Saturday, May 16, 2009

Rustico -- Alexandria, Virginia

Friday night, and Liza and I headed across the bridge to Alexandria for a bite to eat. Rustico, pronounced "R-oo-stico" per the hostess, was our destination.

Liza had called for a reservation, but she was told Rustico does not hold tables during dinner hours. Instead, they put us on a "waiting list." Waiting list? I had visions of the Redskins Season Ticket Waiting List and wondered if we should have put our names in, say, 20 years ago.

A table opened up within minutes of our arrival, though, and we were promptly seated.

We sat down and eyed the napkins on our plates. They were rolled up into tight little balls with a piece of the napkin sticking up. Kind of looked like a little sword. So, of course, Liza and I immediately burst into a sword fight. En gard!

We're goofy pizza bloggers.

Rustico is a combination bar/lounge and restaurant. There is an impressive beer menu, with "30 brilliant taps book-ended by two massive coolers holding more than 331 different types of ales, lagers, ciders and stouts."

According to Rustico's web site, executive chef Frank Morales III hosts Saturday custom pizza-making classes that also help you pair beer with pizza. (Cost is $98, seems a little pricy for pizza and beer...Just saying.) The "hefty list of beers includes options for nearly every topping--from chocolate-friendly lagers to Brussels-loving Belgian Saison."

Liza and I were excited. Rustico appeared to be a place where the chefs take their pizza seriously. Bring it!

We shared a Beer Flight called "The Breakfast of Champions"--it was German beers, Liza wanted to pay homage to her heritage, I suppose. (Liza is 100 percent German, for those not in the know.) All four samples were top notch, excellent choices as we started to unwind from a week of work.

And we ordered the Roasted Mushroom pizza, which included swiss chard and goat's cheese.

It should be noted that Rustico uses a wood-fired grill and oven to cook their pizzas. So we were expecting high quality.

Now Rustico claims to be "an American celebration of the authentic, seasonal pleasures...inspired by the cucina rustica of Southern Italy, where traditions of cooking emphasize the freshest seasonal ingredients prepared in simple, yet soulful ways."

Hey, we got soul and all, but this is pizza we're talking about here.

We didn't find it particularly soulful and inspiring having to look at portraits of peas--yes, peas--on the walls of the restaurant. Whatevs.

We unrolled our napkins when our obligatory salad arrived. The pizza was served shortly thereafter.

Rustico was generous with the mushroom and goat's cheese toppings. There was a slight droop to the pizza, but it was not unmanageable. It held up steady after the first bite.

As expected, the goat's cheese tended to dominate the flavor of the pizza, which is fine because we like goat's cheese.

The pie, cut into eight slices, had a good flavor. With the toppings, I thought the pizza was succulent (hey, there's a good food critic word--maybe we really are food critics!), but Liza noted it was "a little greasy."

We both thought the mushrooms were very tasty, but Liza thought the swiss chard didn't add very much in terms of flavor. I had a couple bites where I enjoyed the swiss chard, but otherwise I would agree.

The crust was crispy, which we liked until we got to the edge of the slice. "It should be a little bready and it was just hard all the way through," Liza commented. "I didn't like that."

I enjoyed the pizza a little more than Liza, but I think we were both expecting something more from Rustico.

Gary's rating: 3 stars
Liza's rating: 2.5 stars

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