The following restaurants prove her point oh so well.
“Home. Car. Restaurant.” Christianne Ricchi says that’s pretty much her routine these days. The welcome break in her schedule is when she ferries orders of food from her restaurant, I Ricchi downtown, to waiting cars outside. While she can no longer make the rounds and greet guests in her dining room, “I make it a point to touch each” — she quickly corrects herself here — “talk to people” from a safe distance curbside.
Everything I’ve eaten from her menu of late underscores the restaurant’s status as a Washington classic. The pork-and-beef meatballs burst with fresh herbs, which the owner calls her most-used ingredients. The grooves of the squid ink cavatelli, set off with pearly shrimp, catch delicious crumbles of fennel-laced sausage. Her minestrone, so thick with vegetables and beans you could eat it with a fork, salutes the season. Cheesecake — tiramisu’s rival for my affection here — rises high from its fine walnut crust.
Diners can capture even more of the restaurant’s magic by joining the I Ricchi Food Club. You can sign up for a single, themed, four-course dinner ($49 a person) or for a spread served as often as twice a week for a minimum of four weeks ($36 per person). Recent themes have included Piedmont (highlighting risotto), Rome (saltimbocca), the Riviera (halibut) — and they come with more than just something to eat. Ricchi adds a candle and sometimes little travel notes or movie suggestions. (She thinks “Roman Holiday” pairs well with a Roman feast.) The staycations appear to be catching on. In the first eight weeks, Ricchi says she has sold 2,000 meals through the club alone.
1220 19th St. NW. 202-835-0459. iricchidc.com. Open for takeout 5 to 8 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and 4 to 7 p.m. Sunday (for prime rib only). Delivery via Caviar, DoorDash, Grubhub, Postmates and Uber Eats. Weekly changing Food Club dinners $36 to $49 a person, depending upon frequency. A la carte dinner pastas and entrees $16 to $34.
Clusters in the era of coronavirus tend to be discomforting sights. An exception to the rule was the night I approached I’m Eddie Cano and encountered multiple small Starship robots on the sidewalk. Cute and cautious — they stop at the approach of dogs, among other things — the carriers on wheels are a fun way to receive takeout for anyone living within a mile or so of one of my favorite neighborhood restaurants in Washington.
No matter how you get it, the Italian-American cooking from chef James Gee is as impressive as when I lapped it up in the restaurant. Fluffy meatballs atop a swirl of spaghetti made in house and cooked to retain some resistance is about as good as that dish gets. In Gee’s hands, thin slices of eggplant layered with cheese and basil-bright tomato sauce translate to an eggplant Parmesan that’s far from the leaden norm. And I love his emerald asparagus soup, a pure taste of the vegetable with whispers of onion and garlic. The appetizer is good hot or cold and vegan if you refrain from the cheese-y crostini affixed to the container. Sorry, Gee isn’t serving his signature fried zucchini strings. He has tried to make them travel-friendly, to no avail. If you want a munch before the main event, make it suppli, fat croquettes swollen with rice, beef and cheese and destined for a dunk in marinara sauce.
I’m Eddie Cano is going out of its way to be a good neighbor. Family-friendly dinners feature combinations of hits for between $39 and $75 (serving up to four), and if you’re in the market for limoncello or a refill of olive oil, you’ll find them here. Sweeter even than the fine, cream-filled bomboloni is an Italian gesture called “la spesa sospesa,” which translates to “suspended shopping.” Customers with the means leave something for someone who doesn’t. Five or 10 bucks go toward free meals for schoolchildren, among others; donations are matched by I’m Eddie Cano.
P.S. Nearby residents who might like to have a robot bring dinner should know the mechanical server takes 45 minutes to go less than a mile — hence the directions for reheating tucked inside its lid.
5014 Connecticut Ave. NW. 202-890-4995. imeddiecano.com. Open daily for takeout lunch noon to 3 p.m. and dinner noon to 9 p.m. Delivery via DoorDash, Starship robots (with a link on the restaurant’s dinner menu) and (soon) Grubhub. Dinner pastas and entrees $11 to $26.
Like a lot of families, Gabe and Katherine Thompson are spending more time with their children, Emily, 6, and Luke, 9, during the pandemic. And because mom and dad work in a restaurant, Thompson Italian in Falls Church, the kids tag along. Ideally, they should be working on homework, says Katherine. In reality, says Gabe, his offspring enjoy “massive amounts of screen time” — when they’re not roller skating in the empty dining room, that is.
Customers are the recipients of plenty of entertainment, too. Sink your teeth into the fried artichokes, about as close to Rome as some of us are likely to get this season and more joyful with a dab of sunny aioli. A white rivulet of burrata oozes from the house-made agnolotti, draped for the moment in ramp butter. Juicy half chicken comes with salsa verde, at once grassy, brassy and so good you’ll want to slather it on everything, foremost the restaurant’s focaccia, spongy in parts and crackling in others.
Last but far from least are the desserts whipped up by Katherine, one of the area’s leading pastry chefs. There’s a reason 75 slices of olive oil cake flew out the door one recent night — golden raisins soaked in booze, caramel and lemon help — and her spumoni gelato is a chocolate (and cherry, and almond) lover’s frozen dream.
The kids initially volunteered to pitch in and take food to waiting cars. One or two trips to the parking lot left them “too exhausted,” or so they told their chef parents. Blame it on their skating.
124 N. Washington St., Falls Church. 703-269-0893. thompsonitalian.com. Open 4 to 8 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday. Delivery via DoorDash, Grubhub and Uber Eats. Dinner entrees $15 to $20.
For a nanosecond, it’s as if I’m back in the dining room of the formal Il Pizzico in Rockville. I’ve asked for a pork chop over the phone, but the server has a better idea. “How about the veal chop special?” Sold — and more than satisfied once I get the beauty home. The plump grilled meat has char and chew in its favor, and a carpet of sauteed sliced mushrooms and demi-glace touched up with cream transform the entree, arranged with crisp green beans and roasted potatoes, into something fancier.
Before the pandemic, chef-owner Enzo Livia was looking forward to showcasing a throwback menu to celebrate three decades in business. Now, like so many of his peers, he’s figuring out how to cook and stage his food so that it makes it to customers’ homes resembling something close to what he would offer inside his restaurant. The standouts of a recent meal, collected in the parking lot from a friendly attendant, include a chilled seafood salad punctuated with chopped radicchio, fennel and lemon; and pillowy gnocchi under a blanket of grape tomatoes cooked with garlic and shallots and completed with spinach. The $13 cocktails to-go include Negronis, boulevardiers and a house creation, 355 North, swirling gin, Aperol, triple sec and lemon.
Livia toyed with the idea of selling meal kits. They could be fun for a family project, he allows, but ultimately, “I’m old-school,” says the chef. “People go to a restaurant to restore themselves,” not work. Nearby patrons should welcome delivery. Not only is the gesture free, the food is dropped off by faces that regulars might recognize as former servers.
15209 Frederick Rd., Rockville. 301-309-0610. ilpizzico.com. Open 5 to 8 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Free restaurant delivery within a seven-mile radius. Dinner entrees $17 to $29.
Correction: A previous version of this story misstated the first name of Katherine Thompson of Thompson Italian. This version has been corrected.