Jônt, long one of DC’s most highly anticipated restaurant openings, is here (kind of). Like everything else in the pandemic era, the 14th Street tasting room’s debut is different than planned. Chef/owner Ryan Ratino will open the intimate, wood-fired dining space adjoining his Michelin-starred restaurant, Bresca, for dinner tonight and an elegant Sunday lunch. But instead of the lengthy, ambitious Jônt prixe-fixe that was originally planned, the space will be temporarily home to a Bresca-style, $75 five-course dinner menu and $60 set Sunday lunch (both reservation-only via Tock), plus a la carte drinks and snacks in the adjoining salon. Meanwhile, Bresca itself remains closed for dine-in service and dedicated to upscale takeout and delivery.
“There’s no advice you can seek in this moment as young business owners, so we have to gauge how many places will trust dine-in,” says Ratino. “The silver lining to all of this is we were able look at our processes and make a better restaurant.”
In order to make guests comfortable and distanced, general manager Jhonatan Cano (formerly of Minibar) cut down Jônt’s chef counter flanking a display kitchen from 18 to 12 seats; parties are separated by clear acrylic dividers and required to wear masks when not seated. Parties are spaced six feet apart (the photos aren’t staged with distancing). Menu selections are made in advance online or via QR Code. The space is almost entirely reservation-only, though guests can drop by the adjoining 12-seat salon if there’s room.
Ratino is known for his specific sourcing and elaborate, modernist interpretations of classic dishes like a table-side duck à la presse. He delved even deeper into classic French preparations and techniques here. The dinner tasting menu may include dishes like a Dungeness crab tartlette with preserved truffle, foie gras cooked over the wood-fire’s embers, and a 45-day aged côte de porc (a thick-cut pork chop) with chestnut mushrooms, violet mustard, and bone jus. Diners will have the option of adding the signature duck to the dinner tasting—now roasted over the grill—which may be joined by a lobster press for Sunday lunch.
“It’s a European-style lunch—the grandeur of a really good midday meal. The whole idea is ‘the day is yours.’ It’s not ‘we need to turn tables for brunch.’” says Ratino.
The midday meal starts with a flurry of little luxe canapés— foie gras madeleines, croque monsieurs—and appetizers before guests pick entrees such as milk-fed lamb saddle or charcoaled poussin (young chicken). There’s also an optional $45 Ossetra caviar course with soft-scrambled eggs and homemade brioche. In other Escoffier delights: “I think we’ve nailed the most perfect soufflé you’ve ever tasted,” says Ratino.
Ratino emphasizes that this isn’t the “real” debut of Jônt, which will eventually offer a longer tasting menu that’s more different in style and substance than Bresca. Regardless, the opening of the space isn’t just a rare fine-dining debut these days—it’s one of the few tasting rooms currently operating in the city as destinations like Metier, Komi, Minibar, and Pineapple and Pearls remain closed. Though some have speculated that fine-dining will be another pandemic casualty, Ratino thinks the opposite.
“Now more than ever, when people are comfortable, they’ll want to get out and maybe experience something new and different,” says Ratino. “When that happens, there’s no better reason to celebrate.”