Rosetta is one of Lexington's most attractive restaurants. All-white interiors can be austere, but here, the oversize chandelier with cut glass in an open cage of metal hoops, ornate yet simple, and the subtly lit bar that is warm and sophisticated create an uncluttered and lovely atmosphere.
When Rosetta opened earlier this year in the space at Limestone and Short Street formerly occupied by Anna Bell's and Mia's, the menu held well- executed promise with items such as wild mushroom risotto and a lightly dressed Bibb lettuce salad. Good warm bread appeared quickly from the kitchen. Cocktails including the cucumber martini were delicious, and the wine list offered interesting varietals like viognier and petite sirah — one standard that endures.
The new kid on the block wanted to please you — and did.
Since then, however, you get the feeling things have become disorganized, and that background chaos has seeped into the dining room. This means the experience can be unpredictable from visit to visit.
For example, before this review, I had lunch there with friends. Three items were not available that day, and only one contained an ingredient that would depend heavily on a distributor. I assumed that was an aberration. But on a recent evening, similar problems occurred. They were out of this or substituted that. Presentation was hit-or-miss, more striking in contrast to the carefully conceived setting.
On the other hand, I dropped by for lunch a few days ago and had my best meal there yet (in spite of the fact they were out of gnocchi and braised beef). I refer to a turkey panino with Gruyère, shmears of cranberry compote and kale pesto accompanied by a blissful side of milky hominy pudding with country ham.
So let's talk about what has worked and what hasn't. Spoiler alert: The word sometimes will appear often.
Sometimes the starter breads, even when sweet, succeed, including the tender apple muffin with a light drizzle of buttery bourbon glaze. Nothing else, from the dumpy blueberry scones to the plate of dry rolls with tasteless cumin butter, has compared.
Sometimes the salads are wonderful. One example is the kale dotted with fluffy goat cheese; the arugula in fennel vinaigrette, good on its own, might have been better with the intended duck confit — but Rosetta was out of duck confit.
Starters are sometimes a mixed bag, too. There was nothing very special about the grilled endive strewn with dried figs and a dice of beet, but the plump, piping hot artichoke fritters in a little pool of spinach cream (like creamed spinach "lite") were splendid.
With dinner options you sometimes get lucky. Even though substitutions were made with the pasta, they were an improvement. You got caramelized red onion, asparagus and capers with fusilli instead of yet another predictable penne with a boring squash medley. My only question was: Why not salt the pasta water?
The red snapper was tempting, but they were out of it and offering grouper. The server suggested sea scallops instead. They were fine, but for $29 one can expect more than a few mollusks, a dab of butternut squash purée and some charred chorizo bits on the side.
Is all this unpredictability such a big deal? In the scheme of things, certainly not. It's a First World problem. But I figure that if I am thrown by so much chaos, then those for whom I write are, too. I like to believe that, with a revisit to the drawing board, beautiful, stylish — and sometimes delicious — Rosetta will rise to its original aspirations.
Wendy Miller is a Lexington-based food and spirits writer and critic.