So here I was thinking that Francesco Ricchi was just relocating his long-running Bethesda restaurant, Cesco, to roomier digs, and expanding the menu.
While it’s true that the new space, the former McCormick & Schmick’s at 7401 Woodmont Avenue, is almost three times as big as Ricchi’s old Cordell Avenue restaurant—and will offer two menus—the place will also be home to Co2 Lounge, a sizzling semi-private club with artsy photos on the wall of naked women on fire.
Bethesda resident and real estate developer Mitchell Weber, founder and managing partner of Co2, said the club will unearth the “hidden buried passions among older sophisticated” people.
Weber, 58, a lounge lizard who likes to speak in superlatives, said “we’ve pushed the envelope, raised the bar and created the ‘new center of Bethesda’—the area has never seen anything like this before.”
The old McCormick & Schmick’s bar, which formerly housed a popular happy hour, has been updated with new couches and stools, a DJ booth with surround sound, live entertainment stages and glass doors that open up to outdoor seating illuminated by 300 lights on trellises.
Late night music and entertainment will vary every night. Weber said that will include conga players and Brazilian dancers, and when the dinner crowd disperses, a professional dance floor could be laid in the dining room for Argentine tango competitions and salsa dancing.
After 9 p.m., Co2 Lounge will be limited to members (cost will be $1200 a year, including $300 in vouchers for meals and/or drinks, Weber said). For a cover charge, the general public will be admitted if space permits.
Even more exclusive will be a private club adjacent to the main bar that Weber likens to an “old Manhattan speakeasy” with its own entrance and “very rare and very pricey drinks.”
The private room was still a construction mess when I saw it, but Weber said it will have antique furniture, silver and lead crystal glassware and restroom décor inspired by Cirque du Soleil. The space will also be used for art exhibits, movie screenings and famous guest speakers.
While two large pictures of fire-engulfed nudes decorate Co2’s walls, the restaurant area sports placid paintings of Tuscan landscapes. By removing the window treatments, the space has been lightened up quite a bit, with a color scheme of soft greens and beiges.
Ricchi had originally envisioned that the two menus—one casual and kid-friendly, the other a bit more involved—would be served in the two different dining sections but “I don’t want to build a first and second class,” he said.
So both menus will be available throughout the restaurant, which seemed pretty spatially homogenous to me (the back room has white tablecloths, but otherwise has a similar feel to the front dining area).
The casual menu is fun and interesting, but could pose a logistical nightmare for the kitchen and wait staff; diners can choose among four different pastas (rigatoni, linguine, tagliatelle and cavatelli) and 16 different sauces; designer salads (choose among four greens, nine fruits or vegetables, five cheeses, eight proteins, eight seeds and extras, five dressings); oven-baked focaccia, Tuscan pizzas, and desserts including a fresh fruit pizza and bomboloni (Tuscan filled doughnuts).
The more formal dinner menu includes many of Ricchi’s signature dishes, along with some new additions—arancini, eggplant and mozzarella timbale, vegetarian lasagna, squid ink taglioni. Pasta dishes range from $12 to $18, entrees $18 to $29.
As for frequenting the late night lounge, Ricchi, 66, wouldn’t commit. “It’ll probably be past my bedtime,” he said.
Cesco Osteria will be open for limited seating tonight. Call 301-654-8333 for reservations.