From Learning Channel to learning curve
Wednesday, November 10, 2010
I want to clone my server at Ripple. She's one of those rare restaurant creatures who make you feel as though you've arrived at a fabulous dinner party and she's among the hosts determined to make sure you have a good time. She's a great advocate for the chef, Teddy Diggs, too.
"We make everything from scratch, from the crackers to the ketchup," she says as I help myself to one of the former, presented in a wire vase to look like a bouquet. She goes on to promote Ripple's wine program, which includes more than 40 labels by the glass.
When I'm debating between the steak and the Arctic char, she widens her eyes and sings the praises of the fish. And when I'm about to order a snack of bacon roasted peanuts, she steers me to something more entertaining: "Have you tried the fried pork rinds?" Her smile and her tone say, "Trust me on this."
Sure enough, we forget the peanuts when hot, light-as-air, bacon-fragrant lengths of pork rind land on the table, noisy as a bowl of Rice Krispies for the first minute or so.
My waitress is not the only two-legged asset at Ripple. The bartender walks all the way around the 40-foot-long broken-mosaic bar to hand me the cocktail list I requested, and the sommelier stops by to share a red wine he likes when he notices we're not digging our first choice. I feel as though I've forgotten to take off my work badge, except I notice that the same warmth and enthusiasm are being lavished on everyone.
Ripple, which replaced Aroma in Cleveland Park in June, is the creation of Roger Marmet, a former general manager of the Learning Channel with a longtime passion for food and drink. His first restaurant is not only friendly, it's fetching. The long room has been carved into several distinct areas. Up front are wood- and zinc-topped tables, a cheese counter and a view of the action outside. In the middle, opposite that bar, are tall tables lined against the wall; red zebra-striped stools and fringed sconces add dashes of whimsy. Behind a curtain in the back awaits a smart little dining room that's more conducive to quiet conversation. It includes a wavy red wall crafted from recycled newspaper pulp that subtly underscores the restaurant's name.
Diggs, 26, who comes from Blue Ridge in Glover Park, packs his small, frequently changing menu with some intriguing ideas: goat meat cooked over a hay fire, for instance, and milk "jam" (a reduction of milk, sugar and bay leaf) as an accompaniment to roasted sweetbreads. I only wish that more of the dishes tasted less like trial runs. That goat, captured in twists of pasta and showered with almonds, evokes an ashtray.
Even some of the simpler selections have problems. There's no hint of the promised anchovy in a salad of arugula and shaved cauliflower; the oat crust on an entree of venison smacks of breakfast crashing into dinner; and salty patches mar the sea bass paired with sliced glazed radishes. It's nice to see a restaurant serving floating island, though. Ripple's version of the dessert classic finds house-made raspberry jam at the base of a snowy mound of meringue.
I hope Diggs keeps the poached Arctic char on his menu and continues to complete it with braised leeks, a crisp sail of skin and a delicate tomato sauce. It's the best of the nearly 12 dishes I've tried recently and a model of what the kitchen should aim for.
The chef is expecting more company for dinner. Marmet recently acquired a space to the side of the restaurant, a former shoe store, where he plans to put 48 seats by January.
- Tom Sietsema
3417 Connecticut Ave. NW. 202-244-7995. Entrees, $17-$23.