Friday, August 20, 2010

Review: Restaurant Week!!! I Ricchi

I went to I Ricchi two and a half years ago during the January 2008 RW. It left a very favorable impression last time, particularly because they were willing to give me two vegetarian appetizers instead of requiring me to pick one appetizer and one entree (with no veggie entree options). On top of that, all the food was fantastic. I was pleased to see that this year the entree menu included a vegetarian option, so when a friend came from out of town, I decided to give the place a try again. Mistake.

The Food
Overall, the few dishes left over from RW two and a half years ago were still amazing. Everything else fell disappointingly flat. I checked to see if ownership had changed, or if a new chef was listed as creating the menu, but not a whisper. It's clearly the quality of the recipes rather than the quality of the food, because the originals still tasted amazing. Whoever created the new recipes just missed the essence of Italian food (and fine dining) completely.

My Meal
Panzanella salad
I ordered panzanella salad because I've made it at home but never had the opportunity to try it in a restaurant. Apparently it's about 50% boring croutons with virtually flavorless greens and a bland balsamic dressing. Not what I was expecting.
Pasta with mushrooms, peas and cream sauce
The pasta was passable.
Chocolate tart with pear
The chocolate tart was a relic from years past and as thick and delicious as I remembered it.

Friend's Meal
Risotto with summer vegetables
The risotto is also a relic from the past (and delicious) but in a twist of obvious laziness, the vegetables were not in fact summer vegetables. They were peas and carrots and all the same vegetables that they used in their winter risotto. I have to wonder if they have them frozen in the back...
Round Steak with mashed potatoes and mushroom sauce
The round steak came rare (see below for more on that debacle) and strangely unflavored. My friend is picky about her food, so when she initially complained I thought maybe she just didn't like it because she didn't like that particular cut of meat. But no, I tried it and there was definitely something wrong with it. The meat literally tasted like someone had cooked it, completely unseasoned, in a brand new pan/skillet/oven. There was also a strange after taste to it like maybe it had once been soaked in a sauce but all that was left was some unpleasant residual hint.
Chocolate tart with pear

The Service
There were several complaints about the service. The first was our server, who was extremely awkward. She'd start to talk and then stop suddenly, like she was planning on adding something. We'd look at her, waiting for her to say more and instead she'd walk abruptly away. Looking at the other servers, this was clearly only one person who was inexperienced. I would have been fine with that but the head chef and the restaurant manager decided to implement other policies that contributed to an overall negative experience.

Substitutions. Now most restaurants do not allow substitutions during RW, and that's understandable. With the high volume of customers, you just don't have the time. However, my friend does not like mushrooms and mushrooms were on nearly every single entree. So we asked if they could just skip the mushroom sauce on the steak - we didn't ask them to substitute it for anything. When you get to that step on the plate, you just don't put it on. The answer was no. So we thought, alright, she can push it aside. Then my friend asked for the meat to be cooked medium instead of medium rare. Apparently, that was not an option either. Now I'll put up with sauces (you just put them aside), but if you're going to serve red meat (or seared fish, or anything else that could be raw for that matter), you let people choose. If you think you're going to be so stressed you can't deal with it, don't put it on the menu. Not only that, but the meat actually came out extremely rare. My friend was forced to eat around the edges where it was cooked and probably left a good 60% of the steak on her plate.

Then they charged for soda refills. $2.95 for a tiny glass of soda. In Europe that's ok and expected - in America it's not. If you're going to do that, then you let people know. Even fancy restaurants warn their customers before doing it.

My favorite strangeness of the evening though, happened befor the meal. They bring bread to the table at the beginning of the night and pour the olive oil and vinegar for you - only to leave and take the bottle of oil and vinegar with them! So we got a whole basket of bread and two tiny spots of olive oil and vinegar. Total waste of bread.

Overall, this was a huge disappointment compated to my last visit here. Either a new chef is creating some recipes that are sub-par, or the owner/chef Christianne Ricci has lost her touch. The originals were still delicious but the new stuff fell flat. The strange service and unwillingness to be flexible, even when the restaurant was only 1/3 full, completely destroyed any chance of me going back. I do not recommend I Ricchi.

Rating: 3/10
One point for the tart, one point for the risotto, and one point for nostalgia of times past.

I Ricchi
1220 19th Street N.W., Washington, D.C. 20036
P: (202) 835-0459
F: (202) 872-1220

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