Whenever I eat a great dish of pasta in one of our local Italian restaurants it’s like soul food for me; it satisfies my stomach and my heart at the same time. That’s why I have a hard time resisting the hearty plate of linguine studded with baby clams and crowned with glistening baby clams still nestled in their wide-open shells at Rosa’s Ristorante Italiano (Pismo Beach). I always tell myself I’ll try something new and I linger over the menu going back and forth between interesting new dishes–until the waiter comes back and I order my favorite, again.
“I think it’s the best bar in the county, but no one knows about it yet,” said chef/co-owner Doug MacMillan. “My dad is so happy about the make-over he walks around the restaurant with a big smile.” Bill MacMillan, Doug’s father, founded Rosa’s in 1989 with his wife Ada “Rosa” (Doug’s mother who passed away two years ago). After rebuilding the kitchen at Rosa’s six years ago, the MacMillans planned to redesign the dining areas. Bill candidly admitted letting certain things go until they started the makeover. Now you wouldn’t recognize the place. “One woman walked in and walked back outside to look up at the sign and see where she was,” the chef chuckled.
Once a banquet room on the side with a small back bar, Rosa’s now offers a spectacular open bar with custom-made blue glass fixtures, great for watching games or a casual meal. The dining room beside it still offers a terrific spot for private parties and extra seating when they’re busy. The new Rosa’s was created by interior designer Mari Robeson of WM Design Consultants who teamed with Omni Architects and Specialty Construction. A mural of Ada’s favorite fig tree out back covers the rear wall as a memorial to her. A romantic new fireplace was added in the main dining room, and the dark walnut cabinets are not only beautiful but functional for waiters. During nine weeks of construction, the MacMillans were only closed for three days.
Although Doug MacMillan has always introduced new dishes in daily specials, he’s not changing their classic menu. “People expect certain things in an Italian restaurant,” he said, “and I plan to keep the menu true to its roots.” Explaining that he and his father think of Rosa’s as their home, as do the employees, he added: “This is our way of life; we’re here for the long haul.”
During the aforementioned meal we dined with winemakers Lane Tanner and her husband Rick Hill of Lane Tanner and Labyrinth Wines, respectively. We agreed the wine list is nicely chosen and value priced. Tanner loved the veal piccata, praising it for being rich but not too heavy. She also deemed the housemade bread pudding “one of the best I’ve had.”
It’s a great time to revisit Rosa’s and experience the talented chef’s soulful Italian cuisine.
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