Tucked away on 19th Street between M and N streets is Ristorante i Ricchi (1220 19th St. NW), a Washington staple for fine Italian cuisine since 1989. The concept, which mimics a Tuscan garden with live plants filling Italian urns atop salmon-colored terra-cotta tile, was brought to Washington by Christianne Ricchi and Francesco Ricchi as the Washington cousin to their restaurant in Tuscany, Trattoria i Ricchi. Twenty-five years later, i Ricchi (pronounced ee ree-key) is still going strong in Dupont Circle.
For owner and chef Christianne, who has since parted with Francesco, serving authentic Tuscan cuisine is key. At i Ricchi, menu items, including the Pappardelle sul Coniglio (broad pasta ribbons tossed with savory Tuscan rabbit sauce) and the Le Salsicce con Fagioli all’ Uccelletto (grilled homemade sausage with cannellini beans and tomato) are brought to Washington from Italy, with a number of dishes coming directly from the Ricchi concept outside of Florence.
“Today, people are looking for authenticity. They’re looking for the real deal,” said Christianne. “A lot of thought goes into what we do – we’re almost cerebral in what we serve – and there has to be a true connection to Italy.”
For i Ricchi, Christianne’s dedication to remaining authentic has enabled the restaurant to survive a drastically different city than when it first opened. But just as Washington has changed, so must i Ricchi.
“I’ve taken this opportunity to go back to Florence and I’m looking forward to bringing a lot of the things I’ve discovered and rediscovered in Tuscany back to Washington,” said Christianne.
Moreover, Christianne recently signed a long-term lease in the restaurant’s current location and is planning significant renovations, including the addition of an early morning coffee and breakfast bar, which will also serve as a wine bar in the early evening and through the night.
Outside of the kitchen, Christianne is passionate about two women’s organizations she has established in recent years. Two years ago, with her daughter Olivia, Christianne wanted to celebrate and earmark International Women’s Day. That motivation led to the creation of the i Ricchi Women’s Club, a group that boasts 3,000 members and holds gatherings on topics ranging from health to politics to business to family.
Christianne also leads a group she refers to as “the DEWDs,” the Distinguished Executive Women’s Dinner. The group consists of 150 executive women who come together monthly at i Ricchi for cocktails, dinner and networking.
“I often ask myself why I’m in this business. And the thing I come back to, over and over, is the people factor,” said Christianne. “Being a restaurateur and chef gives you a very unique opportunity to interact with people on a different, very intimate level. A big part of the job is nurturing and taking care of people. People come to your restaurant and put themselves in your hands so to speak. So there’s a level of trust that’s established that you will take care of them and treat them well. And when you do that, there’s a special bond that’s created.”