That old saw about Los Angeles having the most beautiful people is true, just not in the way outsiders think of it. A happy Angeleno is lit from within, confident that they're living in one of the world's more interesting cities, with an abundance of riches surrounding them, from art to nature. Sometimes, especially since L.A. is enjoying such a dynamic food moment, those two great resources come together. And no one who knows this city is surprised when it happens in an old warehouse.
Rossoblu is the latest art project of Steve Samson, a chef who clearly loves Northern Italian food and knows how to use the bounty of California to make it shine even brighter. He and his staff are among the city's beautiful, seemingly relaxed in the open kitchen and on the floor, where the servers make wine recommendations and share which dishes are their favorites without batting an eye. The restaurant's physical space helps make everyone feel pretty glam, too: an exceedingly tall ceiling, a wall of windows and a huge mural that shouts contemporary Italy. Not to mention the patio, which by next spring will be the location of the hardest-to-get tables in town. Stylewise, Rossoblu has taken the best parts of Milan and Bologna and even, believe it or not, Turin, and brought it to L.A.'s much better weather. But even with all that, the food is the real point of interest here.
It's worth noting that Samson did spot me, and brought out a plate of his “Valbruna's eggplant,” a dish I suspect I would've liked even if it weren't a gift. It's quite simple (you wonder if they'll serve it in winter, as it's so dependent on the vegetable quality); some paper-thin grilled eggplant slices, Parmesan and a few dollops of tomato sauce, the traditional Italian version that's quite sweet. It's a mess on the plate, a dish that's the equivalent of someone wearing a ballgown and purposefully neglecting to brush their hair. That confidence again.
Samson clearly excels at rather classical Northern Italian cooking — the closest he comes to fusion or even outside influence is serving Santa Barbara spot prawns. The salumi plate here is notably Old World, served with, among other things, head meat (testa) and a little ramekin of beef tallow. Spreading that fat onto a still-hot crescentina fritta, a little fried empty pillow of dough that's one of Emilia-Romagna's most indulgent creations, will make you feel like a conquering warrior enjoying the spoils of the good life.
The secondi section of the menu (more or less the main course) is full of whole fishes and big cuts of pork, from suckling pig sections to a grill plate with both sausage and a pork chop still attached to the belly.
These are thoughtfully crafted dishes. But L.A. is moving out of its meat period and into the pasta era (the pendulum is always swinging), which goes hand in hand with our greater sophistication about Italian food. And at Rossoblu, the pasta's where it's at. These pastas are sauced, of course, in the Italian style — you won't need bread, as there is no sopping up to be done. The bolognese (with tagliatelle) is mostly meat, both beef and pork, with just enough tomato sauce to tie the dish together. The sausage ragu, broccoli and ricotta crema that surrounds the pappardelle is a bit saucier, and perhaps a bit more interesting to people quite familiar with Italian food. Broccoli is usually treated as a workaday vegetable, but it's the star of this dish, both perfectly melted and highly flavorful.
Rossoblu's convivial spirit makes it emotionally easy to order a few plates at a time, if you wish, or go rogue and choose dishes “out of order.” Maybe coal-roasted vegetables and dessert is all you want. Or just a drink at the bar. Whatever direction you go, it'll be fun.
1124 San Julian St., downtown; (213) 749-1099, rossoblula.com.