Rosso offers great views from Hotel Sorella near the Plaza

02/19/2014 1:00 PM

02/19/2014 7:21 PM

If you find yourself at Bar Rosso, the seventh-floor watering hole at the Hotel Sorella, you might begin to wonder how long it takes to get a drink. When it’s crowded you might also wonder why the place feels so cramped (OK, an open-air deck will certainly help in the right weather).

But take the steps up half a flight, and circumstances are a little different. Now you’re in Rosso, the hotel’s swank, white-tablecloth restaurant, and it has a lot going for it. The leather, semicircular booths, the red-and-white decor, the glassed-in fireplace and the wide wall of glass add up to a nicely romantic spot high above the west side of the Country Club Plaza.

Early on a Sunday night my usual companion, She Who Is Not Easily Pleased, and I almost had the place to ourselves. There was still light outside, and we watched out the window as cars silently coursed along Ward Parkway and chevrons of geese headed east along the Brush Creek channel against the tree line of Sunset Hill.

On a Saturday night during Restaurant Week (we ordered off the main menu), the place was bustling and we felt lucky to land an 8:30 p.m. reservation for a party of four.

We were farther from the window, so that backdrop of traffic and night lights was mostly unavailable. It didn’t matter; we had a great time with our friends. And on both of those visits, we came away mostly impressed with the place.

A seasonal, slightly sweet pureed-chestnut soup, a plate of hefty grilled shrimp over grits, a beet-root salad and other appetizers got our meals off to pleasurable starts. She Who was particularly enamored of the burrata cheese appetizer; the oozy mozzarella plus cream came complemented by wedges of better-than-edible winter heirloom tomatoes.

On the other hand, an order of lightly breaded calamari fritti was ordinary at best — tepid, underseasoned, mostly limp and served without a typical wedge of lemon.

Rosso — that’s Italian for red — purports to focus on Italian cuisine. There are some fine pasta dishes on the menu, Italian sausage and other accents from the Mediterranean peninsula. There’s not much in the way of fish — an under-rated but essential aspect of Italian cooking — and I wish the wine list showed more Italian choices.

Executive chef Brian Archibald — he’s a young veteran of Phoenix-area hotel food operations — and his kitchen do, however, enjoy partaking in some jovial creativity.

Their “bacon and eggs” is a hearty and quite successful bowl of a sumptuous braised pork belly with a runny quail egg and a chianti gastrique. “I don’t know if that’s pork belly or pork butter,” announced our diminutive friend The Poet, “but this is tasty.”

And the oddly named “linguini (pesto-ish),” lightly slathered with pesto and cooked to a proper al dente texture, came with those same smoky, wood-fired prawns that had appeared with the grits. (Still, at $32, the dish seemed aggressively overpriced).

A strip steak came to the table way too rare, but the kitchen replaced it in not too much time, and its tender juiciness proved worth the wait.

Lamb and Saddle featured chops, apparently marinated in espresso, and pulled loin meat — both treatments nicely tender and showing subtle flavors that played well with the sides of sweet potato croquettes and garlic green beans.

I’d have to vote for the veal short ribs as the standout dish. The slow-cooked meat was densely flavored yet meltingly soft. A citrus butter sauce embracing semolina pappardelle, baby fennel and cippolini onions pulled the package over the top. I’d go back for that.

Service seemed chaotic on that busy Saturday night. Our server couldn’t help much with our wine decisions, though colleagues came along later to fill in the gaps.

Rosso’s logistics are odd: Servers have to traipse from the distant, unconnected kitchen through the restaurant’s reception space, a level above the bar, to deliver dishes to tables. When a wine bottle we ordered apparently was out of stock nearby, a manager went off deep into the building to find another one. On that Sunday night we were told it would take a couple of hours before the spaghetti and meatball, a signature dish, would be available.

Really?

But that’s not to take away too much from the dinners we eagerly shared or the generally upbeat experience. Maintaining quality in a hotel restaurant often can be a challenge. This one, open since November, seems to have smoothed out some early shakiness, according to word on the street, and now feels about ready for prime time.

Rosso

Hotel Sorella

901 W. 48th Place

816-753-8800 HotelSorella-CountryClubPlaza.com/Rosso

Star ratings

Food

: ★★★ Surprisingly accomplished kitchen and creative dishes mostly well executed

Service

: ★★½ Friendly but not always polished staff

Atmosphere

: ★★★½ A transporting place with unexpected comfort and views

Hours

: 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m. daily, 5:30-10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, 5:30-11 p.m. Friday-Saturday

Entree average (including nightly specials)

: $$$$

Vegetarian options

: Risotto verde, salads, margarita pizza

Handicapped accessible

: Yes

Parking

: On the street, in adjacent garage (entry off Belleview) or free valet parking (entry off Roanoke).

Kids

: Accommodating

Noise level

: Lively, but not overbearing.

Reservations

: Phone, website

Star code

: ★  Fair, ★★  Good, ★★★  Excellent, ★★★★  Extraordinary

Price code

: $ Average entree under $10; $$ under $20; $$$ under $30; $$$$ over $30.

Code of ethics

: Starred reviews are written after a minimum of two visits to a restaurant. The Star pays for review meals.

Recommended

Beet root salad

, $10

Burrata cheese,

$8

Citrus-braised veal short ribs

, $38

Bacon and eggs,

$29

Linguini,

$32

What to drink

Despite the wait, the mixologists at Bar Rosso can come through with well-made classic cocktails (Old-Fashioned, Aviation, etc.) and offer an eclectic list of craft creations, such as the Vojito, which takes a vodka-based spin on a mojito and adds hints of watermelon and rhubarb. The wine list appears to be a work in progress; it’s heavily weighted toward California and lacks a lot in the Italian department. You can spend some big bucks or find relative values like the Charles Bove Vouvray (a versatile white bottle from France’s Loire Valley, $32) or the very drinkable and foodworthy Aia Vecchia Lagone (an Italian red, $36).

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