A rollicking and fancy Italian dinner in a bleak part of town

| July 29, 2021 | 0 Comments

ON THE MENU with Helene Seifer

I hadn’t ventured downtown since the before times, but recently the lure of our urban environment called me to indulge in a fancy Italian dinner in the fashion district.

It was still light out as we threaded our way past Disney Hall’s gleaming undulating walls and 7th Street’s vibey storefront eateries. Suddenly, civilization gave way to streets filled with discount goods and warehouses, then block after block of tents and dented lawn chairs.

The four of us grew silent as we contemplated the enormity of the bleakness before us. Minutes later, a valet parking stand incongruously appeared curbside next to a Cogniscenti coffee. We saw glittering lights and heard rollicking laughter and animated conversation echoing from two large, beautiful restaurants nestled across a plaza from one another. On the left is the Latin DAMA, on the right is Rossoblu, where we had reservations.

It’s no surprise to anyone in Los Angeles that the number of unhoused citizens in every neighborhood has grown exponentially in the last few years, but the largest concentration of people scraping by on the streets must be in downtown, especially on Skid Row and in the various warehouse districts. However, even in the midst of our urban failure, the gentrifiers gentrify and carve out pockets of wealth and privilege, such as this one, where, steps from those who can’t afford a cup of coffee, I can order a $16 martini and a $45 pork chop with braised escarole.

And yet, the minute we handed over our car keys and stepped into the brighter world of people celebrating post-pandemic freedom, we happily followed the scent of grilled meats and shaved Parmigiano to our Saturday evening date with food nirvana.

Rossoblu opened to acclaim in 2017, both for its lovely décor and its luscious Italian flavors.

Due to lingering coronavirus concerns, the interior has been stripped down to minimal seating, although an impressive wall mural is still holding court. Most eat on the expansive light-strung patio.

Chef and owner Steve Samson’s cooking is influenced by his Italian mother, and his house-made pastas, grilled fish and meats and impeccably handled vegetables are superb expressions of the simple, fresh  tastes found throughout the Bel Paese (the beautiful country).

Once seated outside and sipping our various vodka, mezcal and orgeat cocktails, our waiter recommended the eggplant, so that’s what we ordered to start. Interestingly, we were split on our assessment.

My husband and son-in-law thought it was okay, but not worth the hype. My daughter and I loved the $14 refreshing gossamer discs of marinated eggplant with tomato sugo, basil and shaved Parmigiano Reggiano.

All the antipasti sounded appealing, especially the $14 pork meatballs with fennel pollen and the $21 mixed seafood with chili dipping sauce, but we opted to share the $15 erbazzone, a Swiss chard and cucumber, crescenza cheese-stuffed grilled sandwich. We all loved the cheesy greens and chewy toasts, but I was the lone holdout who thought the eggplant still won the appetizer wars.

There were six grilled menu dishes on offer the night we visited, from $35 chicken with date jus to $99 28-day dry-aged bone-in Holstein ribeye. My husband and I shared the dry-aged striped bass, $35.  This was a spectacular and meaty filet, very sweet and perfectly complemented by a thickened savory tomato broth.

We also shared the $25 tagliatelle al ragù Bolognese. The wide al dente pasta ribbons were gently swathed in a delicate sauce of ground beef and pork, with just a kiss of tomato. Very authentic and delicious.

Our daughter and son-in-law ordered the Bolognese and a sweet corn risotto, $25. I love corn with rice or pasta and this risotto is no exception, but the thick creaminess chef’s tease-out of the rice grains was, in this case, thinner than expected.

A generous square of tiramisu was a dream end to our meal, then we reentered the nightmare of the streets for our drive home.

Rossoblu, City Market South, 1124 San Julian St., 213-749-1099.

Tags: ,

Category: Entertainment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *