By Lisa Comento, Foodable Contributor
James Beard Award winner and Iron Chef Jose Garces’ Argentinean steakhouse, Rural Society, opened last summer and offers culinary creations by the talented Chef Louis Goral. The moment you step inside, the cozy interior will transport you out of the bustling city and into a rustic yet polished steakhouse. Vintage photographs of cows in floating frames line the walls and stacks of chopped oak are neatly piled to the ceiling in the dining room facing the open parrilla-style grill.
Rural Society is more than a steakhouse offering gluten-free and vegan options. One hidden gem is their whiskey room that is tucked away at the far end of the bar. The room faces 15th Street with the sunlight glistening through the liquid gold. I had the pleasure to meet with Chef Goral and sit down for what was an insightful conversation on his passion for food and his restaurant.
The Many Influences of Chef Goral
Chef Goral became interested in pursuing a career as a chef while working at the Appaloosa Grill in Denver as a Garde Manger (French for “keeper of the food”). During this time he met his mentor, the late Chef Marsey Gibson, who inspired him with his creative recipes.
“Cooking with my grandmother inspired me at an early age,” said Goral. “She was an Irish-Catholic and prepared easy meals like meat and potatoes that were simply prepared but well-done. She loved to learn how to make new dishes.”
Goral started working with Chef Garces six years ago at Amada restaurant in Philadelphia until family called him to Chicago. Garces became a strong culinary influence on Goral, who planned to grow with the company. For over three years, he worked at Garces’ Mercat a la Planxa in the Blackstone Hotel starting as a junior sous chef and moving up to executive sous chef. This tremendous experience paved the way for his current position at Rural Society which, like Mercat a la Planxa, is a hotel restaurant.
“It has really been a great partnership with Loews Madison Hotel. They have made sure that this whole experience was great once we took over the food for the hotel,” said Goral.
Firsthand Training to Promote Authenticity
In preparation for Chef Garces' entrance into the Washington D.C. culinary scene, Garces took a small group to Argentina for seven days to eat, study and eat. The team analyzed the authentic dishes, discussing which they planned to replicate and which to draw inspiration from to make their own version.
Beverage Manager and Sommelier Aaron Beaver spent time in Argentina himself visiting the wineries and expertly choosing the wines for Rural Society. This attention to detail complements the authenticity of Chef Garces’ culinary concept.
Studying Spanish throughout high school and college allowed Goral to excel in the industry. At age 20, he lived for nearly a year in Costa Rica to strengthen his language skills. However, it was not until he became a chef that he mastered conversational Spanish. Being fluent in Spanish helped his career and allowed him to understand his employees’ personal needs.
“I would attribute our success to the team. Our General Manager, Rob Esplen, has an amazing amount of energy and talent. He and I work well together,” he said. Sous chef Adrian Estrada worked with Goral at Mercat and relocated with him to start Rural Society, and continues to be a positive source of their success.
Since empanadas are synonymous with Argentina, Rural Society would not be an Argentinean restaurant without this signature pastry. Savory options include their Enslada de Arugula with baby arugula, lemon, Reggianito cheese and fig emulsion and their Empanda Tucumana with braised wagyu beef belly and smoked chile. Not only do mouthwatering recipes pop off the menu, the restaurant serves grass-fed meats and lists where their meats, poultry and seafood come from.
The centerpiece of Rural Society is their open parrilla-style grill designed by Ben Eisendrath of Grillworks. The ancestor of his line of Argentine-inspired grills, The Grillery, was invented by Ben’s Dad to satisfy his desire to prepare outdoor cuisine like he experienced during the '60s and '70s on his travels as a foreign correspondent for Time Magazine. (Chef Bobby Flay is also fond of these well-crafted grills.)
“Salt is my weapon,” Goral exclaimed with a smile when asked about his favorite ingredient. Seasoning is crucial and moreso since the meats at Rural Society are not marinated. Kosher salt is first sprinkled on the meat prior to grilling and is finished with Maldon sea salt.
“Salt is an enhancer. We use high-end meats and want to make them sing and then let the grill speak for itself."