For a reviewer, a bad meal is often preferable to a good one. Rarely, if ever, is this through any fault of a meal itself. It is easy enough to make quick work of a dismal or mediocre restaurant, a trite snipe at the service or jab at meteoric sodium levels and, soon enough, an honest — if perhaps harsh — assessment has been made. However, while visiting Ris this past weekend where I shared not a good, but a great, meal with my friend, I was confronted by the inability to sharply critique any aspect of the dining experience. From the knowledgeable and courteous staff to the delectable, although moderately expensive, cuisine, Ris proved it was anything but a playground for food critics. Rather, it is a place where food connoisseurs — and college students — in pursuit of a luxurious meal can convene and indulge.
Ris, a restaurant that combines classic French cuisine with modern American touches, is tucked just off Washington Circle on K Street. When we arrived, my friend and I had just escaped yet another smattering of snow, which only added to our delight at finding a refuge from the winteryweather beyond the restaurant’s double glass doors. The staff, warm and polite in equal measure, took our jackets and then quickly whisked us to the back in a secluded corner of the restaurant. Our table, situated in a room burnished by wood on all sides, was one of two occupied at the outset. With each successive course, however, the room seemed to fill until by meal’s end not a place remained, demonstrating Ris’ local popularity and the need for a reservation if you plan on making it your dinner destination. Despite the gradual filling, neither the music nor the level of conversation of the room proved excessive. Quite the opposite: The soft noise positively contributed to the aura of subdued warmth and acted as a buffer to thoughts of the harsh, bitter cold that lay just outside.
After giving us a moment to look over the menu, our server returned, smile and charm in tow, to tempt us with a list of mouth-watering specials. Coupled with a seemingly endless regular menu — tantalizing in its own right — this made the process of meal selection nearly impossible. But at our waitress’s suggestion, we ordered a cheese and cured meat platter, giving ourselves time to work out the rest of our yet-to-be-materialized meal choices. Fortified by an incredible spread of Swiss cheese, blue cheese and American cheddar paired with honey, walnuts, sweet potato puree and perfectly cured wild boar salami, we slowly worked up a plan for appetizers and entrees and then unloaded them on our waitress with anticipation for the remaining courses.
In quick succession came an endive, walnut and blue cheese salad followed by a pair of beautifully baguette-topped French onion soups and, finally, a honey-glazed breast of duck and a mustard-crusted Atlantic salmon. Not only was the staff friendly, but they were also incredibly conscientious of the diners; there seemed to be no time lapse between the completion of one course and the arrival of another.
As I savored the last slice of duck — cooked to a perfect medium-well and steeped in a rich blend of honey and spices — I looked to my watch and saw that over an hour had gone by. As I sat, taking in the meal that had just passed, I could still taste each bite in my mind and appreciate, for a moment more, being lost in the experience.
Removed from the Ris experience by a day or two, I can no longer taste sweet port wine vinaigrette or a sharp gruyere crust on my tongue, but I still recall the feeling of being lost. It is that feeling of being engulfed in my meal and distant from all other concerns that lingers with me and has made it possible to remember a great meal and a great restaurant.