The Washington Post

First Bite: Rialto in Georgetown

The Georgetown space once occupied by the Guards has been brightened considerably in its new incarnation as Rialto. (JUANA ARIAS/For The Washington Post)

The Guards was creaky and dark, a Georgetown institution. Its replacement is sleek and light, Italian in flavor. Anyone familiar with the former won’t recognize the latter, Rialto, which shares the name of the famous bridge on the Grand Canal in Venice and began serving small plates, pasta and more in September.

The design pulls you in. On a gray day, tufted turquoise bar stools, a gold pizza dome and banquettes the color of eggplant are as much of a mood elevator as a flute of champagne. And that’s just the front part of the long and narrow dining room, which leads to an inviting, glass-enclosed patio in the rear. Its flood of light in the afternoon catches our eyes as early as the host stand. Meanwhile, a trip to the lower-level restroom (it’s unisex) gives patrons a glimpse of what’s known in-house as the “pasta mama” station, where noodles take shape.

Chef Ryan Fichter is a 1999 graduate of the Culinary Institute of America who cooks for his customers some of the same Italian staples he makes for himself at home, including a satisfying Bolognese made with ground beef and veal. His food leans to the hearty; chances are good that part of the Flintstonian lamb shank, rich with wine and herbs and shored up with soft polenta, will go home with you. Among the many small plates, sauteed broccoli rabe is mugged by garlic.

Lunch specials ($12 to $14) — a generous if overcooked seafood soup, meatball sandwich, shrimp salad — come with a choice of five sides, including a well-balanced sweet-and-sour caponata.

Rialto has family nearby: Thunder Burger & Bar and Bodega Spanish Tapas &
share the same set of owners.

2915 M St. NW. 202-337-1571. Small plates, $5 to $13; pasta and main courses, $14 to $45.

Weaned on a beige buffet a la “Fargo” in Minnesota, Tom Sietsema is the food critic for The Washington Post. This is his second tour of duty at the Post. Sietsema got his first taste in the ‘80s, when he was hired by his predecessor to answer phones, write some, and test the bulk of the Food section’s recipes. That’s how he learned to clean squid, bake colonial cakes and distinguish between nutmeg and mace.
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