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Dining review: Rosalina is a new Italian classic in Providence

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Dining review: Rosalina is a new Italian classic in Providence

By Jenna Pelletier
Journal Staff Writer
Posted Dec. 23, 2015 @ 12:01 am

The last thing Rhode Island needed was another Italian-American restaurant, I thought.

All angles seemed to be covered, from the classic Federal Hill restaurants to upscale Al Forno to no-frills Mike’s Kitchen in Cranston. What more could another one offer?

Come to find out, the relatively new Rosalina, in downtown Providence, brings a lot to the state’s dining scene.

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The restaurant’s Pizzette Frite alone is a sizeable contribution. A mash-up between a doughboy and pizza, it’s a light and airy pillow of fried pizza dough slathered with tomato sauce, dusted with Pecorino Romano cheese, and sprinkled with scallions. It is every bit as heavenly as it sounds.

Rosalina gets creative with another classic Rhody appetizer, calamari. In a play on snail salad, tender rounds of squid are tossed with red wine vinegar, olive oil, hot peppers and celery. The dish is chilled instead of breaded and fried. Full of clean, bright flavors, it transported me to a seaside restaurant on the Mediterranean.

The restaurant also does something a little different with its eggplant Parmesan. It’s served as an appetizer in a small crock and comes with small toasted rounds of bread for dipping. It’s one of the lighter versions of this dish I’ve had; the cooks have a light hand with the cheese, and it’s not weighed down by excess oil.

Lauren Lynch is the chef behind these creative takes on Italian classics, and she’d be the first to tell you she doesn’t fit the stereotypical mold. “People ask me, did you go to Johnson & Wales [culinary school], and I say, no, I’m a mom,” Lynch joked in an interview conducted after my visits.

Lynch, who co-owns the restaurant with her husband, Tom Bovis, named the restaurant after her 7-year-old daughter, Rosalina. She’s a self-taught cook who learned by practicing in her home kitchen, studying cookbooks, and asking questions of the kitchen staff at Providence’s 10 Prime Steak & Sushi and other restaurants while working as a bartender.

Even though her own heritage is Irish, French and Russian, she draws inspiration from her mother, who learned to cook as a kid from an Italian woman who lived down the street.

Lynch’s menu also has a Greek bent, as Bovis was born in the Greek city of Kalamata. The restaurant is all the better for it. Many dishes are finished with top-quality extra virgin olive oil imported from his family’s groves in Greece. The oil, topped with a dollop of Narragansett Creamery ricotta, also arrives with the bread basket in lieu of butter.

Greek influence shows up again in the form of a Greek salad, topped with creamy imported Dodoni feta. It’s a classic version of the salad, the kind Bovis’ family eats all the time in Kalamata, with tomato, cucumber, red onion, green pepper and oregano.

Rosalina also serves branzino, or Mediterranean sea bass, imported from Greece. Served with or without bones, the whole fish — head and tail included — is simply prepared, allowing the subtle flavors of the tender, flaky fish to sing. Lightly dressed with olive oil, lemon and oregano and served with a small side salad of cucumber and tomato, it’s a nice alternative to some of the heavier menu options and one of the best entrées I’ve had in a while.

Bovis, who moved to Providence as a baby, grew up in the restaurant business. In the 1970s, his father, Hercules, ran the Washington Lunch diner, just a block away from where Rosalina sits today.

Signs of family fill the comfortable 70-seat space, in the former location of Cuban Revolution. Working with interior designer Libby Slader, Lynch added warmth to the brick-walled interior by hanging strings of twinkling white lights, decorating the area above the open kitchen with Italian pantry staples such as cans of San Marzano tomatoes, and hanging up several large black and white paintings.

Artist Buck Hastings, of Providence Painted Signs, created the paintings by projecting photographs, including images of Bovis’ father and Lynch’s daughter, onto canvas. Other family members’ presence is literal — Bovis’ nephew cooks and Lynch’s mother waits tables one night a week.

The service I experienced on two visits was laid-back but attentive. On one visit, I spilled some sauce on my shirt and appreciated how our server noticed and quickly offered to bring over a glass of soda water and a clean napkin so I could dab out the stain.

Oh, that sauce. I could drink it with a straw. Rosalina’s marinara stands out for its fresh taste, due in large part to the San Marzano tomatoes that Lynch uses.

Her marinara is a common thread in several dishes, including Burrata Cheese Ravioli and House Made Meatballs. The portion was large — three saucer-sized ravioli come with two sizeable meatballs. The meatballs were fork-tender and decently seasoned. But I couldn’t detect the creamy taste and texture of Mozzarella-like Burrata cheese in the ravioli, which appeared to be filled almost entirely with ricotta.

The Pappardelle Bolognese was prepared classically. Ribbons of al dente pasta were coated with a rich ragout of pancetta, beef, veal and pork, with a little tomato and milk. As expected, it was quite heavy, and therefore a good dish to order for the table and share.

Rosalina also serves a few meat entrées, including a Bone-In Pork Chop with White Wine, Vinegar Peppers and Cherry Tomatoes. While the pork chop was thick and well-cooked, I found the dish to be a little too spicy for my taste, and I’m someone who generally likes to pour on the hot sauce.

The restaurant has a full bar, with well-balanced cocktails named after local landmarks such as Trinity Rep (ruby red vodka and Aperol) and the recently closed Satin Doll (Elderberry liqueur and Prosecco) strip club. On a recent visit, I saw 20-somethings in jeans sipping $6 glasses of wine on tap at the bar alongside suited older gentlemen ordering martinis.

Many restaurants aspire to create this kind of come-as-you-are, neighborhood vibe but never quite nail it. At a year-and-a-half old, Rosalina is already starting to feel like a Providence classic.

Details

Rosalina, 50 Aborn St., Providence. (401) 270-7330, rosalina-ri.com. Smart casual. Street parking. Reservations.

Open Monday through Thursday from 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m; Friday from 11:30 a.m.-12 a.m.; Saturday from 4 p.m.-12 a.m. and Sunday from 4-10 p.m.

Appetizers and salads; entrées. Full bar. Wheelchair accessible. All major credit cards.

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