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Posted at 12:28 PM ET, 03/23/2006

Ready to Rustico

By Erin

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.


By Erin  | March 23, 2006; 12:28 PM ET
Categories:  Restaurants  
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While I think it is great that north Old Town has a fun spot to hang out (will be good for the neighborhood), I do not think the bar area is laid out well. The pizza I tried was tasty. The crust a bit doughy but I enjoyed the goat cheese and the beer selection is quite impressive. Who else has purple haze on tap? However, I think there is a lot of wasted space. If I head in for a drink, I am not interested in standing for an hour or two. I believe it will be popular and think they could add a few more cocktail tables. Folks can place drinks on them or stand and have a bite if they are just looking to hang out.
I will give it some time but hope they make some space changes. I would love to have a new place I can walk to for a drink and a bite to eat.
Since the other restaurants are all good, I expect good things from the full menu when it becomes available.

Posted by: JJ | March 23, 2006 4:21 PM | Report abuse

Went there on opening night and tried two of their pizzas, duck salad, and tomato soup. All were superb.

Posted by: sdd | March 25, 2006 3:00 PM | Report abuse

Went there Friday night, had reservations for 10 pm (nothing available earlier) because we read that they had great pizza and beer selection. Check on the beer, but guess what, they were out of pizza. OUT OF PIZZA. And I am vegetarian, and there was nothing else on their menu that I wanted to eat. The place looks good, but it is extremely noisy (bad acoustics). We won't be going back...

Posted by: DB | April 5, 2006 4:48 PM | Report abuse

I went to Rustico recently and, although the beer menu is extensive, I was quite disappointed. Several prices on the beer menu were incorrect (by several dollars), so we were chareged a lot more than we expected after they refused to honor the menu. The staff was not very knowledgeable about beer and the hostess put our names onto the waiting list more than 20 minutes after we asked to be added (and only because we checked back to see how long the wait would be). After waiting an hour and a half, we left. I might try it again, but considering the fact that I've had the same poor service at Tallulah, I probably will wait awhile.

Posted by: John | April 12, 2006 1:17 PM | Report abuse

I went to Rustico on Saturday night for a 9:30 pm dinner and had no wait for a table. A beer-loving coworker suggested Rustico for its vast beer selection and we also found the beer to be the best part of Rustico. We were disappointed with the menu. It seems to lack focus (What is Rustico? Italian? Bar food? -- we couldn't tell). Also, the menu needs to include vegetarian entrees other than pizza and specify ingredients in other entrees (e.g., what kind of pasta is in the spring pasta dish?). Our waiter, while attentive, needed additional training -- he brought WARM pint glasses to our table for our wheat beer. Overall, we'll go back to Rustico, but only for the beer and maybe an appetizer (if they add any vegetarian ones).

Posted by: RMP | July 17, 2006 1:43 PM | Report abuse

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