May 16, 2013 at 3:00 pm EDT | by Jonathan Howard
Sasser’s sweet tooth
Sean Sasser, dining, Real World

Sean Sasser says taking familiar dessert items ‘to the next level’ is one of his favorite ways to innovate in the kitchen. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

RIS (2275 L Street NW) dubs itself as an upscale neighborhood café and features an eclectic menu with savory and sweet options to please a wide array of diners. Head Chef Ris Lacoste is one of the most respected and dedicated chefs in the District and the restaurant recently added famous gay pastry chef Sean Sasser to the roster making RIS a must try for this restaurant columnist. I was excited to see what sweets Sasser would be serving up.

While the main reason for the visit was to experience what Sasser would deliver, we figured we might as well try out all that RIS has to offer, especially since it had been almost a year since I’d been there. My meal started off incredibly strong with the addictive scallop margarita appetizer, which consisted of lime-marinated scallops with chilies, orange, avocado and tequila ice. Much like a regular margarita, I could have indulged in five or six of these; they were light, refreshing and luscious.

Unfortunately, my entrée did not live up to the high standards set by the appetizer; the overwhelming flavor that my rabbit pappardelle possessed was salty. Overall, the reviews on the entrees and appetizers were mixed with some strong items being the beet salad, the sea scallops and the quiche, and some not-so-successful items being my rabbit and the hangar steak. But the main event was still ahead of us and to prepare for the onslaught of sweetness, I ordered a Balvenie 15 year, to accompany me on this journey, neat of course.

Sasser, whom many know from MTV’s “Real World San Francisco” as Pedro Zamora’s partner, is the new pastry chef at RIS. My husband and I personally remember Sean and Pedro’s commitment ceremony as one of the first we ever saw on television. Now Sean is focusing on his work as a pastry chef and sharing his life with current partner Michael Kaplan.

Sasser has been “fascinated with food and cooking since he was young. ”He loves the creativity and science involved in making pastries and he is fond of, “working with yeast, tempering chocolate and figuring out why an end product is successful or not.” Sasser enjoys pairing seasonal fruits with herbs like apples with rosemary, grapefruit with tarragon, or lemon with thyme. But he also loves chocolate, “anything chocolate, anytime, anywhere.”

His affection for fruits and herbs is currently visible on the RIS dessert menu with the Meyer’s lemon meringue tart with grapefruit tarragon sorbet. This tart was full of exciting and fresh flavors and the grapefruit sorbet was a powerful and herbaceous compliment to the multidimensional dessert. What I found most pleasing about this plate was that I was familiar with the dessert but surprised by how Sasser brought it to the next level. This is Sasser’s favorite dessert currently on the menu at RIS.

The superior craftsmanship needed to deliver familiar desserts to the next level was evident in all the dessert plates delivered to our table that evening, from the apricot coupe to the cookie plate. The slice of the day was especially pleasing: the red fruit tart with strawberries and raspberries topped with honey yogurt ice cream was a perfectly balanced dessert.

His chocolate macaroons that were part of the cookie plate were heavenly. And just in case pies, cookies and cakes aren’t enough to satiate your sweet tooth, Sasser delivers some of the most dynamic homemade ice creams and sorbets. There were fights at our table and spoons almost being thrown across the restaurant as the diners at my table defended the last spoonful of sorbet in a dish. I personally smacked a few hands away defending the last bite of the divine apricot sorbet.

RIS is an established restaurant and has a very strong menu; many of the savory items are worth the trip although some fell short of expectations. However, Sasser does not fall short on any of his delightful creations. When asked about the philosophy behind the food he serves, Sasser says, “I want to serve desserts and pastries that people recognize and love to eat, but sometimes with an unexpected twist of surprise.” This is exactly the experience a diner has when diving into one of Sasser’s desserts and experience that I enjoyed wholeheartedly.

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