Walking into Rosalina for the first time, it’s refreshing to see how much emphasis is put on creating a home-style, family-oriented atmosphere – yet it maintains a sleek, modern feel. The walls are adorned with hand-painted family portraits, while the menu focuses on simple dishes with just enough flair and pizzazz. I met up with Lauren Lynch, a co-owner (with her soon-to-be husband, Tom Bovis) who takes special pride in creating personal, home-inspired dishes and setting her restaurant apart from the crowd in Providence.
What did you think Providence was missing from its Italian restaurant scene?
We didn’t think of [starting] a restaurant until we visited a small Italian restaurant in New York City called Bianca. It was a tiny, little place with really reasonably priced pastas. I thought, “we need a restaurant like this in Providence.” I wanted something more like a neighborhood restaurant that you could come and eat at three nights out of the week.
I was [also] looking for a more industrial feel. I wanted it to be loud. I wanted it to feel like a neighborhood place… a place you could come to on a Tuesday night in jeans and just hang out at the bar; you can come dressed up, you can come dressed down, you can bring your kids and you can come on a date.
Who is Rosalina?
Rosalina is my daughter. I wanted to show her that I could open up a restaurant and teach her something.
Is there a particular kitchen philosophy you try to capture at Rosalina?
The kitchen is centered around my mom’s style of cooking, with a modern twist. Growing up, my mom had an Italian neighbor. She would go over after school to learn how to cook and she was taught how to make sauce, meatballs and eggplant, and then my mom taught me how to make everything.
Name one ingredient that brings a personal touch to your cuisine.
We actually bring my [cousin-in-law’s] olive oil here from Greece. It’s organic and so pure. It’s made with 100% Koroneiki olives. We know where our olive oil is coming from: Kalamata, Greece. It’s memorable – very clean, with a strong olive taste. Sometimes you get olive oil where the flavors are a bit muddied. But this oil tastes like olives. It’s beautiful. We’re now having the olive oil bottled and we’re going to be selling it in the restaurant.
Is there a dish you make that you feel personally attached to?
The Pizzette Frite, which is like fried dough, but it has a nice sauce and a little grated cheese, but we made the sauce a little more special. We added pecorino romano cheese, shaved scallion and drizzled it with our cousin’s homemade olive oil from Greece.
We also have a few dishes that are inspired by the foods I grew up eating. Our big appetizer is a classic Italian-American dish, Eggplant Parmigiana. Everybody loves it. We serve it in a cast iron crock with crostini and Narragansett Creamery ricotta cheese. We slice [the eggplant] thin and fry it very lightly – not too heavy on the cheese – and [we] focus more on the fresh taste of the sauce.
Although I mostly taught myself how to cook, my mom was the one who started me. She says her eggplant is better, but I think mine is better. We joke about it a lot. She taught me how to make it really well, and now it’s our most popular appetizer.
Where do you find the inspiration to create new dishes?
A good example would be our polenta dish. Last year, we were doing a soft polenta served with meatballs and sausage, and everybody loved it. But I always felt there was something I could do to make it better. So Brian (our executive chef) gave me an idea of doing an Italian rendition of shepherd’s pie with polenta. So we went back and forth with ideas, until we came up with Polenta Lasagna. We layered the polenta in a casserole dish, with cheese and meatballs and sausage. That will be our new polenta dish this year.
Are there any Italian-American staples you didn’t want to include in your menu selection?
When we first opened, I got harassed to have meatballs on the menu. Everybody thinks their meatballs are the greatest, or their mother’s, or their grandmother’s. I didn’t want to get involved with that.
Your husband was born in Greece and there seems to be a Greek-inspired tendency to the menu.
We have a few dishes that are Greek inspired to incorporate what my husband grew up with. Like our Horiatiki salad, which means “village salad.” Our chicken dish is inspired by how it’s done in a place called Milos. They do this amazing roasted chicken, with bucatini spaghetti. We do a Greek-style spaghetti with the roasted chicken on top, and the Dodoni feta. The only place I know that imports it is Sonia’s in Cranston. That feta cheese is incredible.
50 Aborn Street