Home > News > Chef Ris Lacoste opens D.C. restaurant

Chef Ris Lacoste opens D.C. restaurant

Jan. 11, 2010-New Bedford native, chef Ris Lacoste's Nantucket Bay Scallop Margarita, a scallop ceviche made with lime, chiles, orange, avocado and tequila ice, for $14. Her new downtown D.C. restaurant, 'Ris', opened on Dec. 7, 2009.

Please read my feature on D.C.’s new restaurant, Ris, for the New Bedford Standard Times!

When she was 12, Ris Lacoste loved stocking shelves at Johnny Gorka’s Polish Market on Bullard St., where she grew up in New Bedford.

“At Johnny Gorka’s (which Lacoste pronounces in a sharp Massachusetts accent) he made his own kielbasa and Polish ladies would bring in these great things to try. I thought ‘Someday I’m gonna work at a supermarket,’” Lacoste said.

Now Lacoste owns her very own restaurant, named simply, “Ris”, which opened its doors to eager D.C., foodies on Dec. 7, 2009. Read the rest of the story on the New Bedford Standard Times web site!

Chef Lacoste at work in her new kitchen at Ris, which opened Dec. 7, 2009 in downtown Washington, D.C.

When she was 12, Ris Lacoste loved stocking shelves at Johnny Gorka’s Polish Market on Bullard St., where she grew up in New Bedford.

“At Johnny Gorka’s (which Lacoste pronounces in a sharp Massachusetts accent) he made his own kielbasa and Polish ladies would bring in these great things to try. I thought ‘Someday I’m gonna work at a supermarket’,” Lacoste said.

Now Lacoste owns her very own restaurant, named simply, “Ris”, which opened its doors to anxious D.C. foodies on Dec. 7, 2009. On the glassy-wrapped corner of 23 and L St. in downtown D.C., Ris provides an escape from stressful city life where diners can enjoy Lacoste’s signature “sophisticated comfort food” in a soft, upscale setting. Ris is the culinary equivalent of a hug from a super stylish mom.

“Washington can be such a serious and intense town,” said Lacoste, “I wanted to create a neighborhood gathering place that’s rustic and elegant, something warm and embracing where customers feel safe and taken care of.”

Lacoste achieved this vibe with decor rich in cream, red and gold offset by dark wood furniture and live plants that create a sort of Tuscan garden feel. Spare, tasteful artwork by local and international artists is displayed in nooks throughout the restaurant.

A caramel and cream colored granite bar invites diners to sip wine and watch the rush hour traffic go by.

Jan. 11, 2010-A diner reads the paper and enjoys an early dinner before the crowds come, while Ris preps her chefs for the evening ahead.

“We wanted a place Ris could call home,”said Tom Kamm, the architect who collaborated with Lacoste and design-contractors Hefner and Weber. “We designed it for who she is and how she serves people in her home.”

Lacoste has amassed a wealth of cooking credentials and awards over the years. She worked as a short order cook, scooped ice cream at Friendly’s from ages 16-20 and studied under Anne Willan at La Varenne Ecole de Cuisine in Paris, France in the early ’80s. When she returned to the states, New England culinary star Bob Kinkead took Lacoste under his wing at Harvest in Cambridge, Mass. Together, the duo opened 21 Federal on Nantucket,Twenty-One Federal and Kinkead’s American Brasserie in D.C., among others.

The Wine Spectator, Washington Post and Washingtonian have all honored Lacoste. In 1999, the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington named her ‘Chef of the Year’. She competed in the Iron Chef America in 2005, won D.C. Central Kitchen’s Capital Food Fight in 2005 and cooked for Julia Child’s 90th birthday party.

Jan 11, 2009-Before the rush at Ris, downtown Washington, D.C.

But it was during her ten year tutelage under Kinkead at 1789 in Georgetown, that Lacoste developed her reputation as a chef. There she also met Mitchell Herman, her future business partner and investor.

“I fell in love with her personality and of course her style of cooking,” said Herman, who got to know Lacoste from frequent dinners at 1789. When he learned she was leaving 1789 to open her own restaurant, Herman called her up for coffee. “It was a cold call,” he said, laughing. The years of experience she put into her craft and art had well-earned her the ability to operate her own restaurant. My business background and belief in her dream was a good match.”

Although Ris is Herman’s first restaurant venture, he’s got plenty of experience in the food industry. His family owned Shoppers Food Warehouse, a chain of 33 supermarkets serving D.C.,Virginia and Maryland, where he worked for many years with his father. He also has an MBA in finance and investments from George Washington University and a law degree from George Mason University.

Jan. 11, 2010-New Bedford native, chef Ris Lacoste holds a bowl of mussels simmered with homemade chorizo, garlic, herbs and tomato she prepared in the kitchen of her new downtown D.C. restaurant, 'Ris' which opened on Dec. 7, 2009.

On a recent Monday night, Ris’s 180 tables were practically packed by 6:15 and the bar was full of business-y looking people who appeared to be on dates. “For a Monday night in January, this is a very good crowd,” said Ron Schaun, a New Yorker who works for Castle Brands liquor.

It could have something to do with the food. Lacoste prides herself on using fresh, seasonal ingredients from local farmers, even in winter. “Knowing who grows the food is so important to me. I truly believe in the nutritional value of that. I feed people for a living, so one of my responsibilities is to feed them well, as healthfully as possible,” Lacoste said.

True to her New England roots, Ris’ menu features lots of seafood including New England clam chowder, mussels with tomato, chorizo, garlic and herbs and the famous Nantucket Bay Scallop Margherita, a scallop ceviche she created at 1789.

Favorites include the Gnudi, ricotta dumplings with tomato, eggplant and spinach, and the lambshank, a dish adapted from Lebanese Taverna’s family recipe. Dinners range from $18-$28. but you can also get a burger here for $12. Ris also offers revolving blue plate specials—Meatloaf Mondays, Paris Bistro Tuesdays, Little Italy Wednesday and Fish on Friday, for example.

Jan. 11, 2010-New Bedford native, chef Ris Lacoste drizzles olive oil over a bowl of mussels in her new downtown D.C. restaurant, 'Ris' which opened on Dec. 7, 2009

“The meatloaf is my mother’s recipe with a few extra touches,” said Lacoste, who grew up in a family that loved to cook. She and her six siblings all seem to have inherited the talent from their mother Yvonne.

“A lot of my dishes are created from flavors I loved as a child,” Lacoste said. “My Mom cooked very simple food but it was so delicious. You could taste the love in it, you could taste the passion.”

So far, so good for Ris. The restaurant has as of yet escaped the scathing write-ups online reviewers are notorious for, and Tom Sietsema’s Washington Post review was favorable. The Ris facebook page boasts 523 fans and 298 followers on Twitter.

So how has Ris risen to the top? By doing what she loves. “Every new days starts with the option of it being fabulous,” said Lacoste.Pay attention to what makes you smile. Life is too short to not love what you do every day.”

Jan. 11, 2010-The main dining room at Ris, New Bedford native chef Doris Lacoste's new restaurant in downtown D.C. which opened on Dec. 7, 2009.

Jan. 9, 2010-The sign "Ris is here" welcomes D.C. diners to Doris Lacoste's new restaurant 'Ris' in Washington, D.C. Lacoste's follwers have long awaited the opening of Ris, which features fresh, local ingredients in an upscale, neighborhood atmosphere.

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