After the popular Pasta Mia went dark last spring in Adams Morgan, Logan McGear, the chef at Smoke and Barrel, approached his boss, John Andrade, about reviving a similar concept in the space.
“What do you know about Italian?” the restaurateur recalls asking McGear, 35, to which the chef replied, “You should have asked what I knew about barbecue” before hiring McGear at Andrade’s Southern eatery six years ago.
As it happens, the chef, an Arkansas native, cooked in a few Italian restaurants in Little Rock before he decamped for the District. Barbecue was merely something he and his crew did “at the house, on Monday, when we were closed.”
While Andrade didn’t land the vacant Pasta Mia, the seed for doing something Italian in Adams Morgan stuck with him, and he eventually acquired the former Libertine space, revamped the interior and branded it Rosario. “I’m a big fan” of Adams Morgan and “excited about its direction,” says the principal behind the District-based Pint Size Hospitality Group. McGear, who always wanted to open an Italian restaurant of his own, got to name the place. The 60-seat Rosario is a tip of the toque to the chef’s former Sicilian employer, the late Rosario Patti, who taught the chef much of what he knows about Italian cooking.
McGear says his motto is “simple but nice,” a theme underscored by appetizers in particular. Affixed to their plate with herb sauce, nubby arancini break apart to find Bolognese in their centers; dredge the rice fritters through the sauce, and each tastes like a complete meal. Caesar salad is presented in a fluted basket fashioned from Parmesan, while white anchovies get tricked out with orange zest and garlic chips. Linguine tinted black with squid ink comes scattered with mussels and shrimp, their light tomato sauce sharpened with crushed red pepper flakes. Veal can be eaten four ways, one of them as a saltimbocca dressed with sage, prosciutto and Marsala. There’s a saffron-scented risotto, too, meaty with pork cheeks and juicy with diced apple.
Rosario’s meh fried calamari and occasional overcooked pasta won’t be confused for the finery produced by a Fabio Trabocchi; then again, neither will the prices. Down the line, McGear says he might offer the “killer” lasagna his dad makes for him when he visits home, perhaps as part of a Sunday Supper.
Think of Rosario as an elevated neighborhood spaghetti house. The drinks are very good, and they’re shaken and stirred by bartenders who are happy to give you a taste of a new spirit they’re keen on. (Warm weather finds me asking for an Italian Greyhound, refreshing with grapefruit and rosemary.) Pistachio cannoli shatter, as you want them to, while the tiramisu whispers of coffee. The fine points extend to snug tables for two on the mezzanine that overlook the bar scene.
Andrade is right. Adams Morgan is looking up.
2435 18th St. NW. 202-791-0298 . rosariodc.com. Entrees, $16 to $62 (whole leg of lamb).