Kitchen Favorites: D’Acqua’s Francesco Ricchi

The Italian restaurateur talks about everything from his love for the #5 meal at McDonald's to making his own vin santo.

Francesco Ricchi is at it again. The chef and restaurateur, who opened downtown’s I Ricchi and now owns Bethesda’s Cesco Trattoria, has just opened D’Acqua in the sprawling space that once housed Signatures. With chef Enzo Febbraro (late of Cafe Milano and Filomena), the menu will focus on fresh fish. Diners can choose their seafood from a selection on ice, then opt to have it salt-crusted, roasted, or grilled. “Simplicity is the name of the game,” Ricchi says.

So what does Ricchi, a native of Cercina, Italy, like to eat on his own time? Here are some of his kitchen favorites.
Favorite dish to cook at home:

I am a pasta eater. I do a nice simple pasta—you don't need anything spectacular. You can go in the back of your fridge and put in whatever is there. With parsley, olive oil, garlic, and basil, you can do a nice pasta.

Favorite restaurant:

One and a half years ago, we were in Florence in vacation and went to this fish place called Fuor d’Acqua. We decided we have to do something like that. This location opened up for D’Acqua, and from the first time i saw it was perfect.

Favorite restaurant in the DC area:

I like to go to Michel Richard’s [Citronelle], and Roberto Donna’s [Bebo Trattoria, formerly Galileo]. Roberto is high cuisine. I like to eat Chinese, I like going to Chinatown. And there’s nothing wrong with a good pizza. I go to my friend on Guiseppe DiBenigno’s place Sorriso, on Connecticut Avenue near the Uptown theater. It has a great thin crust.

Favorite pizza toppings:

Where I grew up, pizza is a big part of the food spectrum, but it’s very different from here. There is no such thing as “you do your own”. There are plenty of different kinds, and I never saw anyone say “hold this, hold that.” I love the margherita, the most simple, with tomato and cheese.  But in Italy, it's less than a handful of cheese. My recent favorite is this kind of pizza that is called clarinets, like the instrument. They roll up the dough in that shape with cheese, sauce, ham, eggplant, whatever, inside. I haven’t seen it here, only in Florence.

Best meal you’ve had recently:

It was a wine dinner with four flights of three different wines each and eight to nine courses at Laboratorio, right before Roberto closed it. It was fantastic, the last one.

Favorite junk food:

I have to go with my son to McDonald's once in a while. We went when he was young and we still go once in a while. I don't know what they do, what they cook, I just keep going back. I get #5—I think it’s chicken breast—with fries.

Favorite cuisine (besides Italian):

I like Vietnamese. I go once in a while to the Eden Center. There are a lot of things I like, lots of good places. Or Thai food. I like the flavors. They make me remember a trip to Thailand when i went to cook with Jean-Louis [Palladin]. Those lobsters with curry–man they were good.

Favorite holiday food:

I have great memories of Christmas growing up. It’s a very family-oriented holiday, and at our table there was nothing less than 25 people. When I got up in the morning, my grandmother took advantage of my wish to help, so I would peel potatoes and onions. It’s a big meal, everybody has a story to say. As a kid, you’re not allowed to talk. You can listen. My favorite course was the crostini, because it was the first one. You’re hungry! It’s chicken liver pate, spread over rustic bread, with a garnish of Italian parsley. And the last dish, which my old uncle always brought, whipped cream with a kind of cookie which you dip inside. It was very soft, the flavor was great with the whipped cream, which he brought from downtown Florence from a famous ice cream parlor.

Favorite dessert:

Ice cream. I don’t see a lot of gelato around here. In Florence, I love Tivoli. My favorite flavor is crema. It’s simple, creamy with egg yolks, it’s amazing. The best thing, you do a nice expresso with a bowl of crema, and dump it in. That’s affogato.

Favorite cocktail:

I don’t drink much liquor. I have wine with my meal, but I’m not a beer drinker. But after the meal, yes, grappa, or armagnac. It’s a nice digestive. I do my own vin santo, with lemon verbena leaves infused with alcohol and sugar water. I let it infuse in the sun for a couple weeks. In Italy you don't drink hard liquor before the meal, because you are vulnerable and can ruin your dinner. You might not remember what you had!

D’Acqua, 801 Pennsylvania Ave., NW; 202-783-7717;