Ris Earns Semifinal Spot for 2023 James Beard ‘Outstanding Restaurant’
By February 9, 2023 0 756•
Ris Lacoste was “completely surprised” to learn that her eponymous West End restaurant at 2275 L St. NW, is a semifinalist for the James Beard Foundation’s “Outstanding Restaurant” USA 2023 award. It’s the only Washington, D.C., restaurant among 20 nationwide candidates for this prestigious honor. Ris, as everyone calls her, has “no idea” who nominated her.
Locals who’ve been enjoying her Modern American food and heartfelt hospitality for decades – initially, at the late Bob Kinkead’s 21 Federal and his eponymous Kinkead’s and later at 1789 Restaurant, where she helmed the kitchen – should not be surprised at this recognition.
A major criterion for the James Beard award is community involvement, and it’s hard to imagine a candidate who more thoroughly embodies this ethos. Lacoste personally makes free food deliveries daily. She says the conversation with each customer – when she calls to say she’s at the door – is a highlight of her day. It inspires her that older customers, who don’t or can’t go out, rely on this support. Thus, the take-out menu, posted online daily, is generously portioned so the food often lasts for more than one meal.
Name a local organization that feeds or helps people in need, and Lacoste is an active supporter. This can involve feeding hospital workers and police during the Covid crisis, or on Jan. 6, or working with neighborhood organizations like the Foggy Bottom/West End Village, the Mayor’s Office on Nightlife and Culture, the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington, the Girl Scouts and many more. She brings a lively intelligence and generosity of spirit that translates into her “never say ‘no’ ” sensibility.
Lacoste likes to describe her restaurant as a “classy neighborhood joint,” meaning that her welcome mat is out to folks in hoodies as well as tuxedos. She hosts a wide political and social spectrum. The food she serves is full-flavored and unfussy, often reflecting her New England roots. There are always one or two dishes created by her mentor, Bob Kinkead; currently, it’s his seafood stew. Ris’s signature dishes include her “Famous Meatloaf” (a tweak of her mother’s old recipe, served each Monday) and the scallop margarita she developed at 1789.
Lacoste talked about the challenges of running a restaurant in post-pandemic Washington, D.C. Although her prime West End location is surrounded by hotels, occupancy rate is low. That and the fact that people are working remotely mean that the area’s lunch and happy hour business is largely gone. At the same time, costs of everything – food, staff and occupancy – are increasing, and sources of supplies are unstable. One bright spot, she says, is an increase in private events as people want to get together with families and organizations. Happily, her restaurant is well equipped with four private event spaces to handle these gatherings. To run a successful restaurant these days, she says, you “need to pay attention” and “shop smart.”