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Reservations Recommended

RIS is Here = RIS

Sometimes you sample a dish that answers all the cravings of your inner child. At RIS, the new West End restaurant around the corner from The Ritz-Carlton hotel, that would be the butterscotch pudding, which puts an immense exclamation point on the end of any meal there. It’s Grandma’s dessert times one thousand.

As for the restaurant itself, practically every DC foodie is talking about Ris Lacoste, who finally, finally opened the place after years’ worth of a papered-over front window and a sign that said something like “Ris is coming.” Now the window sign simply reads “RIS is here,” as if the restaurant-savvy needed a reminder of where to find Lacoste’s cooking. Although her restaurant opening has garnered plenty of press, it’s worth reminding her fan base that Lacoste has long been considered one of DC’s leading chefs, having once guided the kitchens of 1789 Restaurant to national prominence.

So, what is she producing here? An eclectic mix of homey Americana and Ris-inspired meals, such as the limey scallops margarita, a ceviche-like presentation of plump scallops marinated in lime juice and served over shaved tequila ice in a salt-rimmed stemmed glass. Delicate to look at, gentle on the tongue, and delicious.

Heartier appetites, and anyone not worried about calories, may head instead to a French onion soup to launch lunch or dinner. Like the classic version, this offers a crust of cheese melted over a baguette slice, all of which seals in the piping-hot sweet-savory beef broth augmented by sliced caramelized onions.

Like American cuisine in general, RIS’ cooking  is a melting pot, most likely of Lacoste’s very favorite meals and with representatives from traditional American and French kitchens to modern Latino bistros and with a nod perhaps to Granny herself.

But Granny can’t make a butterscotch pudding quite like this one, created by Lacoste’s imaginative pastry chef, Chris Kujala. A glutton’s idea of paradise, and with a big dose of nostalgia, this proves that an old-fashioned pudding can still take center stage, especially in the hands of a cook who elevates a plain custard into something extraordinary: butter and brown sugar dissolved in milk (though here, it’s probably heavy cream!), a mountain of whipped cream to crown the pudding itself, and a few swirls of thick, rich caramel pooled at the bottom as an added flavor accent. Without going too far out on a limb, this has got to be one of the best desserts in DC.

But wait. What about entrées? Of course, the essential gourmand will head towards the braised lamb shank, big, meaty, and tender, adorned with basil, mint, pomegranate seeds, shards of crisped pita, pine nuts, and garbanzos — and apparently one of the big favs here. For a leaner look, however, you might consider the soy-lacquered salmon perched in a broth, sparked by gingered beets and bok choy. Other rumored great dishes: the chicken potpie and the mushroom pappardelle with roasted chestnuts and Brussels sprouts. Clearly a seasonal offering — can’t imagine anyone eating roasted chestnuts in July — the pappardelle may take on another format as spring advances, since the pasta itself makes a perfect foil for different garnishes.

But as in every restaurant meal, patrons should expect a few wrinkles: The takeout order of the medium-rare cheeseburger with a side of onion jam had no cheese, hard to rectify with the kitchen when you are some miles away at home. In the end, as Lacoste smoothes out service (a bit slow, but courteous to a fault) and perfects every dish, Washingtonians will continue to welcome her back from her cooking hiatus. The next meal here: the cheeseburger, medium rare, with a side of butterscotch pudding.

Note: Lunch and dinner menus generally offer the same dishes, but with more entrées available in the evening — and that butterscotch pudding.

RIS | 2275 L St., NW; (202) 730-2500; www.risdc.com. Hours: lunch, Mon.-Fri. 11:30am-5:30pm, Sat.3-:5:30pm & Sun. to 5pm; dinner, Mon.-Sat. 5:3011pm & Sun. 5-9pm; brunch, Sat. & Sun. 10am-3pm. Entrée price range: $15-$28; butterscotch pudding, $8. Credit cards accepted.

Alexandra Greeley is a food writer, editor, and restaurant reviewer. She has authored books on Asian and Mexican cuisines published by Simon & Schuster, Doubleday, and Macmillan. Other credits include restaurant reviews and food articles for national and regional publications, as well as former editor of the Vegetarian Times and former food editor/writer for the South China Morning Post in Hong Kong. Click here to visit her website.