Terra cotta floors, soft lines, golden hues on the walls, Della Robbia-style murals, olive-oil urns and wood-burning hearth evoke a warm Tuscan atmosphere in the capital of the USA.
Ristorante i Ricchi has been awarded the prestigious “Insegna Del Ristorante Italiano” by the President of Italy as one of the best Italian restaurants in the world. The rustic ambience of the American restaurant was enhanced to resemble the original ‘Trattoria i Ricchi’ in the village of Cercina outside Florence, Italy.
It had been a wet and exhausting day in Washington; the prospect of hearty country cooking seemed a great way to close it. The American portions were too large to really eat like the Italians, following the order: antipasta, soup, pasta, meat course, cheese and dolce.
In keeping with the Tuscan theme, I chose the Pinot Grigio ‘San Angelo’ 2001 by Banfi in Montalcino. This light, 12.5% alcohol, regional wine seemed appropriate, as I was dining alone. My notes say ‘butyl’ nose, medium dry and ‘greengages’ with a nice acidity to match the food choices.
The bread was of course, home-made…
Risotto ai Funghi [Mushroom risotto]: The risotto of the day was excellent. The al dente and separate grains of rice were typical of the Northern Italian style. Even though it was not mushroom season, dried Porcini mushrooms have a concentrated flavour, which was tamed by a good cooking liquor of stock and wine, there was just the right amount of parmigiano cheese for a creamy mushroom mélange.
Le Salsicce coi’ Fagioli all’ Uccelletto [Grilled homemade Tuscan sausages on a bed of stewed cannellini]: Upon presentation, the warm red and orange colours were reminiscent of long Tuscan sunsets. Spicy sausages, grilled to perfection, were succulent to the bite. The prime sausage meat was coarsely ground for optimum texture and flavour, which burst out in a delightful juicy fashion. The beans stewed in tomato sauce, garlic gloves, rosemary and thyme were less salty and married well with the well-seasoned sausages. Apparently, the sausages were “home-made”.
At the suggestion of my congenial waiter, I had the Torta di Formaggio [Cheesecake]. This was not your average American cheesecake. I usually do NOT eat dessert but I made an exception for this Dolci dei Ricchi. The thinnest foundation of chopped walnut and chocolate base was topped with a THICK layer of the creamiest cheese, dusted with cocoa powder and served with whole strawberry compote.
I asked for their “best” grappa and it arrived – Ue Picolit by Nonino. It was a good thing that I enjoyed FINISHING this distillate BEFORE the bill arrived because that one small shot-glass cost the same as the bottle of Pinot Grigio! Any spluttering on my part would not be the fault of the grappa as it was s-m-o-o-t-h and aromatic. It may have been a subconscious feeling but the aroma was reminiscent of cigar tobacco.
Other untried menu choices – I noticed the other diners’ favourites were:
Tortellini al Burro e Salvia o al Rose [Ricotta and spinach filled tortellini with Sage Butter or with Florentine tomato and cream sauce].
Arista, Tacchino e Vitella arrosto agli aromi [Trio of Florentine loin of pork, Herbal breast of turkey and Frittata stuffed veal roasted in Chianti and fresh herbs].
Filetto all Zuigava [Gypsy-style aged beef tenderloin sautéed with fresh mushrooms, white truffles, sweet red peppers and tomatoes served with creamed truffled polenta].
Polla Astrello al Mattone [Brick-pressed grilled whole chicken basted with fresh sage, lemon and olive oil].
Perhaps the greeters could have been warmer and a couple of waiters could have been less visibly “harassed” but in general, the staff was professional. My waiter certainly rose above the Saturday night chaos for his generous tip. The wine and grappa contributed , no doubt, to my conviviality! 🙂
Ristorante i Ricchi deserves it’s accolades and certainly has this world-worn traveler’s personal endorsement. That warm and fuzzy feeling as I walked out into the wet Spring night was not just the effects of grappa but a satisfied repleteness and glimpse of Tuscany. It has the ‘AlphaLuxe Four-Tongues’ award. Bon appetito!
Now, here’s the mystery. How did an 18-year-old art student from New Rochelle, N.Y. end up running a Tuscan restaurant called i Ricchi in Washington D.C.? She wasn’t even a Ricchi to start with.
The original Trattoria i Ricchi began as a family home and general store in the village of Cercina two generations ago, located in Florence, Italy. Umberto Consigli, added a few dining tables in the back of his home store, and his wife Ceaserina would cook for customers. Consigli’s daughter Irma married Biagio Ricchi and successfully grew the business into a trattoria, eventually involving their son, Francesco.
In 1970, Christianne went to Florence, Italy, to learn to paint, but soon discovered that was not to be. She met Francesco Ricchi in 1971 when she worked at the trattoria; eventually marrying the chef in 1975 and running the trattoria together for 14 years. They moved to Washington D.C. in 1989 and opened Ristorante i Ricchi.
At that time, real Italian cuisine, especially Tuscan, was not common in America. The restaurant received great reviews including Best New Restaurant in America by Esquire Magazine. One month later, they had a sprinkle of fairy dust that virtually guaranteed their success. White House speechwriter Victor Gold chose the restaurant for his birthday celebration and brought along President George H. W. Bush, his wife, Barbara, and 11 other guests. The rest is history! Nearly 27 years later, two more U.S. Presidents (Clinton and Bush ‘No. 43’) and their wives, Democrats and Republicans have already graced their tables.
The couple divorced and Christianne kept the Ricchi name and the restaurant. As “executive chef”, she is in charge of a team of male chefs, in the open kitchen with the oak-burning oven, Tuscan murals and terra-cotta floors. Her photogenic looks comes in handy for television appearances and celebrity chef gigs.
Meanwhile, Francesco is now running the much less celebrity ‘Cesco Osteria and Co2 Lounge’ (formerly ‘Cesco Trattoria’) in Bethesda, 7 miles away in the ‘burbs’…..
“We make everything in-house — our pastas, breads, gelato. We grill over oak embers and don’t use any gas or electric heat.” – Christianne Ricchi
Ristorante i Ricchi
1220 19th Street N.W., Washington, D.C. 20036
Telephone: (202) 835-0459
Author Biography: Melvyn Teillol-Foo (MTF)
Dr Melvyn Teillol-Foo is a contributor on AlphaLuxe web-zine.
He is also a moderator on PuristSPro.com horology discussion fora. He blends his scientific medical objectivity from the pharmaceutical industry with purist passion, in his musings about watches, travel, wine, food and other epicurean delights.
His travelog ‘Lazing’ and feasting ‘Grazing’ series of articles have now passed into “mythic legend” on the original ‘ThePuristS.com’ website. Those were the halcyon days when he was “rich and famous”, that he remembers with bittersweet fondness.
Dr Teillol-Foo is a quoted enthusiast on the watch industry, appearing in feature articles and interviews by Wall Street Journal, International Herald Tribune, Sunday Times (London), Chronos (Japan), Citizen Hedonist (France) and other publications. He has authored articles for magazines like International Watch (iW) – both U.S. & Chinese editions, ICON (Singapore), August Man (Singapore), Comfort (China) and The Watch (Hong Kong).