Portland’s Italian food scene isn’t huge, but it’s growing, and the newest addition to it is Rossobianco – an eatery from Chef David Levi, founder of Vinland. I tend to not get too hyped about Italian food most of the time, though I often enjoy it when I have it. The problem for me is that I’m really looking for something that stands out from what I’ve had before. I’ve eaten all manner of pasta, pizza, and the like, but I want something of a new take on those. I want rich, cheesy creations with fresh pastas, powerful red sauces, and flavors that are different and generally kill – in a good way. I didn’t know if I’d find those at Rossobianco, but I was hoping to.
A chalkboard sign outside the restaurant touted it as a “Northern Italian Wine Bar” on one side and told of cheap snacks, house-made pasta, and new wines daily on the other. As we entered, another sign told us to seat ourselves and we picked a table by the window. I observed a massive chandelier hanging by the bar, a mostly wood interior, and a nice overall feel to the place, though other than the chandelier, nothing stood out as extravagant or exceptional. A waitress brought us water and menus which included the small food menu, lots of wine including some wine cocktails, and a small beer selection.
With a few options under each of five categories of food, the choices weren’t extensive, but they were sufficient. My wife ordered a sauvignon blanc and asked about the size differences between the small and large portions of the main courses. We were told if we were ordering apps and/or salads that we may want to consider the smaller portions, while, if we were just sticking with a main, the large might be more appropriate. In a stroke of genius, my wife suggested we just order apps and salads first and then could decide how hungry we were for the larger dishes. I agreed and we started to figure out what to eat.
My thought out of the gate was to get one item from the Cicchetti or snack column. I decided to go with the Arancini con Funghi – fried risotto ball with oyster mushrooms, Grana Padano fonduta. That seemed like a sound decision, but I wanted to try something more and also went with the Frico – Montasio, cabbage, spring onion – which was under the heading of Antipasti. Mrs. Portlandeater kept it simple, choosing the Insalata – farm lettuce, herbs, shishito vinaigrette. We stopped there temporarily and waited for the beginnings of our feast.
Before anything else came out, we made our acquaintance with a basket of fresh bread and simply seasoned olive oil. After several bites of that, the fried risotto ball rolled up in front of us. The between-golf-and-tennis-ball-sized food was fully encased in a crusty shell and sitting in a small puddle of the fonduta. I made it my mission to cut into the sphere and grab a bite smeared in melty cheese. As I did that, I made sure to also get plenty of actual risotto and outer shell into my mouth. With a couple chews, I discovered incredible flavors. The crunch of the fried coating led the way to a creamy risotto with a nice mushroom flavor, but the fonduta added a first class salty cheese that took cheesiness to a whole new level – if that’s even possible. It was a ball of greatness and upon trying it, my wife gave a confirming “that’s really good”.
The ball wasn’t huge and didn’t last long, but soon the insalata and frico joined us at the table. My wife’s salad looked like standard fare, but my frico was a bit unusual. Four charred squares of cabbage pancake sat on the plate with onion on top of each one. I went for it and sent my fork to cabbage town where it cut and shoveled half a pancake into my face. Wowee zowee! What had I eaten? It took a minute to sink in, but my shredded cabbage was encrusted in the cheese which again was salty and a sensational play-up of the green stuff. The onions were a safe and tasty finishing touch. My wife’s salad was simple but offered some nice notes with the herbs and shishito peppers.
We munched until all the food was gone and then considered our next menu-guided move. We were both in the mood for some pasta or risotto and had four choices. We thought about ordering small portions of all four, but eventually decided on three and another risotto ball since they were so delicious. My wife ordered the Scialatielli con Passato di Pomodoro – basil pasta, tomato, rosa bianco eggplant, smoked mozzarella – while I went with the Cannelloni – buckwheat pasta, chicken, potato, leeks – and Risotto e Aragoste – short grain rice, lobster, butter, mushroom. It would have to wait until our next visit, but I thought the Tagliatelle al Ragu alla Bolognese – fresh egg pasta, meat sauce – sounded pretty damn good too.
Our first dishes came out after a short wait – the risotto ball, scialatielli, and tagliatelle. “Wait. I didn’t order tagliatelle.” As the waitress walked away, I was processing that the dish in front of me wasn’t something I ordered, refusing to believe it was the wrong item, and simultaneously digging into it. It was definitely egg tagliatelle with non-tomato meat sauce, and not anything like canneloni. The fork hit my mouth. It was buttery with a little shredded cheese and al dente in texture. The fresh pasta stood out and the meat was tender. It was the first bolognese I’d had without tomato and it wasn’t what I ordered, but…it was awesome. There was no sending this mistake back. It was hard to even call it a mistake.
My wife’s pasta included a red sauce and it was quite good, with a nice acid and aromatic basil, but I stuck to only one taste as I’m not a fan of eggplant. We finished what we had in front of us and waited for the risotto which took a while to come out. When it finally did, it looked luxurious with lots of sauce, cheese, and specks of lobster throughout. The rice concoction went directly into my mouth and the glorious flavors gave me a rush of food-borne adrenaline. The mushroom laden risotto from earlier had now had joined forces with more saucy sassiness and bits of clawed crustacean and the results were astounding. The dish was full of flavors and rich without remorse – a superhero of sorts.
When everything was finally finished, we were offered dessert, but it was not to be as I needed a food break. The meal came to $110 after tax and a solid tip and included a second glass of wine. Rossobianco is no ordinary Italian. They checked all the boxes on my list. Their pasta was a thing of beauty with freshness that shined through in every mouth-watering bite. They didn’t hesitate to put cheesy, buttery decadence on the front line of their food, and they dove straight into deep, flavorful waters. They focused on bringing together the richness of ingredients where each one stood on it’s own, but perfectly complimented the others. The risotto was a stellar example with mushroom and sauce sharing the starring roles while the lobster added another tier of taste.
Rossobianco offers a light, casual atmosphere that will be accessible to all types of eaters. Good for a snack and wine or a hearty meal of pasta or steak and beer, they are giving Italian cuisine a different look than anywhere else in Portland. If my first impressions are correct, Rossobianco is going to get busy and stay that way, because their food is absolutely magnificent. When you go – and go soon – start with a bunch of the risotto balls – everything there is a worthy offering, but one of those definitely won’t be enough.
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