"The thrill is goooone, baaaaby," yowled B.B. King as I was seated at a rare available table in The Rossi. Usually, a shop-worn song like this deflates my mood. But that night (Was it the festive crowd? The stylish restaurant?), the old tune felt almost fresh.
And hey, I've got nothing against B.B., but as the evening progressed, I realized the blues dude's words couldn't have been more off base. Because the thoroughly fabulous food I began slamming back at the Rossi proved the thrill is most certainly not gone here. Actually, I haven't been more enthused about this place since reviewing it the week it opened, in April 2005.
My excitement grew from fantastic nightly specials and spread to just-introduced menu items rolled out by the Rossi's bright new chef, Andrew Smith. Formerly working in that artsy hotbed of culinary daring called Portland, Oregon, Smith's stuff has been creative without tasting strange, ingredient-conscious without sounding precious. This translated into meals as good as I've recently had anywhere in town.
Before eating, though, try one of the Rossi's wild cocktails, like the giggly Beet Down ($10). Not only does this ruby-colored, hefty-bodied, aromatic oddball go down considerably better than it sounds, but I kinda love it. Refreshingly, it's a bit citrusy with orange-kissed Watershed gin flying off pomegranate molasses, both grounded by splashes of earthy beet juice. Crystals of sea salt crust the cocktail glass, realigning the palate between sips.
The lovely, light and lemony-dressed arugula salad ($10) is another new favorite. It's huge - a salad king crowned with toasted hazelnuts and a crunchy crostini smeared with Lucky Penny goat cheese. Rimming the plate of regal greens are lavish logs of warm prosciutto-wrapped dates that bring smooth and chewy, sweet and meaty contrasts. Like all specials (including a nifty P.L.T. - pancetta, lettuce and tomato salad with Lucky Penny feta) it's listed on cards posted above the restaurant "pass." There, you might also see a (sexily seared) scallop, (bacony) crispy pork rillette and tomatillo-jam appetizer - if you do, order this immediately!
Ditto for a terrifically balanced soup-of-the-day gazpacho ($6). Rustic yet lush, its fresh and colorful thrust of chopped vegetables (tomato, cucumber and red onion) was aromatized by a hint of basil-y mint and enriched by drops of an excellent olive oil plus pulverized bread.
This brings us to what's become a much-talked-about dish around town - the Rossi's incredible new Pork and Beans ($18). Criminally undersold by its mundane name, this breakout entree can easily erase unfond memories of underachieving same-named predecessors.
It begins with a huge and beautiful bone-in center cut pork chop expertly char-grilled like the tender and juicy steak it is. On top is a mass of mayonnaise-y slaw sharpened by sliced green apple and bits of pickled jalapeno. Surrounding this are gigantic, meaty and creamy corona beans (think extra-large butter beans) that are a riotous pleasure to eat. Combined, it all made for a comfort-food masterpiece dripping with so much arousing flavor that I literally had to pound on the table and declare, "Holy slab of hog, that's good!"
In a similar, dressed-up-casual vein was a glorious Pork Confit sandwich ($9) served with terrific fries. Assembled with carnitas-like strands of intensified pulled pig meat and pickled watermelon rind scented with cinnamon, it's like the dream of a summertime picnic awakened by a clever chef.
And another reason to visit the thrilling Rossi again.