Monday, November 22, 2010

Rustico's New Arlington Outpost Still a Bit Rustic

Dining Room at Rustico Ballston
Arlington's Orange Line corridor is fast becoming a haven for beer lovers.  Clarendon has had decent selections of microbrews for a few years at Boulevard Woodgrill, Liberty Tavern, and Lyon Hall.  With the opening alone of Fireworks Pizza this past fall in Courthouse, the beer scene grew by some 30+ plus taps of rotating microbrews available in growlers to go.  And now, Greg Engert and the team beyond the fabulous Birch and Barley have opened a second Rustico location (the original is on the outskirts of Old Town, Alexandria) in Ballston.

Beer-wise, Rustico is a welcome addition to the neighborhood.  Its 40+ beers on tap include rare finds and cask ales.  The beer menu (yes, they take the beer seriously here, including a dedicated menu) is laid out in the same fashion as Birch and Barley, with each beer grouped by category and descriptions of brewery information, ounces poured, and glass-style.  And as is becoming the norm, a trend which I love, you can get the beer in either the full pour or 4oz tasting sizes.
After dining there this past Thursday night though, they are not yet on track to add something new to the dining scene in Ballston, an area which is in desperate need of some decent restaurants. 

First off, the service is still working out its kinks.  While waiting for my friend to arrive, I asked to be seated.  What I assumed with an easily-accommodated request was denied and similarly so for the party waiting behind me because of Rustico's policy to only seat complete tables.  While I understand the policy during busy times, you will note in the picture above that the dining room was quite literally empty!  And while the adjacent bar area was bursting at the seams, common sense among the staff did not seem to be prevailing.

Finally, with friend in tow, we were seated. Our waitress's nerves were visibly shaky throughout the meal, as was her hand, as she spilled an entire glass of (fortunately) white wine all over the patron next to us, but quickly and nervously cleaned up and remedied the situation.  Servers were slow to greet tables and drinks are either served right away or seem to be on an endless wait.  But this place is brand new, and based on my experiences at other restaurants in this group, I would bet that this is  a growing pain that (hopefully) soon will be overcome.

Second, the  menu has a few reasonable options, like a juicy burger and thick-cut french fries served with two varietals of homemade ketchup for $12 -- perfect price for a casual dining spot and they had me at two types of ketchup!  But other entrees which go up to $32 seem misplaced in this cantankerous dining room.

Third, the infrastructure needs work.  The night I was there, two out of the three women's restrooms were out of order and it was only 7:00.  This is the recipe for disaster at a restaurant that prides itself on its beer options!

I think this is a great addition to the neighborhood, but the menu seems to miss the mark for the casual space.  I will most likely be back if I find myself in the dining wasteland that is Ballston, but for the service and a rival beer selection (admittedly within walking distance of my condo), I prefer Fireworks and the food and atmosphere at Birch and Barley are worth the trip to 14th Street.

Rustico on Urbanspoon

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