Remember Me at Rustico

I have long ago grown indifferent to the charms of the men of D.C. who seek to woo me. Too many times, these men -- for whatever reason -- go all out on the first date. Fancy clothes, fancy cars, fancy restaurants and usually even fancier attitudes. Yawn. Boring.

I love the classic confidence of a men who presents himself for who he is, but isn't so nonchalant about his attitude towards you that he doesn't seek to please. Some of my best dates have been places which are unique and interesting. Of course, anything that smacks of pizza and beer (or burgers and fries) is usually a solid way into my cholesterol clogged arteries.

The other day I was asked out to eat at Rustico. "Have you ever been there?" my gentleman caller asked. "No, I haven't." "Well, I would really like to take you." "Um, okay. Sure." Cue the romantic music.

Now, I knew that I liked the guy since I didn't even bother to ask what kind of food Rustico served. I'm a rather picky eater: not so much a true foodie but not really prone to venture into newer palates unless it is extremely well done. So I usually tried to avoid the unpleasantness of trying to endure a date, scavenging around a menu I have absolutely no interest in, by checking out the kind of food they have online (thank God for Google).

Rustico’s menu was a surprise to me. It smacked of a classic pizza and beer menu with tempting descriptions of tried-and-true All-American staples such as onion rings made with Vidalia onions. Specificity in selection, I like that.

Wait. How did my date know my weakness was pizza and beer? I was intrigued.

But nothing was as much a surprise to me as actually stepping inside Rustico. Located in the newly developed area of Slaters Lane, Rustico is tucked into the prominent corner of a growing collection of yuppie boutiques and selective eateries. The impressively tall doors opened into an even more impressively cavernous venue, attractively lit with soft candles and dreamy bulbs. Walls were painted a dark shade of blue and the marble floors were swirled with rich tints of gold and brown.

Our hostess promptly sat us at the table where I quickly became overwhelmed by a beer menu bound in metal. Yes. The beer menu comes bound in metal as if it were of such precious value even the mere name selection had to be carefully protected by iron and steel. If I had ever harbored any doubt about my dexterousness as a drinking aficionado, it died when I opened the metal to find twelve pages, front-to-back, in eight point font no less, of beers and more beers.

After five minutes of barely being able to register the first page of beers, I passed the menu over to my patient date. "Here," I stated in defeat. "I have absolutely no idea what to get. Will you please help me?" My date was charmed – naturally – and selected for me a luscious beer called "Harpoon Winter Warmer." Spiced with a hint of cinnamon and nutmeg, the beer was tantalizing sweet rather than overwhelmingly so (the hint came at the end of the sip rather than at the beginning).

For an appetizer we ordered the baked Dragon Oysters. Yes, oysters. Served with apple-béarnaise, house smoked bacon and a celery root remoulade, the oysters were just warm enough to allow for easy perforation from the shell, but not so warm you were disgusted by the texture and feel. Actually, the most interesting part of the oysters was their presentation. The chef had prepared it in a small, perhaps 6 inch, cast iron skillet and laid six oysters in a bed of cinnamon sticks, sea salt and small red berries for garnish. Beautifully done.

As I nursed my Harpoon Winter Warmer beer, I couldn’t resist the temptation to order a pizza. I quickly settled on the basic white pizza, made with an assortment of cheeses. Of course, with all good pizza restaurants you are certainly allowed to add garnishes. Since the white pizza came with provolone, pecorino, mozzarella, fresh ricotta and basil pesto, the only amiable addition would naturally be chicken. So, I went for it.

The pizza was delivered warm from the heart-oven that cooked it. Upon my first bite, I was easily tempted to devour the entire eight slices. Shockingly, the cheeses were melted without grease swimming in little pools across the pizza, while the chicken was tender and richly seasoned. I mean, I don’t think I felt a single stream of oily grease dribbling down my chin.

My date ordered the hickory grilled New York strip with shitake cream sauce and Vidalia big rings. It came in a rising bowl to contain the mounds of onion rings and slippery cream sauce. I didn’t have a taste but I have it on good authority the strip was excellent. Of course, again, the food was beautifully presented.

And since no good meal should be without dessert, we ended ours with the flour-less chocolate cake. Made gluten-free, the cake was about the size of a decent scoop of ice cream. Evenly textured vanilla whipped cream and pecan caramel popcorn blended to make a rich cake which smoothly went down.

I must admit I was more than sufficiently impressed – by both the restaurant as well as the date – thus I would certainly recommend Rustico for any gentleman looking to impress a date on a very reasonable budget.

827 Slaters Lane
Alexandria, VA 22314

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