Francesco Ricchi's only crime was good taste when he refused to serve his fabled risotto as a "side dish" to three suburbanites {Bob Levey's Washington, Nov. 1}. Bob Levey should leave serious issues of Italian cuisine to those who understand the difference between Spaghetti-Os and a culinary heritage of centuries-long standing.

Washington has been blessed in recent years by the attempts of restaurateurs of various nationalities to provide authentic and serious ethnic food. The i Ricchi restaurant has done what many of us Italophiles have only dreamt possible -- provided consistently delicious and authentic Tuscan food.

To suggest that a patron could force Ricchi to lower his standards just because he had the necessary money to pay for the food was ludicrous. We are talking about something more important than commerce here -- we are talking about a national heritage. What James T. Maloney of Annandale should have done is to go to some ersatz Italian joint that serves spaghetti and meatballs or, worse, offers cappuccino (a breakfast drink never served after 10 a.m. in Italy) as an after-dinner confection.

Finally, if Levey truly believes that risotto is "rice in broth, with a layer of grated cheese on top" and "the sort of side dish your mother always bugged you to finish," he may be beyond help. Risotto is to a "side dish" what Florence is to Annandale. It is delicate and intricate and ethereal, and it is being afforded by Ricchi the dignity and honor that it deserves. -- Jay Coupe Jr.