On an absolutely *frigid* Monday evening, I drove to Georgetown, only to find K Street blocked off, and I was diverted onto the Whitehurst Freeway, where I was spit out near the Key Bridge. Turning right on M Street, I drove down past Wisconsin Avenue, only to find police cars blocking every side street to the South (someone very important was dining somewhere in South Georgetown Monday night, and I don’t think all this was for me).
I parked on Wisconsin, and scampered down to the Capella Hotel, teeth chattering by the time I got there. Walking into The Rye Bar, I saw the center seat at the five-seat bar empty, so I nabbed it.
The bartender was young, albeit a seasoned restaurant worker, and I got mixed signals from him all evening long. When I asked him to make me a non-alcoholic cocktail of his choice, I sensed an air of resignation (I suspect the average bar tab here is fifty dollars); yet, he made me a terrific drink – essentially the same drink I’d had on the two previous evenings, except this time it was vigorously shaken, and served up in a Margarita glass. Of the three different variations on this exact same cocktail, I liked this one the best – I also noted that it had about five different ingredients in it, so it was not a simple drink, and the pinkish-orange color came not from orange juice (although there was some in there), but a bit of cranberry juice to go along with lemon-infused simple syrup, etc.
The selection of liquors at Rye Bar is fantastic – it’s expensive as sin, but they’re using expensive liquor, and that $22 Manhattan is barrel-aged for two months downstairs before being siphoned off. If you want top-end Ryes, Bourbons, Gins, Tequilas, et al, this is the place to come if you don’t mind paying for it.
Here to get Ruta On The Cheap, I opened the menu and found just a few items of bar food, although I’ve heard that, in the general case (but not always), you can get The Grill Room’s dishes in Rye Bar – I would certainly call first to be safe. Here’s their menu, the last page of which contains the Bar Bites (made in the same kitchen as The Grill Room):
When I saw the menu, there was never any doubt what I’d be ordering: The Grill Room Burger ($22) was a *dead ringer* for the Palena burger of old, and I mean I couldn’t tell the two apart, and there’s also no doubt that this is one of the greatest hamburgers you’ll ever eat. Ordered medium-rare, it came on a house-made sesame bun, with house-made mayonnaise, topped with truffle cheese, and served with house-made pickles. Alert, alert! Frank Ruta is capable of making crispy french fries! Much to my chagrin, the mushy, soft, mashed-potato like fried potatoes on the old Palena Fry Plate are gone, and have been replaced by – yes, crispy! He can do it after all! – shoestring fries cleverly served in faux-newspaper. I actually thought these fries were the weak link on my three consecutive meals here, being just too salty for my taste, and crispy to a fault – and yet, crispy they were. I’m proud of you, Frank – you’ve learned well over the years.
If you miss Palena’s burger, come to Rye Bar, because here it is – the exact same thing. To think that this sandwich debuted for *nine dollars* at Palena! I can’t say I didn’t take advantage of it, so I have no regrets; just sorrow, but that’s mollified knowing I can still get his cooking here at Capella Hotel.
Along the way, I got another drink – the same – and this time I watched as the bartender walked me through it. I know this isn’t au courant in this decade’s mixology theory, but I *love* tiny ice crystals in my shaken drinks, and I got them in this – just enough to notice for a few seconds before they melted away into nothingness.
I wanted to get a “Movie Night” dessert, but to my surprise, the bartender told me the kitchen had closed (I was surprised because I glanced at my cell phone shortly afterwards, and it was 8:48 PM). Well, it was an empty Monday night, and was about 15 degrees outside with a nasty wind chill, so all is forgiven. Instead, I ordered the Cookies & Confections ($12), and got it to go. This turned out to be about 15-20 of the little mignardises (with a few that I hadn’t yet seen, such as Killer Brittle), and is worth every penny. I actually have a few left for this evening, but Matt is arriving, so the odds of me finishing them are something between zero and nil.
After three visits, I’m still not sure how much non-alcoholic cocktails cost because I was only charged for one drink, and it was only $4. To make sure it was okay, I thanked the bartender, and told him I’d leave it on his tip, and I tipped him well. On my way out, I glanced over my right shoulder, and the hostess was still at the host stand in The Grill Room, probably waiting to say goodnight to the last customers.
Rye Bar’s one huge advantage over The Grill Room is that you can get Palena’s cheeseburger – remember that little trinket, because it’s every bit as good as you’ll remember from days gone by.
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