On his way to opening a follow-up to 14th Street’s Tico, Michael Schlow dipped into a well of nostalgia. A child of the ’60s and ’70s, he fondly remembers sitting at the top of the stairs of his home while his parents threw cocktail parties, where the hors d’oeuvres included stuffed mushrooms and dip made from onion soup mix.
Thus the playful vibe and updated comfort food at Riggsby in Dupont Circle’s revamped Carlyle hotel, one of the neighborhood’s most promising debuts in a long time.
With the help of Edit Lab designers and Schlow’s artist wife, a tired meeting room with a dropped ceiling and aged carpeting gave way to a supper club made handsome with leather banquettes in a shade of red wine, honeyed lighting, a gleaming wood floor and vintage photographs that sidestep cliche. The images of red-lipped women splashed across the wall of the bar? They’re wallpaper, created from photographs of a painting by Adrienne Schlow. Coming soon: a pitched skylight and a chandelier to grace the room’s center.
At Riggsby, the chefs — led by executive chef Philippe Reininger, the kitchen talent of the late J&G Steakhouse — came up with a list that suits the timeless interior. Bar snacks of jalapeño tater tots and chorizo-filled mushrooms give way to sardines and beef carpaccio, followed by entrees including slow-cooked salmon and an herbed côte de boeuf for two.
The food is at once familiar and fresh.
A self-described “huge fan of Thousand Island dressing,” Schlow incorporates the house-made sauce in one of the best chopped salads in town, a bowl built up with snipped string beans, egg, bacon cooked just before it’s added to the greens and lacy frico (Parmesan) chips. His refreshing gazpacho starts as a shrimp salad in the center of a bowl into which summery pureed tomatoes are poured.
A favorite entree harks to Schlow’s cooking-school days in New Jersey, where a Swiss instructor introduced the chef-in-training to golden veal schnitzel accessorized with anchovies, capers and a sunny fried egg. Another signature main course, a double-cut pork chop, proves a tip of the hat to the restaurateur’s late father. The original dish was delicious, Schlow recalls, but looked like “a brown blob” on its plate. “We [had] to figure out a way to make this presentable,” the chef says. At Riggsby, the meat is finished at the table with spicy pork sausage, cherry peppers, potatoes and onions.
As retro as Sinatra crooning in the background and the coupes brimming with classic cocktails are Riggsby’s tabletops: They all sport crisp white linens.
1731 New Hampshire Ave. NW. 202-234-3200. www.theriggsby.com. Entrees, $15 to $38.