RIS initially sounds like it might be one of those Washington, D.C. alphabet-soup agencies - you know, like the FAA, FBI, NSA or TSA. Not so. It's the first name of this excellent, popular restaurant's co-owner and head chef, Ris Lacoste, who opened the namesake venture in Washington's West End in 2010 and for some reason decided to put the name all in capital letters.
Here's another initially odd thing about RIS, and Ris - her food can best be described as elegant American comfort food. Sounds like a contraction. But again, not so. Lacoste cooks seasonal American fare, using fresh ingredients in often-familar-sounding dishes and giving them her own inventive touch. The result is a smashing success, combining fine-dining with casual small-plates. The atmosphere is lively but just quiet enough to allow you to converse with your dining companions. Washingtonian magazine named RIS one of its 100 Best Restaurants for 2011.
My wife and I were introduced to RIS on a recent trip to the U.S. East Coast by our friends Ellen and Joe, who work in the District. The four of us sat at the bar and drank wines by the glass, then my wife and I repaired to a small table and had a light evening meal. We liked it so much we returned the following night, taking the very short walk from our hotel, the Westin Georgetown, this time occupying a cosy booth for two. Again, it all worked - just the thing for two traveling Californians who were a tad overfed on heavy food (think peanut butter pie and dumplings and fried fare) a few days before in Pennsylvania, land of the thickset consumer.
We started with a Grey Goose vodka tonic for her and Tanqueray gin martini (dry, up, with olives) for me. The missus had succulent mussels and crispy fries while I feasted on oysters Rockefeller, a classic dish made with a light touch. We ended with two excellent farmhouse cheeses - one cow's milk, one sheep's milk. A nicely balanced French wine, Simonent Febve Chablis, complemented the entrees.
Prices are reasonable for a restaurant of RIS's calibre in the capital city: $10-$25 USD per person for Monday through Friday lunch, $25-$50 USD per person for Monday through Saturday dinner.
The creator of RIS's toothsome cuisine came to it in an interesting way. Born in Massachusetts, with a degree in French from the University of California at Berkeley, Lacoste cooked in France, then came home to cook at the restaurant Georgetown 1789 before going out on her own. Her food, like her education, is well-rounded and refined.
RIS is highly recommended if you're in D.C. as a leisure traveler or a road warrior, or if you live nearby but haven't found your way there yet.
RIS is located at 2275 L Street NW, Washington, D.C. 20037 USA. Tel.: 202.730.2500. E-mail: info@risDC.com. Web: www.risDC.com. Discounted self-parking is available at Circle Parking (1120 23rd Street, NW) with validation from RIS. Nearest Metro stops are Foggy Bottom-GWU and Farragut North.