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It’s always a challenge to design a restaurant for a hotel that doesn’t look and feel like a hotel restaurant, a term laden with baggage. The Washington Terrace Hotel, just off Scott Circle, has done a smart job of escaping the usual pratfalls with 15 Ria, a sharp and inviting eatery featuring classic American cuisine.
Diners enter from the hotel lobby into an attractive cocktail lounge that on weekend evenings teems with a lively crowd — you may want to pause a moment there to indulge in one of their many specialty cocktails to get your evening rolling.
In the dining room, shimmering copper-colored fabric adorning the walls and a large stone fireplace dominate the design, creating a bistro-style eatery with a warm and relaxed feel. High-back upholstered chairs provide the high level of comfort you expect in fine restaurants, while a spacious outdoor patio lends itself to al fresco dining.
Ria — an acronym derived from the establishment’s Rhode Island Avenue address — is the realm of Executive Chef Jamie Leeds, nominated last year by Star Chefs as a “rising star.” Leeds launched the restaurant two years ago after earning kudos in New York at Union Square CafÃ© and Tribeca Grill.
Her Ria menu undergoes seasonal revisions and features regional and fresh products at unpretentious prices. Each month a slate of daily specials is announced (one for each day of the week) that’s value priced and includes a choice of two side dishes. Recent specials included such fare as grilled mojo shrimp, roast suckling pig, and braised short ribs.
Popcorn shrimp and calamari, battered and flash fried, accompanied by a tame cayenne remoulade is a light start to your dining experience. It’s a delight to find such fresh calamari, not rubbery at all.
A recent evening’s daily soup of cauliflower, apple and a touch of cream was exquisitely subtle. Although perhaps more suited to cold weather months, this fine creation is a welcome addition to any season’s menu.
An appetizer of sautÃ©ed crab cake has a wonderfully crispy exterior and little else than generous morsels of crab. It’s not overly seasoned, allowing the mild flavor of the seafood to shine through. A dab of guacamole and a scattering of black beans echo the simplicity.
Grilled wild king salmon, rubbed with a mixture of spices, is a real treat. Its flesh is fresh and moist, exuding the rich, hearty flavor that only wild salmon can offer. Ginger barbecue sauce and jalapeÃ±o cornbread pudding nicely round out the presentation.
Chefs struggle to create interesting preparations for chicken, an overworked staple of American cooking. Leeds comes through with a citrus roasted Amish chicken that is far from boring. Paired with a wilted spinach salad studded with red grapes, avocado and bacon vinaigrette, this succulent dish clearly hits it mark.
My favorite entrÃ©e is breast of duck, beautifully seared on the outside and served medium rare with sorrel and orzo salad. Radicchio and garlic add interesting notes to the effort.
As for desserts, strawberry and rhubarb shortcake is a disappointment, though I liked that the rhubarb was still a tad crunchy. The shortcake was rather tough and the whole dessert is far too dry, despite the able assistance of lemon-ginger ice cream.
Chunks of chocolate are spread throughout a fudge brownie that’s combined with mocha ice cream to create a splendid sundae. Serious chocolate lovers won’t be disappointed with this, but for a truly decadent experience, don’t miss the hazelnut-double ganache chocolate cake, as rich and sinful as allowed by law. We also liked the fine espresso crÃ¨me brÃ»lÃ©e.
Jamie Leeds is a name you’ll be hearing more about in the future when fine young chefs are recognized for their innovative work. But there’s no need to wait — she’s already accomplishing remarkable things daily.