There’s a lot to be said for being your own boss. And after cultivating a respectable culinary reputation in the kitchens of Kinkead’s and 1789, chef Ris Lacoste has finally realized her dream of answering to no one—except diners, of course.
Comfort and versatility were foremost on the minds of the chef and her business partner, Mitchell Herman, who gained his business acumen while working for his family’s enterprise—a little place called Shoppers Food Warehouse. (He’s now president of a business-and-financial-consulting company.) Herman knew he wanted to partner with Lacoste when he read about her leaving her longtime post at 1789—where he had admired her cooking as a customer—a few years back. They met, their goals meshed, and they got to work.
The new dining room, with a leafy theme throughout, is outfitted with contemporary tables and chairs, sculptural pottery, and geometric paintings from local artist Sam Gilliam. Jacquard tapestries and splashes of bright-red wallpaper pop up here and there. The room looks expansive at first, but special doors fold out to create smaller spaces, and there are other enclaves for groups and meetings, including the Federal Room, which seats 40 and is AV-compatible.
The lounge features a bar, two flat-screens, and a few small booths, while the cafe is the place for those on the hunt for caffeine and free wi-fi. The wall in the cafe is designed to open up to reveal the kitchen—Lacoste wants to teach cooking classes there eventually.
Herman and Lacoste have dreams of Ris becoming an everyday dining spot that’s as welcoming to George Washington students as it is to business mavens. The menu is mostly the same all day, so diners can order a lamb shank at 11 AM or 9 PM. The menu is more old-school than adventurous—it includes such throwbacks as chicken pot pie, shrimp Louis, and sole à la meunière—so traditionalist diners won’t feel like dinner is more of a dare than a meal.
Aside from the seasonal menu options, the kitchen will offer nightly themes that are a sort of upscale blue-plate special: meatloaf on Monday, Paris bistro on Tuesday, Little Italy on Wednesday, Lacoste’s famed rack of lamb on Thursday, and fish on Friday. Saturday is “date night,” which may include steak and potatoes and crème brûlée.
The chef hopes to introduce breakfast and brunch around New Year’s Day, and a communal Sunday Supper is in the works, too. Herman is hustling to get permits for canopies and outdoor seating for 60 in time for spring.
For Herman, seeing guests leave happy is the perfect reward for the arduous, several-year process of getting his idea of Ris off the ground.
“I watch faces,” he says. “I like to see if people are comfortable or satisfied. When I see our customers happy, then they’ve had the best experience we can offer them.”
For Lacoste, the greatest reward may be finally having her name on the door—and a kitchen of her own.