There’s a new view on the Country Club Plaza, and it comes with a swanky new Italian-inspired restaurant—but the view is not the reason to visit Rosso. The youthful and exuberant cuisine at this posh new destination is reason enough.

For decades, dining in hotels has been more of a survival tactic than culinary adventure, especially for business travelers. Even Kansas City has only a few hotels with destination restaurants like Reserve at the Ambassador, Providence New American Kitchen in the Hilton President Hotel, and Chaz on the Plaza at The Raphael. The tide is slowly turning, and Rosso, atop the new Hotel Sorella, is testament to the revival of glamorous gastronomic hotel dining. Situated on the southwest side of the Plaza with views up Brush Creek and Ward Parkway, the panoramic vista should be lovely to follow throughout the seasons. It was definitely beautiful on our snowy evening visits, especially with the hypnotic fireplace in the center of the restaurant taking away the chill. Low lighting and fashionable boutique flourishes add to the romance of the setting. Detailed tile work and the occasional Venetian chandelier provide visual hints to Italian inspiration. In case you’re wondering about the name, Rosso means red in Italian, the color of the richly hued walls.

rosso2Italian cuisine is near and dear to me. I have worked with it on and off for more than 20 years. I love each and every region, and have traveled, studied and eaten in a good number of those varied areas. It is always exciting to see how young American chefs interpret a classic, varied, and ever evolving cuisine. Executive chef Brian Archibald guides the kitchen at Rosso. Having studied at the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco and with experience at Daniel in New York and at the famous Phoenician Resort in Phoenix, he is more than acquainted with fine dining in both restaurants and hotels. His take on Italian fare (in conjunction with corporate chef Thomas Gagliardi) is one to be experienced.

Over the past four months, I have observed the evolution of Rosso. It is fascinating to see the maturation of a new restaurant, to see what stays, what changes, what goes. The most impressive changes I have experienced have been those on the service side. The experience provided by a youthful, friendly and enthusiastic, if somewhat inexperienced staff, can never be compared to that of a mature restaurant. Happily, the staff at Rosso has been transformed from the former to the latter. Drinks now arrive in a timely manner, questions about the cuisine can be confidently answered, and no more than one course appears on the table at the same time. And every step of service exudes genuine hospitality.

The menu is divided into Inizio, Insalata, Pizza/Flatbread and Primario. As our server rosso3suggested, the categories are fluid and lend themselves to sharing, and that always leads to a communal feel at the table, even a table of relative strangers. The inventive and playful quality of the menu and the food adds to the culinary conversation as well.

The seasonal change from winter to spring (a season that lasts only about 20 minutes in Kansas City anyway) before leaping right into summer will make a few of the dishes we sampled seem terribly out of season, but I will discuss them anyway. One cold and snowy evening began with the elegantly balanced parsnip, apple and chestnut soup. The warm and velvety purée displayed the best of each ingredient: the perfume of the parsnip, the sweetness of the apple and the starchy-nuttiness of the chestnut.

The housemade Burrata mozzarella was an excellent example of this delicious and totally on-trend product. Burrata is a fresh-pulled cheese that, while being stretched and manipulated into its ball form, is stuffed with chards or curds of the mozzarella that have been soaked in cream and then sealed inside the sphere. It is highly perishable and relatively troublesome to import in prime condition. Rosso’s was served with pleasantly smoked tomatoes (a very good technique to accentuate the best qualities of an out-of-season tomato), organic olive oil and aged balsamic vinegar. All in all, a very nice dish to share. One dish that I wouldn’t want to share is the Kansas Wagyu beef carpaccio with aioli. The silken-textured beef was full-flavored without being overly rich and totally worth every penny. In fact, it was so tasty that I would be happy to have had nothing else on the plate.

rosso4Another dish I enjoyed was the shrimp and grits but maybe not for the obvious reasons. Rosso’s fire-roasted prawns were perfectly cooked—crunchy, not over-cooked and chewy, a little taste of flame—and accompanied by respectable creamy polenta. It’s a classic combination you could experience all along the Adriatic coast or the coast of the southeastern United States. But what excited me was the dried salami garnish. When you work with and around food all of the time, a little well-executed novelty can be thrilling, like when a professor of literature discovers a previously unfamiliar short story or poem by a favorite author. In my case, it was the little crispy salami chip sticking up out of the polenta. A little Internet research made it seem that the little meat cracker is so common that it should be in every American household, but it was exciting and new to me.

We sampled a few of the salad offerings including Rosso’s light and refreshing version of the oft-times heavy Caesar salad. The limestone lettuce salad (a variety of lettuce remarkably similar to Bibb) was delicious enough to make me want to grow my own. Dressed with crunchy house-made pancetta, oven-dried tomatoes (another smart treatment for tomatoes at this time of year), gorgonzola dolce {not so sure about the “dolce” part, seemed more like a generic but tasty blue cheese), and lemon herb vinaigrette, this salad is sure to please. The sea-salt roasted beetroots were lost under a layer of wilted wild arugula. Tangent: this is a rampant problem among many of the restaurants I have visited in the past two years. Chefs want to put something delicate, fresh and green on the plate, and baby arugula is the easy way out. It’s cheap and labor free, but bagged wild or baby arugula is almost always on the verge of wilt and surrender. Seeing it on an otherwise beautiful plate, well, it makes me sad.

Of the starch-based traditional Italian primi (pastas/pizza/risotto) we sampled, the rosso5risotto verde was the standout. Although the texture was a little past al dente for me, the vegetal flavors of asparagus, baby zucchini and sweet peas were welcome at this wintry time of year, and the Taleggio and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheeses added a comforting voluptuousness. I seem to have overlooked the green olive “dirt” in the dish description, but then the romantic ambient light in our corner didn’t lend itself to the discovery of much visual subtlety. This dish would also be an obvious but excellent choice for vegetarian diners.

On my first visit the seared potato gnocchi and wild boar Italian sausage was perfect. Crispy and light, and expertly dressed. On another visit the potato dumplings were a bit doughy, but that could be the fault of an inattentive or overwhelmed cook. I found the accompanying fennel and orange salad refreshing but somehow out of place on the plate—better its own dish.

Of the larger plates, there were several that were especially memorable. One of my favorites was the Lamb and Saddle. The Colorado lamb chops were marvelous, tender and luxurious, completely unlike the typical New Zealand lamb found in most restaurants. The saddle (the loins on the top back of the lamb), braised and pulled, made for a luscious textural contrast to the chops. The quality of the lamb so completely overshadowed the accompanying sweet potato croquettes that I have little recollection of them, although I do recall the lovely counterpoint of the pickled mint in the garlic green beans. The citrus-braised veal short ribs was the outstanding dish of all my visits. Few could resist these tender meaty chunks braised to perfection, although their accompanying pappardelle pasta I found oddly distracting. Alone, the semolina noodles were dressed in an almost overwhelming blood-orange butter, but when eaten with a bite of the rich veal, or better yet one of the fennel or root vegetable bits, balance seemed to restore itself.

rosso6It’s difficult to imagine having dessert after the meals we savored, but we did. Although the selection of ice creams, gelati, and sorbets (some made in-house, some from off premises) were tasty and refreshing, the Marconi Almond-Butter Cups (think fancy Reese’s peanut butter cups) with burnt bananas, almond brittle and dark chocolate were delicious. It was a study in textures, the crunch on the freshly flambéed banana pieces, the snap of the chocolate cup and the rich and creamy almond butter. A perfect ending to our meal.

With the arrival of warmer weather, I’m sure Rosso will continue to evolve, and I look forward to seeing the progression of the menu and of the kitchen. The rooftop pool and alfresco bar terrace will be great summer additions to the area and are sure to make Rosso a permanent red thread in the fabric of the Plaza.