oysters served with Pernod garlic butter, bread crumbs, and charred lemon. A play on classic chargrilled oysters, the shells get cooked over a mix of Quebecois sugar maple lump hardwood and binchotan coals.
Malz got his start in D.C. working at Graffiato and helped open Kapnos, eventually leading whole-animal butchery and charcuterie programs there. His Maine restaurant, Custom Deluxe, was a critical success, but he found all the distractions of ownership sapped his creativity. When he closed it and moved back to D.C., he led kitchens at Brothers and Sisters and Tico before he got connected with Anda.
The two concocted a new “bipartisan” burger, dry-aging whole cuts of sirloin and chuck that they grind into a patty eventually dressed with fontina, crispy shallots, and Russian dressing.
Malz says the idea of working with someone so committed — Anda now has Red Apron supplying the Partisan with about 35 varieties of charcuterie — was what sold him.
“It’s more interesting in your life to work with people who don’t bend,” he says.