The Ripple Effect
Ripple, 3417 Connecticut Ave NW, Washington DC — CLOSED AS OF JUNE 24, 2017
Ripple is the “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” of DC restaurants.
I want to love them both so much. They embody two of my favorite things in the world — the smart urban sitcom and the local neighborhood restaurant with high aspirations. And they employ some of my favorite people — Tina Fey and Ellie Kemper on “Kimmy” and, until recently, the talented Marjorie Meek-Bradley at Ripple.
And yet every time I’ve sat down to watch Kimmy or eat at Ripple something failed to click. Kimmy’s story lines weren’t that interesting and the jokes were uneven. Ripple’s food didn’t quite measure up to the surroundings or the menu descriptions. So after a few disappointing attempts, I wrote both of them off. Nothing personal, but there were too many other options out there clamoring for my attention. It was time to cut my losses and move on.
Then, in the past few months, I started hearing that there was a new chef at Ripple named Ryan Ratino who was cooking some very good food. My first thought was ugh, not again. It was like hearing that Lucy got a new football and was at the door asking if I could come out to play.
To be honest, the only reason I ended up going back to Ripple is that my phone somehow reset and erased all my pictures from last week. I was planning to do a post about Frank Ruta’s new restaurant Mirabelle, but with no pictures I was screwed. So I decided to check out the rumor about Ripple. It turned out to be an interesting choice because the new Ripple is in many ways the anti-Mirabelle. Mirabelle is about pristine ingredients, clean flavors and meticulous cooking. Ripple is different. There’s so much going on in these dishes that you often can’t pick out the individual ingredients. When it works — like the hen egg dish below — it creates something organic and truly memorable. When it doesn’t, well, it’s a muddle.
One thoughtful aspect of the new Ripple is the creative ways it gives you to package dinner. You can order a la carte. You can also order a four-course tasting for $59 — choosing one dish from each of four categories on the menu: cold starters, hot starters (including pastas), entrees, and desserts. (The entrees in the tasting menu are slightly undersized compared to the a la carte version but the whole thing is still a pretty good value.) And then there’s a separate menu section of “family style feasts” where you can order a steak with side dishes or roast chicken for the table.
So how was it? It’s not perfect, but the changes are enough to put Ripple back in my rotation again if the right occasion arises. It only takes one or two great dishes to make all the difference. And I definitely want to go back for that steak dinner with sides like spinach and beef cheek ragout.
ps — Season 3 of “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” was just released on Netflix. According to the reviews it’s never been better. I’m starting to feel like I may need to check it out. Ugh.
Honey Oatmeal Bread with seaweed butter
I don’t want to discourage any restaurants from serving free bread. But if you’re going to do it, commit to it and don’t half-ass it like this dull loaf with too little butter containing too much seaweed (i.e., more than zero). Good bread isn’t more expensive to make than mediocre bread. And good butter doesn’t need any gussying.
Spring Greens and Burrata with fried green tomatoes, flowering herbs and radish
Herby, creamy, tart and sweet with some warm crunch from the fried green tomatoes. There’s more going on than in most burrata appetizers. You can’t even see the burrata.
Hen Egg with potato espuma, english peas, cured yolk and tete de cochon
The best dish of the night captures the promise of Chef Ratino’s style. The plate set down before you could be marshmallow fluff dotted with food coloring but turns out to be potato foam dotted with basil oil and cured egg yolk shards. A poke of your fork gives way to a soft-cooked egg, mushrooms, peas, crispy tete de cochon, chives and god knows what else. But that’s the point. It’s the combination of tastes and textures that matters, not the individual ingredients. When I think about wanting to go back to Ripple and explore more of the menu, it’s because of this dish.
Spring Nettle Agnolotti with snap peas, turnip, green garlic and baby kale
Maybe one puree too many, the agnolotti get a little lost in the swamp. The charred lettuce provides a nice textural and smoky contrast.
Truffled Linguini with sea urchin, yeast and summer truffles
Uni is on the verge of becoming the next bacon or Jennifer Lawrence — terrific ingredients that grow tiresome from overuse. This tangle of pasta already reeks of of truffles and butter. It doesn’t need a dollop of uni any more than “Joy” needed Jennifer Lawrence in the title role.
Red Wine Braised Octopus with smoked feta, garbanzo beans, harissa and black olive
I kicked myself for listening to my waitress who raved about this dish. I should have ordered the pork schnitzel with spaetzle. This was fine but nothing special unlike, say, the octopus at Arroz. Plus it’s $31 if you order it a la carte. I would have felt more ripped off if I hadn’t ordered it as part of the tasting menu.
Duck Breast with glazed cherry, sorrel, white asparagus and morels
The duck breast is good but secondary on the plate to the accompaniments — brioche transformed into a foam and under-used sorrel hiding white asparagus and morels.
Citrus Ambrosia with tapioca, orange sherbet, meringue and mango
Second best dish of the night. The tapioca, mango, orange sherbet, coconut, and red pepper meringue create a dessert mash-up comparable to Chef Ratino’s hen egg.
Strawberries and Cream with double cream, lemon curd, mascarpone and lemon balm
Excellent strawberries and cream anchor a lovely spring dessert. It’s similar to a dessert currently at Mirabelle, although there they add a beautiful strawberry sauce that takes it to another level.
Madeleines are a nice warm finish. For some reason eating them brings back childhood memories of my sled, Rosebud.
See you again for that steak dinner. It’d better not be topped with uni butter.
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