Friday, August 31, 2012

Richmond Rave: Cafe Rustica

Today I want to share one of my favorite little hole-in-the-wall restaurants in Richmond:

Cafe Rustica 
Cafe Rustica
I know it doesn't look like much, but let me assure you - the food at Cafe Rustica is fabulous.

For 2 or 3 whole years, I drove past Cafe Rustica every single day and never even knew it was there. There is nothing overt on the exterior that signals "awesome restaurant located here." I found out about Rustica through my dear Work Wife, who took me there for my birthday in 2009. When she parked I remember saying, "Uh... there is a restaurant on this block??"

Yes, indeed Kathryn. Looks can be deceiving.

Rustica really is a tiny hole in the wall kind of place... emphasis on the "RUSTIC"

You won't find gleaming wood booths or a polished marble bar at Rustica. But for me, that is what makes it such a great place. It feels comfy, lived in, and familiar. Adding to this cozy feeling is the fact that the place is pretty darn tiny - and quickly fills up during lunch hour. If I had to guess, they can accomodate 24 at tables and booth and an additional 8 at the bar.

Being a planny plannerston, I always arrange to meet my lunch date at 11:45 to ensure a table.

This past Monday I was in need of a pick me up to start off my week, so I asked my former co-worker and now good friend Gail if she'd like to join me for lunch at Rustica. She immediately agreed (she never turns down Rustica, which is just one of the reasons I love her), so off we went.

The daily menu is limited, but there are always great specials and the prices can't be beat. The house salad, which is gigantic, is only $5. Pair that with a cup of soup du jour for $3 and you've got yourself a fresh delicious lunch for $8.

The most expensive item on the lunch menu is Insalata di Pesce (pan roasted salmon over spinach, bacon, & red onions tossed in a feta & herb vinaigrette) for $12. One of these days I'm going to try it because it sounds amazing.

On Monday, however, I went with my stand by: the Salad "Ballerina molta piccola." It's a romaine based green salad with local apples, sugared walnuts, pulled roast chicken & gorgonzola vinaigrette. It is also gigantic and only costs $8.

I have never been a big fan of salads-as-a-meal. Generally I eat the salad and then during the afternoon I find myself starving. But not this salad. This salad is completely fulfilling. It is one of the few salads that I actually crave. Big time. The walnuts and the gorgonzola vinaigrette are my favorite parts.

It's served with two big pieces of the house-made garlic herb bread. Sometimes I resist the bread but honestly, not eating it seems like a crime because the stuff is so darn delicious.

Gail decided to try the special. I don't remember all the details but I know it was - salmon cakes over mesclun with some kind of divine sounding dressing.

This lovely concoction was just $9!

In the end our bill was under $20 for both of us (before tip).

Yep - Twenty. Dollars.

I am forever in-debted to Work Wife for introducing me to Rustica... I'm sure I never would have found it otherwise. Since that birthday lunch I have been back more times than I can count for a lunch and even managed to drag Husband there for dinner once (which was also wonderful).

Some of my other favorites from the menu are the Hummus Platter, the Rustic Skillet (if you feel like blowing your entire calorie allotment in one meal), Aosta Valley Panini, and Grilled Fromage (with a cup of soup for just $7!).

One neat thing that Rustica does is Sunday Supper - a 3 course set menu for $15. Each week of the month has a different supper:

1st week: Roast Chicken
2nd week: Pot Roast
3rd week: Cioppino
4th week: Salmon
5th week: Chef's Choice

I've always wanted to try it, but haven't made it yet.

I'll have to put it on my restaurant bucket list - and you should to!

The lowdown:
  • Don't let the appearance fool you - this place is the real deal
  • Satisfying portions and top notch food for a low low price (I'm not kidding)
  • Arrive just before noon to ensure a seat
  • Parking is available on the street, bring your quarters because there are meters
  • On that note, if you are going to split your bill, bring cash. Rustica will not split bills (the only tiny complaint I have against the place) between credit cards or otherwise
  • Not the fastest lunch spot on the planet, so not recommended if you're on a tight schedule
  • If you're so inclined, there is also a reasonably priced wine list with good by-the-glass selections

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