If Ezio De Rosa is cooking, save me a spot at the table. That’s how passionate I feel about his food.
The chef’s latest venture, Rossini Italian Bistro, is no exception. Those who know De Rosa from his former place, Ristorante Grissini, will likely remember his penchant for using the freshest ingredients in ways that bring the traditions of his home turf, in the heel of Italy’s boot, to American palates.
In the intimate Rossini, he is showcasing the brightest and best on a menu that changes weekly. You’ll be able to find some of the basics — a steak, risotto, ravioli — but how those are prepared will rarely be the same. Risotto on one visit was made creamy with mascarpone and given a little kick from green peppercorns; a few weeks later, the risotto featured wild mushrooms in a thick stock. Both very different, both equally wonderful. (It’s easy enough to knock restaurant risotto, which is too often al dente or mush; not here.)
De Rosa doesn’t just pick the freshest ingredients, he also knows what to do with them to show off just how good they are, such a salad with organic greens, deep red tomatoes, olives and artichoke hearts. It was simple yet the flavors were so alive that you kept wanting more.
Take a look at what he does with smoked salmon, one of the few dishes I’ve encountered at Rossini on several occasions. He takes thin, delicate slices of the fish with just the right amount of smoke to enhance the flavor, not mask it, and drizzles a little olive oil over the top, again to illustrate the beauty of the fish. A few capers to add a salty touch, and that’s is. The plate is about the fish.
I remember having a variation of this dish at another Italian restaurant that is, thankfully, no longer with us. That version featured huge cuts of salmon well was past its prime buried under at least a half-inch of olive oil on the plate. The end result was something “fishy” tasting and slick on the tongue, like trying to eat unfiltered cod liver oil, only less pleasant.
Aged steak has come in a Barolo sauce, a giant pork chop in a Cabernet Sauvignon sauce, seafood pasta in a tomato sauce, vegetables tossed with noodles, all eliciting sighs of contentment from the friends who had them. In fact, the vegetarian refused to share even a strand of his pasta.
As good all of these dishes are, seafood is the area in which De Rosa really shines. Halibut, shrimp, calamari and scallops have been among the items sampled, and the clean flavors of each, no matter the setting, makes the week’s offerings worth a try.
Desserts are not as big a deal to Italians as they are to Americans, yet you’d never know that at Rossini. De Rosa’s panna cotta is, in a word, magnificent. He once showed me how to make it, and though I have followed his recipe, I have somehow never managed to get it quite as soft yet solid as his. Eating it is as sensual a culinary experience as I can think of.
On a recent visit, he had another irresistible creation, fresh strawberries with mascarpone. Imagine tiramisù without the ladyfingers. Just fresh berries and a sweet, eggy cheese that was both light and rich beyond belief.
De Rosa’s wife, Maria, is in charge of the front of the house, ensuring brisk, friendly service and steaming hot food.
The restaurant only has about 10 tables, so reservations are not taken. It’s a first-come-first-served atmosphere, meaning there can be lines on the weekend. Yet I’ve also seen people surrender their table for a seat at the bar, if they were only lingering over a last glass of wine from the restaurant’s impressive collection of Italian reds, whites and sparklers. It has that kind of neighborhood feel that makes you feel as expansive and generous as the food is with its flavors.
Rossini Italian Bistro
2195 N.W. Military Hwy.
Lunch: Monday-Friday. Dinner: Monday-Saturday