Like his sexy beef, Lacey restaurateur Rick Nelsen is aging well. I remember having dinner in the original Ricardo’s location at the purple house on Lacey Boulevard over 17 years ago. He was young, energetic, and committed to his vision of owning his own restaurant. Still going strong, Ricardo’s, now located in Lacey’s The Hub, is a testament to what is possible. The restaurant is a comfortable place to relax, meet friends, have a cocktail and eat some tasty food.
These days Executive Chef Mikaël Besnier has the helm in the kitchen. “Cooking is in my blood,” says Mikaël, whose entire family worked the many jobs in the restaurant business. It’s easy to fall in love with his French accent (he is, after all, from France) but you’ll stay in love when you eat his food. Growing up in and around food has been a big influence, but his desire to travel and learn English expanded his culinary expertise. Mikaël participated in the Erasmus Project, which promotes cultural and language learning in the European Union. He learned English while living in Ireland and later went to Spain and Catalonia where he learned Spanish. You can be sure there was cooking involved too. He appreciated working in a starred Michelin restaurant for 1.5 years, but “I wanted more,” Mikaël recalls.
The next adventure took Mikaël to Napa, California where he improved his English and took a job at the renowned The Restaurant at Auberge du Soleil, known for its exclusive clientele. Mikaël could regale us tales of catering to the rich and famous, but his lips are sealed. After soaking up those experiences, he returned to France for five years. Then it was time to come back to the U.S.
The initial move was back to California, but a year ago, Mikaël and his partner decided to move to Olympia where they had friends and family. When he showed up at Ricardo’s to talk about a job, he was hired on the spot. In spite of pandemic conditions, Mikaël appeared to be undaunted by the challenge and ready to take it on. “After 20 years in the business I know my flavors,” he says.
He’s worked on more detailed tracking of the famous sexy beef, and is including more local and seasonal offerings on the menu. “I’m still thinking about the fall menu,” Mikaël muses, but there will be a duroc pork chop, which look like a bone-in rib steak. You’ll also find cranberries and pumpkins. “I want to bring a story to my food, so people want to come back,” says Mikaël.
He is also able to find many ingredients through Harbor Foodservice. “They have been very helpful,” he says.
For the enthusiastic beef eater, there’s the Greater Omaha 50-day-aged, 30-ounce tomahawk, a long-bone rib eye. You can admire the stack upon entry in the restaurant. It’s impressive. The aging room has a big glass window to peer at the beef. If you want a smaller portion, you can order the 30-day aged, eight-ounce filet mignon or the 45-day aged 14-ounce prime rib eye. The aging concentrates flavor and creates amazing tenderness. There are also non-beef and vegetarian choices. Consider saving room for an after-dinner sweet, most are made in-house. For those who have a hard time making dessert decisions, order the flight and you’ll get five different bites.
General Manager Shane Holland handles the non-kitchen side of the restaurant. Interestingly, Shane started as a server. When the need for a bookkeeper arose, Shane stepped in. Over time, he took on more management responsibilities, ultimately becoming the GM. Shane wants to remind people that Ricardo’s is a comfortable place. “Ricardo’s is a family vibe. You don’t have to dress up,” says Shane, adding “Good food, good time.”
Rick and his wife Marie continue to be involved with the business, and you might see them involved in the catering activities. Speaking of catering, it really is time to plan for your holiday events. The restaurant has space on-site for you and your group as well as catering options.
The outdoor seating is great through the summer, and when the weather cools some of the outdoor tables have heaters. Enjoy Happy Hour from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. daily inside or out. Reservations are not taken for happy hour, but you can make a reservation for dinner.
Chef Mikaël invites you to visit. “Be ready to be surprised,” he says. Check out the Facebook page for events, updates and hiring information.
Ricardo’s Kitchen & Bar
676 Woodland Square Loop SE, Lacey