STEPPING OUT OF the hustle and bustle of 14th Street into Bresca feels like entering a whimsical wonderland. A living wall at the back is dotted with fantastical plants, and verdant corner nooks are glass-free terrariums. Fish sculptures jut out of one exposed brick wall like they’re swimming into the room, while fanciful animal prints adorn another. The sense of decadence is equally evident in the 62-seat restaurant with a bar for 12. Gold accents abound—from the light fixtures and the back bar to window frames and shelving. Even one of my servers has a gold corkscrew.
Similarly, the dishes coming from the kitchen balance playfulness and extravagance. Case in point: A fish-shaped plate holds parsley ice cream decorated with caviar, smoked trout roe, a refreshing charred lemon gelée and herbs harvested from the rooftop garden. On the side: a quartet of warm buckwheat pancakes, so you can create a bite that is both warm and cold.
This is the work of chef Ryan Ratino, who first earned notice in the District for his astonishingly creative tasting menu at Masa 14. He went on to make big waves at Ripple, which earned him a RAMMY Award for rising culinary star. Look at his résumé and notice other impressive stints like Caviar Russe and WD-50 in New York City, as well as minibar by José Andrés.
Bresca—which means honeycomb in Spanish, so you’ll spot plenty of the hexagons around the room—allows Ratino to let loose with his prodigious talent. He divides his menu into small bites, midsize plates and large-scale entrees designed for two to four diners. The first category’s options include the caviar and pancakes, as well as a play on classic crudité: buttered radish. The roots are left on, and the radishes are partially hollowed out to hold the butter. Pick them up by their white tails and dunk the peppery crunchers into a Green Goddess dressing for a satisfying start.
In the second section of offerings, a tubular twirl of linguini is graced with tongues of uni and lavished with black-truffle butter enriched with plenty of lemon and basil. Meanwhile, the PB&J features port-cured foie gras (the peanut butter) decorated with Concord grape gelée and compressed celery. It’s presented on what turns out to be the lid of a circular container holding madeleines. Smear the pâté on these liberally. Each bite is rich, buttery and packed with umami oomph—all offset by the smack of sweetness.
The larger entrees include an homage to the classic steakhouse dinner, as well as a lacquered duck breast that comes with a rich duck-egg-drop soup packed with chanterelles and roasted shiitake mushrooms—unrecognizable from the takeout favorite. There’s an old saying that a true chef can be judged by his or her soup, and Ratino earns the highest marks.
Patrons should complement courses with a cocktail designed by mix whiz Juan Coronado, best known for his work at the Colada Shop and barmini. The Viens Avec Moi has a melon-like mouthfeel, a gin-powered punch and a boutonniere of little white flowers as a cheery garnish. Another favorite is the house Old-Fashioned, which is bold, bourbony and—most important—balanced.
There are three desserts on hand. One is Ratino’s take on ambrosia, a dessert he first resurrected at Ripple. A beehive of meringue hides tapioca, pineapple and mango, while basil seeds float around the edge of the bowl. However, it’s the foie gras cake pops—bedazzled with gold leaf—that are the standouts. Served from a sculpture of a punk rocker’s head (the lollis forming the mohawk), they arrive coated in chocolate and rolled in crushed hazelnuts. Consider them Ferrero Rochers for the 1 percent. Like the rest of the experience, they’re the perfect balance of decadence and delightfulness.
1906 14th St. NW, 202.518.7926
PRICES Small bites, $7-$25; midsize plates, $14-$22; large-format entrees, $33-$68; desserts, $5-$11
HOURS Tue.-Thu., 5-10pm; Fri.-Sat., 5-11pm; Sun., 5-10pm