This article originally appeared on HungryLobbyist.com on July 20, 2018.
Back in April 2017, I had my first and last meal at Ripple. It closed not long after.
I was there for Hungry Lobbyist to cover the unveiling of a spring menu starring prosciutto di parma. The meal was delicious (mmm burrata salad with crisp prosciutto) as it was ambitious (prosciutto under a dollop of tonka bean ice cream), and served as a pretty clear entree into the cooking style of executive chef Ryan Ratino, a finalist for the 2017 Rising Culinary Star of the Year RAMMY Award. He’s got a particular style and he’s not afraid to go for it.
I was disappointed when Ripple closed that June, though Ratino bounced back quickly, and vertically. Bresca, the restaurant he co-founded and self-styled, opened in late September on 14th Street, right in the heart of the DC-dining scene. I was pumped.
And yet, thanks to the sheer volume of new spots opening, and older, untried spots still thriving, it took me a few months to book my table under the moss wall in the back corner of the well-lit dining room. I’m glad I did.
I don’t know Ratino, but Bresca just feels like the kind of spot fashioned by someone who marries the “King of Hams” with the “King of Desserts” (my new nickname for ice cream). There’s the moss wall, obviously, but there’s experimental touches everywhere – from the vast array of serving plates we had to the glass bumblebee one of our cocktails came in. The space is interesting. Just like the food.
The first thing I noticed was how small the menu is. The day we visited, there were just about 15 plates on the menu, which I actually felt was a perfectly approachable number for Bresca – not only because it’s better to be focused and well executed than wide ranging and inconsistent, but also that the creativity of the food demands a guided tour to what’s best.
We shared four medium plate dishes between the two of us, a number that left us comfortably full if not a little excited for dessert.
Such is my dedication to the ‘gram that the only documentation of the yellowfin tuna is a Boomerang. But that speaks to the presentation of the dish, where the tender fish vapes the freeze-dried rocky chunks of coconut fat. It’s transfixing, and the fish is delicious though in some bites the acidity of the dish overwhelmed.
The acidity of the white asparagus salad, however, was a gentle surprise. White and green asparagus were plated with white grapefruit on a buttermilk dressing. The grapefruit added a nice bit of tartness to the greenery, without overwhelming with sweetness the way redder varieties of the fruit might.
For us, though, the next two courses were the heavy hitters of the night. The scallops were sinful. Paired with sweet (corn agnolotti) and savory (brown butter sauce and chanterelle mushrooms), we ate this slow, worried that it would eventually end.
The sea urchin linguine was just as good. An Eater piece from last September promised big things from Bresca’s pasta program, and this dish delivered. The pasta itself held up to the creamy sauce, and the uni tasted like the perfect sea custard. What really stood out to me was the big flavor of the shiso, something I’d not eaten before. It’s an intense flavor, hard to describe even. But you know it’s there.
I’m glad I finally made it to Bresca to find out. But there’s so much more to try.