RPM Italian has only been open a short amount of time but this restaurant in D.C.’s Mt. Vernon neighborhood has already become a popular gathering place after work and on weekends. The restaurant, which was in the planning stages for three years, is the second location after Chicago for two TV stars – Giuliana DePandi Rancic, anchor for E! network’s E! News, and her husband, Bill Rancic, who was the first candidate hired by Donald Trump in the inaugural season of NBC’s reality show, The Apprentice. The couple went on to star in Giuliana and Bill, on the Style network, and Bill has also been host of the Food Network’s cooking competition show, Kitchen Casino.
All that celebrity buzz might get people in the door, but it takes a warm atmosphere, professional service, and well-prepared food to get customers to return again and again. RPM Italian has it all. The front of the restaurant includes a mammoth-sized bar where diners may stop for a drink or enjoy dinner. (Despite the bar’s size, it’s often challenging to find two seats together, another indication that this is a place to see and be seen.)
The dining room is also large, but the side banquettes and nicely spaced tables provide diners with comfort and a modicum of privacy. The decor is stylish with off-white fabrics, dark wood tables, and subdued overhead lighting. While there is no dress code, RPM Italian attracts a well turned out, youthful crowd.
We visited on two occasions. The dining room is laid out so that every seat allows a view of the entire space. There’s no staring at walls. Better to watch diners at other tables and the small bar at the far end of the room. (Patrons can also be served dinner at this counter.) Our seats allowed us to preview the dishes coming out from the kitchen.
RPM’s staff is well-trained providing service that is friendly and efficient while not being intrusive. And like the service, the dinner menu is not pretentious, including some dishes that reflect Giuliana’s Neapolitan roots, like pasta with Mama DePandi’s pomodoro, as well as Italian-American classics such as spaghetti and meatballs, and eggplant and chicken parmesan. We began with two appetizers – fried mozzarella and Roman style artichokes with garlic and lemon aioli.
The artichokes were hands down the winner. The mozzarella was tasty, but consisted of too much breadcrumbs and not enough cheese, making the final product a little dry.
Most of RPM’s pastas are housemade. We chose the strozzapreti all noci, with walnut pesto, and pecorino Romano. This was a wonderful dish, but two ingredients, tomato and a dollop of stracciatella cheese, were unnecessary additions.
For a main course, we shared the branzino for two, served with capers and olive salsa verde. The fish was perfectly cooked and the salsa added a pungent flavor to the mild filets.
A side dish of corn with bits of bacon was a contrast of colors and textures.
For dessert we enjoyed affogato, vanilla bean gelato with hot espresso. The combination of cold and hot, light and dark, is the perfect finish to a meal.
On our second visit with sat at the large bar. After ordering two glasses of wine – a Chianti and a Vernaccaia – we shared a pasta, burrata agnolotti with smoked tomato and truffle brodo, and a meat dish, prime beef meatballs.
Like our waiter in the dining room, the bar staff was not only attentive and helpful, but made dining at the bar a pleasure.
It’s often difficult to find places in D.C. that are lively after 10 p.m., whether on a work day or a weekend. Both times we left with RPM Italian just hitting its stride. And both times we knew we would be back soon.
601 Massachusetts Avenue NW