We went to Osteria Rocco, better known as just Rocco, for the first time this week for my husband's birthday--both zipping in from other ends of the city to try to catch dinner before heading to the movies. Which is why I'll begin with a complaint: I hate places that don't offer parking. If we lived in NYC or Chicago, I'd get it. But, ROC might as well be LA given how car-dependent this city is. Seriously. So, I had to park about 3 blocks away, and he parked in the "illegal" lot next door in order to make the reservation, and then moved his car after ordering. Not fun.
Getting that out of the way, it turned out that coming directly from work left us a bit overdressed for Rocco. Other diners were in t-shirts and jeans and the waitstaff sported many tattoos and very casual clothes (tank tops, gauze skirts, army shorts). As a result, the restaurant has a hipster vibe, but it doesn't seem able to realize it completely (e.g., the ceiling is tin, but the floor is carpeted rather than retro-tiled). The dining room is quite small, with close set tables and little room for servers to move without bumping diners. And, because there's really no place for them to retreat to, servers almost appear to "stand guard" along the back wall when they're not in motion. The next set of diners sort of lurks in the dining room doorway, too, which sends a message that doesn't really suggest you should linger.
We started with the fried risotto fritters with tomato sauce. They were delicious! About the size of large meatballs, they offered a crispy crust and tender risotto insides nestled in a tangy tomato sauce. We moved on to a shared salad: endive (fresh and cut in rings), apples (too few), walnuts, gorgonzola and cider vinegar (really sharp and acidic). The salad was huge, perfectly sized to share. My one critique is that the dressing would have been perfect had there been more apples--the acidity would have balanced the sweet. But, without more apples or maybe some sugaring or salt crust on the walnuts, the balance was off.
We each ordered a special. My husband ordered lamb sausage over greens and beans. The sausage was homemade; it was rather rustic in texture and fairly peppery. He enjoyed the whole dish. I ordered skewers of mushrooms and chicken over a bed of baby spinach and raisins in a balsamic vinaigrette, served with fried polenta. The mushrooms and chicken were fine but lacked much seasoning. The polenta was plentiful and had a great crust to it while being moist and soft inside. The raisins did very well in the dressing, which was--again--a bit too vinegary for my taste and overwhelmed the baby spinach.
Overall, I think we both expected to like Rocco better than we did. On paper, it seems like the exact kind of place we have loved in other cities. I'd be willing to go back and try a pasta dish and give it a second chance, and my husband liked his sausage so he's in for another go, too.
PS: Good news ... we both liked the movie!