When Rooster & Owl serves its first four-course meal of seasonal shared plates tonight just north of U Street NW, the years of pop-ups, catering jobs, and Uber driving trips will officially fall behind Yuan Tang. The executive chef and co-owner has spent the past decade transforming himself from an unhappy accountant into a professional cook trained in multiple Michelin-starred kitchens in New York City.
Tang, who spent formative years in Falls Church after living in Hong Kong for 10 years as a child, directs a kitchen unconstrained by genres. Rooster & Owl will commit to highlighting seasonal vegetables, fruits, and herbs, but it isn’t vegetarian, and it won’t define itself as anything other than a market-driven restaurant.
“We don’t want to be New American. We don’t want to be French. We don’t want to be Asian,” Tang says. “We kind of want to keep that option open so we can create without a box.”
The menu at Rooster & Owl is set at $65 per person, giving diners a choice of four dishes on each of the four courses. The food will range from an opening snack of pineapple buns, a dim sum staple of Tang’s childhood in Hong Kong that pastry chef Olivia Green has refined, to a first-course option for Carolina-style barbecue carrots that get coated in a dry rub, grilled, paired with a vinegar-based sauce, and served with cornbread ice cream.
The second-course options continue to subvert expectations with vegetables playing a featured role in traditionally meat-heavy dishes.
Steak au poivre is replaced by napa cabbage that’s been layered with butter and shallots, wrapped in twine, and roasted whole before getting portioned into slices and drizzled with a sauce made of preserved green peppercorns. “Pot roast” focuses on a potato puree garnished with braised oxtail, glazed rutabaga, and crispy shallots, aiming to mimic the familiar flavor without the huge hunk of beef.
Rooster & Owl opening menu by on Scribd
Cocktail chief Jason Swaringen, recently a bartender at the Green Zone in Adams Morgan, has concocted a menu of mixed drinks that lists the primary spirit followed by the flavors he wants customers to recognize, rather than each obscure liqueur. For example, the Eye Candy cocktail is listed with Denizan aged white rum, carrots, turmeric, sultana, and lemon.
A beverage pairing option ($35) will include cocktails, wine, and other spirits like sake.
Green, the pastry chef, is opening with a lineup of sweets highlighted by a lemon posset, a lemon-flavored cream accompanied by winter citrus and pomegranate meringue.
Rooster & Owl will hew closely to a point of view Tang developed as a sous chef for John Fraser at Dovetail, a one-star restaurant that was an early innovator in vegetable-forward cooking for the East Coast. Tang’s time at Jean-Georges, a three-star restaurant when he worked his way through different stations, will be evident in Asian and French influences.
Although Tang moved to New York to find a top culinary school, he never matriculated at one because he got an offer to learn from Sohui Kim, the Korean cookbook author and chef, at the Good Fork in Red Hook, instead.
In Carey Tang, Yuan Tang has a partner that rivals his own penchant for multitasking. The co-owner and general manager of Rooster & Owl, Carey Tang will direct the front of the house while working a day job in non-profit development and overseeing the care of their 9-month-old daughter, Nora.
While her husband was taking side jobs in catering and selling wine up in New York, Carey Tang was earning two masters degrees. When he was working at the kitchen of Rogue 24 in Shaw, she took a part-time job a head waiter there. She helped organize Rooster & Owl’s pop-ups and development for the past three years.
The restaurant’s name is a nod to Carey and Yuan Tang’s relationship. She’s the early-rising rooster, and he’s the late-working night owl. When they say they only get to come together for a 30-minute meal, they’re not exaggerating.
Several friends and family members helped decorate the 50-seat dining room by collecting bird-themed kitsch. Design firm HapstakDemetriou+ covered the space in leather-lined chairs with lots of brown shelves and cream-colored walls. Wollam Gardens, a flower farm in Virginia where the couple worked catered weddings, turned winter refuse into plant-filled centerpieces. Brown grapevines scale the corners of the ceiling, making the place feel alive.
For the workaholic owners, it’s just one more personal touch from the path to opening their first restaurant.
Rooster & Owl (2436 14th Street NW) opens at 5 p.m. for dinner Tuesday through Saturday.