Chef de Cuisine Leonardo Marino
Chef de Cuisine Leonardo Marino Credit: Darrow Montgomery

Eric Ripert came bouncing into town last year with his four New York Times stars and a dab of omega-3 fish oil behind each ear, and everyone fell all over the celebrity chef as if he were going to personally brighten our wonky little lives. Never mind that Ripert is branding himself in D.C. at a time when some chefs are worried what the economy will do to their restaurants. Yep, there are reasons to dislike the guy, not the least of which is that he doesn’t even have to cook at his latest restaurant. Ripert has installed Leonardo Marino, a loyal Le Bernardin foot soldier, as chef de cuisine at Westend Bistro inside the Ritz-Carlton. You have to hand it to Marino; he’s doing his mentor proud. Start with his astonishing potato and leek soup, which provides a different delight in every spoonful. Marino’s fish sandwich is equally well-composed, a plump patty of striped bass slathered with saffron aioli and topped with fennel and oven-roasted tomatoes. Westend even tries to blend in with the locals with this bountiful bowl of greens and veggies dubbed the Eastern Market salad. In a way, Westend is a throwback bistro. It’s not designed to dazzle you with clever riffs on foie-gras pâté or even chili, like they do at Central Michel Richard. The cooks here simply take quality ingredients and cook the hell out of them. That strikes me as very un-celebrity chef.