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Friday, May 4, 2007

Thing 31: I Ricchi

And the quest for good Italian goes on. Why must this be so hard?

Friday night a friend's dad was in town, and when he comes to town he likes to treat his daughter, Jodi, and a handful of her friends to a nice meal. Jodi, a regular reader, decided to use the opportunity to aid me in my search to find a good Italian place. She chose I Ricchi, on 19th Street, as our destination.

I really wish I could say my searching was over. And I will admit that the food was really good. But I can do without the rules and the attitude next time, please.

Our reservations were for six, at 8:00. One of our party was going to be pretty late - she'd called Jodi to let her know, so we were not going to wait on her - but were told that we could not be seated until our entire party was there. I understand the logic behind rules like this, about turning tables quickly and using a restaurant's seating efficiently, but there were five of us and we were happy to dig into drinks and appetizers while we waited. So we lied and said we were all here so we could be shown to our table.

I Ricchi's Wood Burning OvenI Ricchi is crowded and noisy, with a clientele that is mostly older and fairly well off. The decor is white table clothes, faux-rustic trellises and wine racks, soft pink lighting and candles. The kitchen is open, and there is a wood burning oven, fires blazing, visible at the back of the room. The room is friendly and warm, noisy and fun.

The waiter, a snooty Frenchman accustomed to big tips, handed out menus and gave Jodi's dad a wine list. He looked at the empty sixth seat and walked away. As we perused the menu, the food looked good but the prices were very high. This is not the kind of place that I can afford to go whenever I crave a big bowl of spaghetti.

Jodi's dad, happy to take us all out and unconcerned about the prices was nonetheless shocked by the wine list. Wines ranged from $100 - $400 a bottle. So when the waiter came back, we all ordered wines by the glass, because really, you won't offer any $30 or $40 bottles? That seems extreme. It turned out later, after we'd ordered our drinks, that there is a more moderately priced wine list, but it is separate from The Wine List, instead located on one page in the back of the regular menu. I don't like restaurants that try to trick you into a $100 bottle of wine by hiding the $25 bottles. It feels dishonest.

After our drinks came and our sixth person had not arrived, we wanted to order a round of appetizers to start with. At this juncture our waiter tells us we cannot order appetizers separately from ordering our entrees. We have to order them at the same time. Apparently everything is slow cooked over wood charcoal, so they must start our entrees simultaneously to preparing our appetizers. The manager comes over to see if everything is alright. We are frustrated and hungry, and seemingly not allowed to order any food. He tells us to go ahead and order our appetizers and entrees. Our sixth person can order her entree when she gets there.

Now that we are allowed to order, we go ahead and get some appetizers to share - a plate of garlic bread topped with peas and shrimp, and asparagus topped with chopped egg. The asparagus is $18 and our waiter immediately tells us we must order at least two, as one plate only contains six spears and will not be enough for the table. One of our dining companions orders the chicken as her entree, and is told by the waiter that she does not want it because it takes an hour to cook. She insists that she does, in fact, want it, regardless of cooking time.

I Ricchi: Asparagus and Garlic BreadWe ask for some bread in the meantime, and we don't get any. We ask again, and our waiter tells us there is no bread available, as it is baked freshly in batches and he is waiting for the next batch. When bread does arrive at our table, it is cold, having decidedly not just emerged from a bread oven. I am tired of the rules and the tricks by now.

Which is a shame, because when the food comes out, it's really good. The garlic bread is buttery and loaded with fresh garlic, the asparagus slightly overcooked but with a delicious balsamic vinaigrette. I Ricchi: the SeabassFor my entree, I get the baby lamb chops, which are hardly babies but are three huge chops, slow roasted over open coals. There is a thick layer of fat around them, but once I remove it, the meat is incredibly rich and flavorful. It comes served with a small rectangle of deep fried pollenta, which is crispy on the outside and warm and creamy on the inside. The carrots are cooked with plenty of butter and are delicious. I sample Jodi's sea bass, which is a special that night and is rich and flavorful, with a crispy outside from the fire it was cooked over. Everyone seems to be enjoying the food.

I Ricchi:
For dessert, we order a slice of cinnamon-walnut cheesecake and a slice of tiramisu for the table to share. The cheesecake is the clear winner, but I don't like walnuts, so I polish off the better part of half the tiramisu, which is creamy and light.

It's nearing 10:30, and we're sleepy from the feast and ready to head to our homes. Jodi's dad picks up the bill, which was incredibly generous as this could not have been an inexpensive feast. The food was delicious and I even get to go home with two leftover lamb chops for lunch the next day. But for all the good food, the service and the rules just can't justify this place to me.

So the quest for a really good Italian restaurant continues. Some place with good food, good service and reasonable prices. Anyone? Submit suggestions in the comments, if you have any.


Anonymous said...

My husband and I SWEAR by Luigi's on 19th between L & M Streets. Best bang for your buck (restaurant owners own the building so able to keep prices reasonable). The menu is extensive, all entrees are made to order, and the house chianti is quite reasonably priced and enjoyable. Check it out at My personal favorites are their baked manicotti and chicken marsala. Hubby loves any of the veal dishes. Have been going there for years. Service is good, but in the true European way don't expect to rush in and out. Plan on a leisurely meal with some time between each course. Relax and enjoy!