Chef Steve Mannino of Rustico found my blog a few months ago, read my bucket list, and noticed that “make pizza dough” had not yet been crossed off. Because of this, he decided to invite me to come over to his restaurant Rustico in Ballston, and accomplish my goal! Earlier this month, we finally found a Saturday afternoon that worked well for the occasion. The delay was really my fault with weekend craziness – but I was so glad he still was up for it!
I brought along my dear friend Carrie, and we arrived prepared with four cameras: her awesome film camera, my basic Canon point-and-shoot, and our two iPhones. Carrie is quite the photographer, and took almost all of the photos in this entry!
We had a great time hanging out with Chef Steve and his staff. As soon as we entered the kitchen, we were immediately given white chef’s coats to wear. Steve told us that he wanted to demonstrate how the dough was made, and that after that, he wanted us to make our own pizzas to eat! We were so excited.
First, Steve walked us through the different phases of his pizza dough, which they make fresh every day at Rustico. We saw the room where the dough rises over night, the enormous mixer that churns this special dough made from two different flours, and the resulting hunk of dough, ready to be formed for pizzas.
It was fun to see the large bags of dough piled high… shipped over from Italy!
Before we made our pizzas, Steve had his staff make a few other dishes to complete our meal. We learned Steve likes to grill heads of romaine lettuce for the Chicken Caesar Salad at Rustico. He then mixes the grilled lettuce with regular lettuce for a pretty delicious combination. Genius!
We also were given a bowl of Carrot Hummus. Wow. Steve said that it includes most of the same ingredients as your standard hummus—except with carrots, obviously. Carrie and I could not get enough. The hummus had a kick to it too, which we loved, and we decided we’re going to have to try and make our own version very soon!
The most practical thing we learned was how to form pizza dough. Steve had two different processes for us to try out, with just a few simple steps each. Each process started with forming the crust first. The two methods then differentiated by stretching the dough with your fingers on the working surface vs. stretching the dough over your knuckles in the air. Not much pizza-throwing occurred, surprisingly! One member of his staff did flip the dough up a few times for fun though.
Next, we added our toppings. Steve suggested using a small amount of sauce, and spreading it from the center out. He also recommended that we use just a few ingredients in small amounts. I didn’t take his advice very well, and went a little crazy with the basil! Carrie and I basically made our own takes on margherita pizzas. We drizzled on another great Rustico discovery at the end: jalapeno pesto.
Steve had us slide our pizzas into the large oven with a utensil that was longer than a broom. It was quite difficult, and crazy to imagine what the area must be like around dinner time, with over a dozen pizzas getting rotated in the oven.
After all of this cooking, we sat down with Steve to enjoy our work. Steve never gets to sit down and eat while he works, so I hope it was a nice break for him! We asked questions and learned even more about the two Rustico restaurants in Ballston and Alexandria. Steve said his vision had been for the places to serve food that was good, but not pretentious. You definitely get that vibe as you are eating at Rustico. It’s a nice place, and you feel treated while you’re there — but you also feel comfortable. Steve told us that Rustico actually won an award for being the best Match.com restaurant in the area!
Putting aside all of his delicious food, Steve is truly a family guy at heart. As we asked him about himself, the conversation keep turning back to his wife and two kids. He told us he wasn’t in the restaurant business for TV shows or for fame. He loves what he does, but most of all, he gets excited to spend time with his family. You feel that family element as you experience Rustico too. It’s not only a place that attracts dates; it welcomes families too. From the relaxed environment to the weekly family-focused events like “Sunday Suppers With Steve,” this is a great place for a family to relax and dine.
Carrie and I have already been talking about Rustico non-stop since our visit with Steve, and we can’t wait to go back! The restaurant has quickly become one of my favorite dining spots, and it was definitely a treat to experience a place that is incredible inside and out. Thank you so much, Chef Steve!