Ready to Rustico
Rustico has barged into the Alexandria restaurant scene, serving up wood-fired pizzas, comfort food and a whole lot of beer in a brand new commercial complex on Slaters Lane. This newest spot from the group behind Evening Star Cafe, Tallula and Vermilion, has been open for less than a week with an abbreviated menu, but the bar/lounge/restaurant is already thriving. On its first Wednesday night at 8 p.m., the wait for a table for two was an hour. Luckily, the bar offers plenty of libations -- Rustico boasts an ambitious list of more than 250 types of beer with 30 taps.
The space, laid out in an interesting U-shape, is separated into two sections: the restaurant and the bar/lounge area. The restaurant side features several wooden booths and curved tables that can accommodate larger groups, as well as smaller tables line the windows and cozy couches that surround a fireplace. The lounge area vacillates between industrial, with exposed ventilation systems and brick walls, and posh, with comfortable bar seats, four large televisions and ample bar space. It will make a fine destination for Old Town thirty-somethings in search of a group gathering spot.
While you may not find your favorite obscure South African cider, the beer list consists of pages and pages of ales, lagers and more from all over the world. No beer connoisseur, my approach typically involves turning to a page in the hefty menu, closing my eyes and pointing to a name.
The dining menu includes several gourmet pizzas and comfort foods like meatloaf and macaroni and cheese. Appetizer-wise, focus on the seafood. The grilled squid with white beans is delicious, and the mussels in spicy tomato broth will be perfect to share if they eventually come with a bowl for the shells.
Pizzas understandably stand as the most popular item. While the dough could use some added flavor (it tasted flat during each of my first encounters), the duck confit and Italian sausage pizzas are both solid. The best entree is the grilled hanger steak, while the meatloaf -- a blend of several meats, including beef and veal -- is well-spiced, but too dry.
Though Rustico has some kinks to work out, the staff is friendly and working hard to become familiar with the menu. The restaurant would benefit from pairing suggestions; with a menu this vast, it's hard to know where to begin, but beer flights, which will debut shortly, should help. I fear that Rustico will rapidly become too popular for its own good. If diners face long waits this soon in its young life, I can only imagine what will happen when the kitchen unveils its full menu.
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