Last fall, we chatted with one of Washington 's most beloved maitre d's. At the time, Ralph Fredericks was moving from the "very English and romantic" Coeur de Lion to the brand-new Famoso, a "snappy" and "electric" (his words) Italian eatery set amid the shiny new designer boutiques of Chevy Chase. But after five months of working the room,
Fredericks is ready for another professional shift. Changing restaurants, he says, is "like moving from one fantasy country to another." So where to next? "Neverland," he answers whimsically.
That Peter Pan island translates to the second manifestation of Bethesda health food restaurant Rock Creek, which is slated to open at Chevy Chase mall Mazza Gallerie in late-May. As the recently hired maitre d', Fredericks is peppering his speech with phrases like "mindful dining," while touting portion control and locally-grown produce. But he promises this isn't diet food. He says that just because the restaurant has a health-conscious philosophy, does not mean "a bunch of hippies in tie-dye shirts are forcing tofu down Washington's throat." He calls the feelgood eating "sexy." And as many of his clients will tell him, "when you pay that much for an Oscar de la Renta suit– you want it to fit the next morning."
While the portions are smaller than Maggiano's across the street, the Mazza Gallerie space is huge (both in Ralph factor and sheer size). Fredericks calls the high ceilinged room "beautifully curvaceous," and likens it to a beautiful pink shell, with all those "niches, curves and pockets." It's a perfect "room to work," and he'll work it with that same old-school charm, even if Rock Creek's "mindful dining" philosophy is more new age.
Since the restaurant focuses on daily, healthy choices that build on each other–not the celebratory five-courser that inspires crash dieting the next morning– he may encounter less over-the-top occasions. Instead, Fredericks will fuss over the quieter, smaller celebrations. To him, making it through the day is just as dramatic as a pop-the-question
It was very clear that Fredericks had not changed since we last spoke. He still has the killer memory that can recall
a onetime diner's pearl earrings the year before. And his overwhelming urge to accommodate will still promise to chop down a tree and build another table if the room is too packed. Fredericks is like the hairdresser that is so good, you move salons with him.
Rock Creek, 5300 Wisconsin Ave., NW; Rockcreekrestaurant.com.