henever Francesco Allegro traveled around his native Italy, he always packed a guitar and a rolling pin. The instrument and implement symbolized dual passions that drove his interests in equal measure — this is not hyperbole. When Allegro moved to Bologna, he studied musicology during the day, and pasta making at night. After he obtained a Master’s in the former subject, one muse’s voice cranked up to eleven, “After I got my degree, I decided to focus on just one thing,” he says. “That thing was making pasta.”
His choice is the food lover’s gain. As the sfolingo (pasta-maker) at Rossoblu, Steve Samson’s critically acclaimed Italian venue in Downtown Los Angeles, Allegro is more than a prominent pasta maker with a seemingly disparate advanced degree. He is a maestro capable of fully expressing Samson’s love letter to Bolognese cuisine through simple, focused craftsmanship. The accolades showered upon both he and the restaurant further validate his pasta-making path. Allegro’s a semi-finalist in Eater’s annual Young Guns list, an online roll call of some of the best young chefs and professionals in the United States. Jonathan Gold, the Los Angeles Times’ Pulitzer prize-winning food critic, supplies the most eye-catching praise in traditional print, placing Rossoblu in the top ten of his most recent “101 Best Restaurants” list after having dined on Allegro’s pasta. Other renowned L.A. chefs like Neal Fraser of Redbird and Ori Menashe of Bestia have sent their kitchen talent to Rossoblu so Allegro can teach them about the fine art of pasta. The biggest pop, however, comes from Samson himself. “Technically, it would be possible to make the food we serve if Francesco wasn’t here,” he explains. “But it wouldn’t nearly be as good without him.”
Allegro hasn’t necessarily left his love of music behind, either. He’s brought it into the kitchen with him, applying a few of its principles to his pasta-making techniques. “The wood of a rolling pin is not too different than the strings or fretboard of a guitar,” he explains. “It’s in the touch. When you have a guitar in your hands, you’re controlling the instrument and what it does. Your ability to control it will be fixed, but your touch will make one performance slightly different than the other. This means you’re creating something new every day. That sense of control is also related to the rolling pin. The human touch behind that sense of control produces a new creative expression every time pasta is made.”
Indeed, to watch Allegro work with pasta dough is not unlike watching a guitar virtuoso cajoling notes from their instrument. The initial lump transforms in his hands and under his rolling pin methodically and without flash, a contradiction to his surname’s meaning. After a few minutes and a few well-timed flour sprinkles, the nondescript blob is a translucent tapestry of visible texture and weight stretching the length of his wingspan. Allegro takes the sheet to an adjacent room, where it’s time to sculpt. His knife skills are precise and exquisite as he slices the dough at a deliberate pace, forming an eclectic batch of pasta that ranges from thick tortelloni to fine whispers of angel hair. He sweeps up each noodle with his right hand and forms them into compact stacks to demonstrate the proper amount of moisture has left their doughy souls – they would collapse if they were too wet. The stacks look too perfect to eat. I don’t have this conundrum when his extraordinary handiwork is served for dinner an hour later. It’s worthy of every plaudit bestowed.
The dinner table is where the rest of Allegro’s prowess manifests. Dishes like the tortellini in beef and chicken broth, ricotta and Swiss chard-stuffed tortelloni with butter and sage, and tagliatelle al ragu Bolognese with “not too much tomato sauce” showcase simplicity and restraint in their composition. Allegro’s pasta lays the foundation for these motifs. If it didn’t, his creations would contradict the Bolognese tradition that Rossoblu upholds. Allegro admits such restraint is sometimes difficult to maintain, given the abundant nature of ingredients Los Angeles offers all year round. “When I go to the farmer’s market, my mind races – there is so much to take in,” he states. “It becomes tempting to put the world into the food. But we want to respect Bologna, and the region of Emilia Romagna as well, and I focus on this respect through my pasta. It’s the only way to express the region truly.”
According to Samson, Allegro’s ability to help drive Rossoblu’s epicurean mission through his pasta underscores a fundamental element that makes a great restaurant possible. “There are still a few areas in the kitchen that demand hands-on skills and pasta is one of them,” he states. “These are areas that I want to learn as a chef, but I know that I can’t devote the time needed to bring my skill up to Francesco’s level. It’s why Francesco is so critical to what we’re trying to accomplish at Rossoblu. Because of what he can create, I never have to worry about the pasta being anything other than excellent.”
Given such renown, it seems fair to say that Allegro has achieved rock star status. He certainly has the pedigree to appreciate the label.
Rossoblu CITY MARKET SOUTH, 1124 San Julian St, Los Angeles, CA 90015 www.rossoblula.com