RIS is coming…

The phrase taunted us from the window at the corner of 23rd and L Street for what seemed like an eternity.  On Monday, the wait is over.  Ris Lacoste’s eponymous new neighborhood eatery opens for business.

I didn’t know it at the time, but Chef Lacoste’s cuisine at 1789 was my first experience with high-end cooking in Washington.  She helmed the venerable Georgetown institution for over a decade, until she left at the end of 2005 with the intention of opening her own place…”a scene, something really fun and delicious.”

It may have taken the better part of four years, but every indication is that RIS will be well worth the wait.  We got a chance to take a look around this week, before the restaurant began its mock service.  What we found was a restaurant that reflects Lacoste’s taste and inspiration from beginning to end.  Whether it’s the three flat-screen TVs behind the bar (which New England native Lacoste promises will always show the Patriots and Red Sox when they play) or the Jacquard tapestry that adorns the wall in one of the private dining areas, the chef had the final say on everything.

Considering her track record, that’s likely to be a good thing.

A look around the new space, complete with photos, after the jump.

The stage is set as soon as you walk in the front door.  An elegant but spare waiting area and a host stand combine dark wood and pale marble.  Inside, the restaurant is divided into four sections, each with its own name, feel…and even its own decor.  Despite the division, however, RIS uses similar color schemes and an open floor plan to avoid feeling disjointed.

To the right upon entry is an area designated as the Cafe.  This section boasts large windows that look out onto L Street, but it’s got an even better view.  Paneled doors can be slid open to reveal the kitchen’s inner workings.  Down the road, Chef Lacoste plans to make use of this arrangement to offer cooking demonstrations and classes.  For now, it’s just a nice perk to see the chefs in action.

Moving from the front of the restaurant toward the back, you’ll next find yourself at the bar or the Lounge (the seating area closest to the bar and only separated from it by a low wall).  As you might expect, this is the place for small plates, cocktails, and half a dozen beers on tap. 

From there, you move on to the Living Room, whose chairs are upholstered in warm reds and yellows.  The brocade-like wallpaper behind the booths in this section continues the color scheme.  And no – you’re not imagining things.  Those booths are cut on an angle, creating comfortable seating for 3, 5 and 7 people.

Finally, you arrive at the semi-private and private dining spaces, including the area known as the Dining Room.  Here you’ll find chairs with higher backs and a high-end feel.  There’s even a private entrance (from 23rd Street), so RIS is ready to welcome President Obama whenever he feels like dropping by.  It will be interesting to see if the different dining settings will have any effect on diners’ perception of the food and the overall experience.

Though Chef Lacoste was still tweaking her menu when we visited, she has made it known that she intends to offer nightly specials with an eye toward traditional favorites.  Monday nights will feature meatloaf, Tuesdays will serve up French bistro classics, Wednesdays will highlight the flavors of Little Italy, and the Friday dish will be local fish.  Perhaps the most exciting of the weekly specials is Thursday, which is reserved for Lacoste’s classic rack of lamb.  One of my very first experiences with lamb was at 1789…I’m looking forward to a chance to relive that experience at RIS.

From the beginning, Lacoste envisioned RIS as a neighborhood place, where you could feel comfortable coming several times a week, for breakfast, lunch or dinner.  To that end, she’s gone the extra mile to build in some touches that could easily go unnoticed.  Fabric panels set into the ceilings offer form and function, serving to dampen sound while providing another aesthetic element.  Free Wi-Fi makes this a great place for a working lunch or a quiet afternoon.  Even the tea is unique, with several special blends prepared for the restaurant by the Great Falls Tea Garden.

At first, RIS will just be open for lunch and dinner services daily.  Starting in January, they expect to expand their offerings to include breakfast on weekdays, brunch on the weekends and Sunday Suppers.  They’re already taking reservations at (202) 730-2500, and you can follow the restaurant on twitter @risDC. 

For those of us who’ve been waiting for Ris Lacoste’s next act, Monday can’t come soon enough.

2275 L Street, NW
Washington, DC
Ris on Urbanspoon