Rossi's restaurant is a longtime landmark on Route 115 in Millis, a dining destination tucked inside a sprawling restored Victorian home with a rich history. On a recent Sunday evening, dinner was a throwback to the days of the three-hour meal, although that wasn't necessarily what we had in mind.
Built around 1887 by Lansing Millis, a prominent businessman for whom the town was named, as a wedding gift for his daughter, the onetime "summer cottage" went through a number of incarnations before Rossi's opened its doors in 1988.
Now painted in deep, dark colors inside and out, the restaurant greets visitors with a charming awning-covered walkway and ramp that provides full access.
The building retains the attractive hardwood decorative trim, as well as the network of small rooms linked by narrow hallways, of its Victorian heyday.
The main dining room was a bit foreboding, with its windows shuttered against the late afternoon sunshine, and empty on this quiet evening. There are nine dining rooms, offering privacy for small gatherings, and one was being used for a surprise birthday party. (Rossi's hosts functions, offers catering, and has a separate, lower-priced takeout menu on its website. It also features special events, such as cooking and wine classes and menu samplings, on Thursday nights.)
The Terrace Bistro, off the bar, was quietly welcoming. Its single row of tables along a wall of glass had a view of blossoming trees alongside the landscaped parking lot, an appealing contrast to the more formal areas. Dishes from either menu can be ordered on the terrace, although the area is closed on Saturday nights.
The bistro has a separate menu, with a number of the same appetizers and main courses as the main menu, but for several dollars less. When asked about the $3 difference in the lobster ravioli appetizers, our waitress hazarded that there was less lobster in the bistro version.
For openers, we opted for the lobster bisque ($9). Served in a charmingly oversized flat bowl, the bisque was creamy and rich, with a tinge of sherry and sprinkled with chunks of lobster. The coconut chicken, from the main menu ($7), was a half dozen oversized tenders, moist and flavorful inside a crunchy coating, fried to a golden brown and served with a tart orange-pineapple chutney.
A field greens salad ($5), ordered separately, included baby greens, tomatoes, carrots, broccoli florets, and mushrooms, and hit the spot during the wait for appetizers, with a basket of small white rolls coming late.
From the bistro menu, the chicken marsala ($11), tenderloins sauteed in a mushroom, prosciutto, and Marsala wine sauce, was a hearty serving. There were plenty of mushrooms and the wine sauce was nicely seasoned.
A rack of lamb ($27) from the fine-dining menu comprised a circle of a half dozen or so roasted chops, en crusted with fresh rosemary and Dijon and served with a port wine demi-glace.
The medium-rare meat, with just a small trim of fat, melted in the mouth, and was accompanied by nicely crisp asparagus spears and mashed potatoes with a little lump to them, just the way I like them.
Among the specials was risotto dimare ($24), a seafood medley including a sizable lobster tail surrounded by shrimp and scallops, sauteed until tender in garlic and butter and served over a bed of nicely clingy Arborio rice.
On this quiet night, the kitchen must have struggled to maintain its focus, because each course seemed to be slow in arriving, and several menu items were unavailable. However, apologies were offered without prompting, and desserts and coffee were offered -- and accepted --on the house as a good-will gesture.
The chef knew what he was doing, because the deliciously dense chocolate cake ($3) and richly textured carrot cake ($3.25) provided a satisfying finale to a lengthy outing, and a reminder of cuisine that was worth savoring.