Italian Plates Captivate
Published: Friday, October 11, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, October 9, 2013 21:10
Rialto, owned by Ben Kirane and Moe and Joe Idressi — the masterminds behind Georgetown favorites Bodega and Thunder Burger — is a new Italian restaurant that joins the ranks of the many others near M Street and adds a modern flare to classical Italian cuisine. Decorated with metallic damask wall paper, the restaurant has luxurious urban vibes, supplemented by a fire place, candlelight chandeliers and a video screen of a fire, which adds a touch of warmth and charm to the interior.
Named after a district in Venice, Rialto aims to bring Italian flavors to the Georgetown neighborhood. The menu is based on a shared plate concept, although don’t expect family-style Italian portions. Rialto’s portions are much more modest but are still conducive to sharing, and most pastas are offered in two different sizes, the smaller of which could pass as a light lunch. Two or three small dishes per person would suffice depending on his or her appetite.
Rialto has a cold bar, which guests can see as they enter the restaurant. Termed piattini freddi — meaning small cold plates in Italian — dishes include chilled Maine mussel salad, marinated artichokes, caponata and a roasted beet salad. There is also a wide selection of cheeses, cured meats, olives, anchovies and six variations of mozzarella salads, including a more untraditional one with tomato, pesto and hazelnuts.
In addition, Rialto serves up piattini caldi, which are hot small plates, and includes a selection of seafood, chicken and vegetables. I tried the branzino, a seared Mediterranean sea bass with caramelized lemon and a side of broccoli rabe that was perfectly crispy. The bitter broccoli complemented the tangy lemon, adding some interesting flavors to the otherwise simply prepared fish.
As should be expected from any good Italian restaurant, Rialto’s pasta is exceptional. Instead of following the trend of many new restaurants by attempting to renovate classic dishes, Rialto instead keeps things simple and relies purely on the quality of its products. The spaghetti alle vongole is a fusion of clams, garlic, parsley and white wine. I chose the orecchiette e salsiccia, a combination of roasted Italian sausage, tomatoes, broccoli rabe and toasted pine nuts. The pine nuts added a richness to the pasta without being heavy like a traditional cream sauce, and the overall experience was delectable and true to an authentic Italian culinary experience.
Rialto also offers various pizzas, risotto and polenta dishes, and if you are looking for something more substantial for dinner, Rialto also has secondi plates. Options include a 10 oz. veal porterhouse with a mushroom cream sauce, fried polenta and broccoli rabe or a braised lamb shank with a red wine demi-glace, polenta and spinach. While the secondi dishes are big enough to serve as an entree, they are recommended to be shared by the entire table.
To conclude the meal, Rialto has traditional Italian desserts like tiramisu, panna cotta and zeppole along with some original Italian creations like fried chocolate hazelnut ravioli and poached pears topped with ricotta, Roman hazelnut and honey. There are plenty of gelato options, from lemon lavender to sicilian pistachio. Dessert drinks include robust coffees and espressos which are the perfect finish to a great Italian meal.
Most of the small plates range from $5 to $11 with a few exceptions. The secondi plates are more expensive, ranging from $34 to $45. Because the menu is a la carte, dinner can be affordable, but it can also get pricey depending on how adventurous you are with ordering. Rialto is the perfect destination to enjoy of glass of red wine and some authentic Italian cooking.