In my ongoing search to find a neighborhood restaurant, I went to Rustico (owned by the Neighborhood Restaurant Group which also owns Tallula) which always looks busy as you drive by. I went with my two nieces and my parents as they came down to visit the DC area for a day. As you walk in, the setting is stark and elegant but not too much so that it doesn't promise a casual dining experience.
We started with the watermelon & pancetta salad, the eggplant parmesan, the tagliatelle, the swordfish and roasted mushroom pizza with some prosciutto added. The watermelon salad is the perfect summer salad with the cool sweetness of the watermelon being balanced out by the olives & balsamic with pancetta thrown in to add seasoning and one more savory element. The eggplant dish was was thinly sliced baby or chinese eggplant stacked up high which seemed like a play on lasagna. As eggplant parmesan goes, this version had all the flavors you would expect but did not carry the heaviness you would normally associate with the dish. The tagliatelle was disappointing to say the least. The ingredients in the bolognese seemed to be too coarse with several chunks of carrots still visible. The depth of flavor from the sauce seemed to be lacking and probably needed an hour or two more of cooking since it tasted and felt like there was still too much water retained. This was too bad since the homemade pasta was quite tasteful but just needed a better dance partner. One of my nieces tried the swordfish (first time!) and she loved every bite. It was grilled perfectly and didn't dry out when it was served. It was perhaps overshadowed by accompanying bruschetta that had an heirloom tomato salad on top with some tomato jam which would've been a great dish just by itself.
The pizza seemed to be caught in an identity crisis not knowing if it should be a true thin crust pizza or a regular pie and since the crust is the most important part of the pizza, this caused an unpleasant unevenness in both the taste and texture of the crust. By itself, the roasted mushroom pizza was better than average. I'm not usually a fan of goat cheese on pizza since it tends to overwhelm other flavors especially subtle and earthy flavors like you find in mushrooms. But, on this pizza, it was perfectly portioned out and enhanced rather than overpowered. It was mistake to add the prosciutto to this or any other pizza since Rustico is not subtle in it's additions. The slice of prosciutto that they placed on the pizza was enormous and just brought too much saltiness with it.
Rustico also prides itself in its beer selection and while I only tried the Brown Angel Cask Ale, it was superb as cask ales go and well worth having more than just one. The deep, rich and almost chocolate-y flavor definitely showed off the type of flavor expected in a this different fermentation process.
Rustico was very close to being a great casual neighborhood place that I'd be happy to visit frequently. The atmosphere is inviting, the beers are cold and tasty but the food falls just short enough of not being something I think I would crave on a regular basis.