Thea writes of high quality foods, local diners, mom-and-pop places, and authentic tastes in the foothills of North Carolina.
A Destination Bistro
My husband and I had a pending visit to a friend on our to-do lists one hot, July afternoon when we happened to be free of parental duties (thanks grandparents!), so when the visit ended a bit earlier than we had intended, and we realized we had the whole afternoon off, we kind of looked at each other and sighed in the blasting AC of our Toyota.
"What do you wanna do now?" I asked first.
"I don't know, what do you wanna do?
I thought a bit, then suggested, "Why don't we just check out some of the little towns around here? Where are we, anyway?"
We ended up being in East Bend, North Carolina, with its quaint countryside spattered with single-family homes and the occasional farm, but there is absolutely nothing to do. So I, of course, pulled out my iPhone and looked up things to do near East Bend, NC. A few things popped up, including Kitchen Roselli. I went to the website. "A little steep," I muttered to myself, referring to the price, while swiping through the menu and promptly salivating. "Maybe we need a splurge dinner. Been a while." My husband agreed. "Reservations only?! What kind of place is this? It's the middle of nowhere!" Oh, how little I knew. I called to make reservations kind of nonchalantly. Got rejected by the nicest person ever who let me know that they were all full but they'd call me back to let me know if any tables came available. "Yeah right," I thought, "Who does that?"
Sure enough, several minutes later, my phone started to ring. It was the same woman I had spoken to from Kitchen Roselli calling to tell me we did have a table after all and she had put my name down. "Amazing! Umm. . . thank you," I said, truly grateful and a little astonished.
Off we went to Kitchen Roselli, a true destination bistro.
Beautiful Atmosphere and Ambience
First impression: Wow, this place looks quaint. The good type of quaint, like a postcard image. The outside is a 1930s (my guess) brick building which was probably originally a general store. It has the flat facade and huge picture windows on each side with a simple porch.
Once entering inside, we were taken to a white room with floor-to-ceiling shiplap and a long farm-style table. My husband and I played scrabble. Soon they called our name and our waitress came out. We were lucky enough to be served by the owner herself.
If there's anything I have learned about eating around the NC Foothills it's this: if you own a restaurant and want it to thrive, you need to be there. It has to be your baby.
"Water for me, water with no ice for him." My husband is from Spain, so no ice water, especially in summer.
We debated over the menu for nearly 10 minutes. It was a small menu but everything sounded so good. They featured several soups, salads, appetizers, and pasta entrees. We finally decided we would go for a house salad for him and a white bean soup for me, and then split the Shrimp Scampi and end up with a mouth-watering profiterole.
We were thanked and left to chit chat while the food was prepared. I began to look around. The place was absolutely packed. Every table was full of couples and families. But the atmosphere was calm and was a true bistro-from-a-movie feel. The old shelves along all the walls were lined with solid white dishes all along, which was almost like cleansing the eye's palate. It was not overcharged with color or objects, despite the alarming number of plates. The tablecloths were a simple red and white checked pattern and the chairs, tables, and floors looked like oak. The building felt old in the historic sense, but very new in the fashionable sense. The owners perfectly blended the nostalgia of the past, comforting nuances of Italy, and a clean and aesthetic layout to create a truly welcoming and upscale feel. I believe ceiling fans spun away over our heads, and some sort of round-bulbed lights were strung across.
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First course arrives.
"Oh my word, you have to try this soup."
"It tastes like fabada asturiana," my husband remarked, delighted.
Not too salty, but hearty. Obviously slow-stewed and homemade with real ingredients. None of that MSG bouillon crud. This was cooked. I, too, appreciated the mediterranean taste in the beans, broth, and included vegetables.
"I should have ordered the whole bowl and not just a cup. How's your salad?"
"Mmm," said my husband, crunching away, lips pursed, jaws full, prominent mandibular muscles flexing, "The dressing."
I tasted it. Apparently, it's locally famous. It's called Sunny Italian dressing. And it does have a base of a regular Italian dressing, but a tangier and sweeter twist. I think sunny is the perfect word to describe it. The salad arrived in a Mason jar, which made us feel quite hip.
Not long after, the excellent server and owner of Kitchen Roselli brought out our main dish, the shrimp scampi. I truly enjoy picking apart dishes to find something wrong with them. My husband and I like talking about food and discussing ingredients. I am telling the complete truth when I say it's simply the best scampi I've ever had. The noodles were cooked to al dente perfection and tasted fresh and authentic. The buttery-garlic-wine sauce was light, flavorful, also fresh, and never sickeningly rich. The shrimp were cooked perfectly; there was no hint of brine, or hardness, and they had that delectable springy-crunch about them that was made so much better by a few drops of a fresh-squeezed lemon. The seasoning was excellent on the dish. There was no need to add salt or pepper at all. (In Spain, this is how all dishes are strived to be made). The focaccia bread was light and airy. My husband wasn't impressed because he's used to Spain's "pan de pueblo", which is a loaf of heavy bread. So, I ate it all.
We were so dreadfully full after eating this but had already ordered our dessert. While our food was settling we got to talk a bit to the owner. The conversation flowed. She's a personable and authentic human. "Why East Bend?"
"Well, we fell in love with the building," was her answer. When she said that, it really clicked. Kitchen Roselli as a whole is built on love. Love of food, love of Italy, love of flavors, love of family, love of guests, love of historic spaces, love of community, love of excellence, love of service.
Then came our profiterole. It was as big as the plate and covered in a thick chocolate ganache. "Eat what you want, I'm stuffed," my husband prompted. But we were both soon digging into it mercilessly. The cream was slightly frozen and delicately sweet. The pastry was freshly made with a good, thick texture, and void of crunch which I despise in a pastry. It behaved as a pastry should in the mouth when bitten; it was soft and pillowy, then easily broke under the teeth, and the taste was light and buttery, almost like a sweet bread. The rich chocolate ganache was not empachoso as is said in Spain, meaning something that is so sweet it nauseates you. It was the perfect amount of sugar to the fat in the contents of the pastry and cream.
"Now I know why this costs what it does," I said to my husband, and then I realized that it really was not that expensive. With tip and all, both of us ate and were completely stuffed, for under $60. A normal couple (meaning, who order alcohol and don't share the entrèe) would end the night right around $100. You pay for what you get, and what we got was stellar.
It has been a long time since my husband and I have been so satisfied with a restaurant's service, atmosphere, and food quality as we were with Kitchen Roselli. This is why I believe it is a true destination restaurant. People from miles away make reservations at Kitchen Roselli and go there just for the purpose of partaking of their consistent, delectable eats. It is a one-of-a-kind restaurant that has triumphed due to its quality output and perfect reputation. My husband and I fondly recall our dinner there and will return as many times as we can, counting each visit to this gem of a bistro as a great gift.
© 2019 Thea Tsayt