Three months after Ryan Ratino lost his job when Ripple went dark in Cleveland Park, the chef is back in the game, cooking some of the most original food on 14th Street NW at a restaurant whose Spanish name translates to "honeycomb."
The billing explains the hexagonal stamp on the menu and the host stand at Bresca, where the early buzz centers on the signature cocktail: Bees Knees, served in a bee-shaped, glass-and-stainless-steel vessel that Ratino, 27, spotted on a research trip to Madrid. (When he asked about the stemware, actual honey jars, he was told that they are made in the United States.)
If you enjoyed the chef's flights of fancy at Ripple, you'll embrace his handiwork on the ground floor of what used to be Policy (relocated a floor up). Let me introduce you to Olde Salt oysters sporting tufts of tea foam; barramundi tucked into Caesar salad; and beets treated as though they were pastrami. Brined in pickling spices, spiked with mustard seed and spread over feta cheese, the chopped, roasted vegetable covers a raft of house-baked rye bread. The current bestseller is a bundle of butter-sauced, truffle-tinged linguine dressed up with soft lobes of sea urchin and blue basil, and possibly the city's most decadent pasta.
The dessert that I most want to hook up with again is the ambrosia: tapioca flavored with mango, pineapple and passion fruit, and capped with a little hive of crisp meringue. Ask for a cake pop and a server plucks a foie-gras-and-amaretto-flavored specimen from a white, ceramic sculpture in the shape of a head: Halloween for discerning adults.
The engaging food is staged in a dining room inspired in part by the chef's spring visit to Iceland. Hence the carpet of moss enlivening the rear wall of Bresca, whose blue banquettes and whimsical art also draw attention. Especially charming are the framed pages of old French books. Unseen but very much part of the show is a rooftop from which Ratino collects the bulk of the herbs and flowers that garnish his plates.
Among the larger platters at Bresca is a variation of the steak dinner that Ratino served at Ripple: dry-aged entrecôte that swells with flavor from stints in soy sauce and mirin, and atop a wood grill. Helping to crowd the table are a wedge salad with herby Green Goddess dressing (the chef dislikes blue cheese) and wedges of potato pave, rich and glorious after having been fried in the fat of meat trimmings.
The $68 feast is a nod to his meat-and-potatoes youth in Ohio and a way to lure conservative appetites, or, as the chef jests, "the only way to get my dad to come in for dinner."
1906 14th St. NW. 202-518-7926. brescadc.com. Entrees, $14 to $24.