By Tom Sietsema
Sunday, May 18, 2013
Then: The art of Logan Cox(2011)
Again: Ripples of pleasure continue
Logan Cox left some sizable shoes behind when he headed West this year, but his successor, Marjorie Meek-Bradley, is filling them admirably in the kitchen of this neighborly wine-themed restaurant in Cleveland Park.
The newcomer's ruddy hedge of lamb tartare, shocked with pickled mustard seed and capers, comes with cool dabs of Greek yogurt and a creamy drift of cashew butter. The nutty detail is one Meek-Bradley picked up as a junior cook at the esteemed Per Se in New York.
But her way with fish is even finer. Spaghetti scattered with kicky toasted bread crumbs and tuna poached in olive oil is bliss in every bite. And the chef, who came from Graffiato in March, knows that when halibut and fava beans are in season, they don't need much more than a wash of spring onion butter to make them sing. Cavatelli cranked out using carrots is a bright idea that co-stars sweet lobster meat. Butterscotch pudding with crushed toffee and rum cake with orange curd encourage you to stretch out the night for a course that could use a turbocharge in this town.
As before, drinking is as much fun as eating; the cocktails and wine list are Big City Serious in this arty retreat. And as always, the service feels as if your best friend is attending to your needs. Food flash for fromage fans: The grilled cheese bar has expanded its early and late hours at the counter to every night of the week.
Chef change prompts Ripple effect
Food now lives up to service and design
By Tom Sietsema
Sunday, July 24, 2011
I've always admired Ripple for the warmth of its service and the wit of its dining rooms, and now I can vouch for the cooking at the year-old restaurant in Cleveland Park, too. Since Logan Cox came aboard in May, the modern American bistro has evolved from a shiny bauble into a certified gem.
The chef's seasonal salad helps explain my enthusiasm. The garden comes out pink (with radishes), yellow (wax beans), green (asparagus), orange (carrots) and white (turnips), each poached, pickled or roasted ingredient arranged in a big white bowl as if by a stage set designer. A muddy swipe of mushroom puree doesn't add much to the composition, but the splash of black cardamom vinegar proves a nice touch. "It tastes like something from someone's yard," a fellow diner says approvingly of the edible art.
The corn soup captures the attention of my comrades, too. The first course starts as a nest of diced baby octopus, dried black olive and dark cilantro puree, over which liquid corn, sweet as summer, is poured. The accents in the bowl end up floating to the surface and adding drama to the eating.
When the pork loin crisscrossed with garlic scapes is set down, I'm cheering the chef's decision to leave New Heights in Woodley Park. (No offense, New Heights, but Ripple needed more heft in the kitchen.) Thick, rosy and succulent, the meat is aided and abetted by prunes and a crescent of custard that makes more use of green garlic.
Instead of a bread basket, Ripple greets diners with a clutch of long crackers. They do not make a great impression. But the roasted pecans, one of a handful of snacks, do. The nuts are served warm with a drizzle of bacon fat, and if you can stop at one, congratulations on your self-discipline. Black-eyed peas deep-fried to a crunch are also fun. Try them with one of Ripple's clever cocktails. A particular draw is the Claire Standish: It's like sipping bourbon through an orange grove.
Cox has worked for a number of notable chefs in his career, foremost among them Frank Ruta of the nearby Palena and Bob Kinkead of the downtown seafood establishment bearing his name. (Cox was a sous-chef at Kinkead's late Colvin Run Tavern in Tysons Corner.) A springboard for talent, New Heights gave Cox a chance to develop a voice of his own as executive chef.
He isn't afraid of unusual marriages of ingredients or throwing diners the occasional curveball. Witness his semicircle of cool squares of cucumber topped with fluffy farro and rillettes of smoked cobia. Their plate is pink with a salmon "vinaigrette" made with the oil in which the fish was poached.
And consider another night's raft of pork pate, crisp not just from its veins of pistachios but also from pan-roasting; an emerald puree of herbs ennobles what is essentially scrapple. A main course of bluefish scattered with pickled crab gets a garnish of what look like blueberries but taste like (surprise!) capers; the brined fruit is a nice counterpoint to the oily centerpiece. Agnolotti stuffed with broccoli and strewn with pine nuts is homely, but that doesn't stop me from appreciating the pasta, racy with a compound butter made with pickled sardines.
Cox, 31, has the tendency of many young male chefs to go a few steps beyond what's appropriate in his presentations. Already busy, for instance, that bluefish was less for the smoked corn sharing its stage; the vegetable puree translated as pablum. He also overuses foams.
You might experience some, or none, of what I have this season; no two menus are ever exactly the same. The only constant from list to list is a sense of adventure.
I don't need food to entertain me at Ripple. The interior does a good job of that. Owner Roger Marmet, a former executive at the Learning Channel, didn't have to look far for a tastemaker. He tapped his wife, Betsy, who has a master's degree in design from Parsons and a great eye for color and texture. Using the mosaic bar she inherited from the former Aroma cigar den as inspiration, she dressed the banquettes in a patchwork of fabrics that bring the '60s and '70s to mind, hung turquoise chandeliers from a chocolate-brown ceiling and added red pressed-paper tiles to a wall. (They suggest swirls of wine.)
Watching over the scene is Danny Fisher, a former manager at Cork in Logan Circle who would be an asset to any restaurant but chooses to work his charm in a place where the average entree costs $20. His servers are practically clones. Ask them about the food, and they reply with delicious details. No one hovers, but everyone is there when you need them.
Some diners figure that the restaurant's name refers to the Grateful Dead song, and some guess it's derived from the term "ripple effect," Marmet says. He's good with both theories, although here's the truth: "I was hoping to come up with something that didn't take itself too seriously and had something to do with wine." A nod to cheap fortified grape juice once consumed by indiscriminate youth (and TV's Fred Sanford) filled the bill.
The cheese on display near the entrance tempts you to order savory rather than sweet for dessert. Something old and something blue always call to me, but at Ripple I've also learned to find room for sugar. Gooey chocolate-chip cookies with a cold glass of milk - take your pick from white or chocolate - are straight out of a scene from "Leave It to Beaver," while the makings for s'mores remind me how tired I am of deconstructed food. Even so, Ripple's scattering of graham cracker crumbs and a brushstroke of singed marshmallow around a cloud of chocolate cremeux never fails to satisfy. Given its company, the faint butterscotch pudding is a letdown.
The past year or so has seen some mouthwatering changes in Cleveland Park. Palena tripled in size and added a retail shop, siblings Ardeo and Bardeo merged into the hip Ardeo + Bardeo, and Tackle Box introduced lobster rolls and hush puppies. The change of guard at Ripple makes the neighborhood - and the restaurant - even more of a destination.
Opening a wine bar is Cleveland Park is a tricky proposition. Bardeo and Dino, which sit on the same Connecticut Avenue strip, are known for pairing wine and cuisine. Meanwhile, on the Wisconsin Avenue side of the 'hood, the wine bar Enology went out of business pretty quickly.
Ripple opened in May in place of Aroma, a former cigar-and-martini refuge and has developed into a solid neighborhood option. (Part of this is due to staffing choices: Brian Cook, formerly the sommelier at Sonoma, and manager Danny Fisher, who came from Cork, know their way around wine bars.)
The space is colorful and fun, from the mismatched fabrics on stools to the broken mosaic tiles on the bar, left over from the Aroma days. One major addition: a cheese and charcuterie station at the end of the bar, where meat and cheese are sliced to order.
Thus far, complaints about Ripple have mainly been about price. The menu kicks off with a "6 for 6" section -- a half-dozen picks from around the world for $6. But when you browse the full list, there are a number of glasses in the $10-$16 range, especially among the reds. What I missed the first time: All glasses can be cut down to a three-ounce pour for half the price.
Don't expect the dainty servings found at typical wine bars. Ripple's bartenders offer heartier five- or six-ounce pours. "We want you to have a good time," my bartender explained one night. Fair enough. But it is a little more expensive on some bottles. One night, a date and I stopped in after visiting the Tasting Room in Chevy Chase. She'd just had a glass of the Isole e Olena Chianti for $8 at the Tasting Room, so she was surprised to see it for $15 at Ripple. "Ripple was a larger pour, but . . ." My sentiments exactly. You can drink well at Ripple, but watch your wallet.
-- Fritz Hahn (Friday, Oct. 8, 2010)