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Raw Fish, Whole Animal Tastings, and Tons of Pasta Are in the Works at Bresca

Award-winning chef Ryan Ratino’s culinary vision runs the gamut

Bresca executive chef and co-founder Ryan Ratino inspects a hunk of dry-aged beef at his forthcoming restaurant.
Photo by Rey Lopez for Eater DC

The exact dishes aspiring restaurateur Ryan Ratino will serve on opening night at the restaurant he’s installing along the super popular 14th Street corridor are still being fine-tuned. But the co-founder of Bresca tells Eater about the types of food and prospective pairings visiting diners should expect to find when seated at one of his tables.

A well-seasoned chef with an eye for detail, Ratino dazzled customers at recently shuttered Ripple and trendy Masa 14 with artfully arranged dishes melding whimsy and seasonality. The plan is to continue doing so at the self-led eatery he is hustling to turn around in the next few weeks.

Ratino and chef de cuisine Jose Arguelles have been testing out new ideas and honing old favorites for the past few months. With summer still lingering, Ratino tells Eater the opening menu will likely tilt more towards the sea than land.

“We don’t want you to feel super full,” Ratino says of that crucial first impression.

During a recent shopping trip to local distributor Profish, Ratino rattled off some of the creations he’s got in mind.

Bresca co-founder Ryan Ratino hoists a 28-pound striped bass at Profish.
Photo by Rey Lopez for Eater DC

In addition to the sea urchin linguine he floated back in July, Ratino says he’s been researching flat fish — mentioning halibut, turbot, and sand dabs specifically — he’d like to roast whole, while still on the bone.

Bresca chef de cuisine Jose Arguelles (left) and executive chef Ryan Ratino size up fresh seafood at Profish.
Photo by Rey Lopez for Eater DC

“It takes more skill than basting a filet,” Ratino says.

Per Ratino, he plans to salt cure citronella leaves (one of the plants already growing on his rooftop garden), wrap the featured fish in said leaves — “To give it that acidulated kind of perfume-y lemon profile,” he suggests — roast it, and then finish it in butter spiked with more of the citronella leaves.

Ocean trout gets the nod for a crudo sparked by citrus-coconut sauce, and cooled off via a sorbet marrying green apple with wasabi. “The fat content gives it really nice texture when it’s raw,” Ratino says, adding, “This will be on our opening menu, for sure.” Another leading contender: roasted walleye flanked by something like shaved kohlrabi and pureed passion fruit.

Works in progress include: an overhaul of surf and turf combining lobster carpaccio (he’s brining the shellfish a la corned beef) with crispy sweetbreads, as well as a roasted freshwater eel and poached foie gras production that’s dependent on Ratino’s ability to secure a steady supply of the snake-like creature from a trusted source in Maine. “It’s something new that I don’t see a lot of people using,” he says.

Bresca co-founder Ryan Ratino takes notes during an in-house wine tasting.
Photo by Rey Lopez for Eater DC

Heartier stuff will take the form of multi-course expressions of a single protein. The dry-aged beef he and Arguelles are curing inside a converted cooler — the meat went in at 28 days; Ratino says he’d like to hold it up to two months longer (nearly 90 days) — will likely lead the way. A potential “beef course” was plotted this way: wedge salad with smoked and ground sweetbreads; palm pave dusted with powdered bone marrow; dry-aged beef fat brioche; bone marrow-based mayonnaise; and triple-seared, dry-aged beef with chanterelles and braised onions on the side.

Down the line, lamb may slide into the marquee slot. That experience could lead to a tasting menu featuring lamb tartare; roasted lamb saddle with braised beans; Merguez sausage; and lamb neck tortellini. The same could happen with chicken, duck, pork, or whatever else Ratino et al. elect to lavish with attention.

Some funky stuff to look forward to: salt-and-vinegar palm pave with smoked creme fraiche and Osetra caviar, and sour cream-and-onion beef tendon are but two of the taste sensations Ratino and Arguelles are still contemplating.

Perfecting pasta is a more immediate concern.

Bresca chef de cuisine Jose Arguelles displays a pair of cryovaced doughs at Bresca.
Photo by Rey Lopez for Eater DC

“This is my true love: noodles,” Ratino says while kneading a mound of sticky dough.

Bresca chef de cuisine Jose Arguelles (left) and executive chef Ryan Ratino roll out fresh pasta dough at their new restaurant.
Photo by Rey Lopez for Eater DC

He and Arguelles continue to fiddle with recipes for two kinds of pasta: a drier, egg white-based iteration that would be used to make traditional pasta dishes such as the aforementioned linguine, and a special, yolk-heavy version designed to accommodate stuffed pastas like agnolotti, cheese-filled scarpinocc (think: burrata, parmesan, and taleggio), ravioli and tortellini.

Homespun noodles at Bresca.
Photo by Rey Lopez for Eater DC

“We’re making a ton of pasta,” Ratino pledges.