The bar is the right place to be at Rustico, as not only do you get to have a nice chat with the bartender, you also get to see the open kitchen.
"When life gives you lemon, you make limoncello," I was trying to teach my kids some basic survival skills the other day, when I noticed she was feeling down. "All you need is a bit of alcohol and some good food to get that smile back on your face." And I knew where to get it all: Rustico on Rothschild Avenue. All we needed was an early evening at the restaurant.
"Always go for the bar," I taught my offspring the correct decision to take when facing the choice of sitting next to a bar or table. The bar is the right place to be at Rustico, as not only do you get to have a nice chat with the bartender, you also get to see the open kitchen. Right in front of us, Chef Rellie was juggling 6 pans while stirring and mixing. A wooden taboon oven behind her was producing fresh focaccias and pizzas, leaving a trace of appetizing scents in the air. My kid's evening was starting to get better.
Italian menu is her favorite kind, but she loved it even more when the nice bartender named Gal added some cocktail offers. "Should I take something with Campari?" My kid doesn't really know her way around the alcohol list yet. Her request for something sweet and fruity was filled by the Salsa Cubana, which is a sort of mojito with cranberries and amarena cherries. Meanwhile I enjoyed the house cocktail: Campari and pomegranate vodka.
It was time to get started with the starters. She preferred sticking with the devil she knew: scorched eggplant cream with grilled peppers and a touch of oregano; and a fresh caprese salad with cherry tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella, croutons and a pesto dressing that wrapped all the ingredients together. I was surprised when the kid had a taste of my first order, which was artichoke hearts grilled in a taboon oven, with white truffles and parmesan scrapings. But I was even more surprised when she fell in love with the artichoke for the first time.
Meanwhile, the restaurant started to fill up with more and more people coming in, who were accepted with beautiful Italian music. We had another shot of Campari. Near us, on the bar, a father and his soldier son were having some quality time as well, imagine that. While dad highly recommended today's special – taboon baked sea-bass fillet in lemon and spice herbs, served over a sweet potato cream with a stir-fried leek, we had been fantasizing on our own favorites: chestnuts gnocchi and mushroom risotto. And there they arrived! The gnocchi bites were wrapped in a light aromatic sauce of mascarpone cheese, spinach and garlic, together with scorched chestnuts and a little bit of parmesan. The risotto was a warm buttery dish with an accented taste of mushrooms, which was probably the result of its long cooking with forest mushrooms, portobello, champignon, truffles and porcini. I just happened to see the kid not even hiding the smile on her face.
What about dessert? She tried to whisper something about not liking pistachio, so that she could get her usual chocolate treats. But in light of tonight's discoveries, I tended to take her pleadings quite lightly. Ciambella al Pistachio, per favore! A white plate carried a baked sort-of doughnut that was made of almond and pistachio dough, and then soaked in deep red cherry sauce, with a pure mound of mascarpone cream on top, vanilla ice cream on the side, and some decorations of roasted pistachios. Needless to say, she loved it.
But we did get one more frozen limoncello for the road.