She’s offering lunch for $15, fresh produce from the farmers market, cocktails, free delivery and comfort foods such as chicken pot pie to heat and serve at home. Just call Ris Lacoste of Ris restaurant Superwoman.
The timing for her biggest-ever professional pivot was during a transition. Just a week before her West End dining room went dark in March, the veteran Washington chef hired a new kitchen lead, Jonathan Collins, from the local Neighborhood Restaurant Group. “I had to lay off most of my staff” of 20, Collins says.
His trial by fire cemented their bond and led to plenty of good taste for customers, starting with peri-peri chicken, each bite of brined, grilled chicken pulsing with chile heat, housemade fermented hot sauce and a finish of dried herbs. Rounding out the fun was a side of macaroni, mustard, mayonnaise and shredded carrot that made me appreciate pasta salad anew. I ordered the vegetable kebab out of duty (I want vegetarians to eat as well as meat eaters) and surprised myself by polishing it off. Collins lightly pickles portobellos before adding them to a skewer of shiny red peppers and sweet roasted onions and bedding them on the grains of the moment: travel-friendly grits, lightened here with lemon and finished with tangy goat cheese.
A recent dinner alfresco (socially distanced in my backyard) was made memorable with a cheese plate that required only a platter from me. Otherwise, Ris thought of everything a good host might: slices of Point Reyes blue cheese, fennel crisps, fig jam, candied pecans, raisin toast and sweet-and-sour leek marmalade. You shouldn’t expect it free, but if at the end of the day there are extra loaves of fresh bread at Ris, you might be the lucky recipient of one. The new chef’s sourdough boule had everyone slicing off more.
The dessert I can never say no to is a Ris stalwart: butterscotch pudding with fresh whipped cream in a clear plastic cup. Then again, there are fresh-baked cookies and pints of ice creams in such alluring flavors as pineapple and passionfruit. “I’m not a rock star,” says Lacoste, whose mentor was the late Bob Kinkead and whose résumé includes 1789 in Georgetown. “I’m just a community person.” We — and the 15-plus customers to whom she personally delivers food — beg to differ.2275 L St. NW. 202-730-2500. risdc.com. Open for takeout noon to 2 p.m. and 4 to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday. Delivery by the restaurant in the neighborhood. Lunch “care package” (typically soup, salad and focaccia) $15; dinner entrees $20 to $28.
Angela Pagonis says she misses offering, in person, the hospitality for which her family’s restaurant in Vienna is known. But recipients of takeout from Nostos still get a sweet taste of thoughtfulness when they open their bag and find a gratis dessert inside. “It’s part of the Greek way, to end the meal with a treat from the host,” says the general manager.
But first! Isn’t the fish roe, whipped to a saline pink cloud, wonderful? Thank goodness the dip comes with a bag of oregano-speckled pita bread, cut into triangles for easy (as in immediate) consumption. What’s described on the menu as “meatballs” more closely resemble bunless baby burgers shot through with dill, garlic and parsley. They come two per order, framed in roasted potatoes kissed with lemon and oregano. Faintly smoky skewered swordfish benefits from a winy marinade and a backdrop of sliced beets, sweet with honey but balanced with vinegar; glossy grape leaves stuffed with rice and pine nuts come with a summery dunk of tzatziki. Nostos offers about 80 percent of the menu it used to, says Pagonis. Because she thinks it suffers in transport, fried food is no longer available.
Citrus is a theme at Nostos. Lemon runs through pretty much everything, including the kitchen’s thick-with-chicken-and-rice soup, although orange lends sunshine to the wedge of white cake, swollen with housemade syrup, I discovered in my bag. (Your free finish might vary, depending on what Pagonis’s mother, co-owner Despina, is experimenting with in the kitchen.) A bottle of wine from Nostos’s collection underscores the restaurant’s generosity. Everything is half-price. 8100 Boone Blvd. Vienna. 703-760-0690.nostosrestaurant.com. Open 4 to 8 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Free delivery within a five-mile radius. Dinner entrees $24 to $40.
The only reason I know I’m not at Purple Patch when I take a forkful of sisig is the absence of any sound. The crisp bites of pork tossed with bird’s-eye chiles and sweet onions at the Philippine restaurant typically sputter when the dish, decked out with a perfect fried egg, lands on the table. Otherwise, my takeout from the storefront near Bancroft Elementary School brings me close to what I remember of the good work by chef-owner Patrice Cleary.
“What we eat inside, we eat outside,” she says of Filipinos. That includes lumpia, slender pork-and-beef spring rolls served with banana ketchup, and soft skewered chicken swabbed with a sauce of calamansi, the sweet-sour citrus fruit native to the Philippines. The skewer is flanked by a slaw of lightly pickled green papaya, red pepper and raisins. It wouldn’t be a Philippine spread without noodles, and Purple Patch obliges with pancitbihon, a tangle of fine rice noodles strewn with snow peas, cabbage and carrot threads cooked so you can hear them crunch. The bestseller is vegan: crispy eggplant adobo served with jasmine rice, which I’ll be sure to try the next time I order from Purple Patch — soon, and on my own dime. Another way to fit more vegetables in the meal, and color on the table, is butternut squash and green beans in coconut milk steeped with onions and ginger.
The restaurant’s morning hours derive from a warmhearted owner. Cleary makes breakfast, lunch and snacks to go for area children who need them, seven days a week. “Kids need to eat every day, don’t they?” she asks. The cost of the ingredients — chicken, rice, fruit — is minimal for a restaurant, says the chef. What’s surprisingly expensive are all the containers and bags for the adobo and noodles to go. She didn’t ask, but I will. Anyone eager to help out with a donation should know her Venmo contact is @Patrice-Cleary.3155 Mount Pleasant St. NW. 202-299-0022. purplepatchdc.com. Open 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily. Delivery through Caviar and Doordash. Dinner entrees $14 to $28.
Chef Raynold Mendizábal wants his Cuban restaurant to survive the pandemic, but he also knows plenty of people are out of work right now. So the owner of El Sapo Cuban Social Club in Silver Spring slashed all his prices.
Go now, and you’ll find his roasted pork, previously sold for $24, for just $16. Back in his native Havana, his family cooked the meat outside, atop some chickens stuffed in a tin drum. The drippings from the pork would cook the chicken, which became lunch the next day. At El Sapo, Mendizábal marinates his pork with nothing more than bitter orange and garlic for five days before sliding it into the oven, where it collapses into an irresistible heap in the heat. The crowd-rouser is among the chef’s Cuban “rice boxes” accessorized with sticky, soothing plantains and oiled white rice speckled with cumin seeds.
Some of us could make a party of just the fried appetizers: lightly crumbed salt cod fritters and fluted empanadas, juicy with beef and sweet with raisins. And my new favorite flan, dense and glossed with caramel, can be found here, dispensed like everything else from a roll-up window outside the bar. The colorful chalkboard menu and Cuban salsa music feel like throwbacks to an easier time, but they also transmit hope. The owner prefers you to retrieve your own dinner, by the way. One, it will be less expensive, he says. Two, because state law prohibits the delivery of alcohol by a third party, “you can take mojitos to go!” 8455 Fenton St., Silver Spring. 301-326-1063. elsaporestaurant.com. Open 4 to 8:30 p.m. Friday through Sunday and 5 to 8:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday. Delivery through DoorDash, Grubhub and Uber Eats. Dinner entrees $16 to $18.
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