This weekend’s Washington Post Magazine features an article called “What’s missing from D.C.’s food scene? A lot” by . The article was released online a few days before the print publication, and is stirring up quite a debate. Some pretty terrific rebuttals have appeared online, including this one by Young and Hungry‘s Jessica Sidman and this one by Huffington Post‘s Sam Hiersteiner.
I disagree with the article as it relates to restaurants. This section in particular really irks me:
Great food cities are ones with a discernible tradition, ones that have good grocery stores and markets; many small stores run by people with single-minded devotion to food craft — to charcuterie, coffee, bread, cheese and ice cream — and relatively easy access to really good produce and other ingredients.
Great food cities have restaurants offering varied cuisines at varied price levels, neighborhood restaurants and special-occasion restaurants. They have chefs committed to their cities and focused on their restaurants, and — most important — a sophisticated and demanding clientele intolerant of bad service and bad food.
I’m thinking of a recent dinner at Ripple in Cleveland Park as just one example of how Furstenberg is misguided. Ripple, with a grilled cheese bar featuring housemade charcuterie and artisanal cheese. Ripple, with a wine program chosen just recently by Wine Enthusiast as one of America’s 100 Best Wine Restaurants. Ripple, with a focus on local, seasonal ingredients. Ripple, with a clearly talented and committed chef in Marjorie Meek-Bradley.
I am dining at Ripple with friends who I would certainly deem “sophisticated and demanding clientele intolerant of bad service and bad food.” Chef S. and his wife. and sous-chef L. and his wife know good food.
Here is an example of a diner not wanting to pay for something that she isn’t going to enjoy. One of my friends is not a wine drinker. But the wine list at Ripple is impressive and she’s in the mood for wine. She tries to convey to our server what kind of wine she may find palatable. The server takes on the challenge (her words). She brings my friend a taste of wine, but it’s not to her liking. The server tries two more times and is unsuccessful. My friend isn’t being difficult and the wine isn’t bad, she doesn’t like it. My friend ends up not ordering a glass of wine. If the server is aggravated, she shows no signs of it. Discerning diner, accommodating restaurant, end of story. The rest of us enjoy cocktails or wine, and we all agree that the food that follows is pretty terrific.
Burrata with English pea pesto, pickled wax beans, sugar snap peas, and pistachio is a cohesive blend of components which fly off the plate faster than the speed of light.
Lightly fried squash blossoms are a crunchy delight, with an appealing yet subtle flavor.
A basket of cornbread is delivered to our table and met with great enthusiasm. The cornbread is light, moist, and slightly sweet. It doesn’t need butter to be enjoyed, but a little dab doesn’t hurt.
I am proud of myself for ordering what is described as the lightest entree on the menu. Sweet diver scallops from Maine, with house made andouille sausage, doesn’t feel particularly light. But suddenly I don’t care about light as much as I do about tender scallops and zesty sausage, begging to be brushed through creamy dollops of potato purée and corn pudding. My summer has featured an endless parade of excellent restaurant dishes. This is one that stands out.
Sous chef L and his wife both order crispy skin branzino with farro, black-eyed peas, roasted tomatoes, and basil. The fish is moist with a crunchy sear, flavorful, and beautifully composed on the plate.
My husband almost always has fish when we’re dining out, but he changes it up with a double portion of spinach tortellini with hon-shimeji mushrooms, pine nuts, and garrotxa cheese. (The Ripple menu features dishes that are small, medium, and entree size. This dish is in the medium category.) The pasta has a firm texture that contrasts beautifully with the soft smoky mushrooms, yielding what my husband calls a spectacular dish.
Grilled asparagus with saba elicits an audible gasp from the group. Its smoky goodness is undeniable.
We are dining with the parents of a trained pastry chef, so dessert judging is serious. We find salted caramel ice cream to be grainy, and blueberry panna cotta isn’t particularly noteworthy. Our meal may not be perfect, but this doesn’t deter anyone from expressing a desire to return to Ripple in the very near future.
Another sentence in the Post magazine article that irritates me is this one:
Most of all, however, Washington needs more discerning customers who care less about being the first to go to each new restaurant than about the quality of the food they are served.
Admittedly, I rushed off to Kapnos in its first days, and have been making a valiant attempt to get to many of DC’s newest restaurants. This does not mean I don’t care about quality. Mr. Furstenberg should log on to www.donrockwell.com and he will see a vibrant and vocal community of DC area diners who are passionate about quality.
Mark Furstenberg caused quite a ripple when he dissed DC dining. Perhaps he needs a trip to Ripple to help change his mind.
See my previous post: Hurricane Irene’s Ripple Effect.