827 Slaters Lane
Alexandria, VA 22314
CUISINE Modern American, Beer Joints, Bar/Pub Grub
PRICE $$ ($13-$20)
HOURS Open for lunch, Tuesday through Sunday, dinner daily.
NVM AWARDS Best Restaurant 2008
Best Restaurant 2009
Best Restaurant 2010
Best Restaurant 2011
Best Restaurant 2012
NEARBY METRO None
By Warren Rojas
Food: 8.3 Ambiance: 7.7 Service: 7.5
For a moment there I felt like Reese Witherspoon, watching a group of freshly minted ‘rents winding their way through Rustico’s bar with a tender tyke in tow.
Spare the sitter, spoil the child.
Between the smoking ban and overt camaraderie enjoyed by all at the beer haven, there really is no reason the whole family shouldn’t avail themselves of chef Steve Mannino’s innovative cuisine.
Cottony brioche struggles to contain a seafood feast of soft shell crab bolstered by sweet-and-sour cucumber relish and tangy avocado (Old Bay-sprinkled fries complete the experience).
Classic stroganoff gets reinterpreted via sautéed potato croquettes, sage sausage and button mushrooms submerged in a magnetic sour cream sauce, a cooked-to-order NY strip crowning the savory mix.
Roast chicken chews up the scenery in a double bill of dark meat-studded ragout (deepened by mushrooms and spinach) and cooked-till-crackling breast.(November 2009)
By Warren Rojas
Food: 8.5 Ambiance: 8 Service: 7.8
According to Madison Avenue, the pinnacle of brewed bliss was last achieved when buxom blondes roamed the earth flinging sixers of Old Milwaukee.
I suspect those marketing geeks’ heads would explode if they ever got a load of the beer worship that goes on nightly at Rustico.
Seats are scant everywhere you look—the raucous bar (300-plus beers), quaint roadside patio (provides a breezy escape from workweek hassles), mod dining room (occupied by silver-haired suds connoisseurs down to starry-eyed teens) or inviting chef’s counter (THE place for a crash course in the fundamentals of beer cooking).
And although he only came aboard this summer, executive chef Steve Mannino has managed to place his stamp on many a menu item.
Shredded duck and uber crispy cracklins bore decadence into the very heart of charred dough accentuated by molten brie and aged balsamic (absolutely magical).
An inspired grilled pork-and-manila clam combination glows even brighter courtesy of an electrifying mustard-beer reduction.
Homemade s’mores (gooey marshmallows, melted chocolate and crunchy graham crackers) get shaken up by a fizzy fountain glass full of vanilla-infused cream soda and rich, chocolaty ice cream (epic sweet tooth indulgence).(November 2008)
By Warren Rojas
Food: 8.3 Ambiance: 7.8 Service: 7.3
Rustico is raising the bar on everyday beer havens by weaving handcrafted brews, superlative mains and whimsical sweets into a fresh interpretation of fine dining.
Executive chef Frank Morales and beer director Greg Engert are the team to beat in the beer-as-gourmet-dining-bait universe, completing each other’s epicurean sentences—when Morales unveils a crushed ginger snap-crusted foie gras, Engert counters with the perfect Scotch ale—without so much as a stutter.
Their passions run so high (Engert has an Orvist Trappist emblem tattooed on his wrist; Morales fought to keep his chef’s tasting bar because “it’s the most logical way for me to get out to talk about the food”), it’s no wonder the pair have been tapped to recreate their magic at D.C.’s forthcoming Birch & Barley/ChurchKey.
Seafood pizza boasts plucky shrimp, diced tomatoes, fontina and a chewy, wood-fired crust. Fried chicken (think ethereal crispiness rather than deliberate crunch) is drizzled with honey and partnered with whip-smart salt-and-peppered beans. A slice of devil’s food is as heavy as Lucifer’s soul, but a clever buttermilk chaser cuts through the sugary decadence.(September 2007)
By Warren Rojas
Au revoir, sommeliers?
Wine stewards may not yet be cowering. But if other chefs embrace beer-based cooking as passionately as Rustico’s Frank Morales, the noble grapes may one day have to yield to fermented grains.
The barley-and-hops branch of the local Neighborhood Restaurant Group collective, Rustico features about 30 draft beers, 300 bottles and at least one cask ale selection at any given time. “We’re definitely building a niche for ourselves,” general manager Chris Schaller claims, touting their epic beer selection as “the driving force—the reputation—of the place.”
While Schaller says many locals remain devoted to mainstream beers like Pabst Blue Ribbon or Miller Lite, the restaurant has plenty to whet your whistle. Noteworthy selections include: Harviestoun Bitter & Twisted (golden hue, easy drinking flavor), Gouden Carolus D’or (muddy complexion, cinnamony character) and Heavy Seas Small Craft Warning (rich red brew with plenty of character).
Morales said he thoroughly enjoyed his crash course in beer upon arriving at the restaurant from D.C.’s Zola. He noted that staff is taught to inquire about patrons’ beer tastes and then offer a traditional recommendation as well as a “bold” suggestion. “We’re trying to engage guests and explore,” he said.
That sense of exploration has helped fuel the success of Morales’ signature mosaic trios, themed dining medleys (all under $20) that can be upgraded with corresponding beer pairings (all under $10). Yeasty calzones come filled with ricotta and marjoram (ultra cheesy), fennel-spiked lamb sausage (robust flavor) and salmon with cream cheese and chives (grand). A delightful sliders combo rolls out bacon-wrapped veal (tres juicy), lamb meatloaf (melts in your mouth) and a playful shrimp burger (good).
Morales is already plotting eight-course mosaic tasting menus—featuring trios of spontaneous seasonal creations—to be served at the restaurant’s kitchen-front counter. “That’s the fun we’ll have there,” he pledges.