When you hear Chef Frank Ruta, a number of things probably come to mind. He is not only a James Beard Award-winning chef, but he is also a former White House chef that has served not one but three presidents. For more than a decade, Chef Ruta has worked his magic in the White House kitchen for the Carter, Reagan, and Bush families. Now, Chef Ruta is bringing his talents to a posh boutique hotel in Georgetown with his arrival to The Grill Room at Capella.
Capella is nestled right off the C & O Canal, which provides for a gorgeous view for guests. I was able to catch a moment with Chef Ruta and learn about his culinary journey through the nation’s capital spanning over three decades. He also dishes that he’s used our brunch finder to discover brunches in New York. After all, as Chef Ruta says, Bitches are truly everywhere!
What can we expect from the brunch menu?
The brunch menu is still evolving. We have a couple of egg dishes and fish dishes. My current favorite is a chorizo hash. We make this amazing squid. It’s a giant squid from Denmark that’s 24 inches long. It’s not your typical cuttlefish that when it gets big, it gets tough. It becomes tender and sometimes we prepare that with eggs. It’s certainly different. We have some burger dishes with eggs on it. We have some great french toast and pancakes too.
Tell us about your culinary history in DC?
I was hired by the White House in 1979. That’s what brought me to Washington, I’m originally from Pittsburgh. I didn’t have any plans to work in D.C. but the White House called and it was one of those things you can’t really turn down. I was pretty young at the time. I was hired by Mrs. Carter. I worked for the Carter, Reagan, and Bush administrations. In 1987, I took a sabbatical for about a year during the Reagan administration and went to work in northern Italy at Ristorante Andreas in the town of Merano.
I went back to the White House when Nancy Reagan called. I stayed there until 1991 when the older Bush was in office. From there I left to pursue my own restaurant but I knew there were a couple of steps before I was there. I went to work for Chef Yannick Cam, who at the time was one of the best chefs in the city if not the best. I worked for Yannick for about five years at a few different restaurants.
Then I finally opened my own restaurant, Palena in October of 2000 and it stayed open for about 14 years. It closed in April of 2014 because of a disagreement with the landlord. It wasn’t our intention to close but we couldn’t reach a financial middle ground where we could both see ourselves succeeding. Then I worked with Bread Furst with Mark Furstenberg and Aggie Chin, our pastry chef at Palena. Then I came with Aggie and one of my sous chefs to Capella in January.
What is the Grill Room like?
The Capella hotel has been here for two years. The Grill Room is not what you would really expect from the name menuwise. We try to be a little less stuffy and more contemporary. The room itself is gorgeous. You can notice all of the details from the tabletops, chairs, glassware, and the china. It sits along the canal so it’s beautiful during brunch on a sunny day. We have heat lamps outside in the winter and you’re right in the heart of Georgetown.
What is the menu like?
We have a beautiful room and a comfortable setting. We just like to make delicious food. It can’t just look beautiful. I have never been into following trends. It has to taste good ultimately. We have a master sommelier and like to cook food that compliments with our wine offerings. Everything branches off from there.
What dishes that have been popular thus far?
We have quite a following for our burgers. We have 3-4 different burgers on the menu. Burgers are classic. We make a more developed burger. A bacon burger with bacon, relish, and eggs. We also have a duck egg burger. We also have gnocchi that does very well.
Tell us about the wine list and the cocktail menu.
Our bar is called the Rye Bar, so rye is a big component of the drinks on our list. Our new bar manager makes a delicious Negroni. It has Aperol, Campari, and Belvedere. As far as the wine goes, our sommelier as a great palette. Anything he suggests is good.
Where is your favorite place to brunch in town?
I don’t go out that often. I really like Room 11. It’s a basic brunch but everything is really tasty and it’s great neighborhood spot. They also have a breakfast menu during the week. I also love Cedric Maupillier’s Mintwood Place. His brunch is phenomenal.
What is your favorite dish to cook for brunch?
I like to cook anything with a runny egg. Anything with a properly cooked egg is great. It can be fried, poached, coddled. I’m open to anything. We get our eggs from a farm in Pennsylvania. It’s hard for me to pick out something. I just love anything with an egg.
Do you prefer to brunch in or out?
It’s a rare time that I’m off, but if I’m home on a Sunday morning, it’s nice to cook brunch at home.
What brunch item do you have to order if it’s on the menu?
Anything with a runny egg. I don’t even have to get protein with the egg. Whatever sounds delicious is what I’m ordering! If I’m at brunch, chances are I’m not ordering an omelette or French toast. I would order something like ricotta and avocado with a poached egg on toast.
Do you prefer Bloody Marys or mimosas?
It depends. I can appreciate a great mimosa, but I prefer Bloody Marys.
If you had to invite a group of local celebrities to brunch, who would they be?
Definitely the Obama family. They just seem like cool people to do anything with let alone brunch. I would also love to brunch with José Andrés. He seems like he would be energetic and keep the conversation flowing.
BitchBiz: Bitches Who Brunch partners with Capella. While this article was written independently by Bitches Who Brunch, we do receive compensation from the company.