Nicholas Gilman is a renowned journalist and food writer based in Mexico City.

Nicholas Gilman es un renombrado periodista gastronómico radicado en la Ciudad de México.

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Nearly perfect: Rosetta

I’m not one for hyperbole – I save the ‘superbs’, ‘ and ‘fabulous’s’ and ‘legendary’s’ for those who deserve them. I would direct all three words to singers Sarah Vaughan or Maria Callas. Or to a little restaurant I used to like in Rome. But rarely do I sing such glorious praises to anyone or anything in my hometown.

However, a new Italian restaurant has opened its heavy Porfiriato doors in the Colonia Roma and some hyperbolic declarations are waiting in the wings, because this place is good. Very good. Nearly perfect.

A lovely old mansion which had seen several previous incarnations (the last as an art gallery) has been lovingly restored by chef and owner Elena Reygadas and her husband, architect Jaime Serra. On the ground floor, tables are set in a high-ceilinged covered patio whose white walls are decorated with lightly brushed, discreet floral motifs. Furniture is country rustic, more reminiscent of Provence than Mexico – appropriate, perhaps to the Francophile culture of the era. Tables are set with vintage-looking linens. Eclectic ‘world’ music softly serenades, creating a post-modern House of Mirth ambience. “It smells like varnish and fresh baked bread”, Priscilla remarked on entering, her nose pleasantly crinkled. And it should: they bake their own breads here, and make the unusually shaped fresh pastas as well.

The smart, reasonably sized menu was designed by chef Reygadas. She trained under a bevy of multi-regional Italian chefs in, of all places, London, then traveled through the mother country itself gleaning the best recipes she could find. Offered are traditional Italian dishes, but not the ones you’re likely to see in any other restaurant outside Italy. You’ll find curious pastas like the lumpy malfatti and the little ear-shaped oricchietti. No clichés here. The chef chooses classic and traditional recipes according to what is seasonal and inspirational in the market. She brightens them up, but there is no unnecessary gussying or ‘re-inventing’. She states emphatically that her recipes are “deceptively simple”; she concentrates on using the finest temporal ingredients, and orients her menu to the climate as well.

Photo courtesy Rosetta

Photo courtesy Rosetta

For example, as April and May being the warmest months here, she’s offering lighter, summery fare: asparagus risotto, a green legume salad. She’ll save the heavy red wine sauces and ragus for winter. Recipes are indeed simple, often containing no more than five ingredients. The trick is in the quick and expert combining and melding of these elements, which, not incidentally, are usually artisanal and of the highest quality. “It’s difficult to procure great basic materials here,” she laments. “Meat, for example, often arrives pre-cut and frozen. We look for whole animals that we can cut up ourselves so as to make stocks and sauces as well as prepare meats and fish the way I think they should be done.”

Currently, nine ‘entradas’ and nine pastas or risotti and six meat and fish dishes are offered. Standouts on my last visit were sardinas a la plancha con panzanella: ocean fresh sardines are drizzled with fruity green olive oil, sprinkled with sea salt and lightly grilled; they are served on a bed of panzanella, the classic Tuscan bread salad. This is a perfect combination, the tart cubes of vinegared bread tango with the smoky oily fish like dancers at a Milonga. A springtime salad ofejotitos y habas (baby green beans and fava beans), spruced with shavings of parmesan, was fresh and herbaceous. Pulpo laminado con aceite de olivo y limon presented thin slices of octopus lightly dressed with an excellent olive oil – something you would be happy to be served in the Veneto.

photo courtesy Rosetta

photo courtesy Rosetta

I enjoyed my orecchiette con chicharros y pancetta so much the first time, the sweet peas and smoky pancetta melding so perfectly with the little cup shaped pastas, that I considered ordering it again. But I also needed to try the malfatti (literally “badly made”) relleno de papa con pimientos al romero. These tender ravioli-like morsels were creamy rich and aromatic. And thepappardelle con hígado de pollo y salvia was perfection itself; the wide (and house made) pappardelle play host to chicken livers which are lifted out of the banal by sweet butter and perfumey sage.

From the meat and fish menu, a simple robalo a la plancha con alcachofas y arúgala was prepared as it should be, juices sealed in, augmented but not overwhelmed by the green aromatics. Less successful was the short rib con polenta rústica, whose heart-warmingly fragrant sauce was a bit too sweet, approaching the cloying. Curiously, ‘corned beef en pan campesino con pickles caseros’ closes the menu; a nod to Passover perhaps? A gift to the stray Italian Jew who happens to wander in?

Desserts are standard but well done: try the cannoli, best I've had since Little Italy, shells crunchy, inards creamy. Or better yet, are the delightful plátanos con crema de chocolate.

The best news is that prices are reasonable...many main dishes are under $150 pesos; a full meal should be under $500 per, which, given the quality, are pesos well spent. There is a good wine list with a mercifully wide range of prices, some as low as $350; the lower end selections are decent, as they should be.

Few places in the ‘real’ Roma are as pretty or as good as Rosetta. It is a welcome and needed addition to the area. Buona provata!

Colima 166 (just east of Orizaba) see map
Open Monday - Saturday  1:30 - 11 30 p.m. (closed Sunday)
Reservationes: 5533-7804



Don Cuevas April 13, 2010
Thanks for this article. The restaurant is in one of our favorite Mexico City neighborhoods, within easy walking of our usual hotel. Could you give us an idea of prices? Saludos, Don Cuevas

Drew April 13, 2010
What's the price range of this restaurant?

Davemx April 17, 2010
Y estaba bueno el corned beef? o sigo haciéndolo ?? Lo cual no me importa, me queda mucho mejor que cualquiera que vendan en México, Neta...

Don Cuevas April 18, 2010
Thank you for updating the review with price range, the corned beef ?) and especially, the cannoli. The cannoli makes Rosetta even more alluring to me. Saludos, Don Cuevas

Fernando Barnetche April 26, 2010
Great food great atmosphere two big thumbs up

C.M. Mayo May 3, 2010
So glad to know about this! Blog on!

Don Cuevas July 8, 2010
We stopped by Rosetta a couple of weeks ago to buy bread. The sourdough rye was superb. I got a loaf of raisin and nut bread for friends but haven't heard how they liked it. We were also impressed by the airy dining space. Two diners were having an tempting octopus carpaccio that was arranged very attractively. Rosetta is high on our list for our next visit. Saludos, Don Cuevas

JIM July 28, 2010
Today I walked over to Broka, only to discover that they are on vacation until next week. Plan B was to go to Rosetta. I walked to Rosetta, arriving at 2:30 pm (perhaps I should have arrived in a limo). Three-fourths of the tables were not occupied, and many of the dining room and kitchen staffs were standing around talking. I requested a table for one person and was told unapologetically that it was not possible. Plan C was Stampa del Mar, on the corner of Puebla and Orizaba, were I received a warm welcome, a nice table, and a complimentary glass of wine. It is unlikely that I will return to Rosetta, but I will definitely go back to Stampa del Mar.

Niamh August 28, 2010
Re Jim's comment: When we went there a couple of months ago we found the food very good but hated the waiters. We were the first in the restaurant and had a table opposite the toilets. We asked whether we could change and they said no. Later other couples came and were at better tables. We found some of the wait staff very supercilious, which also detracted from the experience. As regards standing round talking, we had the same experience. It took ages to get a menu and there was no one else in the place!

Kywstgal March 1, 2011
Okay, so tonight we went to Rosetta, forewarned with the previous comments, and the service was attentive, the table was in a good location and the food was really great (Papardelle with chicken livers, yum)and the cannoli was delish. We thought the wine list was varied and the surroundings lush. It was a very good night!

Anonymous March 9, 2011
Honestly, Rosetta is just overrated. Some of the appetizers are ok and the bread is certainly good, but the service is a joke. Went there for my birthday with 10 of my friends and there were 3 or 4 waiters dancing around the table. Still, it took them about 40 minutes to bring the main course, and when it came, well, it was nothing spectacular. We practically ordered everything in the menu and there wasn't anything actually remarkable. The risotto a la gorgonzola was just decent and the Robalo was ok but that's that. 2 out of 5 for me. Not coming back. And the wine list is just ludicrous (I mean, German white wine, really?) Quite a disappointment.

Nicholas Gilman March 9, 2011
So there you go...can't please all the people...I don't agree with Anonymous' assessment of the food, but I have noticed that the service can be a bit aggressive at times. Leave those plates for a minute or two so we can sauce-sop! Perhaps Mme. Rosetta should slip her wait-people a mickey or two.

Gary November 9, 2011
Thanks so much for the tips on good food in Mexico City. I'm going to be taking a business trip down there in a month for business, and I want to make sure I experience the city. Also, I want to ride around in a Mexico City limo because I heard that it is the way to travel! Any ideas on good companies?

AnonymousJuly 2, 2012
Many thanks for this wonderful and informative blog. I am headed to Mexico City for approximately a year and look forward to sampling these many wonderful delights. Thanks for all of the welcomed, good information. Carolina

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