Pop quiz time!
Question: What do (1) the Chipotle in Union Station, (2) Roberto Donna's "Galileo III," and (3) Ris Lacoste's "RIS" have in common?
Answer: They all shared interminable delays in launching, which caused Washingtonians to wonder if they would ever open.
While the wait continues for Chipotle and Galileo III, Chef Ris Lacoste finally opened the doors to RIS in December 2009... many, many months after posting a "RIS is coming" sign on the window of 2275 L Street NW. Chef Lacoste left Georgetown's 1789 (a.k.a. site of the worst service ever to take place in a DC restaurant) at the beginning of 2005 and spent the next four years preparing to open RIS. We decided to use a Restaurant Week lunch as an opportunity to see if RIS was worth the wait.
RIS has a bright and airy feel thanks to a huge wall of west-facing windows. Unfortunately, these windows face a grungy police station, but the designers did a nice job of masking the view without shutting out all of the light.
Each meal starts with a serving of biscuits and jam. The biscuits were a bit on the dry side, but the strawberry jam helped them slide right down and we had no problem eating all three.
B started with the gnudi (pronounced "nude-y"), which are ricotta dumplings and not naked women. We're on a streak (he he) of posts with deceptive names regarding nudity. Anyway, the pillowy dumplings were served on a bed of tomato and eggplant fondue with spinach and crispy prosciutto. A light but still decadent beginning.
I ordered the panzanella salad which contained so many goodies that it was a bit overwhelming. The flavors were bright and bold, but someone was heavy-handed with the balsamic, leaving a kiddie pool of vinegar in the bottom of the (generous) bowl.
Having fallen in love with the bivalves at Brasserie Beck, B wanted to see how RIS flexed her mussels. The preparation was unique, skipping the soupy broth and putting the focus on the spicy chorizo and plump mussels. While B appreciated the approach taken with this dish, he missed out his favorite Beck pastime: dunking the bread in the briny broth.
I always have a hard time turning down pasta and immediately locked eyes with the orecchiette pasta on the menu. It featured pesto, summer squash, goat cheese, and pine nuts. I whiffed a bit on the ordering because the flavors of the pasta were a bit similar to the salad and sent me into goat cheese overload. However, I adored the fresh pesto and love how the orecchiette stacked together like mini hats.
I was hoping RIS could snap us out of the Restaurant Week dessert doldrums that Art and Soul left us in... Success! These desserts could brighten even the dreariest of moods. B loved every bite of his puckery key lime meringue tart with raspberries.
I fell in love with my cherry vanilla eskimo pie with pistachios and caramel sauce. If you didn't grow up eating Eskimo Pies like I did, they are ice cream bars coated in chocolate. Each bite cracks the chocolate shell and lets the ice cream dribble out as it melts. I spent many a childhood summer afternoon with hands sticky with Eskimo Pie chocolate. RIS' version brought me right back to that happy place.
We had a delightful lunch at RIS and I applaud them for doing Restaurant Week the right way with great service, big portions, and a varied menu. The only thing that might keep us from coming back is that the concept blends in so well with so many other restaurants in town that it might get lost in the sea. That eskimo pie, however, will shine as a beacon of light calling me to return soon.
Second Thoughts From B
As you may have noticed, Restaurant Week has come and gone and yet we're just now writing about RIS. I guess "waiting" is a recurring theme in this post.
After our meal, I'm happy to report that the time that RIS needed to open was well spent. I also think the time that passed before writing this post has paid off. Let me explain.
It is easy to talk about a meal shortly after you've finished digesting, but time allows for a bit more focus as memories are created or forgotten. At a lesser restaurant, I might have to struggle to figure out what to write. However, I can still taste the perfectly seasoned gnudi that was a wonderful blend of flavors and textures. My mouth even watered as I wrote that sentence. I can also imagine the mussels that were infused with all the flavors of the chorizo and the tart that would have made my lime-loving father "woo" with pleasure.
The other thing we took away from RIS was how much more we enjoyed Restaurant Week lunches. With smaller crowds and almost half the price for a similar amount of food, I think this is the way to go. I also think that it would be a shame to wait until the next Restaurant Week before we taste that gnudi again.