Good to Go

Rustico in Alexandria

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

In his 13 months at the helm here, executive chef Frank Morales says he is in his "third-and-a-half generation of dough." Pizza dough, that is, the stuff upon which the most exquisite pies depend. The stuff that, once baked, typically doesn't survive a trip much longer than the one between wood-fired oven and your table, let alone a car ride home.

At Rustico, which started offering its special takeout menu a few months ago, Morales's dough experiments have paid off, particularly in the portability department. When we sampled from the carryout operation recently, the pizzas' chewy crispness remained intact even after we: a) waited 15 minutes for a cab and b) made the almost-half-hour return trip to Northwest Washington.

Domino's can only dream about such staying power.

Of course, Domino's is no Rustico, where the 12-inch pies are topped with such combinations as lobster, fontina cheese and marinated tomatoes ($18). That would certainly be the most luxe option (it's finished with tarragon butter), unless you count the winter pizza ($16), which combines caramelized cauliflower, robiola cheese and preserved truffles. Even the humble mushroom pizza ($10) adds four cheeses, a cream sauce and Swiss chard to roasted creminis, oysters and buttons.

There's more to Rustico than pizza. Its fantastic burger ($12) also survived the trip intact, with its 12 ounces of fatty chuck, perfectly medium-rare, sitting on a sweet-potato roll with aged cheddar. The hand-cut fries lost their crispness on the ride back to the office, but the butter lettuce salad ($7) was a hit, with buttermilk dressing and red onions that had been cooked down in raspberry lambic beer.

The niftiest part of the setup, though, is the beer to go, an example of Rustico's dedication to craft brews. Beer director Greg Engert has put together three mixed six-packs: hoppy U.S. brews ($13), Belgian ales ($18) and a global mash-up ($13) representing Michigan, England and the Philippines. But your best bet is to ask Engert to do what he does best: pair beers with the food you ordered. He'll even mark on the six-pack which goes with which.

If that sounds too precious, don't sweat the specifics, and remember: Craft beer and well-made pizza always make a good match.

-- Joe Yonan

Rustico, 827 Slaters Lane, Alexandria, 703-224-5051, Carryout available noon to 9:30 p.m. weekdays and noon to 10:30 p.m. weekends.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company