Ah, Rossi's, you sometimes elude me.
Just when I am ready to pounce on the mini hot Browns for being lukewarm — notwithstanding that you are busy catering to royalty from Dubai on that particular evening — or the overpriced shrimp bruschetta for its concasse of bland tomatoes, or the angel hair pasta for excessive sauce, redemptive magic comes out of the kitchen, your minimalist interior of blond wood and sheer screens relaxes my senses, and I soften.
My only non-negotiable complaint remains the overpowering, cloying scent from huge lily sprays at the entrance that mask the lovely aromas coming from the kitchen.
Credit for Rossi's latest culinary abracadabra goes to lauded chef Robert Myers, who has brought his refined sensibilities and talents to the menu that he inherited from mighty grillmeister Rod Jones.
One great success is the marvelous appetizer of fried Chesapeake Bay oysters. Its crust is crunchy yet delicate, and its accompanying caper-studded remoulade features the silky texture of homemade mayonnaise and the chef's deft hand with cayenne. Also lovely is the "beggar's purse," more a phyllo raft than a packet. A cool oyster is tucked beneath warm salmon mousseline, and the classic white wine sauce, piping hot, makes for delicious dipping.
Myers' skill with the fryer also comes through in the grouper sandwich, a perfect light meal and great bar fare.
In spite of good fresh croutons and crisp, cold romaine, however, Rossi's Caesar salad is, like those elsewhere, a compromise of creamy dressing, shredded cheese and whole brown anchovies, surely one of the food world's less-appealing sights. In my restaurant fantasies, this is called simply a tossed romaine salad; a real Caesar, in which mashed anchovies and coddled eggs are integrated into the dressing, would be offered separately.
If you love the combination of seafood and olives, get the olive-baked tuna. It seemed to tap into the distant inspiration of salad Niçoise, reconstructing it by wrapping a seared fillet of ahi tuna, still ruddy in the middle, in chopped kalamata and green olives. As much as the fish, I loved the little pool of light tomato sauce. It was lilting and pale, yet reminiscent of warmth and sunshine, and it underscored the dish's Mediterranean persona.
Southern Europe also is well represented by the medallions Portuguese, presumably named for their toppings of fondued tomato fillets: spectacular buttery concentrations of tomato flavor. Tenderloin slices of pork act as "sandwiches" for sautéed spinach, served on another heady white wine sauce scented with thyme, and tinted and perked up with paprika.
Beef does not define Rossi's, but the medium-rare, melt-in-your-mouth, hand-cut rib-eye would give any steakhouse a run for its money.
I've sampled sides of perfect sautéed spinach, slightly underdone broccoli, a baked potato steamed from its foil wrapping, and average French fries (the only fried letdown on the menu). The best part about the rich yet soggy-sweet pea and mushroom "casserole" was its nicely toasted bread crumbs, and the corn pudding leaned toward dessert sweetness.
Better to hold out for dessert, particularly when it is the almond cake, soft and unbelievably moist, almost the texture of pudding. Drizzle it with mixed berry and caramel sauces, and you have the perfect way to end a meal.
Under chef Myers, Rossi's, still a feast for the eyes, is maintaining high quality at the grill while reintroducing Lexington to the wonders of paprika, the revelatory mouthfeel of homemade mayonnaise and the beauty of understated sauces ... whose aromas I prefer over those of lilies any day.
Wendy Miller is a Lexington-based food and spirits writer and critic.