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Nov 18, 2008 08:42 PM

Supper at i Ricchi

On Monday night, tempted by Open Table's "Appetite Stimulus Plan" ($24 for two courses at lunch; $35 for three courses at supper) promotion and the fact that my wife has recently taken a new job nearby, we made an early reservation, 6:30, at the highly-regarded Italian restaurant i Ricchi in Washington DC. My wife and I checked our coats and were seated at a table for two, immediately parallel to and two feet away from another such table. This wouldn't normally be a problem, but these particular neighbors not only spent much of the evening gabbing on their cell phones, they even ran a charging cord from their table to a nearby outlet. The place filled up fast, which was a bit surprising on a rainy, cold Monday evening.

It's a very attractive dining room, with an open kitchen. Unfortunately, the opening to the kitchen is quite high, so all you can see are the heads and shoulders of the kitchen staff -- not even enough to tell where the various stations are located.

The list of Italian wines is quite extensive, offering more lesser-known varietals and regions than usual. Nice large wine glasses were delivered, along with very small water tumblers, which must have been topped up ten times during our meal. We ordered a decently priced, inexpensive 2003 primitivo ($59), and settled back with the menus.

While other restaurants in the area were touting the "Appetite Stimulus Plan" in their windows, nothing was in evidence at i Ricchi, and we never saw or were offered the promotional menus, so I can't comment on their offerings.

We were provided with a basket of mixed breads, olive oil, and balsamic vinegar. The olive oil was particularly good, rich and fruity; the vinegar was good, but nothing outstanding, approximating what we use at home for cooking. A focaccia-like bread was well received, but the slices of typical Italian bread were inferior -- heavily crusted, with a very bland interior of overly fine crumb.

We shared a plate of proscuitto with "Florentine bread fritters," which turned out to be beignet-like in shape and size, and tasted midway between pizza dough and pita bread. The ham was really excellent, but was accompanied by chunks of melon so unripe they never should have been served by a restaurant of this repute.

We next shared a dish of risotto with braised veal and mushrooms. The dish had a perfect autumn flavor, but the rice was far overcooked, so much so that I have no idea whether the rice was arborio, carnaroli, or vialone nano, Italian or American. The grains were so large and plump that they almost looked like barley; from the size alone, it must have been arborio.

Both these dishes were split by our waiter between our plates, so that we didn't have to wrestle with the sharing.

I was tempted to try i Ricchi's brick chicken, to see how it stacked up against what we make at home, but we were warned by our waiter that that dish was not a strength of the kitchen. So my wife had their "half chicken basted with lemon, fresh sage leaves and olive oil grilled over oak coals," while I ordered a veal chop done in a style (something like "Cielina"?) which is not on the Web site menu.

The chicken dish was served with absolutely wonderful roasted potatoes, but the chicken itself, while quite moist and tasty, despite the lemon slice on top, gave up no flavor of lemon or sage.

The waiter had warned that the veal chop would be "cooked through," which I took to be a by-product of the style claimed on the menu, but it turned out to be simply grilled, with no discernible added spicing, herbs, or flavor. As a result, the chop was medium well-done and quite dry. Had it been medium-rare to medium, it might have been enjoyable. It was accompanied by a large block of fried polenta, which was very good indeed.

Both dishes included warm but virtually raw carrot slices coated with a butter sauce. They looked appealing, but tasted like large slices of the same synthetic "carrot" material invariably found in fried rice dishes at every Chinese restaurant. (Some day I'm going to figure out where they mine that stuff...)

We skipped the cheeses, which consisted of an Italian blue, which would have been appalling with the last of the primitivo, and the usual hard Italian cheeses that neither of us finds appealing after supper, and plunged straight into dessert: a four-cheese "torte di formaggio" and a dish of house-made lemon sorbet. The sorbet was excellent, but a very small portion; the cheesecake, despite the enticing description, was indistinguishable from any well-made ricotta cheesecake, with a crust laden with unannounced walnuts.

Capping the meal with acceptable Illy espresso, we decided to quit while we were ahead (we were ahead, weren't we?), and headed home for Calvados and Cognac. The total bill was $211 plus tip.

Our verdict: a very attractive dining room, but bathrooms that need sprucing up; a decent meal, but a solid disappointment overall. Despite the stellar reputation, the food was ordinary -- every dish we were served was either inferior to a similar dish at another area restaurant (e.g., the veal chop at Da Domenico), or inferior to what I make at home (e.g., the risotto). It also didn't help that my chair was rammed by the staff six or seven times during the meal -- maybe it's me, since the same thing happened the last time we dined at Citronelle. Considering the price and level of food quality, I'm afraid we won't return.

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  1. I don't think anyone who has eaten there since 1988 (when the food was better, and the competition for italian sparse) can explain how that place stays open.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Pappy

      Exactly. In 1988, I loved this place. It was the only place to get authentic Tuscan food. When Francesco Ricchi left, it went down rapidly and drastically.

      The description of the bread made me laugh. It sounds like it may be the only authentic thing left. Tuscan bread is in fact made entirely without salt and is heavily crusted. The crumb varies from bakery to bakery. However, I love Tuscan bread and miss it terribly. I used to smuggle out an entire breadbasket's worth to use in recipes that only work with therealmcoy. My own approximation isn't bad, but it isn't quite right.

    2. If I had gone there for the Appetite Stimulus Plan special, and they didn't seem to have it, I would have walked out.

      1 Reply
      1. re: mmusiker

        This is a common thing. I have friends who have gone during RW and they had to practically beg for the RW menu.

      2. Can somebody please tell me where the idea that I Ricchi is "highly regarded" comes from? Or how that impression still exists? It's horrible.

        1. Does i Ricchi really still have a "stellar reputation"? I rarely hear any praise for this restaurant and personally had a disaster of a meal there a couple of years ago and will never return.

          I know this was a hot place in the 90s or so (it's been around for awhile) but I think more often then not people walk away with pltrgyst's opinion "a solid disappointment."

          2 Replies
          1. re: Elyssa

            We've always called it i Ridiculous...sorry...I had to chime in!

            1. re: dcandohio

              although never my top italian choice (that would be obelisk) we recently had quite a nice meal here but i agree, we've had some marginal ones before that inlcuding one where the waiter berated us for doing HIS job..even though he wasn't around to do it...

          2. Without a doubt a terrible restaurant. I too wonder how they stay open? I had the worst dining experience of my life there about 10 years ago... I can't exactly recall how long ago as I've tried to block it out of my mind. They don't care what they advertise or if they deliver on any promise. How about this?... I ordered the SPECIAL OF THE DAY... a pasta dish with white truffles that the waiter recommended highly. I received the dish and it had NO truffles... not even truffle oil! The waiter asked the chef and they said they had run out over the busy weekend. Oh, I see.... then why is it still the special of the day? Ok, it gets better... I asked to speak with the chef who then said they've NEVER had truffles. They didn't run out... they NEVER ever had them. Criminal? The waiter warned you the veal chop is "cooked through?"... interesting, as the veal chop I ordered 10 years ago was so overcooked I was amazed they served it. I couldn't even consider trying to eat it. I think the veal chop the waiter was talking to you about was the SAME VEAL CHOP they tried to serve me 10 years ago!! And that was just the beginning of the problems there. Oh yeah, how about this... when I was leaving I overheard a waiter still offering the Pasta with White Truffle special. i Ridiculous is the perfect name for this place.