A Trip To Bologna By Way of Rossoblu in Downtown L.A.

My friend Toby spent a summer in Bologna during college and over the past few weeks (months?) he’s been talking to me about going to this new Italian restaurant in downtown L.A. called Rossoblu that cooks food from the region. “Yes, we should totally go!” I said in that tone that suggests that there’s a good chance this will never happen. Mind you, I love Toby and I loved the idea of going to a new Italian restaurant in downtown L.A., but the logistics seemed a little tricky. For starters: driving downtown, that’s not fun. Plus I make a lot of pasta at home, did I really need to pay for it at a restaurant? And reading about it online, it sounded very heavy (fried bread? lots of meats and cheese?). But then it was Toby’s birthday and I said, “We should go to Rossoblu!” in a tone that suggested I really meant it. So last night, we finally went.

Not sure how much you know about L.A.’s ever-expanding, increasingly dynamic restaurant scene, but downtown L.A. is home to some of the best restaurants in the country right now: Bestia being the one that most immediately comes to mind, but recently Craig and I had an excellent dinner at Manuela which was like an outdoor restaurant with a patio inside a giant warehouse/art gallery serving Southern food (pimento cheese, cornbread, etc.) with heirloom chickens running around out back. If that description doesn’t paint a vivid picture for you, let me just say what makes L.A.’s dining scene so great right now is how weird / unexpected it all is.

Rossoblu certainly fits right in with its warm industrial atmosphere plopped into the middle of a dystopian cityscape right out of Blade Runner (not pictured: the dystopian cityscape right out of Blade Runner).

We walked in and immediately we were greeted by a bevy of friendly hosts, one of whom showed us to our table. Toby and I studied the menu and Toby confessed that he’d already studied it online. He gently advocated for the salumi board which was described on the menu like so…

Toby explained that cured meats and cheeses are a big part of Bolognan cuisine (it’s where we get baloney) and went on to explain how the Po river brought the salt trade from Venice to these mountainous regions which led to all of this food we were about to eat. We then negotiated over pastas and secondi and asked for the waitress’s help choosing wine (she recommended a Barbera for me that I really liked; I don’t remember what she recommended for Toby because I’m selfish).

Well the salumi plate came out and as you can see from the lead picture, it was epic. It came with this fried bread that felt extra decadent:

To balance things out, I ordered a small salad that came with very bitter greens which was a nice relief from the rich, fatty meats.

In terms of my reactions to those meats, I absolutely loved the salami, which they make in-house. Wasn’t crazy about the head cheese which was just like a big slice of fat, as far as I was concerned (but maybe that’s the appeal of head cheese?) The imported stuff from Bologna was tasty; the mortadella reminiscent of baloney (again, that’s where we get it from). And the prosciutto was amazing, especially when wrapped around a piece of fried bread spread with a little cheese.

Then the pastas came out: we had Nonna’s Tagliatelle al Ragu’ Bolognese. Here’s Toby showing it off:

And here it is up close:

Needless to say, this was most excellent (if anyone reading this can tell me where to get that pasta bowl, I will love you forever) and extraordinarily balanced. That was the thing: it wasn’t drowning in sauce, it was just enough sauce to cling to the pasta… which, according to Molto Mario (which I watch semi-religiously) is just as it should be. Mario always says, “The sauce should be a condiment. The star of the dish should be the pasta itself.” And that’s exactly as it was here.

And same with our other pasta, the Maltagliati with porcini, pioppini (not sure what that is), dandelion greens, sage, Grana, and Saba.

Again, this was so balanced, and I absolutely loved the way the extreme bitterness of the dandelion greens played against the sweetness of the Saba (or reduced grape juice). Bitterness is an underused strategy in the kitchen; I’ll have to try to be more bitter the next time I cook.

We almost got the pork shoulder cooked in milk for our secondi, but that felt like too much after all that meat and pasta, so we went with the chicken cooked under a brick which was very nice:

The only disappointment, really, was the dessert: strangely-textured gelato.

We both thought the gelato was too airy and lacking in flavor. But good thing this Cynar came to the rescue: made from artichokes, it was the perfect bittersweet end to a lovely meal. (Again, more bitterness!)

After we paid the check, they asked us if we’d like a tour of the downstairs (maybe they saw me taking pictures of all the food?) So downstairs we went and we got to meet the delightful pasta-maker Francesco Allegro (he’s @fuori_corso on Instagram) who’s from Bologna and who makes all of Rossoblu’s pasta by hand.

All in all, I’m so glad Toby had a birthday so we finally had a real reason to head to Rossoblu. Not only was it a delicious dinner, it was an education! If you come over for dinner and say, “Boy this food tastes bitter,” you’ll have Toby to blame.