It’s been less than three months since RAMMY award-winning chef Ryan Ratino cooked his last meal at now-shuttered Ripple. Within weeks he’ll be calling the shots at Bresca, the new restaurant he’s hurriedly assembled with the help of friends, coworkers, and industry professionals who want to see him succeed.
Ratino is intimately familiar with what it takes to make it in the D.C. metro area, having spent time in the kitchens at fusion restaurant Masa 14, gastro playground Minibar, and exurban retreat L’Auberge Provencale. But as he’s learned rather quickly since taking possession of the ground floor space that 14th Street NW mainstay Policy gave up earlier this summer, running a restaurant is all about problem-solving on the fly.
“There’s definitely a ton of unexpecteds,” he tells Eater, wistfully recalling the days when he could simply pick up the phone and have someone else troubleshoot any given issue. “No more engineering. You are engineering,” he says of the added responsibilities.
Luckily, he’s not going it entirely alone.
Ripple owners Curt Large and Roger Marmet are not financially involved in Bresca, but Ratino says they’ve been helpful in other ways. “They were always super supportive of what we were doing there [at Ripple], and very driven toward us achieving our goals and going for every accolade that we wanted,” he says of the flexibility he and his kitchen crew enjoyed while in Cleveland Park.
According to Ratino, Large and Marmet kept him in the loop about their plans to close that restaurant, allowing him plenty of time to confer with like-minded associates, scout a potential landing spot, and mentally prepare for making the leap to ownership.
“It pushed me to try and find something because I didn’t want to go through the life cycle again,” is how Ratino describes the thought process behind breaking out on his own rather than sending out resumes.
Supporters were easy to find. Colada Shop co-founder and fellow Minibar alum Juan Coronado is working up the opening drinks menu. Chef de cuisine Jose Arguelles will continue cooking alongside Ratino — he tells Eater they’ve been inseparable since meeting in Florida nearly a decade ago — and is a partner in Bresca. Junior sous chefs Austin St. George and Michael Cummins will resume their places along the line at Bresca. Brian Zaslavsky, an alum of both Minibar parent company Think Food Group and homegrown Mindful Restaurants Group, is expected to serve as general manager.
Transforming the existing space is not too heavy a lift (stay tuned for details on the redesign). One major improvement: a rooftop garden Ratino and Arguelles recently seeded with assorted spices, herbs, and flowers.
Although significantly smaller than the half-acre plot he used to tend at L’Auberge Provencale, the raised flower beds along the breezy perch Bresca shares with Policy — “People can come out and enjoy a cocktail … it’s a little bit of a communal space for us,” Ratino says — are filled with edible and decorative plants.
Core acquisitions include rosemary, African blue basil, dill, Vietnamese cilantro (“I feel like it will be great on a crudo,” Ratino says of the vibrant herb), citronella, habanero oregano (“It’ll be great in a vinaigrette. You don’t have to add any kind of chili flakes or anything,” Arguelles says), pineapple sage, lemon verbena, marjoram, and colorful flowers.
“It’s cool to be able to come up here and grab our garnishes,” Ratino says.
Come spring, he’ll see about adding cucumbers or other vegetables to the mix — though those may be better suited for the 1-acre plot in Sterling, Virginia, where Ratino hopes to later erect some beehives (again, stay tuned).
His current goal: getting Bresca going before everyone’s attention is consumed by the dining boom happening in Southwest, the soon-to-be home to dozens of new restaurants.
“With the big names opening up in the Wharf … we felt that it would be good to open before all of those do,” he says of the immediate time-crunch, adding, “the fall looks big.”