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Steve Mannino has taken over the kitchen at Rustico

One by one, we’re running through the 50 restaurants that made the cut on this year’s Young & Hungry Dining Guide. If you have visited the day’s featured restaurant, let us know what you think. If you’re planning to visit for the first time, tell us about your meal when you return.

To illustrate a larger point, I want to let you in on a small, behind-the-scenes spat between me and Frank Morales, the chef at Rustico. For a while now, Morales has been pissed at me for an online review I posted in January, around the time of Obama’s inauguration, which dissed the chef’s sincere-but-sloppy effort to produce a Chicago-style deep-dish pizza. Now, I don’t take it personally that Morales holds a grudge—at least not much. Mostly what I glean from the situation is that Morales takes extreme pride in his regular work—and hated being called out for a specialty pie that’s difficult to create under the best of circumstances, let alone under the heat of a quickie special-event menu. His anger is understandable, and frankly, Morales’ passion is what makes Rustico such a delight to frequent on those days when there’s no culinary pressure to suck up to a new president. Since taking over the job, Morales has run with Rustico’s beer-forward concept, creating smart, chef-driven versions of the fatty pub fare that pairs so well with suds. He and beer director Greg Engert have, in a very short time, created the model by which all gastropubs should be judged.

Addenda: Frank Morales has since left Rustico and has been replaced by former Olives chef Steve Mannino.

Rustico, 827 Slaters Lane, Alexandria, (703) 224-5051

Photo by Darrow Montgomery