The Sunday after Julia’s 100th birthday, Len and I had lunch at RIS, an “upscale neighborhood café,” located in the Foggy Bottom district of Washington, D.C. I thought it would be fun to eat at one of the places participating in National Julia Child Restaurant Week.
Besides, it was a good chance to check out RIS, the culmination of Chef Ris Lacoste’s illustrious two decade career in the D.C. area, where among other things, she served as Executive Chef at one of our favorite restaurants, 1789 in Georgetown. Ris (short for ‘Doris’), first met Julia when she was 26 and Julia was 70, as she was graduating from La VaRenne Écôle de Cuisine in Paris. Over the years, Ris encountered Julia many times; Julia frequented a couple of the restaurants Ris worked at in New England, and there were many meetings, dinners and other official events associated with the American Institute of Wine and Food (AIWF).
Ris was also part of Julia’s 80th and 85th birthday celebrations in D.C., and in 2002, she created and hosted Julia’s 90th birthday dinner at 1789, the preparations of which were filmed for a documentary called, “Cooking for Julia,” which aired on PBS after Julia passed away in 2004.
This year, the Smithsonian asked Ris to host the Julia Child Foundation at a special 100th birthday fundraiser dinner (you can see photos from this event at the RIS Facebook page). Ris re-created her 90th birthday menu for this event, which sounds like it was totally delish (menu here). Funds raised will support a new Food in America exhibition which will include Julia’s Kitchen, opening in November (can’t wait to see that)!
Our lunch was part of RIS’s month long, “All Things Julia” menu, a 3-course meal for $20.12:
We were seated in one of the smaller, private dining rooms, next to a lively family group (3 generations) and a pair of 30-something professional women (murmur, murmur).
Our server was a handsome, attentive and very tall whippersnapper, decked out in a white shirt, spiffy grey apron and necktie. I’m sure Julia must have sent him; I loved the idea of being served Julia-inspired dishes by someone who was Julia’s height or maybe even taller.
We looked up up up and ordered; Len and I deciding on different things so we could have more to sample. While we were munching on crusty bread and creamery butter, we learned that several people at the family table had been in the Foreign Service — they were sharing wonderful travel stories. Magnifique! When Paul Child was working for the Foreign Service, the State Department assigned him to Paris, where he introduced Julia to French cuisine.
For starters, I got the French Crudité Plate (leeks vinaigrette, celeraic remoulade, sherried beets, French potato salad, deviled egg and tomato Provençale). Overall, underwhelming — no real flavor to the leeks, an okay tomato, and a deviled egg is a deviled egg. (I want to know who decided eating celery root is a good thing.) Sigh.
Len, on the other hand, LOVED his Moules Marinière (mussels steamed in butter, herbs and vermouth with grilled bread). Sigh, I do not do mussels, but liked thinking about Julia’s time in Marseilles, where she’d watch the busy harbor from her apartment window and have lively discussions with the fishmongers. Mussels in the bouillabaisse, oui ou non?
“Hello,” says our server, “is everything to your liking?” We politely nod yes. Could he have grown taller in the last ten minutes?
For my main course, I ordered the Sole Meunière. How could I not? This was Julia’s “meal of awakening” in Rouen that convinced her she wanted to learn to cook French cuisine. Of course she was served a whole fish, where I got a filet, nicely browned and topped with a lemon-caper butter sauce, nestled against friendly parsleyed potatoes and haricots verts. And, and, and . . . it was just okay. Fish a little dry except in the thickest part, potatoes and french beans as expected.
Len, lucky dog, LOVED his Dueling Meatloaves! He was given two pieces, one was Julia’s recipe, the other by Ris. After the meal, he was asked to vote on which he liked better — Julia’s of course, because it was a little spicier.
(Someone at the family table leaves for a bit; our server immediately snatches up his napkin and refolds it. “Hello,” he says again, “everything alright?” Yes, we’re fine.) He does love to say hello. I imagine he wanted to be a fireman when he was little. “Hello, is your house aflame?”
Dessert at last! I ordered the Salty Turtle Sundae — not a Julia recipe, but a Julia favorite which she liked to order at Lucky’s in Montecito: vanilla ice cream, salted pecans, chocolate and caramel sauces. Mmmm, mmmm! Julia was never snobbish and could be happy with a hamburger, McDonald’s fries and a simple sundae.
Hold the phone! What are they talking about at the family table now? Did I hear them mention Chocolate Chocolate? Yes, the globe trotters are agreeing that the chocolate selection at the Park Sisters’ shop is “out of this world.” The revered patriarch, who has the golden, sonorous voice of a Jewish radio announcer, beams as he recalls some of his purchases. Marry me, ganache!
Meanwhile, Len scarfed up his Almond Vacherin in seconds flat! I managed only a small bite, wisely snatched as soon as the plate was set on the table (I know how Len is about desserts). A thing of beauty, utterly scrumptious — meringue shell, poached peaches and ice cream. Now you’re talking!
“Hello,” says our waiter, at least 3 inches taller. “Will there be anything else?” (By now, I’ve grown quite attached to him, and would include him in my will if I had any money.)
“Well, there is one thing,” I say, “do you have any extra menus I could take home as a souvenier?”
“Oh, let me check.” Funny smile.
He returns in a few minutes. “I put it in this bag so it wouldn’t get soiled.” Okay, that was really cute! That’s what I call service.
I couldn’t resist. “How tall are you?”
“I’m six five.”
“Okay, thanks.” BIG grin.
Julia usually told people she was 6’2″, but others have reported she was closer to 6’4″. I looked again at our skyscraper waiter, picturing Julia just about an inch shorter. Quite something! A towering figure in so many ways.
I hope to return to RIS in the near future. I will not judge the food by this one set menu, served at the end of Julia and DC Restaurant Week on a sleepy rainy Sunday. There is a good neighborhood vibe about the place and the promise of toothsome contemporary American cuisine, a rustic menu inspired by a variety of ethnicities. Besides, I must try their cheeseburger, a.k.a., “The Julia.”
And, look! They have a Soup Calendar! (Cream of Tomato Soup with Grilled Cheese is on their regular lunch menu.)
And I absolutely must find out which foods will make me grow. Thank you, Tall Server!
2275 L Street, NW
Washington, D.C. 20037
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Copyright © 2012 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.