With Jesse DeLeon at the helm, this new spot in the growing East 11th District is sure to become a seasoned staple
by Karen Spezia
Photographs by Holly Cowart
I can’t stop thinking about Rosewood. The memories drift by almost daily: the outrageously delicious jambalaya, the lip-smacking smoked mushrooms, the ooey-gooey chocolate cookie. And it’s not just the food. I also can’t stop reminiscing on the lovely old cottage perched atop a grassy downtown knoll, with its charmingly vintage interior, cozy corner bar, and flamboyant bathroom wallpaper. I think about how delightful it was to dine in a new restaurant and converse without screaming. These are good memories, fond memories, ones that stick with me and cajole me to return.
In my line of work, I eat out a lot. A whole lot. Which means that sometimes restaurants blur together — even the good ones. But Rosewood stands out. It’s like a restaurant unicorn: rare and elusive, striking that coveted balance of informal but special, creative yet familiar, vintage and modern, discreet but attentive. So take my word, stop reading now, go make a reservation, then come back and finish this article.
OK, all set with your reservation? Good. Here’s what you have to look forward to. First of all, Rosewood has charm in spades. Housed in an 1890 historic East Side Victorian cottage, its been lovingly restored to its former glory after several years as a wine shop. It’s resplendent with hardwood floors, vintage moldings, shiplap accents, pressed-tin panels, and 10-foot ceilings. But there are also contemporary touches like sleek globe pendant lights and whimsical pink flamingo wallpaper in the restroom. You can eat in one of the intimate dining rooms or pull up a stool at the cozy bar or convivial chef’s counter surrounding the open kitchen and custom grill. If the weather’s fine, snag a table outside on the hillside veranda overlooking a lush green lawn and the city skyline.
The food is outstanding. Nothing fell flat when we grazed our way through the menu. Chef Jesse DeLeon (Vespaio, Geraldine’s) pays homage to his South Texas roots with seasonal offerings from Gulf Coast fishermen and Hill Country farmers and ranchers. He offers playful twists of beloved dishes like fried okra, drizzled with jalapeño-mint chimichurri and served with an addictive green curry-yogurt dipping sauce. Unctuous barbacoa comes with mind-blowing homemade tortillas, plus radish, pickled onions, and salsa verde to brighten each DIY taco. The seasonal jambalaya is a revelation: a fresh and vibrant bowl of al dente Louisiana rice, piquant sofrito, and candied lemon topped with sweet Gulf shrimp and plump fried oysters. This is the dish that truly haunts me, so be sure to order it when it’s on the menu.
A few items have become Rosewood mainstays, like the smoked mushrooms, a dazzling dish that showcases DeLeon’s skill at combining homespun flavors and sophisticated technique. He sous-vides a whole duck egg, lightly breads and deep-fries it, then rests it on a tangle of smoked mushrooms, bitter greens, and chile pequin pesto, blanketed with the runny yolk. It’s like a Scotch egg gone rogue and it’s absolute genius.
I was too full for dessert, so I ordered the Cookie-for-the-Road, which ended up being the best $4 I ever spent. Unwrapping it later at home, I discovered two soft chocolate cookies sandwiching a yummy cream filling. It was both cookie and cake, chewy and crunchy, sweet and salty. I don’t know how pastry chef Aria Alba made it, but I can’t forget it.
Rosewood’s beer menu reflects its Texas roots, while its wine list circles the globe. We enjoyed a crisp Kolsch from Fredericksburg’s Altstadt Brewery with our jambalaya, a juicy Chilean Carménère with our beef, and a tasty cucumber margarita for starters. The entire experience was complemented by outstanding service which was first-rate but relaxed.
It caught me by surprise how much I enjoyed Rosewood — and obviously I’m not alone. It was so popular one night that our only seating option was at the chef’s counter, a blessing in disguise that gave us front-row seats to the magic being made in the kitchen. But I’ll take any seat they’ve got — Rosewood is that unforgettably good.