Fried cheese curds are the dish most likely to land on every table at The Tavern at Rare. The more casual restaurant on the first floor of RARE Steak and Seafood—a Wisconsin import—opened today in the hopes of giving Midwesterners a taste of home. To assess the authenticity, or at least tastiness, of the Badger State’s signature bar snack, we sat Wauwatosa, Wisconsin, native and City Paper creative director Stephanie Rudig in front of a heaping pile of them for a taste test.
“They look nicer than any cheese curds I have ever seen,” she says. The finely chopped herbs are a dead giveaway that the tavern has fancied the appetizer. A server says they’re made from a type of Wisconsin cheddar and the orange Dorito-like powder on top is something they call “cheese curd dust.”
Rudig finds the batter is lighter than she’s used too. It’s more like a tempura batter as opposed to the thick, golden brown crust you’d find on a piece of fried fish. “They don’t tend to be this popcorn-like in texture,” she says. “But these are just fucking delicious.”
One thing the tavern nails, according to Rudig, is the occasional separation of batter and cheese, which leaves a puffy air pocket around the salty, tangy curd. “They got that exactly right.”
Just don’t expect the curds to squeak when they hit your teeth. This only happens when the curds aren’t fried. Elastic protein strands in the curds make the sound when they rub against your teeth’s enamel.
Overall Rudig says it’s hard to mess up battered cheese, even when it’s gussied up to match the handsome setting. “If there’s a dive bar that wants to start serving these too, hell yeah.”
Good news: Union Pub serves them for $9.98 with a marinara dipping sauce—something Rudig says is a little more traditional than the ranch-like dip at The Tavern at Rare.
RARE Steak and Seafood, 1595 I St. NW; (202) 800-9994; raresteakandseafooddc.com