Dates. Those awkward, exciting, beautiful things we all go on at some point. I am by no means an expert in this field- quite far from it- and I don’t have a magical solution for how to make your next date the best you ever had, so unfortunately you won’t be finding the next We Love DC dating service here (sigh). The inspiration for this post really came from a conversation with a friend of mine the other day. He asked me where he should take a girl out, wanting to strike the right balance between serious young professional, trendy and casual. I realized many of us have gone through this mental exercise before. The exhausting over-planning and over- analyzing we do: choosing the right spot for that first interaction (or second or third), focusing on every detail from time, to dress code, to the big goodbye, mulling over tiny logistics as a method of defense to shift our thoughts away from the weirdness that could ensue. But enough of that.
I think a shared meal is the perfect way to break the ice, a way to bond over something simple that brings anyone, no matter what level of culinary expertise you may have, together. We all share stories around a dinner table, have memories of a favorite meal, and can reveal oneself through a dish. So for me, sharing a meal is a perfect way of getting to know someone, whether it be a sit down dinner or a casual picnic. I decided to write some recommendations for where you can break bread and the ice along the way, in case you need to outsource thinking on the next time your big date is lined up. I polled some of the We Love DC crew for their suggestions as well, as not all of us are food focused daters.
I checked out Ripple when they first opened back in 2010, before there had been much buzz about it, before the restaurant expanded and back when it was one of those restaurants that I just had a good feeling about. The restaurant has changed chefs and menus through its almost two-year history, but one thing has remained a constant: the food.
One thing that stands out right away when you go to Ripple is the presentation. There are thoughtful details on each plate, such as the rouge pumpkin soup that’s poured at the table for a little added effect. The thick, bright soup goes with a somewhat unusual combination of eggplant, pine nuts, cippolini and squid, and somehow it all works well together. If you want to go for something a little heavier, try the mushroom risotto with the poached egg nestled on top. The runny egg yolk and tender mushrooms over a bowl of hot risotto make for great comfort food on a chilly day. And whereas other restaurants have little bites or snacks that are tasteless throwaways, the bacon-roasted pecans are addictive and pleasantly salty and smoky. If you go and the pork rillette is back on the menu, don’t pass it up.
In the most recent chef news in DC, Logan Cox has taken the helm at Cleveland Park’s Ripple. Previously, Cox was the executive chef at New Heights and had also worked with Frank Ruta at Palena and Tarver King at Woodlands Resort and Inn in Charleston, SC. He started working at Ripple in May.
From the looks of it, the menu won’t be changing much. There’s a farm-to-table emphasis (which I’m pretty sure existed previously), and dishes like the crispy duck breast, gnocchi and baked-to-order chocolate chip cookies remain on the menu with slightly different twists. Cox studied for a year in Italy, so perhaps we can expect this influence to peek through on the menu. For example, there’s a smoked quail agnolotti with hazelnuts and English peas that is available, according to a press release.
As for the previous executive chef, Teddy Diggs, word on the internet indicates he has moved to Martha’s Vineyard where he is the current chef at Home Port Restaurant, an 80-year-old institution. Sad to see Diggs leave Ripple, but it should be interesting to see if and how Ripple’s menu will change under the new chef.
Man, am I a big fan of gnocchi. It’s easy enough to make. It combines pasta and potatoes, the two powerhouses of starchiness. What’s not to love? So since it’s unpleasantly cold this weekend, make a nice, warm bowl of this gnocchi, courtesy of Teddy Diggs, executive chef of Ripple. In the recipe, Teddy uses a potato ricer. I usually follow the Alton Brown school of thought that “uni-taskers are bad.” But a potato ricer is a fantastic invention. Once you have mashed potatoes (or this gnocchi) that went through a potato ricer, you’ll never go back. You can use a fork to mash them instead, and use a fork to shape the gnocchi (you are forgiven for not having a gnocchi paddle).
At some point in our lives, most of us have had a moment where we stare at the television screen and say to ourselves, “That’s what I want to do with my life.” For some it’s fantasy but for others, like Teddy Diggs, it actually becomes reality.
Diggs, the executive chef of Ripple, grew up on the “old Food Network” as a kid living in Oklahoma. You know, back when Food Network was actually good (that’s my opinion, at least) and aired shows with real chefs, like Bobby Flay and Emeril. So after watching the pros, Diggs became more interested in cooking, went on to take culinary classes in high school in Chantilly, VA, and eventually attended the Culinary Institute of America.
Some months I go fancy, others I don’t. I definitely erred on the side of casual this month, going so far as having a grilled cheese sandwich at not one, but three restaurants. Take note, fancy restaurants, I don’t find many things more satisfying than butter, bread and cheese cooked to gooey perfection. Did I just call the new burger? Is it the grilled cheese? I sure hope it is.
I confess that as a foodie my knowledge of pairing wines with food is…shall we say, a little lacking. I’ve always deferred to the “experts” and wino friends for advice on what wines to buy and what to serve them with. So the Peter Franus dinner and wine pairing at Ripple seems like it would be perfect for someone whose knowledge of wine is limited to “white with chicken and fish, red with beef.”
The dinner on January 25th will consist of five courses served with Napa Valley wines from Peter Franus Wines. Ripple is a gem in the city and when I had dinner there in the early fall, every dish was great from start to finish. For this particular tasting, some of the courses will include slow poached eggs, crispy duck leg confit, a braised veal cheek and a spin on the Fig Newton. Wine selections will include zinfandels, sauvignon blanc and a cabernet.