The wood-fired oven is part of the concept, as are the oblong pizzas. Judging by our pizza margherita ($10.50), they’re still served thin-crusted and crisp, but smaller and less skillfully baked than in the past. It made forgood eating, although the original pizza created for Queen Margherita was red, white, and green like the flag of Italy. This implies more equal and visible proportions of basil (here about three whole leaves of the fresh stuff), cheese, and tomato. A spinach salad with roasted beets, kalamata olives, white beans, red onions, and feta cheese ($9.50) had every one of those things, just not a lot of some. The beets were small, goldencubes, for example.
My favorite holdoverentrée is Agnolotti dal plin ($19). These are meaty stuffed dumplings, pinched like a priest’s hats. Bradley’s original version was veal stuffing and a clear, meaty broth. Today, the homemadepasta dumplings aresquare with a veal and cheese filling, served with a more elaborate and buttery bowl full of broth with shitake and oyster mushrooms. Despite the changes, I still love this dish.
Grilled flatiron steak with roasted garlic, truffled rustic fries, and a spicy tomato relish ($24) prompted the question, “What is a flatiron steak?” I guessed it wasone of those narrow, triangular sirloins, but the beautifully arranged slices that arrived left me unsure. The fries are very good, although oddly presented with cold tomato sauce too chunky to useas ketchup. A grilled salmon special ($22) had the meaty flavor of wild salmon (though it might have been carefully selected and farmed) and was nicely plated with a celery-root purée, some sautéed red chard, and two sauces of puréed vegetables. A swordfish special ($27) featured excellent fish, served in chunks, with grilled eggplant rounds.
The wines by the glass are very good. Pinot grigio drinkers get the real thing with the 2005 La Vis ($7/glass; $26/bottle) from Italy’s alpine province of Alto Adige-Trentino; it’s crisp with mineral flavors, more like a Sancerre than the sweet pinot grigios of the dating bars. A somewhat aged 2004 Pepperwood Grove zinfandel ($7/$26) was all vanilla oak in the bouquet and flavor, very drinkable if not exactly the right zin for steak.
Cappuccino ($3.75) is entirely competent, and tea ($1.75) is served as a bag alongside a china pot of water. Memo to waitrons: put the bag in right away so it brews.
The dessert course is rather plain, which makes me wonder if Rustic Kitchen is between pastry chefs, as this was a previous hallmark. My favorite of the current lot was a free-form apple tart ($8) with excellent vanilla ice cream. Tiramisu ($8) was like all others, except for the use of delicious chocolate ice cream. Chocolate cake ($8) was a small but effective version of bitter chocolate cake with amolten center. And the crème brûlée ($8) had no tricky flavors; it’s a good standard version with shortbread cookies.
Cafarelli has done some of his best work on what was a large and rather nondescript space. There is a golden dome in the main dining room, a smaller wine room for large parties, and abar with a large plasma TV.
The most innovative part of the restaurant is a TV studio, where the restaurant tapes a cooking show with Alissa Bigelow and sells limited tickets for spectators to enjoy the dinner she cooks. You can eat in that room when the show is not filming, although the feature is popular, so they may do reruns on other nights.
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