The Place: Ricardo's Italian Cafe (1931 Park Avenue; 314-421-4833) the 22-year-old Italian stalwart in Lafayette Square
The Lunch: Beef spedini with bread, a house salad and side of pasta with red sauce from the restaurant's $9 lunch menu
The Verdict: With a slightly dark, rustic Italian dining room, Ricardo's makes for an intimate escape from the workday grind. The ambiance feels like dinner, but with the convenience of the $9 lunch menu that features seven entrees, all accompanied by an abundant house salad, a serving of pasta shells with marinara, and a small basket of bread. Starting July 11, Ricardo's will offer an $8 all-you-can-eat pasta buffet for Monday lunch.
Heaped on a chilled plate, the house salad features plentiful leafy greens with not a shred of iceberg lettuce to be found, topped with slivers of mild red onions, croutons, cheese, and a tangy red wine vinaigrette. It's a fresh and flavorful take on a side that too often gets thrown together as an afterthought.
Although the main course looks a little stingy on its big plate, it certainly doesn't lack in substance or flavor. The beef chunks, lightly dusted in flour and seasonings and fire-grilled, are fork-tender and a pleasant medium temperature. The dusting gives the beef a grilled char flavor without obscuring the beef flavor and juiciness. It's a light way to cure a craving for a great big steak.
The pasta shells had just the right amount of marinara. In other words, it wasn't drowning. The comforting starch of the shells mingles with the bright tomato and herb flavors of the sauce to balance the robust beef. It's just the right amount for a mid-afternoon energy boost without needing a nap three hours later.
Ricardo's beef spedini lunch special is a three-course bargain in a relaxed and lovely atmosphere among business folk and ladies who lunch. And you've earned it.