Ravish, an offshoot of Ravishing Radish Catering, offers some inspiring cocktails and many small plates to please the palate.
Manager Nick La Porta was behind the bar tidying up after happy hour at Ravish, a darling new Eastlake bar and eatery that’s an offshoot of Lisbet and Ron Mielke’s catering company, Ravishing Radish.
“Thanks for giving us another chance,” he said, welcoming a couple who swiveled on metal stools to face him. He looked far less harassed than he had the previous Saturday night when the kitchen had had a meltdown of major proportions. (That a restaurant critic was also in the house, then and now, was unbeknown to him.)
On that first Saturday night visit, “No soup today” had been scrawled at the top of a largely blank chalkboard of specials. The geared-for-grazing menu of roughly a dozen small bites had quite a few holes in it, too.
No crab cakes, no chicken skewers and no pork sliders either, the put-upon but punctilious waiter told us with apologies, one of many made to customers that star-crossed night.
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What are the seasonal roasted vegetables? “Those would be … nonexistent,” was the riposte. Ba-Da-Bump-Bump. It began to feel like a comedy routine.
I later learned the back story. The chef had called in sick; the sub hadn’t prepped enough food; the situation became critical in the crescendo of the dinner rush.
There was very little food to sell. “All I could think to do was keep people laughing,” said La Porta. He also smartly comped dessert for those who decided to stick around.
We weren’t sorry we did — and not just because of pillow-soft brioche bread pudding, its fissures gooey with Theo’s bittersweet chocolate and caramel sauce. Everything I had that night was well executed.
Tender, Cajun-spiced meatloaf sliders tucked into mini brioche buns were slippery with grilled red onions and ketchup so invigorating it could double as barbecue sauce.
Macaroni and cheese, baked to order in a square ramekin thickly topped with a breadcrumb crust, was a grown-up’s delight, with pancetta nuggets among the elbow noodles (or not, for vegetarians) and rosemary cheddar and bleu among the cheeses.
“Grapple salad” had no apple, but lots of plump, sweet red grapes and toasted pecans over red and green lettuces dewy with orange-champagne vinaigrette.
Pigs in a blanket — luscious little hot links poking from buttery puff pastry — are an upscale reinvention of hot dogs wrapped in refrigerator crescent rolls. Though designed for dipping into spicy ketchup or sweet-hot mustard, those plump weenies were a tight fit for the condiments’ diminutive square containers.
Every square bowl and rectangular white plate looks styled for a glossy food-mag photo shoot. So does every square inch of the small storefront. The Pottery Barn-meets-Ikea by way of Restoration Hardware décor is a study in black and white with carefully arranged splashes of apple green and flame red. Glassybabies sit on each table. Crystal drops hang from a chandelier overhead.
Some folks happening upon Ravish that unfortunate Saturday night might not have given it a second chance. Had I on that occasion ordered the bland chicken skewers and heavily herbed polenta triangles overburdened with mushy vegetables, chances are I’d have written it off, too.
But I admired the staff’s pluck, their grace under pressure and their show-must-go-on resolve. I’m glad I returned for chubby crab cakes flecked with jalapeño and flattered by Thai chili sauce. Also for wonderfully crusty flatbread, an oval of dough sparingly topped pizzalike with spicy tomato sauce, prosciutto, artichoke hearts, Gouda and lots of fresh basil.
Had I not returned, I’d have missed tasting La Porta’s latest cocktail inspiration — the perfect-for-summer Prickly Pear, fruity in the middle, spicy on the edges and bright with lime.
I’d also have missed the entertaining tale of how La Porta got from the other Washington (D.C.) to this one, a coming-of-age saga replete with bad choices and foolish risks that turns on luck and love for a woman. It ends happily; the relationship thrives. I think Ravish will, too.
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