Monday, January 13, 2014

Rialto Food Review

Margherita di Bufala

Night and day: That's the difference between The Guards and Rialto, the new mainstay at 2915 M Street in Georgetown. For almost 50 years, folks could slip inside The Guards without being noticed... ever. Since owners Ben Kirane, and Moe & Joe Idressi (of Thunder Burger & Bar fame, home to our #1 burger in DC) took over, it's hard to believe anyone ever wanted to hide all the beauty inside. Paired with authentic, top-notch basics, Rialto may have a half-century of its own to brag about some day.

It takes a moment to adjust to all the changes (dark is out, bright colors are in) especially the funky teal/turquoise-colored chairs and purple-upholstered benches. Then there's the much-talked-about fireplace that dominates the main level... I dare you to keep your eyes off it. Brighter wood flooring completes the improved look. Most areas feel comfortable: Seating seems more spacious; but shrinks some, when crowded.

I stopped by for an early (5:00 PM) dinner on a rainy Saturday, and had my choice of seats. It was quiet when I arrived (three people at the bar, two at a table by the front window) but I had to wait about a minute for the hostess to notice I had arrived. After a friendly greeting, I told her I had a dinner reservation for one. Her reply? "How many?" then a lengthy pause, as she answered not one but two telephone calls. She apologized, but it's not exactly the greeting one hopes for. To her credit, she made a light-hearted comment about the weather, as she walked me into the center of the dining room; and politely handed me off to my server, Andres.

Salumi e Prosciutto

The service, for the most part is exemplary. It's old school, but friendly. Throughout my meal, I had three other people smile and check in on me (which is always nice, when dining alone.) Andres took my order for a plate block of charcuterie, and even recommended a Toscana Con Pepe to go along with Coppa (cured pork shoulder,) Sopressata Piccante & a Prosciutto San Danielle, that accompanies each plate. $13 for four top-quality meats is a bargain. If asked, I would suggest adding a brief description for each meat on the menu: Sure, a carnivore like me knows what they are, but a lot of diners probably have no clue what they're ordering.

Rialto's meats are paired with some of the familiar pickles I love so much at nearby Thunder Bar: They add a crunchy bite to the velvety prosciutto, while the Coppa blows the doors off any other tiny bite in town. The Sopressata is almost as good, but a tad greasy (as you'd expect.) House bread was nothing to write home about; although the accompanying olive oil was very good. Focaccia would have been a lot better.

House bread

I would have loved to try one of Executive Chef Ryan Fichter's tasty raviolis or Risotto Alla Milanese with Italian sausage, saffron and asparagus (next time) but our readers expect demand pizza first, don't they? Rialto's doesn't disappoint either, with an imported Bufalo Mozzarella that screams "Italia!" It's a bit pricey at $16 for four slices, and I longed for a bit more of the Heavenly mozza; but there's no denying the appeal of rich, brightly-colored tomato sauce and superb cheese. Crust was good, not great... I prefer mine crispier than most, and the edges were slightly chewy.

The atmosphere is warm & inviting; but beware the sound of ladies' shoes walking back and forth across the wood floors (especially when it's not crowded.) Music was soft and soothing, and the staff prides itself on being professional. When the lights dimmed just before 6, the restaurant became instantly more comfortable... an absolute must have, if you're planning a romantic dinner for two.

Overall, Rialto makes a dramatic improvement on its former occupant (No more feeling like you're being led back to the executioner.) Rialto is half-historic, half-modern with very good food and an airy feel, I never thought was possible in this space. I'll be sure to return and delve further into their impressive looking menu, before reporting back to you.

Atmosphere: B+ (Kudos on transforming this space into "an Italian wonderland.")
Service: B (Hiccup at the host station; but otherwise very, very good.)
Crust: B- (Well cooked, but a bit chewy and not as crispy as I prefer.)
Toppings: B+ (No meat, but why mess with perfection?)
Value: C (A bit steep at $16, but delicious all the same.)
Overall: B (After more than a dozen visits to The Guards, I have to say... I love what they've done with the place. I need a deeper run at the menu; but so far, the food looks equal to the task.