Had an occasion to celebrate, chose Rialto to do it, rather at the last moment. We're accustomed to very solicitous, smooth service from pre-soup to post-nuts here, so we're a little nonplussed by the hostess, who comes off as weird, flighty, and not particularly welcoming. Odd: like visiting the home of a wealthy relative and being greeted not by the old, trusty butler, but the dope-smoking, troublesome niece with the bad tattoos.
We've had far too many good experiences here to be much put off by this amateur, and once seated, settle in nicely. Great bread plate (Cheeze-It tasting grissini, much like at Caffe Umbra; soft, sage-flavored Tuscan bread; good butter). One stunning app: six tiny littlenecks served on what looks like the shelf of a dwarf gas grill, full of the fresh taste of the ocean, just perfect. Little slices of a good smoked pork sausage (I'm guessing kielbasa, but might be linguica) on the side. Other app is a mixed blessing: pureed asparagus soup has lovely texture but not so nice flavor; crunchier whole asparagi on the side are a much better use of the vegetable.
Entrees floor us. Grilled pork chop and pork belly: astonishing! ("The belly is like a savory pork donut" is how my beloved puts it, which captures the crunchy-outside/creamy inside feel nicely).
My lamb rack of three rarish tiny chops is superb, but the confit-like lamb shoulder in phyllo is transporting, especially with a bit of the thick yogurt side smeared on it. The seasonings have a distinctly Greek cast, and there are perfect teeny asapargus spears for accents. I am just floored by the richness and complexity of flavors going on here. This wins my Entree of the Year so far.
Desserts work just fine, though the advertised "hot chocolate cream" turns out to be yet another iteration of the ubiquitous "chocolate sploodge" that was novel maybe ten years ago at Vong. Excellent mint ice cream on the side helps. A good cheese plate, and a solid espresso.
Wine list is tough: everything interesting is $80 and up. I manage to find a passable Gigondas for about $45, and once again wonder why so many places I really like continue to discourage the enjoyment of wine with their food with outrageously top-heavy wine lists. It doesn't take a lot of talent to put together a list of good, costly wines. Only extraordinary sommeliers include high-value, low/medium-cost wines on their lists. Rialto's wine person isn't one of those.
After the spacey, off-kilter hostess, service is excellent, of the "unobtrusive when you don't need them, magically appearing when you do" school. The quiet competence of these folks, combined with several extraordinary dishes from the kitchen, make this a fine celebratory evening out. We expect this place to be great every time, and tonight's little wrinkles aren't enough to belie that expectation.