RAMMY awards recognize Northwest dining scene

Hazel is located at 808 V St. NW. (photo by Rey Lopez)

Various Northwest eateries recently won recognition in the Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington’s 35th annual RAMMY Awards.

The recipients in 21 categories were chosen by public voting and an anonymous panel of volunteer judges, made up of food journalists, educators and industry professionals.

The RAMMYs honor the “exceptional ability and accomplishments of the hard-working individuals and organizations of the region’s restaurants and foodservice community,” according to a release from the association.

Winners in Northwest are: John Grace, The Hamilton (Manager of the Year); Ryan Ratino, Ripple (Rising Culinary Star of the Year); Pearl Dive Oyster Palace (Favorite Gathering Place of the Year); Convivial (Upscale Brunch of the Year); Cava Grill (Favorite Fast Bites of the Year); Proof (Upscale Casual Restaurant of the Year); Compass Rose Bar + Kitchen (Casual Restaurant of the Year); Jack Rose Dining Saloon (Beer Program of the Year); Kapnos by Mike Isabella (Cocktail Program of the Year); Charlie Palmer Steak (Wine Program of the Year); minibar by José Andrés (Formal Fine Dining Restaurant of the Year); The Source by Wolfgang Puck (Service Program of the Year); Hazel (New Restaurant of the Year); and Ike Grigoropoulos, Dimitri Moshovitis, Ted Xenohristos and Brett Schulman of Cava Group Inc. (Restaurateur of the Year).

Ryan Ratino, Rising Culinary Star

Ryan Ratino is opening Bresca at 1906 14th St. NW. (photo by Rey Lopez)

Ohio native Ryan Ratino has worked previously at Caviar Russe in New York; Shula’s Steak House and Todd English’s Bluezoo at the Walt Disney World Swan in Orlando, Fla.; and Masa 14 in Washington. He also operated Ripple in Cleveland Park, but after it closed this past June, Ratino moved on to a new project: Bresca, which is set to open soon at 1906 14th St. NW. Ratino responded by email to The Current’s questions about his career and recent win.

The Current: When did you decide to become a chef? What training did you go through?

Ryan Ratino: To be honest with you, I always wanted to be a professional baseball player but I knew that career had a determined lifespan. That is when I enrolled in Culinary School and I loved it since day one. I went to [Le Cordon Bleu] in Orlando, Fla.

What was a pivotal moment in your career?

Ratino: I think all of the jobs I’ve held have had significant impact in my career, but if I had to choose one it would have to be the one-star Michelin restaurant, Caviar Russe in New York City. Here I really polished my technique and enhanced my team building skills. But most importantly, I think this is where I was really able to understand the importance of sustainably sourcing products.

What is your favorite dish to cook? Ingredient to use? Dish to eat?

Ratino: I honestly don’t cook the same dish twice. I am always cooking with seasonal ingredients — what I find at the fresh farm market. If I am given the choice to pick my meal, I would go back to my Italian roots and choose a pasta. You can never go wrong with a good pasta. And you can be sure that if I spot [foie gras] somewhere on a menu, I’ll be sure to order that.

What is your vision for Bresca? What type of restaurant will it be? What do you want to achieve?

Ratino: Depending on your mood, Bresca will be an upbeat weekday hangout, a special occasion, or a casual spot to have dinner with friends. Our vision is to celebrate seasonality and the bounties of earth. We want to bring our guests a unique experience by creating a menu that highlights creative and contemporary flavors with products that are responsibly sourced.

What is your reaction to receiving this RAMMY?

Ratino: Just the fact that I was nominated and put on the same category as colleagues such as Sasha Felikson (Doi Moi), Rob Rubba (Hazel), Piter and Handry Tjan (Kobo) and Miranda Rosenfelt (Sally’s Middle Name) was big enough for me. I really respect and admire their work and I was just flattered to be in the same group as these great talents. I am very humbled and extremely honored to have been recognized by the RAMW as 2017 Rising Culinary Star. This is just another incentive to work harder and deliver our best on this new concept. The pressure is on …

Hazel, Best New Restaurant

Hazel features shared plates under executive chef Rob Rubba. (photo courtesy of Neighborhood Restaurant Group)

Hazel, which opened in Shaw in June 2016, features a menu of mostly shared plates created by executive chef Rob Rubba. Before arriving in D.C., Rubba worked at a Gordon Ramsay restaurant in New York City, Guy Savoy in Las Vegas and L20 in Chicago. Hazel is his first solo act. The Current interviewed Rubba about Hazel and its recent RAMMY win.

The Current: What does it mean to you to win this award? Were you surprised?

Rob Rubba: Yes, I was definitely surprised — I didn’t even know it happened at first. That’s what took me so long to get to the stage. I’m still in disbelief. It’s an honor. To me, it’s just really great for our team as a whole. Everyone’s put in a lot of work, a lot of dedication this past year, and it really shows that hard work does pay off. It has helped boost morale.

What is it like to be executive chef?

Rubba: It’s a lot of fun because I have full range of what we want to do with the menu, the dining experience. I’m not pigeon-holed into doing an already-filled-out box, and I had to fill in the blanks. It’s been great because I can reflect myself personally and have fun doing it. It’s nice not having restrictions on what’s already a concept, but I can build a concept around what your vision is, the type of food you want to do, the type of service, the music. It’s neat to have a personal project.

What is your favorite dish you serve?

Rubba: That’s a hard one — I love every dish. It’s like picking a favorite child! But this one is a crowd favorite: I would have to say Grandma Hazel’s Zucchini Bread. It is something that, every time I still eat it — and I’ve eaten it a million times here — it takes me back to my childhood, hanging out with her. So I think for that sentimental value, that’s one of my favorite dishes.

What do you see in Hazel’s future?

Rubba: It will continue to evolve. Not in terms of being more fine-dining or anything, but continue to evolve with our staff, becoming more educated in the front of the house and the back of the house, rolling with our menu in terms of our flavor profile. And I want to continue to be a staple in the neighborhood. I want our guests to know that this is where they can come to get a good meal, and that might mean changing a few things, but I just want to constantly evolve to become a better restaurant.

Hazel is located at 808 V St. NW and offers a 38-seat dining room, a 16-seat bar, and a 38-seat year-round patio.