Written by on September 6, 2011 in I Eat America, I Eat...Out with 0 Comments

( – Ballston neighborhood, Arlington, Virginia

How I heard of this place: Having recently moved into our new apartment in Ballston, Chris and I walked by Rustico the other night and decided to add it to the top of our list of places to try. To our delighted surprise, the opportunity would present itself sooner than expected! 

Type of cuisine: Rustic, American fare, with woodfire grilled flat-bread pizzas to steak, bacon-blue cheese mussels and fresh, creative pastas. The food exudes comfort. “By using only the finest and freshest available ingredients, including locally produced and organic products wherever possible, our menus reflect a commitment and respect for the ideals and heritage of honest, rustic cookingThere’s no mistaking Rustico’s love for barley & hops! The bar’s focal point is a custom galvanized inverted T bar with 30 brilliant taps book-ended by two massive coolers holding more than 331 different types of ales, lagers, ciders and stouts. If you need beer on the go, we’ve got you covered.  Grab a larger bottle of your favorite brew with a Rustico pizza for dinner or pick up a six-pack to take with you to a party.” 

Ambiance: The windowed storefront gives Rustico a sense of casual ambiance, until one enters the streamlined, warm tones of its interiors. Upon entering the small wind-blocking entryway, through one set of glass doors, patrons are welcomed into the warmth that is Rustico, by a two-way fireplace. Continuing through the second door and into the restaurant itself, a host and hostess welcome you, ask you to be seated at the rust-orange-colored cushion, set against a charcoal bench. The restaurant wraps in what seems like a large L-shape, extending out to the right as you stand facing the hostess podium, and directly ahead (perhaps also continuing around) as you make your way to the bar. The nude wooden, textured, planks lining one side of the wall, end at the spot where bench seating begins. A wall of glass mosaic denotes the corner, inner angle of the L, where brown and green glass bottles are artfully placed nose to nose and tail to tail from floor to ceiling in alternating colors to create a beautiful pattern. Tables and chairs are dark brown, nearly black in smooth, sleek tones, decorated with white napkins folded tightly in flame-resembling shapes. “Rustico is an exuberant neighborhood restaurant driven to deliver a one-two punch of honest, robust cooking against a backdrop of amazing beer. Warm, vivacious and adamantly unpretentious, Rustico was designed with good times in mind. With a cache of over 400 beers, a bustling bar scene and a passionate kitchen committed to its craft, Rustico’s a restaurant to visit with family and friends time and time again.”

What I ordered: Nearly everything on the menu looked good! Strangely, I did not take the time to peruse the menu prior to our dinner, but was pleasantly surprised to hear that at least two of my four dining companions had. To start, we had orders for a cranberry juice ($3.75), two Shirley Temples ($2.75 each), and a beer (noted on the receipt as: Stnd Tramp Stamp at $6). For starters, we selected three appetizers to satisfy the tastes of all five diners: Bacon & Blue Cheese Mussels ($11), Brooklyn lager and caramelized onions made up the base for this meal, complete with sodium-enriched chunks of smoked bacon and melted blue cheese, topped with two lemon wedges and grilled ciabatta for dipping, Meatball Lettuce Wraps ($10) served with a slightly spicy tomato aioli, minted yogurt and pickled vegetables, and the Pretzel Crusted Mac ‘N Cheese ($8) with orzo, Fontina and Parmesan. For our main entrees, the husbands opted for Creekstone Farms N.Y. Strip ($28 each), one rare and one prepared medium, with confit mashed potatoes, corn salsa and a full head of roasted garlic over crostini. The wives selected Shrimp with Bacon Tortellini ($22 each) served over a bed of creamed corn sauce, with corn pesto and topped with freshly grated Parmesan cheese. Our fifth dining companion, and token mom in the group, immediately went with the Eggplant Parmesan ($16), baked with fresh mozzarella and topped with an olive & fennel salad. Even though we were completely stuffed after spending two full hours eating, we simply could not refuse when the dessert menu was placed in front of us. At our table, there was one order for the Peach Sundae ($8), peach slices served over toasted almond ice cream, lay atop an almond cake, with amaretto caramel drizzle. Another order was placed for the Nutella Cheesecake ($8), a chocolate cookie crust, soft, dense chocolate-nutella cheesecake served over a dark chocolate sauce with four candied hazelnuts and topped with whipped cream. For the rest of us, we chose the two scoops of Housemade Seasonal Ice Creams ($5 each). One with a scoop of chocolate malt and coffee chocolate chip, the other with coffee chocolate chip and fresh mint chocolate chip.

What I loved: As far as appetizers go, my favorite was the orzo mac ‘n cheese, but the mussels – drenched in bacon and blue cheese – may have been the best I’ve sampled to date. From the main entrees, I loved the tender shrimp and the fresh grated Parmesan, but was inundated with heaviness in the abundant cream sauce and sweet corn. Having also sampled some of my husband‘s steak and mashed potatoes, with soft, tender, freshly roasted garlic, I was quite pleased with the combination of flavors on his dish. If we go back for dinner, with the same menu options, I would be more likely to order the steak, for the first time, over the tortellini a second time.

Why I loved it: Simple, casual, elegant and sleek setting, a friendly and eager-to-please server, and food for which we would return.

Cost: Average ($16-$28 per dinner entree)

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