Ristorante Murali, Pentagon City, VA

When you’re walking around Pentagon Row, the first thing you might say to yourself is, “Jeez, this place looks corporate.” Yet, there are also several restaurants you won’t find anywhere else; yet again, they all have this extremely well-funded, corporate feel to them.

Ristorante Murali is owned by the Murali Group which also owns three others in the area: Brasserie Creperie next door, Pizza Milano, and PR Grill, and right when you walk in the door of Ristorante Murali, the first impression is that someone pumped some pretty serious money into this place.

The decor is old school while also being fresh and comfortable, and more than anything else, the things that caught my eye were the beautiful glass chandeliers – as it turns out, a carryout menu I took home mentioned they indeed came from Murano.

The service here is polished and friendly, and the waitstaff wears black vests and black ties. So far, so good, right?

(I’ll bet you guys are wondering which direction this is going to go in…)

My young dining companion started with a Diet Coke ($2.95, cheerfully refilled without being asked), and I had the one beer on their list that I really enjoy – the underrated Moretti La Rossa ($5.25), for my palate, one of the best mass-produced beers available. La Rossa is a double malt beer, and is a welcome relief from overhopped American monster brews. Typing this, I’m asking myself why I don’t buy La Rossa for my home, and I don’t have a good answer.

Pizza Margarita ($9.95) is a low-stakes gamble at a restaurant such as this (that doesn’t specialize in pizzas), and it arrived as a flat disk, cut into six small pieces, each having a dense (but flavorful) crust, pretty good sauce, lots of golden-brown cheese, and one wiggly strip of basil. “This isn’t a Margarita; it’s a cheese pizza with basil,” Matt astutely commented, but if you don’t mind a flat, dense pie, you might enjoy this (there wasn’t a crumb left of ours).

Homemade Pumpkin Ravioli ($14.75) may have been purchased (pumpkin ravioli often is), but also seemed fresh enough to be made in-house. A fair portion for the price, refreshingly light on the nutmeg (which usually flexes its muscle in this dish), and served in a thin butter white-wine sage sauce.

I was very leery about the Lamb Shank with Risotto ($21.50), but for the absolute wrong reason. I figured the shank would be fine (since it was braised), and the “risotto” would be a pile of rice, and I was wrong on both counts. Served atop the risotto made with white wine, fine herbs and vegetables, the lamb had a bizarre, flakey texture – it was tough, dry, flavorless, and it cut off almost in layers; the risotto, however, was way better than I thought it would be: good, flavorful rice, cooked to a perfect al dente. When I asked my server about the dish, he said the lamb was “baked for over an hour” (eh?), and enthusiastically said that they’re using Arborio rice for the risotto. Don’t get me wrong: this isn’t the type of risotto that you’d pay $20 for on its own, but as an accompaniment to an entree? A wonderful surprise. Interestingly, the dining room menu lists the dish as “Braised Lamb Shank,” whereas the carryout menu calls it “Ossobuco.”

In all, an enjoyable meal, with the lamb itself being the one, fatal flaw.

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