”Best Italian restaurant in Riga 2013” (RigaNOW! magazine), one of ”Riga's top 5 restaurants” (Connoisseur Magazine)... Shouldn't you expect a bit more from a restaurant which has gotten such acclaim? Wait, before you jump to the conclusion you think I'm drawing, keep reading and let me paint you a more nuanced picture.
”great news for all food lovers”
Rossini is located in what people should start calling Riga's Little Italy, the pricey Quiet Center. After eating my way through a number of restaurants this year, it's become more and more clear that the most reliable cuisine you can go for in Riga is Italian, and the place to do it is Quiet Center. Here you will find a number of Italians, all within convenient walking distance. I have yet to try a bad restaurant; the ones I have tried (more reviews are in the pipeline) have all been good or better. Even Italians which have closed down, and that I never got to write about, have been pretty good. This is, of course, great news for all food lovers and I'm sure that the stiff competition keeps every restaurant on their toes. However, to earn an award such as ”Best Italian restaurant”, you have to be the best of the best, right?
Rossini is a classy stone cellar restaurant of the kind that wouldn't feel out of place in New York. It simply looks gorgeous with its brick walls, nice lighting and dark wooden furniture. The only downside would be that the restaurant is shaped like a long and very narrow rectangle, so you will only see the guests close to you while the others disappear in the distance. If you're the type who thrives in restaurant crowds, the type who likes to see and be seen, Rossini might feel a bit cramped. Fortunately, then, in the summertime the restaurant has a really nice sidewalk terrace with a roof, and there you will find space both to breathe and to ogle at people to your heart's content.
”pure dessert pornography”
The menu offers no real surprises for someone who has been around the food of Italy. Lots of seafood, lots of vegetables, lots of oils, and of course pastas, pizzas and steaks. Being a sucker for pasta and pizza (no, I'm not 12 years old, I promise), that's what I have focused mainly on. And it's in the kitchen where the trouble begins for Rossini. During my visits the past three years I have really been eating high and low. I have had great stuff, but I have also had really disappointing experiences. Among my best experiences are the papardelle with bacon and boletus mushrooms, the carbonara, every pizza I've tried and of course the chocolate fondant, which is pure dessert pornography. The white mushrooms cream soup with truffle oil is also good way to kick off an evening of food. Happy days so far.
”THIS IS TRUE IF YOU'RE A HALFWIT”
What a huge letdown, then, to discover exactly how shockingly tasteless the fettuccine with tiger shrimps is. Many people use spices sparingly, because they feel that spices interfere with the taste of the raw ingredients. This is true if you're a halfwit who doesn't know your way around a kitchen. But used with just a little bit of knowledge, spices instead help bring out the flavors. And some food just doesn't taste much without spices, especially without salt, which can be an amazing flavor enhancer. And this is what's wrong with this fettuccine. It simply tasted like water diluted with water. After tasting my friend's rich and flavorful dish, the contrast became even more apparent. A less timid diner than I would probably have sent the dish back.
Despite the uneven quality, though, Rossini is a very good place to go if you're looking for good Italian. They also offer a quite affordable business lunch where they often serve tasty stuff that isn't on the regular menu. But ”best Italian in Riga”? No, they are not, especially not since they now have fierce competition in fellow Italian Portofino. And quite rightfully, Rossini lost the title this year, since RigaNOW! magazine gave the ”Best Italian restaurant 2014” award to... yes, you guessed it: Portofino.