Chef Ris Lacoste sits down with a cup of coffee in the bar area of her recently opened restaurant named, naturally, RIS. She looks happy, but a little tired, which is expected. Opening a new restaurant is hard work. “It’s not an easy thing to do,” she said. “It’s not for the faint of heart.”
The debut of RIS, which had a quiet opening Monday in D.C.’s West End, is a culmination of years of work. Lacoste had the idea of opening a new restaurant when she left 1789 after a 10-year run as executive chef at the end of 2005, and she started really laying the groundwork for RIS in May 2006.
“I want to embrace warmth and I want to embrace this neighborhood. I think this neighborhood is fabulous.”
Though she kept busy working in such outlets as consulting, she soon switched her focus to getting her namesake off the ground.
“This was a full-time job, opening a restaurant of this caliber,” Lacoste said.
The result is hybrid casual/fine dining establishment, not pretentious, but please leave the flip-flops at home.
“I wanted to embrace a more casual approach to high-end dinning and a more relaxed approach, which I think is very important for the economy and also important for one’s comfort level,” said Lacoste, who was named the Chef of the Year by the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington in 1999.
RIS boasts a corner location at L and 23rd streets in Northwest, just a block from Washington Circle. It lies right in the middle of Foggy Bottom, Georgetown, Dupont and downtown, just a short walk from George Washington University and a number of hotels and businesses.
“The concept here is high-end neighborhood cafe,” Lacoste said. “I really am trying to create a diverse menu, a daily dining concept that is part of the tapestry of the every day lives of the neighborhood.”
The menu is seasonal American, with a more elegant flair and emphasis on fresh ingredients. Try classics such as the meatloaf or liver and onions, or go with items like the lamb shank.
Mitchell Herman, co-owner of RIS, agrees there were certain challenges in getting the restaurant off the ground, but is more than happy with the result.
“Mostly just getting the image of what [she] really wanted this to look like at the end,” Herman said. “It’s difficult to look at it on paper and visualize an exact picture in the end. This is close.”
“I don’t know if I had an image,” Lacoste said. “Of the look of it and what people are telling me when they walk in the door, I have absolutely succeeded in creating the image I wanted, the response I wanted from people. That it’s elegant, yet warm and inviting and comfortable.”
By: Robert Fulton: Special to The Examiner